My name is Spencer Brothers, and I recently celebrated 6 hard-earned years in recovery from drugs and alcohol. Through relapses, hopelessness, homelessness, and involvement in the criminal justice system, I have come out the other side to find that the life that recovery has given me is beyond what I imagined was possible for me. I am eternally grateful for this gift.
But even as I celebrate each passing year in recovery and each new milestone in my life, I watch old friends that don’t make it. One of those friends was my best friend, Chris Atwood, who died of a heroin overdose at age 21. Chris was a truly amazing person, and he and I were like brothers. His loss was shocking and tragic. Sadly, he’s far from the only one I’ve lost.
I am sick of losing people to this disease. So, I decided to do something about it.
On March 11th of this year I started a crazy journey of remembrance, self-discovery, and hope. I embarked on an effort to hike the entire 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, to honor the memory of Chris, and all the others we have lost, and to raise funds to prevent future overdoses. Funds raised through my journey will go to The Chris Atwood Foundation to provide naloxone, the medication that reverses opioid overdose, to people who need it. The Chris Atwood Foundation, which started in memory of my friend Chris, has spent the four years since his death advocating to reduce the stigma and increase resources like naloxone in the DC area.
As of writing this, I have walked almost a thousand miles through four states, weathering snowstorms, pounding rain, and heat. I’ve had a tree branch fall on my head and mice try to steal my food. Early on I injured my leg, but kept going, one step at a time, until it recovered. Now I log more than 20 miles a day on good days. I feel myself growing stronger and even more resilient. In just a couple of weeks, my girlfriend, Sarah Guthrie, another gift of recovery, will join me on the rest of the trail. I feel blessed and purposeful. But I haven’t always been this person.
Six years ago, my addiction had taken over my life. I had been to two wilderness therapy programs, one therapeutic boarding school, had been homeless for a short period, and was actively dodging drug tests at the outpatient treatment center I was court-mandated to attend. I was failing out of community college, couldn’t hold a job, had broken my family’s trust, and was full of anxiety and depression I couldn’t cope with.
However, on February 27, 2011, I was granted a moment of reprieve from the irrational thinking and behavior that characterizes the disease I suffered from, and in that window of willingness I asked for help. Through quality resources and continuous love and support from family members and friends, I was able to begin to stand and transform my life. For the last six years, I have stayed clean from alcohol and other drugs the only way I think doing so is possible – one step at a time.
I realize that I am very fortunate. Most who try to recover from drug addiction do not have the arsenal of resources and support that I do. For many, their communities stigmatize rather than support them, and lack of funding and treatment resources make access to care nearly impossible. Even with adequate resources, recovering from drug addiction is a difficult thing to do.
This is why I am so passionate about doing what I can, and asking you to do what you can, to support organizations like The Chris Atwood Foundation in their work to increase access to life-saving resources and recovery support. In addition to providing overdose reversal trainings and access to naloxone, they support recovery housing, collegiate recovery, and have taken a big part in passing recovery friendly legislation in my home-state of Virginia. This didn’t happen all at once though – it’s been a process.
Recovery from addiction doesn’t happen all at once either.
Just like all difficult things, it must be accomplished one step and one day at a time. My work in recovery has been done one day, sometimes one hour, at a time. In the same way, I will walk 2,200 miles by putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.
Someone wise once told me to never be afraid to do something because of the time it takes to accomplish it. The time will pass anyways.
So take that first step.
Donate to my journey and save lives from overdose at: www.crowdrise.com/blazing-the-