Craig Smith said his fight with addiction cost him everything – but that’s what it took for him to turn his life around.
After 13 months at The Refuge Ministries, a faith-based recovery center in Vinton County, Smith now lives in Columbus, holds down a successful job, and has not used drugs since he hit rock bottom in July 2016.
The 35-year-old Highland County native spoke to the Highland County Drug Abuse Coalition on Thursday, sharing with a group of about 20 people his experiences with drug abuse and recovery.
Smith grew up in Willettsville, went to Lynchburg-Clay High School, and was raised by his grandparents. He said he was like most students at Lynchburg – playing sports, studying hard and spending time with friends.
When he was 14, he started drinking. Then came the marijuana. By the time he was 16, he had already tried cocaine, and after turning 18, Smith used methamphetamine for the first time.
“I was just kind of recreationally using at this point,” he said.
Things took a turn for the worse, though, when he burned 70 percent of his body in a bonfire accident, and that’s when he started on pain pills. Percocet came first.
“That’s when my opiate addiction started,” he said.
He got engaged to Megan Cockerill-Smith, now his wife, while he was attending Ohio State University – all while binge drinking and using cocaine and prescription opiates.
In 2005, he was most of the way through college, and his aunt and grandmother were frequently in and out of the hospital. His aunt, who helped raise him, was dying of cancer – and she had an “unlimited supply” of methadones and percocets.
“I guess as a way of coping, I started using the Percocets and the methodones,” he said. “They were always there.”
Later in the year, Smith’s grandmother died, and to numb the emotional pain, he started using Oxycontin.
In 2006, his aunt died.
“When she passed away, my access to the pain medication stopped,” he said. “So I started buying it off the street.”
Smith estimates he spent at least $100 per day on his drug habit.
Instead of pursuing his master’s degree in physical therapy in 2006, he got a job to continue funding his drug addiction.
“Gradually, things were starting to decline,” he said. “I could tell my marriage was just going downhill, it wasn’t going to last much longer.”
He sought help in the form of Suboxone, a drug that helps relieve opiate cravings, but is addictive itself, he said. He later began selling it to buy other drugs.
In 2008, his wife left. He lost his house, car and driver’s license. Then he started shooting heroin.
In 2009, he got his first felony in Montgomery County. Later, he picked up seven more in Clinton County, and after a few stints in jail, residential drug treatment, and prison, he had his first overdose.
“I was out, like, two days, and I overdosed,” he said. “I woke up in the cardiac unit at Adena. I had a heart attack. I was only 28, 27 at the time. Once I got out of the hospital, that still didn’t shake me, and I continued using.”
In 2014, he overdosed again at his wife’s parents’ house. He had another heart attack, and landed in jail again. He still has atrial fibrillation from the strain he put on his heart.
“It was a downward spiral. Everything was just falling apart,” he said. “I destroyed my relationships with all my friends… hurt my family… and I just had lost all hope.”
In July 2016, he just wanted to die.
“I was tired,” he said. “I was like, ‘This is my life? Every day, I’m sick, like, physically sick from withdrawal. If I go to work, all my money as soon as I get it goes straight to my addiction. If not, I go commit a crime.’ I just really wanted to die.”
That’s when he contacted pastor Kim Zornes of Carpenter’s House of Prayer, who took him to a biblical training event “to help me figure out what I wanted to do.” That led to a detox facility in East Liverpool, then to The Refuge.
“I had every intention of leaving,” he said. “I really didn’t think it would work.”
But it did. Through a rigorous several months of classes and accountability groups with little or no contact with the outside world, Smith said he gradually began to feel hope again.
“I started doing better,” he said.
Through a concrete-pouring job he held during his last eight months with the ministry, he was offered employment with a Columbus-based adhesive company.
Smith credited his recovery to the relationships he built at The Refuge, and finding faith.
“What worked for me was a relationship with Jesus,” he said.
Now, Smith said his relationship with his family has been restored, and he currently lives and works in Columbus, while his wife lives in Wilmington. According to Smith, he and Megan Cockerill-Smith, who was in attendance at the meeting, still consider themselves to be recovering from drug addiction, and don’t want to enable each other.
Smith said he wouldn’t have entered recovery if he hadn’t first lost everything.
“It takes breaking everything off to reach that point of brokenness,” he said. “That’s pretty much my recovery.”
The Highland County Drug Abuse Coalition is a group of law enforcement officials, mental health and drug treatment professionals, people of faith and concerned citizens who meet monthly to exchange ideas on how to reduce drug abuse in Highland County.
The group meets every fourth Thursday of the month at noon in the main conference room at the North High Business Center. Due to the upcoming holiday season, the group’s next meeting will be held Thursday, Dec. 7.
The coalition can be found on Facebook by searching “Highland County Drug Abuse Coalition.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.