One man’s journey into
Sgt. Paul Ryan and embedded social worker Elisa Delgado approach a homeless man who was standing near a fence on the trail near Ixtapa restaurant. They are part of the Monroe Police Department’s social outreach team that encounters people and works to try to help them.
MONROE — Sitting in the back of a police cruiser, 33-year-old Joshua Johnson is open to talking about the life he sees ahead and why he just graduated from the Snohomish County Jail’s Diversion Center.
“I got nothing to hide. The world’s seen my worst,” Johnson said.
Johnson has lived outside. When the Monroe Police found him, he was in a recycling bin. He said they were going to take him to jail, but took him to detox instead, describing the law enforcement meet-up as “divine intervention.”
He went through the process of getting detained and being transported to detox and it felt familiar.
“It scared me that I was getting used to it,” he said.
He has been to rehab more than once since he was in his 20s. That’s when the heroin use began. The Diversion Center program he took part in to get on-track is designed to divert people away from incarceration, after experiencing homelessness or substance abuse issues.
Johnson has lived with addiction for 12 years, spending two of them sober. He regrets the harm his addiction caused.
He plans to be an electrician. Suboxone helped start his recovery but he’s decided to let that go. He is taking the goal of 120 narcotics anonymous meetings in 90 days. He is determined.
He has healthy outlets: he plays guitar, he likes to hike. In a conversation about “The Body Keeps the Score,” by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, he listens intently to the process described by the medical doctor and writer: rhythmic exercise is medicinal for anxiety and depression. Johnson mentions he already has plans to start boxing.
Remission from addiction is possible, says an article in Psychology Today about recovery, but Johnson knows success is harder than it sounds. Eyes locked with his interviewer, he says, “No, you have to be vigilant.”
Johnson’s drug of choice is heroin. He remembers when he and the opiate first met.
“They were prescribed to me by a doctor,” he said. He upped the prescribed dose on his own and found he could ride his quads all day, even with an injury. Remembering it now, he said opiates feel “like a brain hug, and you’re not cold.”
One in four people who try heroin become addicted, according to addictioncenter.com.
Johnson has tools to stay on-track. He drew some from the treatment program he just got out of.
“How was your vacation?” asks one of his guides. She’s prepared to walk him through the paperwork to get an Orca card and another card to buy food.
“Vacation?” he asks, then she mentions his 28-day treatment. “Oh, I got healthy. I got to dig into some emotional issues. It was good.”
When he enters clean-and-sober housing, he’ll be walking distance from a bus stop. Six months of his time there is paid: $650 per month, for a community housing environment. He shares a room and intends to get back on his feet in a few months.
He will be headed to the union hall to find out the steps to take to become an electrician. Previously he worked in flooring, but “my knees won’t take it.” At one time he trained to be a barber. He spent $9,000 on education to train for a job. It closed, and the money could not be recovered, and the credits could not be used.
Private business credits do not transfer to other schools.
He said what has worked well in recovery is “a spiritual program and impulse control.” He is advised to stop with his first thought before making the next choice.
“My first thought is not always the best one,” he said.
Asked his challenges, he said, “my challenges are people and places.”
Elisa Delgado, embedded social worker for the Monroe Police Department, said people in recovery are often advised to stay away from their old stomping grounds. Friends who used with them will be there, and seeing them can lead to old habits.
Johnson is establishing his direction. He said his recovery so far has taught him how to dig down to the root causes of his drug use. He said his depression is “very manic. I’d have moments where I’d be extra happy,” but the drug Wellbutrin helps with that.
Opiates were a salve for depression and anxiety. The depression came on when he was a teen, and he told his mom about it. He relayed that she told him, “you’re not old enough to be depressed.” He said he never liked alcohol but was drawn to “anything that made me feel different.”
When he hit his 20s, Johnson started using heroin. His mom found out and drove him to rehab.
“She didn’t know what to do,” he remembered.
Anxiety has been a problem for him, too, and looking back he was surprised that they go together in the same person.
“I didn’t know what anxiety was. I just thought I was out of breath,” he remembered.
Sitting in the back of a Monroe Police Department cruiser on the way to clean-and-sober housing, Johnson was asked what brought him to here, in this police car.
“I’m here now because I was tired of being tired. It was getting really cold out and my family deserves to have (a son and brother back).” He has other siblings. One is still out there. One died. When he lived homeless and chasing his addiction, “I wasn’t a service to anyone but myself.”
Getting help was not natural for him, because it was not part of his family culture.
“We’re a ‘John Wayne’ family,” he said, enduring what comes along. His demeanor confirms that: upright, stoic, firm handshake, eye contact with conversation, even when peering through a partition in the back of a police cruiser.
Asked what he will do now, he says, “Whatever God has planned for me.”
Johnson has insights on why there are so many tents outside, along I-5 near Seattle and elsewhere throughout Snohomish County. He says there seems to be a war between the haves and have-nots. Some places exist that could be used for housing, but they sit idle. People isolate on phones and social media — a contrast from the outdoor living he just left behind. Homeless people spend time together, and they listen, he said.
He is back in touch with his mom and asked what she thought of his recovery, he said, “She’s ecstatic.”
What does he want to tell people who are still out there?
“If they’re in active addiction, stay resilient and never give up,” he said. “Know that someone does care about them.”
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