Substance Abuse Resources & Disability Issues

Josephine F. Wilson, D.D.S., Ph.D., Director

CAM Testimonials: Matt's Story

Three years ago, Matt felt proud of himself for his ability to win races and play basketball, his popularity among his many friends, and his ambitious career goals. Now, following a life-threatening car accident, Matt's proud of how he can once again walk and talk, how his drug test comes out clean week after week, and how he's been sober a year.

The reasons have changed, but pride is pride. It still feels wonderful. In high school Matt participated on the Brookville, Ohio High School track and basketball teams. Always an active and amiable young man, he "didn't like sitting still," and enjoyed partying with his friends when he wasn't participating in sports or working. In fact, he'll tell you with a grin, during his first year at Ohio University at Athens, Ohio, "classes got in the way of my partying," and his grades hit bottom. The following year he worked harder, his grades rose, and he seemed well on his way toward getting his diploma in electrical engineering.

All that changed on August l6, l997, the summer after his sophomore year at O.U. On that day, Matt left the home he shared with his mother, grandmother, and two brothers to drive to his job at a restaurant. The night before, he and his girlfriend had partied with friends--"horsing around, a little of this, a little of that"--and he'd overslept. Although he has no memory of what happened that morning, he believes he was in a hurry to get to work. Whatever the reason, he swerved into a ditch, then overcorrected and hit a tree, then another tree. Within minutes, Good Samaritan Hospital's Care-Flight transported Matt to Dayton where, because his brain was swelling dangerously, physicians induced a coma.

Matt stayed in a coma for four weeks, while his brain stabilized, and family members stayed with him around the clock, renting a room at the hospital. While Matt was in a coma, doctors told his mother he'd never walk again. But they hadn't counted on Matt's determination, his faith, or the support he received from his family. When doctors reversed the coma-like state, he was transferred to Miami Valley Hospital for rehabilitation. He needed to relearn walking and, because one of his vocal cords no longer functioned, talking as well. Doctors estimated that he'd need at least 6-7 weeks of intensive rehabilitation.

But to Matt, that sounded too long. The hospital bills were mounting, and his long hospital stay put a strain on his family. "I pushed myself," he says. "I prayed a lot. Before the accident, I wasn't really religious, but now I'm a big believer in prayer." He adds proudly: "There wasn't a church around here where folks weren't praying for me." His faith and determination paid off. In two weeks, Matt could walk by himself. In three and a half weeks, he was sent home, and he continued daily outpatient therapy for the next three months.

Although now Matt could walk and talk, he still didn't have complete control over his movements, and making himself clear was often an effort. But he wanted to move ahead, to get out into the world. Not having a job didn't suit him. "I'd always worked," Matt says. "I didn't want to just sit around."

Matt's grandmother got him a job washing dishes in the nursing home where she worked. But Matt couldn't control the tremor in his left hand, and the job didn't work out. Next Matt decided to return to college--at least it would give him something to do. In winter of l998, he began courses at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, once again pursuing electrical engineering. He did fine his first quarter, when his classes were largely repeats of those he'd already had at O.U. But the second quarter, when he took classes with new subject-matter, Matt found he couldn't concentrate or pay attention. He failed both courses.

At home, with no job and no school, all those empty hours and all that disappointment led to depression. One night, Matt went into the garage and slit his wrists.

Following his suicide attempt, Matt ended up once again in Good Samaritan Hospital, only this time in the Mental Health Unit. During that time, as usual, Matt was a quick-study. "Being there, talking to people," he says, "made my problems seem so small." Three days later, he was sent home. At this point Matt got involved with HIRE, a Dayton-based program that provides vocational training for people with disabilities. During the HIRE program, he was referred to another Dayton program, Consumer Advocacy Model (CAM), which works with disabled people who have problems with substance abuse.

"Substance abuse occurs at a much higher rate among the disabled than among the general population," says Kristen Dunn, the director of CAM. For some people, their disability happens as a direct result of their substance abuse. For others, substance abuse begins after the disability as a response to pain management, or to depression related to the disability. In Matt's case, both pain management and depression pointed to potential problems with substance abuse. Before his accident, he'd enjoyed a good party, frequently drinking beer or smoking marijuana with friends. After his accident, he sometimes sought the temporary relief that liquor could bring, but soon discovered this road could lead to disaster.

"I can't have alcohol or marijuana," he says now. "They mess up my medications." As with all CAM participants, Matt's first step in the program was a thorough assessment, a three to four hour process which determines the person's specific needs. Matt's assessment revealed that he suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which helped explain his difficulties when returning to school.

Following the assessment, CAM staff designs a customized treatment program for each participant. For Matt, like most CAM clients, that program began with AWARE, an eight-week long twice-weekly group in which a facilitator presents information on substance abuse and leads discussions.

"Our facilitator brought up topics, asked for opinions," Matt says of his experience with the AWARE group. "We talked about how to stay sober, how to get through the day." For Matt, as for many CAM participants, the initial educational group was followed by a weekly support group, in which participants share stories and look closely at therapy issues. Matt found this group especially helpful.

"Most people in that group were older than me," he says. "They were trying hard to stay straight. It seemed like our talks were on a higher level."

Throughout this process, Matt also had weekly sessions with a counselor, to make sure his individual needs were being addressed. This individual attention is critical to the success of the CAM program, according to Kristen Dunn. "Wrapped around everything is the individual counseling and case management. Our program provides more individual attention than most programs because of what a disabled person goes through." Life began looking up for Matt. As well as his new sobriety and support from the CAM program, he had considerable support from his close, loving family. He and his grandfather embarked on a major project, the building of a brick driveway in front of his home. And Matt especially enjoyed spending time with his four-year-old brother, Mark, who had been born when he was away at college.

When Matt decided to re-enroll in Sinclair Community College, his CAM counselor, Bernie, went with him to help fill out the admission papers. Matt has a new major now, and new goals. Being with his little brother showed him how much he loves children, and he's studying for an Associate's Degree in Early Childhood Education. He works hard, and classes are going well now that Matt knows some techniques to help him deal with his ADD. "My concentration's a little better," he says.

Matt still meets weekly with his counselor, to check in and report on how things are going. The weekly meeting also includes a drug test, and passing it each week makes Matt feel good about himself. "Most of my friends can't say they've been clean for a year," he says. "I like saying that. It makes me feel proud. Now that I'm sober I can go straight to my goal."

For CAM participants, according to Kristen Dunn, success is threefold: getting sober, developing a sense of self-acceptance, and finding a vocational goal and beginning to work toward it. Given these criteria, Matt can count himself a success. While he still struggles daily with the challenges of his body and mind, he feels hopeful. When Matt talks about his plans, his face lights up.

"I feel good about my future," he says, describing his plans to eventually teach in elementary school. "Children are so innocent. If you can help pull them in the right direction, you'll be amazed what can happen. You can step back and look at what you've done and be proud of yourself."

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