Each time Douglas Darby shares with high school students his battle with heroin addiction, he relives the low moments that came with the addiction.
Reliving those moments isn’t easy, but if one student can be saved from a heroin addiction, it is worth it for Darby.
Darby, co-founder of Rise Together, which gave three presentations at New London High School Jan. 22, shared his story with New London High School students.
“We are the lucky ones out here. Regardless of what we’ve been through we’re still standing here today. For that, we are not victims of this disease, we are survivors,” Darby said.
Darby told students no matter how small a problem may seem, if it is happening in a students’ life, it is a big deal.
“You don’t have to go about it alone. You can do things I never had the guts to do when I was 15 years old,” he said. “You can reach out, you can ask for help for the first time. You don’t have to wait until you’re 25 or 30 years old, and your life is completely screwed up. You don’t have to wait until you have legal troubles or financial troubles. You can start right here today. You can be better than I was.”
Darby said if he would have had the courage to seek help when he was 15 years old, his life would probably have been different.
Originally from Seattle, Washington, Darby said his father was an alcoholic and a heroin addict. When Darby was two years old, his mother gave Darby’s father an ultimatum to get sober or lose his family.
Darby’s father couldn’t stay sober, so the rest of the family moved to Wisconsin, where Darby was raised.
Darby said his father did find sobriety, and he was able to visit his father for 10 years because of that. He said his father was a good man and during his recover owned his own business, remarried and had a new family.
When Darby was 13 years old he noticed small changes in his dad. When Darby returned to Wisconsin that summer, he told his dad, “Dad, you’ve lost mom, please don’t lose me too.”
Those wound up being the last words Darby said to his dad, as he didn’t see his dad the last few years of his life.
A week before Darby was to start his freshman year in high school he found out his dad was dead.
“I was crushed,” Darby said.
Darby said his dad was found with a rope around his neck and a needle in his arm.
Instead of doing any of the normal things a 15 year old kid should be doing, Darby was in Seattle watching his dad be put into the ground.
At that moment, Darby vowed that he would never become his dad.
“That will not happen to me,” Darby said.
But Darby said he embraced a certain lifestyle — “just smoking weed.”
He said the first time he got high from smoking marijuana he liked it and he wondered what else was out there.
“The more I tried, the more I liked. And the more I liked, the more I tried. I started experimenting with drugs through my four years of high school,” Darby said.
He said there was a plethora of pharmaceutical drugs that were accepted and accessible at the high school he attended. He didn’t realize that the drugs he was taking every day was as addictive as heroin.
Teachers tried to help him, but he said he thought he “knew it all.”
“I made more money in a day than they made in a week and all I did is show up to the very place that they told me to be from 7:30 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon,” Darby said. “Who is the sucker?”
Darby said he helped justify his drug use by telling himself at least he wasn’t using heroin and putting a needle in his arm.
That changed when he was 20 years old when he placed a needle in his arm for the first time.
“I knew right then and there that things had come full circle and I had become my father’s addiction. Never understanding what the next five years of intravenous drug use would look like,” Darby said.
Five years later, on Aug. 26, 2010, the 10 year anniversary of his dad’s death, Darby found himself going through withdrawals. He went to a Walgreens and demanded Oxycontin from the pharmacist. He then went home and got high. And then he saw himself on TV on the news.
It wasn’t the first time Darby had problems with the law. His apartment was raided three years prior and marijuana was found. Six months after that it was raided again, and more marijuana was found.
“What I want you to understand is at 25 years old I accepted the fact that I was going to die a junkie. That was my destiny,” Darby said. “The one thing in life that I had control over, that when you read my obituary, it wasn’t going to say I died in a traffic accident. It wasn’t going to say that I died of some disease. It would say I was found on a bathroom floor with a needle hanging out of my arm. That was my destiny. And I was Ok with that at 25 years old.”
He said when he was reading a document of his charges, he began adding up the years, and was facing 88 years in prison.
“I was thinking life was over then,” Darby said.
The next day, Sept. 10, 2010, when Darby went to shower in the jail, he took his jail pants off and tied them around his neck in an attempt to take his own life.
“When I was swinging in that shower I wanted to die,” he said. “There was no light at the end of the tunnel. There was no hope left. I wanted to die. I was so broken by this disease I was brought to my knees, and I didn’t know any way out.”
To emphasize how his life had come full circle, Darby said when he tried to commit suicide, his younger brother was entering his freshman year of high school, just like he had when his dad committed suicide.
“The very thing that I said I would never be, I had become,” Darby said.
Sept. 10, 2010 is also the date of Darby’s sobriety. It’s a date he will never forget, and he has it tattooed on his arm.
He went into 19 days of detox and got sober.
“Everything did not magically get better right away,” he said.
He went to prision. Before going to prison he asked the judge to grant him one chance at living life sober. The judge granted him the ability to earn an early release.
He went through a six month treatment program, which included a military-style boot camp.
“It changed my life. It changed my thinking,” Darby said. “I was 27 years old restarting everything.”
Darby told the assembled students that he wanted them to be better than him.
He admitted to the students that every day is a struggle for him to stay sober.
“What I want you guys to think about and really know and grasp is that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,” Darby said. “But it takes you reaching out.”