“I was antisocial in school and struggled with social anxiety a lot, but I was very active in sports, however my grades weren’t good enough for me to get time on the field. I started going to a public gym to play basketball and that is where I met the people that I first started smoking marijuana with. I met more people that I shouldn't have been involved with but I seemed to become good friends with these people, I thought that it was a good way for me to break my social anxiety. 

I started skipping school to smoke marijuana then I met a girl on Facebook and we had mutual friends. When I was sixteen, I went up to her house one weekend, which was far away from my moms, and I just started staying out there a lot. I stayed at her house for about two years, I only came back to Cortland to ask my mom for things that I needed and then I’d be gone for four or five months. We met other people to get high with and got into some bad drugs like coke, we even sold weed on the side. My girlfriend and I would watch their kids while we were high—it was like we were live-in babysitters. This continued to escalate and I started stealing things that I would then sell to my dealer. One day I stole stuff from a nearby trailer and the cops showed up to our house shortly after my eighteenth birthday. I was arrested and sent to Cayuga County Jail and was then let out on my own recognizance. I never ended up doing my probation pre-sentence-investigation.

When I went back to court—just expecting to be let off on probation—the court decided to use me as an example for not doing what I was supposed to and sentenced me to six months in Cayuga county jail. While I was in jail, I met somebody who I became really good friends with, he looked out for me. After I was released I thought that my life would change but in reality the jail set me up with people that I could buy drugs from and sell to. It was a really bad place for me to be when I was only eighteen years old. My new friend from jail messaged me when he got out and asked if I could give him a place to stay. I started selling Molly for him and then he was arrested on murder charges. At this point my girlfriend and I were really hooked on drugs, that’s how addiction works, you get more addicted and it snowballs and it becomes harder and harder to pull yourself up. 

I was on felony probation and was dodging urine screens. I would get sober long enough to take a urine screen and then get high for another month until I had to take another one. I kept up that cycle until I got arrested for stealing a bike. This time I violated my probation and they sent me to White Deer Run, an addiction treatment facility in Pennsylvania, I was there for 28 days and then I came back to Cortland. I got high the same day I got back. I was arrested again on a warrant because I didn't go to court. I was put in Cortland County jail where I sat for a while—I was sure I was going to die an addict when I was in jail. 

I had no ambition to get sober, and all I talked about was getting high. After about four months in jail I was expected to be on Cortland Treatment Court. I thought it was an easy way out of jail so I could continue getting high when I got off.  A few weeks after I signed my treatment court contract, I was sent to Mountain Laurel, which is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, it's a recovery facility in Westfield PA. Here they helped me take a hard look at myself, but I still had the mindset of ‘I'm gonna get out and get high’, I hadn’t changed. I returned back here and got a spot at Grace house in Auburn NY—a mental health and substance use disorder treatment center in Auburn—that is where my life began to change. 

I met some people there and we became really good friends. I also met a great AA sponsor who really helped me take a hard look at myself. He made sure that I went to meetings and made sure that I met all of the requirements of the halfway house and then I was offered a bed here in the Cortland halfway house which I was excited but nervous about because every time I got sober and came back to Cortland I would get high. I was very happy about the opportunity because I could come back home and settle down and finally be near my family again. 

During my time here at the halfway house I met so many amazing people. Kyleey has helped me through a lot of different things mentally and emotionally that I was struggling with when I first got to the halfway house and Cody taught me how to enjoy life and the little things again. He has also taught me how to trout fish. Fishing is my new obsession. I can go trout fishing anywhere and I know what to look for—I can look at a stream and tell if fish are in there. Nature and friends have helped change my life. I find true happiness and peace in my life when I’m fishing and hanging out with my sober supports. 

One of the requirements of the halfway house is that you have to volunteer. I started calling around to places that I thought would be good to volunteer at but these places required that I pass a background check, which obviously wouldn’t go so well. I then reached out to Sara Watrous and she said that she had some things that I could help with. I had no idea what those things were until she explained that she wanted to start a lived experience group and asked if I wanted to be part of it. From there everything just snowballed into really amazing positive things. Sara has taught me so much about the recovery world. 

By the time this exhibit happens, I'll be sober for a year and seven months, I am enjoying life! I have my family back, I just met with a Youth voice matter group and we started a Recovery Community Organization (RCO) in Cortland called the Cortland Area Recovery Project which involves so many friends and people. We did our first sober fest back in September and it was a huge success. It has been such an eye-opening experience to see that so many people want to support the recovery community, but I know that there's a lot of stigma around addiction, especially in Cortland. I feel like that's what this photo project is for; to help people see all sides of recovery.

I've seen all sides of this. I've seen how addiction changes people for the worse and I've seen how addiction can really shape people's lives into being really good positive people in the community

I want to specifically thank my family, Cody, Kyleey and Sara Watrous. I also want to thank everyone involved with the RCO and all my friends back at the halfway house. Last but not least I want to say thank you to all the people I have lost on my road of recovery. Overdose has taken countless friends of mine over the last few years and those people's lives are a daily reminder that I must stay sober or else I could be next.”

WE DO RECOVERY 4-9-22 Michael (Mikey) Wherry