Matt McClester

Matt McClester, a resident of Berlin Heights and field representative for Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local 40 in Mansfield, struggled with substance abuse, but he was able to turn his life around. 

Editor's Note: As we look ahead to the Spherion 13ER this Saturday, an event which is designed to bring light to organizations that are actively involved in drug prevention locally and start conversations for drug prevention in our communities, we wanted to re-publish one of our "Road to Recovery" stories from earlier this year. The articles were intended to show that recovery is possible and to highlight success stories. Events like the half marathon are positive steps to assist our community in helping those who are battling addiction.

When Matt McClester woke up one day feeling groggy and confused, unsure of where he was or how he got there, it was then that he realized he needed to get clean.

"I just had this feeling that I had to quit," he said.

So on that day--Jan. 10, 2004--he set out to live a drug-free, alcohol-free life, putting an end to bad habits that first began when he was in middle school. 

From experimentation to addiction

McClester, an Ashland native and current resident of Berlin Heights, began drinking alcohol in middle school. "That's when I first started experimenting," he said.

When he entered high school, he started smoking marijuana.

During a school dance, he and his friends got high in the school parking lot. "And I just remember at that point, I made a more or less conscious decision that that's what I wanted to do: I just wanted to get high," he said.

His grades went from As and Bs to Cs and Ds as he progressed through high school. "It wasn't that I couldn't do the work. It was just that I didn't want to anymore," he said.

While friends of his could use drugs off and on without being affected, McClester was hooked. "I just always remember that feeling from every time I used any substance--I always wanted more. It was never enough," he said. "Some of my friends would do it once and they didn't want anything else to do with it, but that wasn't me."

It got to the point where he was getting high seven days a week.

When he was a senior, he got into legal trouble and was sentenced to serve 60 days in the juvenile detention center.

"That was the first time in awhile that I got the drugs out of my system and cleaned up. I remember thinking I'm done doing that," he said.

A self-described "model prisoner," McClester had his sentence shortened to 40 days.

As part of his sentence, he was required to attend three 12-step recovery meetings. "I got a hold of a guy I knew who was going to 12-step meetings and he told me about a campout that was coming up, and my thinking was I'll go to that because I like camping out and that'll take care of my three meetings," he said.

However, while sitting around a campfire, laughing and hanging out with friends, McClester noticed he could have fun without getting high. "And that was when the first seeds of recovery were planted in me," he said.

In the spring of 1989 he graduated from Ashland High School and then enrolled in a college in Texas.   

By moving from Ohio to Texas, he thought he could overcome his addiction through a "geographical cure," but old habits die hard as he came to find out.

He dropped out of college after a year and ended up marrying his high school sweetheart. Together, they had a daughter. McClester thought his marriage and baby girl would motivate him to stop using. "It did to an extent, but I would go off on binges," he said.

Two years later, he and his wife got divorced. "But of course my addict-thinking was it wasn't my fault--it was her fault...and that gave me an excuse to get high," he said.

Equal-opportunity drug user

During his 20s, he'd go three or four years using drugs and then sober up for about four months, "but then it was always after that I'd forget the bad times and remember the good times and think I could [use] again without all of the consequences, and it always took me back to the same place," he said.

He called himself an "equal-opportunity drug user." "I never had a drug I didn't like and if you had something, I was willing to use," he said.

To support his habits, he worked two or three jobs. "I always worked and I had nothing to show for it other than getting high," he said.

He was able to hide his addiction from his co-workers and bosses. When he wanted to go to an inpatient rehabilitation center in Crestline, his boss was taken aback, not realizing he had a substance abuse problem.

He said his two-week stay at the rehab center helped initiate recovery because through it he learned about himself and the disease of addiction.

"But that still didn't make me quit," he said.

Getting clean

He entered a relationship with a woman who used drugs, which encouraged him to begin using again, too.

"But then, finally, on Jan. 10, 2004, I woke up after using for about three or four days straight and didn't know where I was or how I got there. I just had this feeling that I had to quit," he said.

While reading the local newspaper, he learned of a 12-step meeting that was scheduled for that evening. He went to the meeting and shared about his addiction to others who told him about additional meetings he may want to attend.

"That's how I broke the cycle of addiction--just by going to a lot of meetings and being around people who weren't using," he said.

He said it's suggested that addicts attend 90 meetings during their first 90 days of recovery, and he went to 120 meetings in the first 90 days.

He eventually began facilitating meetings and said it was exciting to realize that he was responsible enough to show up to meetings on time and have coffee ready for people.

As he worked through the 12 steps, he started eating healthier, exercising, working through emotional pain and strengthening his spiritual life. He also strengthened his relationship with his daughter, he said.

But temptation still lingered, especially during withdrawal.

"Probably the first week [of recovery] I didn't sleep hardly at all," he said. "You feel like you don't even want to be in your own skin, and that's what drives a lot of people back...But I got through it because I had people who cared about me."

Helping others

Celebrating his first full year drug-and-alcohol-free was a big milestone, he said. "And things slowly but surely got better--they weren't always easy, but they did get better," he said.

He remarried and was finally able to complete his apprenticeship at work. His addiction had previously prevented him from completing the apprenticeship because classes were held Saturday morning and he often couldn't sober up enough to attend, he said.

Eventually, he became secretary treasurer at his work--Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local 40 in Mansfield. "One of the ironic things of becoming secretary treasurer," he said, "Was when I was an addict, I couldn't keep 20 bucks in my pocket, and then I was taking care of an account that had tens of thousands of dollars in it."

He proved himself trustworthy at work and in 2006 became a field representative.

He became active in his church and started coaching his kids' sports teams. He also became a member of the Edison School Board of Education and a campaign co-chair for the United Way of Richland County. 

In his free time, he visits jails and correctional facilities to help people who suffer from addiction. He conducts monthly recovery meetings at Mansfield Correctional Institution, Richland Correctional Institution, the Huron County Jail, and the Lorain/Medina Community Based Correctional Facility.

He said he has empathy for those who are incarcerated and are battling addiction. "I've been there and I know the feeling, and I know that's a time when you can reach people," he said.

And despite his busy schedule, he still makes time to attend 12-step meetings.

Why?

"I need to hear people share their stories to remind me to stay clean," he said.

Though drinking and drug-use doesn't consume his thoughts as much as before, "It's always a thought and it's always there," he said. "It's just today I've learned to make better choices." 

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Thrive Reporter

Thrive reporter. Graduate of Ontario High School and Ohio State Mansfield. Wife. Mom. Dog lover. Fitness enthusiast. Plant collector. Mac and cheese consumer.

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