Dustin Jackson's Story
My name is Dustin Jackson. I’m 40 years old, and I grew up in French Creek on a beef farm. I had a good childhood, but my parents divorced when I was 13.
Around that same time, I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I hung out with older kids, and I did the same things they were doing so they’d keep wanting to hang out with me. By the sixth grade, I was smoking marijuana… and by the seventh grade, I was doing harder drugs like speed and acid.
I always say I’m an addict at heart… I don’t know how to shut it down. A lot of the kids I was doing drugs with at that age grew out of it. They experimented early and got it out of their systems…
Unfortunately, I did not.
My drug use escalated over the next several years. I’d catch the school bus into town and instead of going to school, I’d leave to get high; then I’d catch the school bus back home. I had missed so many days of school that I eventually dropped out in the eleventh grade. I got my GED and started working on the farm.
A few years later, I got a job in the oil field, and everyone around me in the industry was using drugs at that time. We were all away from home, working out of town, and that’s just what we did. I was eventually laid off, but my drug use continued.
In 2008, my life was forever changed after I was in a terrible accident. My wife had just found out she was expecting our first child when I crashed a four-wheeler and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. After the wreck, I couldn’t feel anything from the waist down, but luckily, after surgery and a few months of therapy, I was able to walk out of the rehabilitation center on a walker.
For the pain, I was given a prescription for morphine and oxycodone. I had dabbled with pain medicine before, but I wouldn’t have considered myself addicted to it. Now I had my own prescription… that was disastrous for me. I became addicted very quickly, and I abused them daily for the next five years.
I didn’t realize how bad off I was, but in 2013, I failed a random drug test at the doctor's office after they suspected I was abusing drugs. They suspended my pain medicine prescription and offered to secure me a bed at Chestnut Ridge Hospital, but I refused.
Instead, I started buying the pain pills. It was expensive, especially since I was on disability and didn’t work a full-time job. One day I was buying the pills, and the dealer asked if I wanted to buy heroin – he said it was cheaper and the high was even better.
My decision to buy heroin that day led to five years of heroin addiction. I don’t remember a lot from that time of my life, but what I do remember is terrible…
In 2018, me and my now ex-wife were using heroin at our house... we didn’t know there was fentanyl in it… she overdosed. Unfortunately, my nine-year-old daughter was home from school that day. We were charged with felony child neglect creating a substantial risk of injury or death.
We went to jail, and we were forced to terminate our parental rights; my mom was given custody of our kids.
I managed to get clean and stay clean for five months, but then I slipped up… It led to me overdosing, too.
Thankfully, my life was saved with Narcan, and something changed in me that day… The seed of sobriety had already been planted in me during the five months I was clean, but the overdose scared me. It made me realize how powerless I was over the drugs.
That was a dark time, but I can look back now with a different perspective. I needed that relapse to get where I am today; I needed to be scared into it. It’s unfortunate, the way things had to happen in my life, but had they not, I may not even be here.
Right after my overdose, I went to the Opportunity House in Buckhannon for five months, and I’ve been substance-free ever since.
I’ve completely turned my life around in the last few years. I talk to my son and daughter every single day, and they’re at my house all the time. I bought a house closer to Buckhannon, got my driver’s license back, and bought a truck.
One of the things that’s changed my life the most is working at Community Care as a peer recovery support specialist. I gave up my disability check to work full-time… that’s something I’m proud of. Working helps give me purpose – a reason to get up in the mornings. I didn’t have that desire or drive for a long time… for years, I’d wake up just to get high.
But now, I get to use what I’ve been through to help people, and that means a lot to me. I see myself in them, so I love when I see that light come on, when they finally get it… because not everyone gets it right out of the gate.
People in recovery need compassion and support… so many have none at all. And it's so important if they’re going to be successful… They don’t need to be beaten down, because they’re beating themselves down enough.
In my role, I get to be that support and accountability to them. Having someone you’re accountable to is very important in recovery, too… it can be the difference in staying clean or relapsing. There’s a lot more to recovery than just abstinence. When you stop using, all these feelings and emotions come, and you have to find a way to deal with it that isn’t drugs. As a peer, I can share with them how I deal with those feelings.
And working at CCWV keeps my own recovery fresh in mind, which helps keep me on track.
I try not to look too far into the future – I don’t want to set expectations and set myself up for failure. But I’m pretty content with my life right now. If everything remains how it is right now in five years, I’ll be satisfied. If I’m still clean in five years, if I still have a job, if my kids are still healthy… I’ll be happy.