Matt Heskett comes from a good family. He attended Catholic schools, graduated from a state school with a business degree, was always a good student.
Addiction isn’t supposed to happen to someone like him. But somewhere along the way, he started taking painkillers for reasons other than pain.
“Mine was the same story as most people’s – it just progressed,” Heskett said of his substance use disorder.
By all accounts he maintained a normal existence after college, which included a good job and a nice car. Yet he was always using something too. If Heskett wasn’t drinking he was smoking cannabis or taking pills.
“I always had to have something in me to take the edge off or get me outside of myself,” he said.
Why, Heskett can’t really say. His level of partying in college seemed normal enough to him. Eventually, though, his drugs of choice went from being recreational to a crutch. What once was a weekend activity became a daily habit.
“It got to the point where it just consumed every aspect of my life,” Heskett said.
That’s when his job performance began to suffer and his relationships started to fray. He couldn’t admit the extent of his problem, even when presented with a way out. His employer offered to pay for treatment but Heskett refused. After losing his job, he went from barely keeping employment to not working at all. Heskett resorted to stealing to fund his habit.
During all this he lived in constant fear and confusion as to why he couldn’t just quit using the substances that were ruining his life. Why couldn’t he go out with friends for one beer and then go home and go to bed?
“A fear of the unknown – and that I couldn’t overcome this – kept me in a vicious cycle,” Heskett said. “Plus I had been dependent on drugs for so long that I had a physical need for them. Even if you tell yourself you’re going to stop, you feel so awful that your mind tells you to do whatever you’ve got to do to make this stop. I knew what I was doing was bad, but at the time using was all I could think about.”
A couple attempts at treatment ended almost as soon as they began. Instead, Heskett abused substances even more, and started using even deadlier ones. A turning point came when police raided a house he was hanging out at. Heskett avoided arrest only because he wasn’t listed on the warrant.
“I knew I had to do something, or that was going to end up being me,” he said.
Heskett had come to Fairbanks before for assessments, but had never committed to treatment. This time he did: Oct. 20, 2015. After detoxing, Heskett spent nine months in Fairbanks’ Supportive Living Program.
“That was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. I needed that structure and support,” he said.
During that time Heskett also utilized the Partial Hospitalization (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient (IOP) programs at Fairbanks. He started volunteering in the organization’s gym and coffee and gift shops after meeting the required 90 days of continuous sobriety. And he shared his experience with patients in Fairbanks’ adolescent and adult male programs.
So why did recovery finally stick for Heskett after going through Fairbanks?
“This time I started doing what everyone suggested. I knew it was now or never for me,” he said, adding that maintaining a schedule and reconnecting with his spiritual side were also key.
The staff at Fairbanks – many of whom are in recovery themselves – proved inspirational too.
“Just talking with them and seeing where they are now gave me faith that I could do it too,” Heskett said.
In time the recovery community at Fairbanks has become like an extended family for him.
“I see a lot of the same people all the time, and it’s nice to catch up and see them continue to flourish,” Heskett said.
Indeed, during his treatment many people reached out to him to see how he was doing and offer support. Now Heskett tries to do the same for others.
“That’s what so much of this is about,” he said of recovery. “Not necessarily because you know everything there is to know, but just being there for them and showing what’s possible.”
That outreach became essential when Heskett’s girlfriend died from an overdose. They met while volunteering in Fairbanks’ coffee shop. She had just celebrated seven months of sobriety.
“I had so many people reaching out to me and offering support,” Heskett said. “It was overwhelming honestly. I had text messages from people whose numbers I didn’t know. You get that feeling from a lot of people here. You may not know them personally, but you don’t want to see them hurt themselves.”
If anything, the loss galvanized Heskett’s recovery. He went from being a volunteer at Fairbanks who openly shared his remarkable story to joining the staff as a young adult guidance specialist and starting training to become a recovery coach.
“I lost friends from going through all this, but I gained so many more through recovery,” Heskett said. “This is where I’m supposed to be. We’re all here to help each other. That’s what this is all about.”
He still vividly remembers a conversation with his late girlfriend about their supposed purpose in life. Heskett always had grand plans for himself. Make lots of money. Achieve great things. But she didn’t think ambitions always needed to steer in that direction. Sometimes it can be as simple as helping others and bringing a smile.
“I carry that more now,” Heskett said. “I still don’t necessarily understand why all this happened. But helping others has become my biggest joy. That’s my purpose – trying to help the next person.”