News & Press
Man in Recovery struggles to get back what he lost
Recovering addict struggles to get back what he lost
By MIKE STUCKA
Three moments from one man’s road to recovery are just as vivid as when he first experienced them: Darren Jackson is trying to get clean, and his daughter lets him walk her from the detox center to her car. He remembers the joy and hope he saw as he cradled his infant daughter, the apple of his eye. He looks into her eyes now and sees hurt, and he knows he caused it. He vows to stop hurting her.
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In downtown Macon, Jackson sits on a Poplar Street bench, the one he pretty much lives on, watching the world go by. He sits on that bench as he sees people go to work. He’s sitting as he sees the same people return from work. He sat on the bench that day, and he thinks about his daughter, who is about to graduate from Mercer University. He thinks about how he doesn’t want his daughter to see him as he is, back on drugs, again. He missed her senior prom and her high school graduation. He stands. He starts walking. He starts crying. Business owners ask if they can help him, but he doesn’t want help. Until he does. He looks upward and asks God for help, maybe the first time he’s really asked for divine intervention in the 15 years he’s been on the streets.
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Jackson is at Mercer University. His daughter, Dora Dixon, is graduating with a degree in criminal justice. He recognizes the irony, because his life has revolved around drugs and alcohol for almost half of his daughter’s life. With help from a church and a detox center, he’s been clean for three months. He looks into her eyes again. Her eyes are filled with life and joy.
* * *
Last week, Jackson, 50, sat in a comfortable chair in the conference room a few dozen steps from the warehouse where he works. He has held this job nearly a year, a record for him. He broke his sobriety once, on New Year’s Eve in 2009, and scared himself straight again with the help of friends from a 12-step program. He tells a story of how he lost it all -- home, wife, daughter, sons, stability -- and how he has gotten most of it back. He’s a man making choices, trying to stay away from an addiction that always threatens to destroy him.
Jackson had been getting ready to speak to a panel of congressmen about the power of drug treatment programs. Ultimately, he wasn’t chosen to speak in Washington, but he still tells his story, hoping it might help just one other person. He has taken little for granted, including his success with sobriety and his job of restocking parts in a Butler Auto warehouse near the Macon State Farmers Market.
“You contribute every day,” his boss, Mike Benton, reassured him. Benton has seen other recovering addicts thrive. One, however, crumbled back into addiction after three years on the job. It’s a tough thing, Jackson said, having an addiction that can pull him away from everything he wants and push him into doing the worst again. “I carry a disease that wants to see me in misery and dead,” Jackson said. “It don’t want us happy. It don’t want us working. It want to see us dead.”
Jackson spent about 15 years in the throes of addiction, much of it as an aggressive panhandler smoking crack cocaine and drinking any alcohol he could get. He often stayed in abandoned buildings that reeked of urine and feces, and he marvels that he still has his health.
He marvels more that his second wife, Ella, agreed to be his third wife. It took a while, even after he’d gotten clean. Her hopes had been broken before, and remarriage was a big commitment.“He had been asking me, asking me, asking me, but I hadn’t got there yet, and I hadn’t gotten to 75 percent yet of trust,” she said. “And that was my whole thing for me to marry him. I had to trust him.”
Ella Jackson trusts him to drive to a 12-step meeting, and she knows now he won’t take a detour on the way. But she’s still watching and still keeping track, and she’s still trying to rebuild the trust. “It was easy to forgive him, because God forgave me,” she said. “But the trust, that was another thing, a whole new ball.”
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Jackson had to figure out who he was before he could change. “In my past, I always was a thief, a liar and a cheater,” he said. He would occasionally leave Macon. Sometimes he landed in Atlanta or in Waycross, but his problems never left. “Everywhere I went I took me,” he said.
Jackson finally got help through Centenary Church’s transitional housing program and through River Edge, a Bibb County facility that treats drug addictions and mental illness.
Tim Bagwell, the church’s lead pastor, said people trying to get off the street need four things: a job, a roof, sobriety and a sense of community. All four have to be there at the same time, or the person likely will fail.
Rogers Willoughby, who coordinates Centenary Church’s transitional housing program, said since 2006 he’s only seen six other men in the program’s five-year history have the kind of success Jackson has. Success comes when people want to change. “That’s the key, to be able to reach the point where they want to change the direction they’re going in,” Willoughby said.
Dixon thinks her father’s turning point wasn’t when she graduated from Mercer University, but earlier, when she gave birth to Jackson’s grandson, Christian. When she went into labor, her father somehow arrived within minutes. “I think after that moment, he was always in touch,” Dixon said. “I don’t remember him leaving again.”
Years ago, she cried and cried and cried because she’d been picking him up to take him to a job, and that particular morning her father had disappeared. Now, Jackson works hard at Butler Auto, and a 12-step program, and in mentoring other recovering addicts. He’s especially trying to rebuild relationships with his family.
But, he said, as long as he keeps making the right choices, he’ll stay on the right path.
“I can’t say I’m grateful enough because none of this I did on my own,” he said, citing supporters and God. His daughter wants to make sure the family’s unusual relationships continue to improve. “I have to stay on him,” Dixon said. “My grandmother isn’t here with us any more, so I’m kind of like the mom.”
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251