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Harvey Shells — A long walk to recovery

Twenty years ago, Harvey Shells was living in California and doing well enough. He was in his mid-twenties and had a decent job. One day, while playing basketball in the park he met a man who told him he could help him make some money. That’s how Shells was first introduced to drugs.

Harvey made a lot of money selling drugs, but soon, he began to use them himself, becoming his own customer. “Because of my crack-cocaine use, everything started falling off; my job, car payments and I ended up homeless and living off the streets on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles,” Harvey recalled. “I was worrying about chasing the drug instead of having a roof over my head. I thought I could quit whenever I chose to, but when I tried, I couldn’t stop.” 

Finding sobriety was no easy task for Harvey. After ten years of drug use, he would try for the next ten years to overcome his drug addiction — moving to and from Ohio to seek help. He would abstain occasionally from using drugs — most often when he was involved with a church. Eventually, Harvey would return to drugs, each time the user would be worse than the time before.

After 20 years of being a prisoner to crack, he found himself living in downtown Akron. These were sad times for Harvey; he was miserable because of his addiction, his losses and his declining health. He suffered from diabetes which was getting worse. He found himself at Bridgepark Nursing Home — looking across the street at Summa Health System – St. Thomas Campus.

“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I asked myself, ‘do I want to live?’ I knew that if I continued this lifestyle, I’d die,” Harvey said. “I faced St. Thomas Hospital, I had been to outpatient treatment there before, but I didn’t take it to heart. I decided to ask my social worker about getting back into the program.”

The Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for chemical dependence quickly became his life support system. He met with staff and was first introduced to his group. On the first day in the group, he met different people from all walks of life and all at different stages of sobriety. They discussed their feelings and how they got there.

Harvey was taught coping skills as well as how to better manage his feelings, emotions and cravings. As time went on, Harvey became the person who gave insight to the next new people in the group. There is a constant interaction between new and old members of the group.

“Seeing the new members takes you back to when you first came in. You coach each other along when you are vulnerable. You don’t have to be ashamed; you are all connected in the struggle… it is possible to be sober if you do the work and take the tools they give you and use them.

“Drug use caused so much hurt and pain to my loved ones and to me. Living life is different than getting high. I’ve learned to deal with reality. I like my life today. I like Harvey today. He’s a nice person to be around and I like him.”

Harvey has been sober since July 5, 2006. He continues to help others like himself find their way.

“The greatest thing I can offer them is hope.”


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