Faces of Addiction, Heroin Addict turned Mentor: Part 1

Gary calls his battle with addiction physical, mental and spiritual; and sadly, he's not alone. (WCCU)

Addiction. Experts define it as a primary, chronic, progressive, and incurable disease, most likely characterized by a loss of control over substance abuse.

Primary, meaning it's its own problem and not the result of something else.

Chronic, meaning it tends to last a long term.

Progressive, once a person has an addiction, as long as they continue to use, they will move through the stages of addiction.

And finally incurable, meaning once you have an addiction you have it for life. But while an addiction may be incurable, it is both treatable and manageable.

"The disease of addiction does not care what the substance is," said Clinical Coordinator for the Prairie Center, Brandon Underwood. "The brain doesn't care whether you're using cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, opiates or something else. It cares about getting high and it cares about changing the way you feel."

Battling an addiction of any kind is not an easy task, and it takes more than just the person wanting to change. There also needs to be support services and people willing to help them overcome the disease.

Gary Williams spends his days at the Hendrick House in Urbana, student housing at the U of I. He works in the maintenance department. It's a job he takes a lot of pride in.

Gary was born in Champaign-Urbana. His life far from perfect.

"I thought your mother getting beat down and getting shipped from place to place was normal," said Gary Williams.

His mother's street life meant Gary had to take care of himself at the age of five.

"She was living the drug lifestyle. Getting pimp-slapped around, and us, the kids, too. I ended up getting molested. I held that in until my recovery," Williams said.

Gary was shuffled around for much of his childhood. At first with his great-grandparents.

"It was a love that I never experienced. It was like lollipops, rainbows, soda fountains, and being proud that we had someone that loved us," he said.

Then with his grandparents. He was one of 13 in the house.

"I seen them smoking marijuana, and then I had friends that did it, and I said that I'll try it out. And when I tried it out, I was like, ‘you know they say it's a gateway drug,’ It was a finish line for me."

Gary eventually started dealing. And after a fire landed him in the hospital, he became addicted to prescription painkillers. That led him down a path to harder drugs, like heroin.

"It wasn't the fact that I had two DUI's, it wasn't the fact that I had numerous arrests for intent to sell. It wasn't the fact that my mother and father died off of drugs. It wasn't the fact that everyone around me was getting killed or shot. I had been in and out of rehabs, Prarie Center. And a lot of people get it the first time, but I took it to the end. I remember the low point was when I was by a school and the cops kicked in the door and they caught me with the drugs and the money. And this time I couldn't get my way out of jail."

December 18, 2007, The last time Gary saw the inside of a jail cell.

Gary calls his battle with addiction physical, mental and spiritual; and sadly, he's not alone.

"It's not, 'Thank you sir I'll take one hit of crack and I'm good.' No, it doesn't work like that. They'll do it until they die, until they reach a point if they want to live. And the stigma is, if someone had cancer or something, people would feel sorry for them. But when they see someone addicted by drugs, they'll say 'it's your own fault, if you don't make it, it's your own fault.'"

No one can force an addict to stop, but Gary said having support makes all the difference.

In part two, we break down who helped Gary stay sober and how those resources are at risk of being eliminated.

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