Zack White, 17, was smoking pot regularly not too long ago.
“A lot of it,” the Edmond teen said.
“I think once I started not being able to have a good time, in my mind, without being high, and I realized I could always find people to hang out with that were smoking, then that's when I started going down the wrong path,” White said.
He is now clean and sober and has been since he entered Mission Academy April 4 and began his recovery journey. He learned about Teen Recovery Solutions (TRS) and the school while attending court-ordered classes. He spoke with The Oklahoman recently about his journey.
When he was still smoking pot, he hung out with friends not because he cared about them or vice versa. He hung around people with drugs.
He got in trouble with the law a few times but that didn't stop him. He'd just jump through the hoops, do what the court ordered, and then get on with partying.
On Saturday, White will be one of a group of teens in recovery participating in the annual SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Walk for Recovery.
White and his peers from Mission Academy will walk together representing their school. Mission Academy is an accredited sober high school for teens in recovery that's part of Teen Recovery Solutions, a nonprofit recovery program.
Road to recovery
White's attendance at Mission Academy and involvement with TRS more than fulfilled his mandated sobriety education.
“It's not acceptable to be using or drinking here,” White said. “And that's what I needed. At a regular high school, if you're addicted like I was, it's kind of hard to stay sober. Here, you have the support that you need.”
Treatment works, said TRS clinical program director Mike Maddox. TRS works with teens coming out of chemical dependency with the goal of recovery and preventing relapses.
Mission Academy is a self-paced high school with only nine students. Some students attend for a few months; some have stayed more than a year. White plans to stay until he graduates in January. It's all about peers helping peers, with the guidance of people like Maddox.
“I can get caught up in my head sometimes, simple teenage problems,” White said. “If I can talk to somebody else about what they're struggling with and maybe try to give them a hand, because I've been here a little longer than some of the new kids here. If I can help them out, it helps me at the same time.”
Life without treatment
Donna Woods, 55, of Oklahoma City, wasn't as fortunate as White, to find treatment at an early age. Her story has a silver lining in the form of an Oklahoma nonprofit she founded in 2002: Oklahoma Citizen Advocates for Recovery and Treatment Association, or OCARTA. The association coordinates the SAMSHA walk each year.
After a childhood full of abuse, Woods said she fled Southern California to Oklahoma, hauling with her an addiction to drugs and alcohol, a lifetime brutalized by incest buried in her consciousness, and a festering self-loathing.
She self-medicated with everything she could get her hands on. She didn't care what it was, she said. If you said, “take this,” she took it.
Like White, legal troubles didn't daunt her addiction and self-destructive behavior. DUIs didn't faze her. She found herself in abusive relationships.
“If you didn't beat me up, steal from me, lie to me, you weren't my friend,” she said.
It was a fear of what might happen to her young daughter, she said, that kept her from suicide for years.
“I was all she had.”
Woods' self-loathing got the best of her when, on Nov. 22, 1994, she put a gun to her head. Her daughter was 9 at the time.
“I decided, if this was all I was going to be, my daughter deserves something better,” she said. “I was never scared of institutions or death. I believed I was a bad person and didn't deserve to live.”