Recovering addict shares story of hopePublished 10:43am Tuesday, February 14, 2012
By Billy Bruce
For The Tribune
The tag line of a Kenny Chesney hit song says, “I’ve been there, that’s why I’m here.”
When Ironton native Jay Miller took the podium last Saturday at STAR Community Justice Center, a facility of mostly drug addicts, Chesney’s song would have been an excellent background prop.
For the majority of his 43 years on Earth, he’s been where those gentlemen currently are. Lost. Ashamed. Trapped. Helpless. Hopeless.
In 1986, Miller graduated from Saint Joseph High School with much more than a diploma. He also had a couple of addictions that, unbeknownst to him at the time, would literally decimate his life.
“I started drinking beer and smoking weed in the sixth or seventh grade,” he recalled. “I wanted to be accepted and be cool.”
By the age of 21, he was drinking all day, every day. Then cocaine came calling and Miller made room in his life for yet another addiction.
Around 1998, he found pain pills (Percocet and Oxycontin) and then, when the price tag for those became too steep, he fell into heroin.
“When I found pain pills, it was all over,” he said, adding that what started as a $50 a day habit soon took everything he owned. “All I wanted to do was get high.”
In the next nine years, all of those highs added up to a very deep low. He lost his marriage and contact with his daughter, destroyed familial relationships and ended up in prison.
By late 2000, freshly divorced and strongly urged to leave Ironton due to his mounting number of arrests, Miller started all over in Cincinnati as a union carpenter making $22-26 per hour.
“But when I left Ironton, I took me with me,” he said, adding that his addiction followed him to the Queen City. He recalled working a plant shutdown for three months in early 2001. “I netted $22,000 in three months and I was broke,” he said incredulously. “I didn’t have any bills because I had gotten divorced and I wasn’t helping her (his ex-wife) at all.”
“I spent it all on dope.”
In June of 2005, after multiple trips to treatment centers and a lot of soul searching, Miller finally decided to give sobriety a shot. He stayed clean for nearly a year, but picked up a shot of whiskey in May of 2006 and quickly crashed into his old life. “Within six months of that drink, I was back on pain pills and living on the streets,” he recalled.
On Christmas night, he was arrested again. But he managed for a few weeks to get high in jail “because I’m a professional con man and manipulator,” he said.
This time was different, though, because his family finally stopped pulling him out of his holes. “When my enablers were gone; when my family said, ‘we love you but we’re not helping you anymore,’ that’s when I realized I would have to help myself.”
“If my dad hadn’t stopped giving and giving every time I asked, I’d still be out there (doing drugs),” he said, spending a few moments recalling the pain his lifestyle had inflicted upon his father.
On Jan. 17, 2007, he gave sobriety one more chance. This time, however, two things were different: he put all of his effort into staying clean and didn’t try to do it all by himself. God became his greatest ally. He attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He listened and adhered to the advice of his sponsor.
Finally, he was passionate about staying clean and sober.
“Prayer is the most important part of my day,” Miller said. “I physically get on my knees every single day and thank God for another day of sobriety.”
And that daily connection with God, he said, is what pushed him to march through the debilitating thoughts of worthlessness that often invaded his mind. Sure, the regrets are still there, but they no longer cripple him.
“Recovery is either the most important thing in my life, or it’s not,” he said, alluding to the STAR offenders that it takes a change of heart to open your mind.
And then he wrapped up by noting that having a felony on his record, like most of his spectators have, did not stop him from chasing his dreams once he got sober.
“I wanted to go back to school, but when the math got tough I thought, ‘why am I doing this? I have a felony. Nobody is going to hire me.’”
“But then I thought, ‘I don’t care if I find a job or not. I’m going to finish this degree because I’ve never finished anything in my life.’”
On Sep. 9, 2011, Jay Miller received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Columbus State Community College.
His first job interview, with a Fortune 500 company, was flawless. The hiring manager called him later and said she was sending him a pre-employment packet, listing salary and benefits. He was thrilled. Then, she said, “of course, we have to do a background check.”
All of his life he had lied and manipulated to get what he wanted. In this instance, he knew that wasn’t possible, but he still found the urge jumping to the forefront. “They won’t hire me when they find out I have a felony,” he thought. These are the kind of disappointments that lead to relapses.
Then, he thought about his meetings and all of the talks with his sponsor. He thought about his talks with God and the time he has spent working with other addicts. All of those conversations revolved around honesty and gave him hope.
So, he called the hiring manager and told her about his record. “I told her what I’d done, where I’d been, and what I was doing now to help others and stay sober,” he said.
After the company’s directors mentioned how much they admired him for telling them the truth, noting how difficult it must have been for him to do so, they hired him on the spot.
Honesty with God. Honesty with himself. Honesty with others. Those are the values of the 2012 version of Jay Miller, who celebrated five years of sobriety last month.
Helping others has become a staple in his life. The transparency of his presentation, listing all of the despicable things he has done throughout his lifetime, is aimed at connecting with others whom he knows have difficulty forgiving themselves and moving forward.
“I pray for God to put people in my life that I can help,” he said, adding that the Lord always answers.
Concluding his speech, Miller thanked his STAR audience. “Thank you for listening and for helping me stay sober,” he said. “This is God working in my life. I was prayed into this spot right here.”
He’s been there. That’s why he’s here.