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What do you think of when you hear the phrase “heroin addict?” Perhaps you won’t picture someone who desperately wants to live but doesn’t know how. And most likely you won’t envision a person who has climbed out of the lowest imaginable places in order to break free from a life of depen- dence, mend a shattered life, heal broken relationships and begin the long arduous process of assimilating back into a society that doesn’t understand addiction and sometimes doesn’t care.
And you probably won’t think of Matt Bell: president and co-founder of Team Recovery – a rescue and recovery nonprofit addiction advocacy group; the COO and co-founder of Midwest Recovery Center – an inpa- tient addiction treatment center scheduled to open in August and a former heroin addict who has committed his life to bringing light into the darkness of addiction and creating a place of hope and success in the midst of hope- lessness and failure.
Unfortunately Bell’s story echoes those of many others as he describes the series of events that led to the day he wanted to end his life
“I had so much potential,” Bell said. “I experienced a lot of good early on in my life. I was raised in a loving family, and went to private schools.” He would graduate from St. Francis de Sales High School with a 4.0 GPA, then enroll at the University of Toledo on a full athletic baseball scholar- ship, where he looked forward to earning an international business degree and a future playing professional baseball.
“College was good. I was being scouted by three major league teams,” said Bell. But just two years in, he tore his rotator cuff and needed surgery. “Ninety Percocets turned into a Percocet addiction,” he said.
It was soon after that Bell would drop out of college, lose his scholarship and sell everything that he had. “That was the beginning,” he remembered. “And then it was nine years of in and out and doing what I had to do.
He says that it only got worse from there as he racked up misdemeanor charges, was arrested for some home invasions trying to support his heroin habit.
During that time, he says that he overdosed on heroin three times, went through rehab 28 times, and was arrested 13 times in four states and con- victed of felonies in two. He says that he even spent five days on an ICU ventilator but still hadn’t fallen far enough.
“It was all bad but it was nowhere near the worst,” he said. “I remember calling my mom multiple times and I’d say mom could you please just leave a sandwich on the front porch? I know you’re not going to let me in the house but please leave a sandwich out there, I haven’t eaten in four days.”
His mother’s response was “Matt if you come over here I’m going to call the police.”
Another time Bell describes a phone call to his mother, “It was during the winter. It was a blizzard and I was cold, and on the streets,” he said. “I said mom could you please just let me in.”
Again, his mother told him, “Matt if you come over here I’ll call the police.’ ”
He says that he knew it had been hard for his mom to get to that point.
“I’m a mama’s boy through and through,” Bell said. “In fact she was my biggest enabler in my addiction. My mom had gained weight and became depressed. The only time she slept well was when I was in jail.
“I know that it tore her apart to say ‘no you stay out in that blizzard.’ I have a six year-old and I can’t imagine saying no to him. It’s hard enough taking his Pokémon cards away. I found out later that after she hung up she would just cry.
“I’m the kind of person I love people. I like relationships. I like com- munity. I like friends. I like partnerships. I love collaboration. I love life. I love my family, but I’ve never been a person that wanted to die. And at the end it was literally to the point where I couldn’t call anybody and have them answer the phone. I didn’t have any friends. I was homeless in Toledo and I wanted to die.
“My son was taken away by that point. I couldn’t talk to him. I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t provide for him. It was just all negative. I looked at all of the things that I had to overcome to get my life back and I thought, I have no license, I have no phone and if I did have a phone nobody would answer. I can’t get around.
“Then there was child support, family court, felony warrants, and I was like it’s going to take forever. I’m not going to ever overcome this stuff even if I do get clean I’ll just probably be so depressed I’ll just go right back out. That’s what I thought and I just did not see any light at the end of the tunnel.”
Bell said while his mom was at work, he snuck into her garage to end his life. “I’d done the last of my heroin and I thought alright now I’m going to kill myself in peace where I’m comfortable,” he said. “I was suicidal and I was in my mom’s garage and I had a gun in my mouth. I wanted to die because I didn’t think that I could stop using.”
But Bell said his love for his mother kept him from pulling the trigger that day.
“I thought my mom’s going to come home and open the garage door and see her son with his brains all over the garage,” he said. “That’s the reason I didn’t do it.”
Today Bell is clean and sober and committed to helping others get through it. “It’s been a process,” he said. “Sometimes the hardest part of the pro- cess is getting out of the addict mentality.” And he said that even during treatment he continued to identify himself as a junkie, and a thief and a cheater and a liar until his counselor helped him to see things differently.
“The counselor reminded me that if I could live as man of character ev- erything would take care of itself,” said Bell. “It blew my mind. Wow, I thought, if I could just do the right thing people would start to trust me again.”
Part of the process involved the transition back into everyday living. “I had to learn how to get a license, and how to pay bills and open a bank ac- count. All of the things that seem so simple,” Bell said.
Meanwhile Bell was also able to incorporate the things he and his group of friends had learned during the recovery process that not only helped them to regain their own lives, but would also become a foundational prin- ciple for Team Recovery.
“We were all coming off of heroin and I don’t know why but I just wanted to leave,” Bell said. “I felt like I wanted to go and use heroin and I would look at somebody who had been there longer than me and I would be like how is that person doing pushups right now when I can’t even get out of bed?
“And I remember looking at him and seeing that he was doing better. And I was like if he can get there and he’s only four days clean then I know I’ve just got to hang on another day, just another day. Then there was another kid that was sober a day less than me who did the same thing with me. He saw me starting to feel better and he was like ‘you know if he can do it I can do it.’
“That’s what we did for each other. We were all in there at the same time and that’s basically what we did. We loved each other until we could love ourselves. If we would have been in separate places or if I had just been at home or in a jail cell I wouldn’t have made it.
