Recovery specialist shares story of addiction, recovery
By the time he was 15, Taylor Falk had been drinking alcohol. Within the next year or two, he added other substances to his list of indulgences.
“By the time I got to college, when I was 19, I started experimenting with cocaine and stuff — the harder stuff,” Falk shared.
“And then in my sophomore year of college, I broke my back playing football, and I was prescribed prescription painkillers,” he said.
At that time, doctors didn’t have as much information about opioid addiction, admitted Falk, now 31.
“I think doctors had just different protocols in general, and it led me to a pretty significant opioid addiction,” he said.
That addiction lasted over a year, and then came heroin.
“I went on to a full-blown heroin addiction, which lasted upwards to about six years. I actively used heroin,” Falk said.
Eventually, Falk said, his past caught up with him.
“I ended up being arrested in this county. This is how I kind of became aware of West Branch (Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission) because I was placed on Lycoming County Treatment Court,” he said, which was where he met Shea Madden, executive director of the commission.
“I completed the program in two years. That was really my first real crack at recovery. I graduated and I’ve been clean ever since,” Falk said.
Dec. 2, 2015, marked the start of his sobriety. Now he works as a certified recovery specialist with West Branch, helping others to reach that point.
How he arrived at that point is marked not only by the drugs he took before working toward sobriety, but also by the destruction of relationships along the way.
“There were multiple components or variables that led to that. But ultimately, if I could place my finger on one thing, it was the emotional pain. I hated destroying everything in my life,” he said. “My family didn’t want anything to do with me.”
“Before I went to jail, I was homeless for about six months. I completely sabotaged my own life and destroyed everything around me. There was tons of collateral damage. I just got to the point where I think I met my pain threshold, you know? Enough is enough,” he said.
“I was sick of living that way. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I knew that I needed a change, I just wasn’t sure how to go about that at first or even if it was possible,” he added.
Falk had to deal with the legal repercussions. There were certain things he was mandated to do to work towards recovery. He also had to do “a lot of legwork outside of the treatment court realm,” he said.
“I just knew that there was a far better life for me than what I was currently living in,” he said.
His road to recovery wasn’t easy. He admitted that after eight years of addiction he still had to deal with negative thoughts, thought patterns and perspectives, even though he was no longer using drugs and alcohol.
Having gone through recovery, Falk feels the early days to about a year or so of being clean were the hardest. He stressed the importance of surrounding himself with the right people.
“Staying away from certain people, places and things I knew were triggers, that I knew were no good. The tough part about that is a lot of those acquaintances and so-called friends you had to cut out of your life to ensure that you would be able to maintain this road to recovery,” Falk said.
Falk’s addiction also caused a separation from his family.
Unlike some people who end up in addiction, Falk said his parents were phenomenal.
His childhood was not traumatic. He didn’t come from a broken home.
“My parents have been together my whole life. They raised me with morals and integrity, which I so chose not to live by for a certain amount of time,” he said.
His parents had given him what he said were “hundreds and hundreds of chances” but in the end were faced with “either we love you with tough love or you’re going to die.”
“Honestly, I really think they saved my life,” he said.
At one point he was totally alienated, by choice, from his parents. There were no Christmases and Thanksgivings spent together. His parents had blocked his number from their phone.
“That was definitely one of the things that probably hurt the most and that was something that was one of the blessings of recovery,” he stated.
He ended up living with his parents right out of jail as part of his home plan.
“That was a pretty pivotal point because we had such a burned relationship. There was no trust there that, living with them for those two years, we were able to learn how to interact again. Learn how to trust again. That has been one of the things at the top of my list of things that I’ve gained back since being clean,” he said.
Today, he said, his relationship with his parents is “probably as good as it’s ever been.”
In Pennsylvania, to be certified as a recovery specialist, you have to be in active recovery with at least 18 months of continuous sobriety. Because of that, Falk said he feels that it places recovery specialists in a unique position to mentor people at whatever stage they are in their journey.
“We have individuals that are sometimes new to recovery, and sometimes they’re still in active addiction, and they’re still struggling. I think it’s that shared common trait that really allows those doors to open with being comfortable and transparent with our issues going on and really allowing us to advocate for them and tell them our experience of what works and what doesn’t work,” he said.
His life experiences also enables him to help those entering recovery to find a support system and to introduce them to other “people who are living the right life.”
“That’s been really very rewarding for me because, especially the people who are still struggling, when I talk to them, sometimes they don’t have to say anything, I can just see that pain in their eyes. That hopelessness, that despair, that ‘is this the way I’m going to die?'” he said.
“Just being able to tell them, hey, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. If you get through this, there is hope for you. If I can do it, you can do it,” he stated.
Falk thinks that sometimes recovering addicts undersell themselves, especially early in the process in the sense of how much is gained by being clean.
“Everything that I have regained from being clean and even gained that I didn’t have before is way beyond my wildest dreams. It’s just something that is probably the most rewarding thing — we can offer some hope and some shared personal experience and really help those individuals,” he said.
The “meat and potatoes” of the programs at West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission is the case management unit, Falk said.
“They do assessments, screenings with individuals who could be coming from a hospital; could be coming home from a rehab, a mental health facility, prisons. They just kind of engage that individual and set them up with the best resources to ensure their success, whether that’s outpatient counseling. It could be mental health counseling. We offer housing assistance,” he explained.
They also offer a prevention team which normally goes into schools, educate the faculty and to special lessons with each grade level. They also offer services for adolescents and juveniles who are actively struggling. The certified recovery specialist team also does the warm handoff at local hospitals. They also meet with individuals in the community. Everybody at the commission is involved with the county treatment court system, Falk said.
One thing Falk wants people to know about people in active addiction is that just because they’re like that now, that’s not what they’ll be forever.
“I just want people to know that those loved ones or those people or those individuals that they see in active addiction is probably not a true representation of themselves,” he said.
“It comes with a lot of prices and a lot of demons, but there is absolutely hope. I know countless people that have completely turned their lives around,” he added.
This story was written from a video that is now available on the Sun-Gazette YouTube channel.