JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hayden Heller has battled addiction for more than half his life.
He started drinking at the age of 13 and by 16 he was taking pills. He dropped out of high school and moved out of his home.
“About 22 (or) 23, I'm pretty much down and out,” Heller said.
September is National Recovery Month and putting a face to addiction can help people better understand the disease. That's why Heller is sharing his story.
"I was sober for a year with my fiancee. We relapsed together, and it was two days that we used, and she died," Heller said.
Since losing his fiancee, Misty, last February during a relapse, Heller has been sober for a year and a half.
"When people relapse, a couple of things can happen,” said Dr. Brian Jackson, the clinical director at Greenfield Center Jacksonville. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that stay out there and continue to use until they have a fatal consequence. And there's others that say, 'I don't really want to live this life my way, and I see what it's doing to people I love, and so I want to get help.' And in the case of Hayden, that's what he did."
Heller said he knows he'll always be an addict.
“(But) that's not a death sentence anymore. You know it actually means that I get to have an awesome life, because as long as I'm sober, I can do anything," Heller said. “I would say that if you're in that position where you don't know how not to drink or get high, and it's just not working for you, go to a meeting. Go to an NA or AA meeting. I mean, that's what keeps me sober. "
Through a series of rehabilitation efforts, like getting a sponsor, attending specialized meetings and prayer, Heller has changed his life for the better and encourages others who may be facing similar battles to do the same.
"The hope is that I keep doing the right thing and maybe I help people along the way. Because really that's what feels the best is that I went from a position of feeling useless and being useless to in a position I can help people," said Heller.
National Recovery Month raises awareness of mental and substance use disorders while celebrating people like Heller who are living a life in recovery.
"Recognize that this is an illness. A lot of this is genetic predisposition. So there's no shame associated with trying to do it by yourself. It's very, very difficult. But to be in a situation where you realize you're not alone, that there is a solution, that there are tools that can help you get well," Jackson said.
You can register to attend the National Recovery Month Town Hall in the River City this Friday.