Forty-two year old Chris Thomason of Glasgow was once what he calls “a model citizen” who coached Little League, held a management level position at a local factory, and earned a decent living. Then he started smoking meth, and he lost everything.
After going in and out of the legal system, rehab clinics, and halfway houses, Chris was ordered into the Barren County Drug Court program. He says he was finally ready to permanently kick his meth addiction. He’s been off of meth for two and a half years now.
Chris spoke to WKU Public Radio outside the Barren County Courthouse, a place he came to know well during his legal troubles. On a beautiful, warm spring day, Chris told us how his life changed after he became addicted to meth, what it’s like to finally be clean, and what he hopes for the future.
"I worked at a local factory. I started there in 1991 at the lowest level, for $6 an hour in shipping and receiving. Thirteen years later in 2004, when I got in trouble, I was the production manager making $50,000 a year, plus bonuses. That's pretty good money for this part of Kentucky," said Thomason.
"All of that was taken away. I lost my job, went through a divorce, lost my home. I basically lost my kids after they disowned me for a while because of the shame they felt. So I had pretty much lost everything I could lose. And still--even at that--it still took me four or five more years after that to come to the conclusion that addiction was ruining my life."
Meth wasn't Thomason's first experience with drugs. As a teen growing up in Barren County, he smoked marijuana with a neighbor at a park. He eventually used and abused alcohol, cocaine, LSD, and prescription pills.
Chris says he became intrigued with meth when he learned some people were using it as a painkiller, and as a stimulant to stay awake for long periods of time. Seven years ago, he began experiencing back pain. He say he took meth as a way to dull the pain while also keeping him awake so he could work longer hours at the factory.
"When I first ran into meth I was snorting it. That's a common way to use meth. I didn't like it...it tasted bad, and it burned my nasal passages", Chris says. "But I will say that once I learned you could smoke meth, I became immediately hooked. With hindsight being 20/20, I wish I could go back and change that."
After numerous arrests, four stints in rehab, and time in a halfway house, Chris says he finally hit rock bottom and was willing to seriously commit to kicking his meth addiction.
He was entered into the Barren County Drug Court program. Standing outside the Drug Court office recently, Chris pointed to a yellow sign on the door that had details of an important event--an event he'll be involved in.
"We have a drug court graduation coming up on Monday," says Chris. "Drug Court is a program that I've been involved in for almost two years. To me, it's the best road to recovery."
"Just being out on probation and stuff like that just gives you the chance to get into more trouble. But the Drug Court program to me is a very good program, the best I've ever been involved in."
Chris says one reason Drug Court is so effective is that it requires drug testing every day for at least 18 months. The tests can take place any hour of the day. Participants call in daily to a hotline that tells them when to show up for urine testing. There are also curfew checks. Positive test results and curfew violations can land the offender back in jail.
Barren County Drug Court also requires participants to find work. Those who can't get a job have to volunteer or do community service.
Chris found a job at Vann Home Care, a medical equipment and supply company in Glasgow. He says it's ironic that he now works somewhere with a pharmacy and medical compounding facility, given his past experience with pills and meth.
Chris says he's extremely grateful someone was willing to take a chance and employ him despite knowing about his legal problems.
"That job has been a God-send to me," says the 42-year-old. "I work a lot in the hospitals and nursing homes. I see sick people on a daily basis. It gives me perspective on how bad life can be. I go to the adult daycare centers, where there are a lot of challenged people. It's a perfect fit for me."
"My goal is to help people with addiction, but also to help people, period. And if that's sitting in the nursing homes helping the little old ladies, putting a smile on their face, or if it's sitting at the adult daycare center talking to the mentally-challenged...those things kind of help me inside to repair some of the damage I've caused in the past. "
So now that he’s clean, what does the future hold for Chris Thomason? He’s heading to Missouri, where he has a son and grandchildren. Chris says he’s come to the decision he has to have a completely fresh start somewhere else.
"One of the big dangers of addiction once you get back into society is staying away from old friends. Well, they're not friends, they're using buddies, really," says Chris. "You have to give yourself a new pathway in life."
"I've been in and out of jails and institutions, and I just kept finding myself going back to the same old places. And I could fight that temptation for a while, but I would always give in at some point."
Chris says he doesn't look at leaving for Missouri as running away from his problems. Instead, he says he's "running to something" much more positive than what he's leaving behind.
But for Chris, leaving Barren County comes at a cost. The person who he hurt the most through his meth addiction, but who at the same time loved and supported him throughout that ordeal is staying behind in Kentucky: his mother.
"Looking back at the pain and grief and sorrow that I caused my mother, there's no telling the years I took off her life because of what I did."
Still, Chris says his Mom is proud of the fact he's cleaned himself up.
"We have a good relationship now. Back when I was on meth and I'd stay gone for weeks at a time, I wouldn't stay in contact with my mother. And that was devastating to her."
"Now we talk everyday. Several times a day, actually."
Chris says when you're an addict, you usually surround yourself with people who you think of as friends. Most of them are just fellow junkies looking for a hit, he says.
"But when you get in trouble and you're taken away, the only one that was always there for me was my mother. Regardless of what I did wrong, at the end of the day she was there. She's my best friend--my only friend, really."
"When times get bad, your mother is always there."
This story is part of an ongoing series of reports WKU Public Radio is producing about the impact meth is having on our region. We would like to sincerely thank Chris Thomason for speaking to us about the realities of meth addiction and recovery. His willingness to share has been an invaluable resource for us.