ST. GEORGE — By the age of 12, St. George resident and recovering addict Taz Decker had already taken his first drink of alcohol. Like countless addicts, Decker, now 36, would spend the next nearly two decades chasing that feeling of euphoria as his alcohol addiction progressed into prescription medication and drug addiction.
“For me, it was more of an experiment, a curiosity, and I obviously wasn’t drinking on a daily basis at that age, and, as it progressed, it got worse and worse,” Decker said. “You know, into your 20s, you find that you do become addicted to it — mentally, psychologically. It was never my goal to wake up and say ‘I want to become a drug addict.’”
As the months and years passed, Decker became more enslaved to prescription pills.
“Anything that changed the way that I felt,” he said. “To me, it’s a feelings disease, and I was uncomfortable with feelings and how they felt, so my drug of choice was OxyContin, Xanax, marijuana, but would also seek out other things — whatever was available.”
Married in 2002, Decker was struggling with substance abuse addiction for the first six years of his marriage.
“As a spouse of an addict, it’s really difficult, you know,” Katie Decker, Taz Decker’s wife, said. “Loved ones of addicts suffer a lot of the consequences of the addict’s choices.”
The escalating use of drugs and alcohol would nearly cost Taz Decker his marriage and his family.
“I was unaware of what was going on,” Katie Decker said. “Our second daughter was three months old when I found out what had been happening and for how long it had been going on and the severity of it.”
The breaking point
“That was a hard part for me to admit that my life was unmanageable enough to get help,” Taz Decker said. “I knew that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol ‘cause I couldn’t stop on my own but I didn’t want to look at the unmanageability aspect of it.”
Trying to escape the addiction on his own, he said, felt like a daily occurrence with no success.
“I would wake up and say ‘I don’t want to live this way anymore and I do want to change,’ but I didn’t know how to accomplish that,” he said. “I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know where to find it.”
The toughest part, Taz Decker said, is that there’s so much isolation in addiction and so many people stay stuck in that isolation because they don’t know where to go or turn for help.
“Another reason they stay stuck in that is because of shame – which is different than guilt,” he said. “Guilt tells me what I did is wrong. Shame will tell me that I am wrong or I’m bad or I’m not strong enough to beat this on my own – I’m not good enough.”
Lives torn apart
Taz Decker is one of many Utahns faced with a prescription drug addiction. Opioids – think Lortab, Precocet, Vicodin, Morphine, Demerol and OxyContin – are the second most abused substances in Utah – second only to alcohol, according to the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health’s annual 2013 report.
Opioid-related overdose deaths now outnumber overdose deaths involving all illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine combined, according to a 2013 report by The Center for Disease Control.
By 2009, “drug overdose deaths in the U.S. outnumbered deaths due to motor vehicle crashes for the first time,” the report states. And that trend continues today.
The road to recovery
The couple had a 2 year old and a 6-month-old daughter the first time Taz Decker checked into residential treatment. He was out of the home for about six months.
“(He) came back home and started struggling again,” Katie Decker said, “and I set some pretty clear boundaries that if he started using again, he couldn’t live with us, and so we separated again at that point for another six months. And then he checked himself back in.”
“I did not get it the first time around,” Taz Decker said, “nor do I think that often many people do.”
Even after the second time in residential treatment, Taz Decker said, he had a short relapse, but that is when he decided enough was enough and he was finally ready to submit fully to the recovery process.
“During that short relapse,” he said, “I realized that this is not the life that I want, I know where this takes me, I can play the tape forward and I didn’t care what it was going to take.”
He said the shame is what makes talking about the issue a difficult thing to do, but that the most important thing to do is “get honest, talk to people that love you about it, reach out for help and that’s where it’s going to start.”
“The first step is to have enough courage and to reach out and say you’re struggling,” he said, “and talk to people that care about you the most and let them know, and go from there.”
Taz Decker has now been sober since July 23, 2011.
“Recovery to me looks like vulnerability, it looks like honesty, it looks like peace, it looks like happiness, but it also looks like being OK with the day-to-day struggles and allowing yourself to go through life without having to medicate with drugs and alcohol and searching and finding what’s important to you.”
Peace, happiness and purpose
“Through miracles and the grace of God, somehow we’re still married,” Katie Decker said. “It was a lot of hard work to rebuild after his second time going through treatment, but it’s been worth it.”
“It does get better – a lot better,” Taz Decker said, adding:
“Today, I have peace and serenity in my life. The struggle today looks different than the struggle used to back then. I still struggle because I’m human. I still struggle because I live life, you know, day to day on life’s terms sometimes. Sometimes, life isn’t polite or kind, and so the difference is I don’t use over my struggles today.”
Today, Taz and Katie Decker work with other drug and alcohol addicts at an outpatient facility in St. George, sharing their experience, strength and hope with others to bring the kind of peace and happiness they have found to other people who are struggling.
“It does bring purpose, and we feel like we have that purpose,” Taz Decker said, “and we’re on our path.”
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