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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 12/13/2011

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


Thomas Hicks’ Story

A Story of Recovery

My life started out like any other traumatized child. I was born to alcoholic parents who at times could be unbearably physically, mentally, and verbally abusive.

I was the third of seven children. This at times was very awkward. My older brother and sister were role models for me that I refused to follow. I believe at a very early age my mind was set to do what I wanted and not be afraid of consequences.

I was introduced to alcohol at an early age. We stole my parents’ drinks after they got drunk and either fell asleep or went out. Of course those introductions led to more experiments with other mind- and mood-altering substances. I started sniffing model airplane glue at around the age of 10 years old. I started intravenously using heroin at 14 or 15 years old. At that time, I started having problems with the law.

I began going in and out of juvenile institutions for delinquent boys from 1968 until I was waived into the adult court system in 1970. I just refused to follow any rules and really didn’t want to, so I would burglarize the homes in my neighborhood along with my friends whose lifestyle mirrored my own.

I received 2 years in the Department of Correction for burglary in 1970 and from 1970 until 1978 for the life of me I couldn’t stay out of prison. In 1975 I received 10 years for armed robbery and during that incident I was shot by police. I got out of prison in 1978 and for the next 19 years I managed to stay on the streets. I still used heroin and worked periodically to keep me out of the prison system. I found out this: if you could find a halfway decent woman to believe in you, you could work that to your advantage. I met my wife in 1983 and for the next 13 years she literally took care of me in every way. She gave me money, knowing I was going to use it for buying illegal drugs and didn’t put a whole lot of pressure on me to get a job. Things were going the way I wanted and working out so good, I began to ask myself, “What was wrong with her to put up with someone like me?” I was introduced to the saying, “steel wears out” and my ex-wife finally put me out. This left me very depressed because I still couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

When she met me I was homeless and a drug addict and for those 13 years I didn’t change behaviors. So there could be only one explanation for her change in attitude, Another Man! I was right of course and at first I tried to act like I didn’t know and it did not matter and I ended getting put out anyway.

Needless to say I traveled the homeless route for a while and then one day in January 1999, I decided I couldn’t live that life any longer. My ex-wife and her current boyfriend ridiculed me for being in the state I was in. It was then I decided that I didn’t have to die shooting drugs. I kicked the heroin habit cold turkey on the streets. I entered the Salvation Army drug addiction program because I needed a place to stay and started working on a plan of action for my new life. The plan I had to stabilize my chaotic lifestyle was really very simple. Stop using drugs and get peace of mind in return. Once I achieved that, the rest of my life fell into God’s scheme for universal order. In almost 12½ years I went from homeless drug addict with mental health issues, to the executive director of two mental health facilities. Yes, recovery and wellness is possible. How bad do you want it? Disclosing one’s path to wellness and recovery is essential to the consumer movement, I believe, because when we do recovery, we blend so well into mainstream society that we go unnoticed. Disclosure helps twofold: 1) It gives the person who believes that the struggles of getting better are out of reach the hope that wellness is possible. Peer support gives them visional inspirational motivation to want to achieve wellness. 2) We can help educate mainstream society about stigma. We all know that stigma is one of the greatest barriers to wellness.

In 2005 one of the programs that I have the opportunity to be the director of won SAMHSA’s Exemplary Program Award. The programs that I work for are: Helping Other People through Empowerment, Inc. Wellness and Recovery Center and Ethel Elan Safe Haven 2 Transitional Shelters.

A Positive Ending

My journey down the road of life had many twists and turns.
The road I chose had lots of bridges, of which most of them I burned.
Although at times the road seemed rough, one thing is very clear.
No matter how hard or long it took, my journey led me here!!

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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.