GREENVILLE - Dusty Cook, 36, wasn’t the ‘type’ of person one might associate with addiction. According to his sister, Kristi (Cook) Strawser, he was good-looking, popular, funny - she was his older sister, but she “wanted to be him.”
“He was a nice-looking, great guy, and then he became this person who was doing all these terrible things,” Kristi stated. “It really changed how I look at it. I think stereotypically, people think people who use drugs are coming from a bad home or whatever.”
With Dusty, this wasn’t the case. Their mother was the prevention specialist for Darke County Recovery Services when Dusty began using alcohol and marijuana, eventually progressing to cocaine, and finally heroin.
“It’s kind of ironic…He was going to meetings with our mom, and then you realize he’d been doing drugs all along,” Kristi stated. “You can do all the prevention you want…”
Dusty recalls when he first began “experimenting” with drugs and alcohol was around the age of 15; by the age of 17, he was not only using marijuana and drinking alcohol, he was selling marijuana, and his mom found a quarter pound of it in his bedroom, he said.
“I liked to say for the longest time that I got kicked out of my house at the age of 17, but that wasn’t the full truth of the matter,” Dusty stated. “The truth of the matter was she gave me an ultimatum: Either I went and got some help and stopped doing and selling drugs, or I could leave.”
He graduated from Greenville High School in 1996, moving to Dayton, Ohio following graduation. From there, he said, the journey was downhill. He began using Xanax to combat his long-time anxiety problems.
“I really think that when I walked away, at the age of 17, and decided to go out on my own, that was the start of a lot of pain and misery, that was going to be self-inflicted,” Dusty said. “I remember taking that first pill and thinking, ‘Wow, this is the way that I think I should feel,’ because I’ve always wrestled with anxiety. Part of my addiction was self-medication.”
Dusty began combining pills, marijuana and alcohol, and that’s when he started to notice his problem.
“I really started noticing that I was very dependent upon it. But I didn’t think that I was an addict because of the stigma of what society tries to portray an addict as being,” Dusty shared. “When I tried to walk away, especially from the pills, I started noticing that I couldn’t stop, even though I wanted to stop, and I knew that I had a problem.”
Dusty encountered legal issues as a result of his addiction, he said, but that still didn’t stop him.
“I was a chronic relapser, some people thought I’d never get it right,” Dusty stated.
At the age of 21, Dusty was introduced to cocaine; it became his new drug of choice. Eventually he would find heroin, though, and it would take over his life.
“I found myself in major states of blackout, having major problems holding a job, having major problems with holding a relationship, being a father. It was starting to affect every area, every aspect of my life,” Dusty noted. “Finally, things came to a head in Dayton, one night when I was beaten, and left for dead at a park, and I started really realizing after I had blacked out for 14 hours, and I didn’t even remember anything from the night other than leaving the bar and waking up in the hospital.”
He thought a change of scenery would help the problem, but all that did, he said, was give him opportunities to “take advantage of new people, and find new opportunities to use.”
“One thing people with addiction don’t realize, is that they’re the problem, and wherever they go, they take that with them,” Dusty commented. “An important thing to remember about addicts, is you have to allow them to hit their bottom.”
In 2007, Dusty got clean, and has been clean for seven years. He is working toward a degree in social work, and interning at Darke County Recovery Services to help move forward with a career in prevention or chemical dependence counseling.
“I’m an intern right now at Darke County Recovery Services, and to hear – we’re our own worst enemies, addicts,” Dusty said. “Granted, we’re like tornadoes when we’re in our addiction, devastating anything in our path, we wreck it; we tear people’s lives up. But we’re our own worst enemies. Our self-esteem is already non-existent.”
“If it wasn’t for my sister, my grandma, my mom – I don’t know if I would have ever gotten clean. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in me and I had given up all hope,” Dusty shared. “They knew who I was, when I wasn’t using. And trust me, I put them through anything and everything imaginable – I lied, stole, cheated, over and over again broke my promises. And they just never gave up on me.”
That doesn’t mean they didn’t quit giving him money, giving him rides, giving him a place to stay - in essence, his family quit enabling his addiction, because they cared, Dusty shared.
“Eventually I stopped being naive and stupid. I would think I was taking him to the hospital to get help, and he’d walk out with painkillers – so I just helped him score, instead of getting him help,” Kristi said. “I did eventually, it took a long time to do the things I needed to do and saying to him he couldn’t come to my home unless he was clean. It’s hard to get to that point, because you just feel like it’s a matter of time before, one way or another, they end up dead from it.”
His family is grateful he was able to get help before he did end up dead, either beaten to death in a bad drug deal, or overdosing on heroin, Kristi said. And now that he’s clean again, he’s “the person he was before.”
Dusty said one of the things he’s really appreciated since getting clean has been the opportunity to repair and enjoy his relationships with his family, including being there for his niece, Corynna Strawser, as she, her parents, and this community, journeyed through her battle with Mitochondrial Disease. Kristi said that Dusty was one of the first to organize fundraising efforts, and that he was an amazing support to the family during their hardest days.
“Before, you had a relationship with his drug addiction,” Kristi stated. “Now, his relationships are better. He’s a better father. He goes out and works and takes care of himself. In a lot of ways, you try to make people feel like they’re not a burden, but he was a burden. It was exhausting. There wasn’t a lot of enjoyment in our relationship, it was him always wanting something.”
Despite being clean seven years now, it’s a daily battle for Dusty.
“It’s very easy to relapse. There are so many pitfalls. If you’re not working on recovery, you’re working on a relapse, it’s that black and white,” Dusty said. “Either I’m moving forward or I’m heading backwards. You cannot stand still in recovery, it’s a very slippery slope…it’s so easy to lie to yourself; I’ll do just one.”
“But for an addict, one is too many and a million is never enough. Just because someone doesn’t get it the first or second time…don’t lose hope,” he continued. “I’m not saying I’m exempt from using again, because at any time if I stop doing what I’m supposed to be doing, I’ll be right back there. I just do what I need to do one day at a time; and one day at a time, it’s turned into seven years.”