Gratitude in Recovery

In 1997 Thomas was summoned to his lawyer’s downtown Indianapolis office. There he was handed a check for $100,000.

The money was from a settlement over a car crash that happened the year before. A drunk driver going the wrong way on a Tennessee highway struck the car Thomas was in, killing his aunt and cousin. Thomas was the only survivor.

Check in hand, he went to the bank across the street from his lawyer’s office and tried to cash it. Several bank officials tried to convince Thomas to at least deposit some of the money, but he persisted.

The money was gone three months later. Thomas smoked about $1,000 worth of crack daily. His family didn’t even know he had received the money. His daughter was graduating high school at the time. The money could’ve paid for her college education. Despite all that, Thomas continued to use until a couple years later. Now a constant presence as a volunteer at Fairbanks, one of his messages to those currently in treatment is: “Your circumstances don’t get you clean and sober. It’s an inside job.”

Thomas was in and out of treatment – including Fairbanks multiple times – before recovery took hold. It all started when he was just 13. Thomas would go to sock hops but be too afraid to ask any girls to dance. One time someone brought a 2-liter filled with wine. Thomas imbibed.

“From that moment on, I became the life of the party,” said the Indianapolis native, who graduated from North Central High School. “I could dance, I could talk. I used alcohol for everything. It gave me a false sense of security.”

Before long he was drinking daily. Kicked out of Vincennes University, Thomas enlisted in the Navy. He took full advantage of lax rules on underage drinking at his base. By age 21 Thomas had amassed five alcohol-related arrests.

In the 1980s, he added crack and cocaine to his list of abused substances.

“If it wasn’t for crack, I would probably still be a practicing alcoholic,” Thomas said. “Crack just drove me in to complete insanity. That’s when I started doing things I said I’d never do.”

That included stealing from his family, even his daughter’s lunch money. By 1999 – the last time Thomas was a patient at Fairbanks – he was homeless.

“My family didn’t want to bother with me anymore. I had burned every bridge I had,” Thomas said. “I was at my wit’s end.”

He credits the medical staff at Fairbanks with turning his life around. Thomas still vividly remembers sitting on the curb outside Fairbanks after being discharged from inpatient treatment. He was trying to figure out how to get back to his old neighborhood, a hardscrabble area notorious for drugs and crime.

“The medical staff convinced me to go to the Fairbanks Supportive Living Program,” Thomas said. “That was the change in my recovery that I needed.”

He stayed in SLP for nine months before moving in with his mom. Thomas later found a house being rehabilitated that the owner was willing to rent to him. He eventually bought it.

Thomas also started volunteering at Fairbanks around the same time, something he’s been doing for over 16 years now. He sponsors others who are in recovery. And he attends support meetings on his own every other day.

“I try to stay active in this fellowship because it keeps me motivated,” Thomas said. “If I stay active, it keeps that creeping out of my mind that I’m OK. The day I start thinking that is when I’m probably in trouble again. Recovery is what got me everything I have today. I don’t want to leave what got me everything, because if I do I’ll go back to where I was.”

Between 1984, when Thomas got treatment the first time, and 1999, he attended many different treatment centers.

“There was something different about Fairbanks,” Thomas said. “They cared about you, even after your initial treatment was over.

“I’m really grateful to this place. It’s why I keep coming back.”