“It was how do I get through this fight with my child’s mom without go- ing back out and using? I had to call someone who had been through it, and then learn how to get through. It was literally baby steps of learning how to live and to build some self-confidence and some self-worth.”
It was 2015 when Bell said he and his friends were headed to an NA meeting when they happened upon an addict standing by the freeway. “We were in detox together and we were like a month clean and we were on our
way to a meeting,” said Bell. “There were about 10 of us in my friend’s jeep because none of us had cars or licenses at the time, and we saw some- one holding a sign asking for money.”
Bell said he recognized the man from a previous treatment and didn’t want that sign to represent the face of addiction. “So we decided that we would go down to Cherry and Summit and hold up signs saying, Heroin is Killing Our Town- Free Hugs, and We Do Recovery, Recovery is Possible so that people would know that we were heroin addicts but we were not us- ing heroin and yes heroin is bad but we’re not all bad people, and that there is hope for people like us.
“We took pictures and put them on Facebook and we woke up the next day and there was like a half a million views and 200,000 likes.”
From there Bell says they created a phone line, an email address and a website, then formalized the project through the Secretary of State for $99. “We were getting all these phone calls from people asking for help and we were like only 90 days clean,” he said. We thought, we need to do some- thing to take that extra step, so we decided to turn it into a nonprofit. We found an attorney who donated time, but we were all still living in a half- way house and we were all still in treatment.
“But our goal was: to give back to the community, change the stigma as- sociated with heroin addiction, bring more treatment into the community, make treatment more affordable and get people to understand that once you get clean you can still have fun in life. Putting down drugs and alcohol seems like a death sentence to a lot of people but it’s literally the beginning of your journey.”
Today Team Recovery operates under three areas of service. The aware- ness component takes the nonprofit team inside of schools in Michigan, Indiana and NW Ohio where they speak to students ages 10-18 about life. “We don’t talk about heroin,” said Bell. “In fact 85 percent of our talks have nothing to do with drugs or alcohol.” He says instead they talk to the kids about issues that are important to them such as how to deal with drama on Facebook or how the relationships they have can influence decisions.
The second service Team Recovery offers is treatment referral. Bell says that he works to make vital connections throughout the area so that no one is turned away from treatment. “If someone calls us then I call D.A.R.T. – the Lucas County addiction resource unit – and if they say that there is a wait I’ll call a different county,” said Bell. “That’s what we do, we create connections with all Ohio counties so they can send people to us and we can send people to them.”
The third division of Team Recovery is FAD (families after addiction or death), a family support group that Bell started because he’d seen the kinds of things that his own family had experienced when he was using drugs. Here the principles of the organization continue.
“An addict can help another addict and a student can help another student so a family member can help another family member,” said Bell. He says that groups are held in an open forum that is supportive and consists of people who love someone struggling with addiction.
“These are family members who have witnessed an overdose or are en- ablers and are looking for resources,” he said. “Or those who don’t know how to trust loved ones yet and may question whether they should give the car back.”
Also on the horizon for Bell is the opening of Midwest Recovery Center – a 38-bed in-patient rehabilitation center located in Maumee where Bell said the focus will be
on a totally drug-free treatment and recovery program.
“There won’t be any opiate medications like Suboxone or Metha- done because we want to focus on the problem and stop the depen- dence on all meds.” He said he wants people to experience freedom from the medications that keep them tied to some outpatient facili- ties and he knows the challenges that exist.
After knee surgery Bell said he chose to opt out of any pain medication. “We don’t sugar coat anything. We’re talking about life or death not about what places rank best in the country,” he said.
Just recently, Bell received the Advocate of the Year Award from The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County for his ef- forts to provide resources and help to those who struggle with addiction.
“It’s crazy,” Bell said about how far he’s come since that first post on Facebook. “We’re recovering heroin addicts and we’ve developed this ma- chine that works really well. I have my license back. I have my son. I have a vehicle that has insurance. I have bank accounts. I have businesses. I have a life. My mom who once said ‘if you come over here I’m calling the police,’ I now have the key to her house. I have the passwords to her security systems and she calls me for favors like, ‘will you go get the mail or will you let the dogs out?’”
And while he continues to help those who struggle the way he struggled in the past, Bell is also working to maintain his own sobriety.
“At first, it was hard for me to be a normal person. But the only difference between me and a normal person is that I don’t drink or do drugs – I can’t. So I go to coffee shops instead of bars. I go to concerts. I go to movies. If I go to a bar for food I make sure I have a plan that I’m going in here to have some food and then I leave.
“It’s a daily reprieve,” he said. “It’s clearly one day at a time and it’ll be that way for the rest of my life. Honesty and Humility are the two things that help me stay clean. And the realization that I can’t do it Matt’s way – I have to do it God’s way. I don’t know exactly what God’s will is for me and I don’t know exactly what He wants me to do but I do know what He doesn’t want me to do, and if I can just stay out of my own way I know that God has a plan. He brought me to it because He was going to bring me through it.
“I do meetings and I have a sponsor and the 12-step programs and those principles are what help me stay sober. Honesty, humility, justice, faith, service, brotherly love, these are the 12-step principles.”
What he wants the community to know about addiction is compassion and understanding.
“The community needs to understand and learn about the disease of ad- diction,” said Bell. “They need to realize that these people are sick. Yes, it was a choice at first, but when you’ve been doing this for a certain amount of time the structure of the brain changes. If people understood it a little more the stigma would change.”
For more information about Team Recovery contact them at: 419- 561-LIFE
Visit their website: www.TheTeamRecovery.org
Find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NoMoreHeroin Instagram www.instagram.com/TeamRecovery419
Written by Linda Nelson, Sojourner’s Truth Reporter
Original article on The Truth Toledo