(LEX 18) — Alex Elswick’s journey could be best be described as a cautionary tale turned inspirational story.
It’s important to note, however, that most people don’t come back from the depths of addiction like he did. But that fact is the foundation of what Elswick is trying to do now.
Chances are you grew up with someone like Elswick. He was a start on the Henry Clay baseball diamond, and even more promising as a student.
At 18, he moved just 30 minutes away from home to attend Centre College in Danville.
“I don’t think many people I grew up with said, ‘That’s a kid that’s going to get addicted,'” Elswick said.
Be he did.
The first red flag was an arrest for marijuana charges. Then two months later a doctor prescribed him Oxycodone for wisdom teeth surgery.
When that pill bottle ran out, he found another … and another.
“And I was making good grades as I got more and more addicted,” Elswick said. “So, I kind of believed the lie that I didn’t have a problem, when it quickly became apparent that I had a problem.”
Elswick jokes he was the last person in Kentucky to know he had a real problem.
After two years of relapses, an introduction to heroin and homelessness, Elswick figured it out.
“For me, rock bottom looked like sleeping under a bridge. I was literally sleeping under the Highway 35 overpass in downtown Dayton shooting heroin and holding a cardboard sign,” he said. “A lot of times I tell people I don’t look like the stereotype today. … When I was in the depths of addiction, I very much looked like a living, breathing stereotype of heroin addiction.”
Eventually, Elswick found his way out of the cycle.
He credits the many programs that helped him, but most important, he says, was his privilege.
“It’s not like it was toughness or grit that got me sober. It’s not like I’m in recovery because I’m strong. Those narratives just aren’t real,” Elswick said. “I’m in recovery because I got access to all the help that I needed. And a lot of my friends don’t have access to those things, and that’s where Voices of Hope comes in.”
Voices of Hope is how Elswick is returning the favor these days.
It’s his non-profit organization that focuses on support and recovery.
On any given night in the group’s office off Old Vine Street, you will find free programming such as AA meetings, sober social events and Elswick’s favorite: telephone recovery support. That a method of calling people who are in treatment and checking up on them.
“All we’re doing is keeping them engaged and trying to build a rapport with them and connect,” he said. “Sometimes people tell us that the phone call they have from us is the most meaningful human connection they have all night.”
Elswick also is involved in the University of Kentucky’s collegiate recovery community. That’s a sober living program for students, with the goal of one day have an independent dorm.
On top of all these activities, Elswick often can be found in the community raising awareness and offering hope to people in recovery.
“We’re on the map, we’re not hiding out from the community,” he said. “We stand up and shout out loud, ‘I’m in recovery and I’m proud of that.’ I think that goes a long way toward changing the narrative toward addiction and recovery.”
It’s a long way to change that narrative, but Elswick plans on doing his part.
As someone in recover himself, Elswick knows how hard the journey is and where people and programs can help.