Meet Matt Woodring (Woody), a young man whose struggle with addiction led him to years in and out of jail and living  on the streets of Rochester in between. Since finding Recovery he’s been committed to giving back what was so freely given to him and volunteers extensively in the community.  Today, thanks to a scholarship from OASAS, Woody’s preparing to become a Peer Professional.

I grew up in the suburbs. Mine was a chaotic, traumatic childhood, bouncing from school to school, constantly moving, never really understanding why I always felt different, like I never fit in wherever I went, like I was never good enough. I lived in a broken home, torn between my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. One constant was alcohol, my parents were drinkers, my grandparents were drinkers. I was always told by my parents that my grandfather had a drinking problem, and as a teenager, this frightened me, so I turned to drugs. This began with smoking marijuana.

When I began using my life changed. I had found a solution to my problems. Marijuana made me feel better, it helped me to fit in, I became a part of something. I pursued this with everything I had. As I got older, I would continue to pursue what my peers were doing, eventually discovering alcohol, and in my late teens, ecstasy, mushrooms, and LSD. With each new drug I would try, the same effect on my psyche would occur, repeatedly finding new solutions to cover up my anxieties, my fears, making all my problems go away, for a time. I lived in this lifestyle for many years, very functionally. Having found a solution to my inner problems, I saw nothing wrong with my lifestyle. I had all the things I believed I needed in life, a car, a home, a job, and a social circle. On through my twenties, I continued to follow this recipe that had served me so well in my teens. Cocaine, valium, and vicodin would soon enter my life. My lifestyle began to take on a larger and larger importance as I began to need more and more substances to feel better. In this time, I continued to keep people around me who drank and used the way I did. Slowly, several things began to happen. I started to give things up for my habits. First it was certain drugs. I had found that I preferred some drugs over others, so I refined my recipe, so that I could focus on opiates and alcohol all day every day. I stopped driving, because the expense of having a car was getting in the way of my lifestyle. Cell phones became too expensive, and I gave them up. Morning, noon, and night I used, needing more and more. Before long I had given up everything, my apartment, my job, any friends and family who didn’t use the way I did, until I was left alone, with a bottle in one hand, and a needle in the other, homeless, unemployable. I was sick, and I had no idea. I began to get myself into trouble with the law, and spent years in and out of jail, living on the streets in between.

Eventually, I began to want to change, and I had no idea how to do it. When I first entered treatment, I did not think drugs and alcohol were my problem, I thought myself somehow different, and that I could control my use if I could just find the right environment, there was no shortage of people in my social circle who believed the same things. Relapse after relapse, I continued to spiral downward, people started to disappear, one friend overdosed in my arms, taking his last breath while I frantically called 911, others contracted HIV and Hepatitis C, and still others found themselves in prison for decades. This was what had become of my social circle, my peers. After many failed attempts of doing things my way, I turned to twelve step programs. Here I found people who seemed like me, who had similar stories and experiences. Some of these people had something I wanted, this twinkle in their eyes, an underlying happiness about them, and I wanted what they had. Most of these people were happy to share their experience with me, they helped me get back on my feet, get involved in the community, get my life back together. Slowly but surely I began to learn about my addiction and alcoholism, I got plugged into services that I needed, got off the streets, and I started to want to help those who were still sick and suffering, like people did for me. I wanted to give back what was so freely given to me.

Across all the different services and programs available to me, my experience has been that the greatest help has come from people who have lived the same life as me, the peers. It was suggested to me by those around me that I could get a scholarship, and begin the process of being trained as a peer, so that I can find a job, and begin to take the next step in life. Today, as I continue to volunteer as a peer, and begin to work toward employability, I could not be more grateful that there are programs and scholarships out there to help me get the credentials needed by most employers. I continue to strive on a daily basis to share my experience with others, so that someone else might find a rich, full life, like the one I have today.