This article is part of a continuing series of articles examining illegal drugs in Fayette County.
Bill Addis has a warm but stern look in his eyes as he sits in a pew in the chapel of Uniontown’s Trinity United Presbyterian Church.
“Alcohol and drugs work — they help you to escape and not to think about things,” he said. “The problem in the end is that they betray you. But, for a long time, it seemed like the answer. This well-put-together man sitting in front of you wasn’t always like this.”
Addis leads others who help him operate a home on Gallatin Avenue for those plagued by poisons.
“This is what I love. And this is what I love to do,” said Addis, 41, of Uniontown. “This is what animates me and gives my life meaning.”
The recovering addicts meet at the church regularly to discuss the day-to-day process of rebuilding their lives. Like a Christian missionary of another era, Addis speaks in the firm tones of someone unified in spirit and purpose.
He’ll be the first to say that his cold turkey approach is controversial, because the treatment centers around the individual accepting responsibility.
“The standard remains where it’s at,” he said. “We don’t lower the standard to meet where we are. We try to raise ourselves to the standard.”
As Addis refers to it, “The House” has offered addicts a place to recover for more than four years. Addis said he and a couple of friends, also recovering addicts, started The House in an apartment building on Gallatin Avenue.
“We’d been through the wringer,” Addis said. “We knew the system from the inside out. The people that know this issue the best with all the treatment schemes and hoops that you jump through, rehabs and the methodone clinics, doctors and psychiatrists; the ones that know best are the ones who know it from the inside. We’re the guinea pigs. We’re the ones who have been through it all and have lived the experience of it. Knowing what we knew, we felt there was a need that needed to be filled. We felt we could do some good. And we wanted to be able to do what others had done for us.”
Addis, who said he’s taken almost every drug imaginable, said he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to addiction.
He’s been through the methodone clinic’s program twice to treat the heroin addiction that destroyed his life. He’s also been through multiple treatment and rehabilitation programs, including jail, that did little to curb his appetites or keep him off the street.
“Quitting — it’s the easiest most difficult thing I’ve done,” he said.
The House doesn’t receive government funding, for which Addis is glad. “We don’t want the government telling us what to do and how to run this,” he said.
The House works, to some degree, like a U.S. Marine barracks, which is fitting because Addis is a former Marine.
A new man staying in The House gets a couch and a sponsor to mentor him through the process of getting clean. The man won’t be left alone or entrusted with much those first few weeks and months, Addis said.
“We don’t know much about these new guys, and really, they are addicts — now in recovery,” he said. “Trust has to be earned.”
Addis said the men do chores, attend meetings and begin, slowly, to rebuild their lives. He said, for the most part, any privileges must be earned by time being clean.
“This is similar to the same mentality that the military embraces,” Addis said.
The approach isn’t for everyone, but the radical shift in lifestyle works, Addis said. Old patterns and habits are changed to a new order that relies as much on the group as the individual.
Months pass, but routines are established with time spent clean and sober. The longer a man stays in The House, the more rights and freedoms he gains.
Addis said drug addiction is a national pandemic. Citing statistics offered by Fayette County Coroner Phillip Reilly, Addis said at least 100 people die every day from drug overdoses.
“That’s the number they can say with certainty — without a doubt about it — that it was a drug overdose that killed that person,” he said. “That’s probably not an accurate number. It’s probably three times that, if not more, because it doesn’t take into (account) car wrecks, gun shot victims, suicides — all the other things that are tied directly to the problem.”
But at 100 deaths a day, that’s 36,500 deaths yearly. Compare that figure to the number of deaths from combat in Afghanistan — 3,424.
“That’s more people who have died from overdoses than from the wars that we’ve been fighting in the Middle East for the last 12 years,” he said. “As a drug addict in the United States, you are far more likely to die on the streets of America from a drug overdose than if actually you were a combat soldier fighting overseas in a war right now. You are much more likely to die.”
Change starts with the man in the mirror
Like a ray of sun shining through a church’s stained-glass windows on a gray day, Addis saw the light one day and decided to change.
“There was a reason why I was brought into this world,” he said. “I believe in my heart that part of the reason that I’m here on this Earth is to be a part of that spiritual choreography that’s always happening, that’s going on all around us.”
That experience as an addict and that personal transition toward a better way of living has provided hope for hundreds of addicts who have stayed at The House over the years.
“We’re trying to do the right thing,” he said. “All types go through the system — addiction doesn’t discriminate. We’ve had guys from every ethnic background, sexual orientation, religious background, inner cities and urban areas. The common denominator is that they couldn’t stop getting high, and they needed help.”
Addis said the person who comes there has to be truly ready for change.
“When all that’s left is ‘I just want to stop,’” he said. “When a drug addict can get to that point, when the only singular thought in their mind that used to be, ‘How do I get another bag of dope?’ now it has been replaced with ‘How do I stop this? How do I get out of this? What am I going to do next? Everything is gone. Where do I go from here?’ It’s at that point they can be helped. And it’s only at that point that they can be helped.”
The premise is simple — accept responsibility and seek change.
“Fundamentally, it is a set of principles to live by,” he said. “We say this is important. This is how we are going to live our lives. That can be true for anybody. If you want to be a good baseball player, you got to have a set of principles to live by. If you want to be good at anything, you got to have the right recipe.”
A man on a mission
Addis’ spiritual revolution has changed not only his life but has made a difference for others.
His son, whose name has been withheld, is a recovering addict who lives at The House.
Addis said the children of addicts are three times more likely to become addicts themselves.
Addis said having his son there is bittersweet.
“It’s a shame feel as a father — I don’t even have the right to claim that before I got clean,” he said. “But at the same time, I got clean, and, from the help of other people, I’ve been able to stay clean. My son lives at The House, he’s coming up on one year clean. So, I can see this from both sides, see what I was and the consequences and what I did because drugs were more important than my children. But I can also see what has come about because of recovery.”
Though Addis is the only member of the original trio of men who founded the House still living there, he intends to pursue this dream — this mission — into the future.
“I think that we are making a difference. I know that we are,” he said. “When we first started, I did this because I wanted to stay clean. My life had been meaningless before, but now I was getting something out of it. I was getting a sense of purpose. Rebuilding an integrity, value and morality in a system that had been completely decimated by the things I had done. Later, I was coming into a sense of self that was real, that it was something that I could be proud of; something that I can feel good about.”