The panel called him Shannon.
The fact that it was not his real name did nothing to negate the quiet respect he commanded when he sat to testify before the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use Amongst New Jersey's Youth and Young Adults at the Daytop Prep School last Tuesday in Mendham.
Shannon was a recovering alcoholic and drug user who saw the system from the inside, and now works in his free time to improve it from the outside.
“There are those of us who are able to recover,” Shannon said to the task force.
Shannon has been clean since December 22, 1994 and he said that despite the reality of the situation he was living in, he never saw his life for what it was.
“The active alcoholic and drug addict does not see the situation the same way the rest of the world does. I was homeless and jobless. But I didn’t understand what I was doing until someone said something to me at a detox facility and I saw who I was for the first time,” Shannon said. “I walked out of there with utter hopelessness and ended up in a 12 step program that allowed me to have a sudden change.”
The system worked for Shannon, who was able to get his life back on track.
“I went to Rutgers for my bachelor’s degree and got a graduate degree at Penn State,” Shannon said. “I have since traveled the world for my job as a recovered alcoholic.”
But if the current conditions were in place back when Shannon was addicted, his life may have turned out very differently.
“Part of my process now is to reach out to people,” Shannon said. “I have been doing this for 17 years and over the last ten, conditions have gotten tougher. I have brought people to the hospital only to have them released a few hours later.”
For his part, Shannon said being released from a facility before having time to detox is major stumbling block.
“No one is in a position to hear any understand anything in the first three days,” Shannon said. “Change doesn’t happen in a conversation when I am still throwing up dope sick.”
And it was that thought which drove Shannon’s recommendation to the task force.
“ I think that the taskforce needs to look at how much access is there for people who suffer from addiction,” Shannon said. “Look at Detox and treatment facilities as compared to 10 years ago.”
The Vice Chairman of the task force, Eric Arauz who is President and Founder of Arauz Inspirational Enterprises had high praise for Shannon.
“I would not be alive if I had not met you,” Arauz said.
Arauz, according to his website, overcame devastating child abuse at the hands of a mentally ill father that attempted to end his life at the age of 12. Arauz was then diagnosed Bipolar 1, PTSD (from trauma occurred in psychiatric hospitalization), Alcoholic and Drug Addicted (Tri-Occurring Disorder) in 1995 and in 1996 was confined in a Veterans Administration Maximum Security Mental Institution as a disabled Navy veteran from Operation Desert Shield and hospitalized for months on a maximum security ward.
“You are the best that the state has to offer because you do this without a title,” Arauz said. “You walk into other people’s hells.”
Arauz said that watching Shannon pursue and education and start a family gave him the strength he needed to do the same.
“We need to feel that what we do matters,” Arauz said. “We need to be believe in miracles when you see one and you are one. “
Regardless of the praise, Shannon'a story brought to the room something many said they hadn't felt before: hope.
Editor's note: This is the last of a five-part series about a hearing held at Daytop Prep School in Mendham by the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use Amongst New Jersey's Youth and Young Adults.