Curtis Oliver knew that his drug abuse was wrong, and brought embarrassment to his family, friends, and employers. When he looked for help, or sought treatment, he was met with silence or the words, "You just have to have will power" - which only drove him deeper into addiction.
"My drug of choice became more of whatever I could get," Curtis said. "I started using illicit drugs when I was 11 or 12 years old, and that continued for 20 years. It did not change until I got sick and tired of me being under the influence of mind altering substances and not living up to my potential."
The impact on his health did not matter to him at the time; it was the shame, guilt, remorse and inadequacy he felt.
"An addict in the midst of addiction does not realize that death is possible as a result of using drugs," he said. "It wasn't until I began to recover that I became aware that I was slowly committing suicide."
Four steps were key to his recovery, Curtis said: Surrendering to the process, admitting his addiction, accepting that addiction, and believing that he could live a drug-free life. While initially suspicious, he continued to attend meetings while also investigating and debating whether his own recovery was possible. Meetings became more and more regular; 90 clean days turned into 120, then 150, and now Curtis is grateful for more than 20 years in recovery, and he continues to give to individuals seeking a new way to live.
Curtis is active in several advocacy groups including Faces and Voices of Recovery, Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, and People Advocating Recovery, Northeast Kentucky ReEntry Council (elected Executive Director, January 2011). Curtis launched Never Alone - Never Again in 2010. It focuses not only on recovery, but also prevention and re-entry into society and advocates treatment for juveniles, adults and veterans. It was through his advocacy efforts that he was nominated by Faces and Voices of Recovery to serve as a consumer peer reviewer for the fiscal year 2010 Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program. Curtis and his consumer advocate and scientific colleagues reviewed for technical merit applications submitted to the drug abuse topic, one of 19 congressionally-directed topics for the program.
"Advocating is hard work. In order to be effective, collaboration is important," Curtis said. "Being a consumer reviewer demonstrates that I can and do add value, and that my experience is important. Aware of the spiritual and holistic results provided by treatment and recovery, Curtis has a strong desire to learn more about scientific research. "I am thrilled to be part of this review process, because it is an opportunity to give a face and a voice to researchers, let them know their work is important, and understanding that together we make a difference in the lives of those suffering from substance abuse disorders."