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franklin county times

Former addict speaks from experience

By By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
June 14, 2001
Gene Coleman turned 44 in April. He says he has been drug-free for seven years after "feeding the monster" for more than half his life.
Coleman became director of Weems Lifecare June 1. He earned his bachelor's degree in social work from Mississippi State University in May. He worked at Weems for five years as an alcohol and drug counselor after briefly serving as a house manager beginning in 1995. Before that, Coleman was a Weems patient.
Feeding the monster
Coleman was born and raised in Jackson. He began abusing alcohol when he was 12 or 13. His substance abuse progressed to Valium, marijuana, and eventually crack.
Coleman said his substance abuse began out of accessibility, but he believes he had the symptoms of addiction long before he started using anything, evidenced by his manipulation, dishonesty and feelings of inadequacy.
He said he has committed crimes because he needed money to get high.
Being addicted is like being a prisoner or a slave, he said. The drug is all that matters, though people lie to themselves about it.
Coleman regrets the hurt he caused his family, especially his mother, and the time wasted in jail. But he said the biggest price was losing himself. He said he was basically a street person from the time he began using.
A new home
Coleman wanted out of Jackson. A friend who was in treatment directed him to Meridian. Coleman was tired of the way he was living. He had been in treatment three times before coming to Weems, but he kept going back to drugs.
Coleman's friend paid for his treatment. He said that when he began to pay her back, he began to grow up. Now Coleman helps others the same way.
The first job he was offered at Weems, Coleman turned down. But when the opportunity for employment came up again, he felt "something" wanted him there.
Coleman appreciates the opportunity Weems gave him.
Today Coleman calls Meridian home, though he still visits Jackson to see his mother, Gertrude. "She's so proud of me," he said. "That's one of the benefits of being clean and living different. She doesn't have to worry about me anymore."
Doing the work
Coleman believes there is no cure for the disease of addiction, but he said it can be arrested, which makes recovery possible. That's what the staff at Weems Lifecare tries to do.
A treatment facility is usually a last resort for people suffering from substance abuse. Sometimes people are ordered by a court to get treatment, but even then, treatment is voluntary. Coleman has seen people choose jail over help.
As was in Coleman's case, many people have to lose everything before they attempt to get treatment.
The help Weems Lifecare offers includes an outpatient program, an extended treatment program and after-care, a two-year program for people who complete treatment either through Weems or another facility and weekly support group meetings.
Coleman's plans to return to school in the fall to pursue his master's degree in social work. On a professional level, he has continued to hold several group sessions since he moved into the director's position. He said he will continue to sit in with groups. At times he uses his past as a resource for others who are without hope. He wants people to know they are not a lost cause.
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at sgillespie@themeridianstar.com.