JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – John Rogers, Craig Forrester and Lawson Pittman brought a combined nine years’ experience to painting the exterior at a custom home under construction near Boone Lake – experience of continuous sobriety, that is. Throw in general contractor Tim Hicks, who uses Appalachian Painting Co. for much of his new home construction, and the total years clean reached 26.
All four said work is among the most important elements of recovery from substance abuse.
“I think whenever folks enter into recovery from addiction there’s many processes that they have to go through, and we feel like a job has a big part to do in that,” Hicks said.
They also said recovering addicts – with recovery being a lifelong journey – make some of the best workers an employer can find.
“If I get someone that is working a recovery program they’re more dependable and trustworthy than people I’ve ever had previously in 23 years,” Rogers, who owns Appalachian Painting and has been clean since late 2017, said of his experience supervising. “I don’t have guys in trouble on Monday. They’re here.”
All the men pointed to people giving them a chance and believing in them during their early stages of sobriety as key moments, and said “paying it forward” in the same way is an essential part of their lives. Forrester, for instance, took his first job after getting clean from another recovering addict who runs a drywall business and had visited Forrester’s rehab center to offer encouragement to the men there.
“When I got out of treatment I had no skills,” Forrester said. “I knew how to sell drugs and I knew how to work in restaurants and bartend and that kind of thing.
“He let me hang sheetrock and the first day I hit a main water line of an apartment complex with a screw hanging the sheetrock. Well, it floods the bathroom and they have to cut the water off for the entire apartment complex.
“I just thought I was a failure. I couldn’t do sobriety right, I couldn’t do life right, and I went home and I felt like I was like two inches tall. He called me that night and he asked me what time I was going to be there in the morning. He showed me a level of kindness and grace that doesn’t happen in the drug world. He showed me how to have empathy and love for someone.”
It was Forrester, in turn, who helped Rogers – now his boss – when Rogers had hit bottom. And Rogers first found work after a September 2017 inpatient rehab – his second try – with Hicks.
“I was blessed to be able to have folks that cared about me and loved on me, and I had a good trade and it really helped me through the recovery process,” Hicks said as Rogers and company applied paint and stain to the new home on a sunny winter day. “Sort of helped me get back on track and get a fresh start at life, and I think that’s what folks are looking for is a fresh start.”
‘You can tell when someone gets it’
Rogers had worked for Hicks in previous years, so he called him as he came out of treatment.
“He set me up with a few days, just day labor,” Rogers said. “Just get some money in my pocket, because most of the time, you go into rehab penniless and pretty much homeless. Within just a couple days I had enough money to pay my rent. It felt like I had some hope.”
Having walked through the same experience, Hicks said he had a good sense the right kind of switch had finally flipped for Rogers.
“When someone gets it you can tell if you’ve been there the same place as they have been. So I could tell that he was really wanting to have a new life and get a fresh start,” Hicks said. “Now in two years it’s grown to where he has a few employees and is doing most of my painting work.”
Hicks said he tends to use subcontractors with a similar approach to Rogers’s. That means a lot of guys who have seen the depths of drug or alcohol addiction populate his job sites, and he said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I was a different guy when I was an addict,” Hicks said. “You wouldn’t have wanted me to work for you. But as I got time under my belt in recovery, life changes, and life is changing for all these guys. They make some of the greatest people and some of the best employees that you can ever get.”
In fact, Hicks thinks the approach enhances the quality of his projects and the reputation of his company, particularly in a tight labor market.
“(These guys) are actually wanting to work, they are actually wanting to better themselves, they are actually wanting to please our customers. So it’s a big difference in somebody that just is here every day and getting their time in. These guys are not like that.”
Lawson Pittman, 25, is the youngest of the guys. He said he was living in a tent outside a Walmart in Nashville when he hit bottom.
“I wasn’t very good at being homeless,” Pittman said with a dry grin. “I had reached a point where it was going on blotting out my bitter existence, or seeking spiritual help.”
Pittman got into treatment in the Tri-Cities and met the men whose crew he would eventually join when they came to his facility to offer encouragement.
The best high of all
Hicks, Forrester and Rogers all said their long-term recovery wouldn’t be complete without regular opportunities to pour into the lives of others just as others did – and do – for them. All visit what they call “H and I’s” – hospitals and institutions – on a regular basis.
Hicks serves in “Celebrate Recovery,” a program at his church. Forrester is a co-founder of Recovery Resources, a non-profit that aims to provide recovery navigation and mentoring for recovering addicts and their families.
“I know story after story where people were just given a chance and some mentorship, and all the guys that work for me now are very involved and giving back to the recovery community trying to help guys,” Rogers said.
“I always allow them time to go do that because that’s very important. Because someone done that for me.”
Forrester was one of those someones. Even five years into clean living, he said the value to the giver and the receiver of such mentoring can’t be topped.
“I’ve done every drug you can imagine every way that you can imagine doing a drug, and there is nothing better on the planet than the feeling that you get when you help somebody else that struggles the same way you struggle and you start seeing them get their life together,” Forrester said.
“You see the transformation and the rebirth. That’s what recovery’s really about is the transformation into a man that you didn’t even know existed within you. To get to play a small or integral part in that … there’s no heroin, there’s no oxys, there’s nothing that compares to that.”