Garrett Strickland knows he has a tendency to get addicted to things. “Anything that gives me pleasure,” he said.
Eating at Olive Garden. Beef jerky. Coffee.
“This is my 10th cup of coffee since 7 o’clock,” he said, holding up a paper cup. It was 11 a.m. and about three weeks into Strickland’s stay at Horizon Health Services on Elm Street in downtown Buffalo.
Then, of course, there were the drugs that led him to this inpatient addiction treatment facility, Cocaine. Opioids. Marijuana. Alcohol.
“I’m an addict and an alcoholic,” he said.
Garrett Strickland holds up the grounding stone he painted at Terrace House on March 21, 2017. It was made with his thumbprint and has his clean date on it. It can be therapeutic to hold onto when he needs to calm himself. At this point, he had been sober for 24 days. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
It was Strickland’s seventh time in rehab.
Strickland is on a journey, one that is becoming increasingly common and sadly familiar. As is the case for just about anyone struggling with addiction, his journey hasn’t been a simple one.
Strickland thinks he was 14 or 15 when he first started sneaking sips of beer from the fridge at his home.
He grew up in Medina, a village in Orleans County with a population just over 6,000, probably best known for its railroad and toy train museum.
Strickland played sports in high school – lacrosse, swim team and cross country – and was an average student.
Garrett Strickland and Justin Chaplin, of Batavia, shared a room at Horizon's Terrace House in Buffalo, where they both went to be freed of their drug addictions. Strickland mops the floor in the room as Justin plays his guitar on March 21, 2017. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
Garrett Strickland holds a cross he wears, bearing a serenity prayer, on March 29, 2017. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
One night when he was 15, he drank a whole lot more than a sip.
“I hated it and loved it at the same time,” he recalled. He remembered liking “that spinning feeling.” He started smoking cigarettes that night, too.
Getting drunk turned into a “once, twice a week type of thing,” Strickland said. Soon he discovered marijuana. “I fell in love with it,” he said.
Garrett Strickland opens his mouth to show treatment assistant Robert Colvin that he has taken his medications on March 29, 2017. Strickland usually takes ibuprofen and an anxiety medication. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
Then he started with pills.
By the time he got himself arrested in late February 2017 by stealing his mother’s credit cards, Strickland’s life was falling apart.
Every day, he was buying four bags of heroin, $40 worth of crack, a pint of vodka and an 18-pack of beer.
“I wouldn’t drink the full 18,” he said. “I’d save some for the morning.”
"I used to be a really angry person over the littlest things," said Strickland, shown here in a group session April 19, 2017. "I'm Mr. Hyde trying to turn back into Dr. Jekyll. It's tough, but I'm making progress. I'm passive now. I'd rather be too passive than too aggressive." (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
In jail, he suffered through withdrawal, but it didn’t compare to the agony he felt over what he had put his mom through. But he also wanted to thank her for getting him the help he needed.
This time, he knew he was ready to make some changes. ”I want it this time,” he said at Horizon last March where he underwent detox and stabilization. He next moved to a long-term rehabilitation facility, Horizon’s Delta Village in Sanborn.
After a couple of months, he was ready to take the next step to Sundram Manor, a halfway house in Niagara Falls.
It's time for Strickland's monthly Vivitrol injection. The drug — known generically as naltrexone — helps diminish the cravings for alcohol and opioids, and if an addict takes opioids while on it, the addict won't get high. Strickland appreciates the effects, but he dreads the shot because it's painful. Photo taken May 15, 2017. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
Strickland greets his live-in girlfriend, Cindy Burch, on May 15, 2017. He's about about to have his last conjoint session with his mother, Kim, and Cindy. He and Cindy have been together for five years. He later admitted that his struggles took a toll on their relationship. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
Strickland’s feeling good about his life now. He doesn’t do hard drugs anymore, though he does drink alcohol.
He has an apartment in Medina and a steady job working second-shift at a manufacturing plant. He’s saving money to buy himself a car.
Strickland's mother, Kim Stawicki, gives him a hug after the conjoint counseling session. Stawicki says of Strickland's years of addiction: “It was horrible. It was like living with someone you don’t even know. It was an everyday battle.” It's different now, she says. “I can go to bed at night and not be afraid that I’m going to get a phone call that he’s in a ditch somewhere. I’d be up all night or I’d be tossing and turning. It’s not like that anymore.” (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
Strickland and his friend Mike Schroeder share a moment during Strickland's farewell group session May 15, 2017. Strickland and Schroeder knew each other from high school, but their common bond over the last four years has been drugs and alcohol. After Strickland's last relapse at Schroeder's house, Schroeder ended up following Strickland into rehab. Even though Schroeder is doing well now, Strickland doesn't hang out with him. "It's too dangerous," he says. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
Clean for 116 days, Garrett Strickland gets ready to go out June 22, 2017. "Here," he says of the greater freedom of the halfway house, "they give you enough rope to hang yourself. It depends on what you do with it." (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)
His advice to anyone who’ll listen:
“Don’t do drugs. You can put that in quotes for real. It will ruin your whole life. It really will. Quick.”
To get help, information and referrals for addiction treatment services, call the Erie County 24-hour addiction hotline at 716-831-7007.
For more information about Horizon Health Services, call 716-831-1800 or horizon-health.org.
— Written by Maki Becker
Strickland and his friends Ashlee Waters, to Strickland's left, and Marcus Warren, right, celebrate a Bills touchdown at the Nov. 25, 2018, game. Waters, a longtime friend of Strickland's, said he didn't used to come around much when he was using drugs, but now he's back to being the friend she knows and loves. "He's full of life; he's so happy," she said. "He'll help you out whenever you need, and he's a great uncle to my kids." (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)