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CODY — Zack Robinson had no desire to live. The drugs he was addicted to left him numb, rendering him emotionless, without any joy or pain to feel.
“I wasn’t alive or living, I was just existing,” he said.
Robinson, 43, is a recovering addict who recently graduated from the Park County Court Supervised Treatment Program. He has been sober for 427 consecutive days.
“It’s incredible to watch what you’ve seen and done,” said Jackie Fales during his graduation in April.
Fales is a family program facilitator for Cedar Mountain Center and peer support specialist at Cody Regional Behavioral Health, graduating from Drug Court herself in 2018.
Robinson said the desire to escape trauma was what initially fueled his addiction, having seen multiple friends murdered.
He said he turned to drugs in order to numb these haunting memories.
He said deflecting this trauma was what allowed his addiction to grow, but he looks at active addiction as a trauma in itself.
“You use drugs to cover up the trauma and stuff you don’t want to face until the drugs no longer work and now you’re left with the pain and trauma you were dealing with in the first place, plus the pain and trauma of the addiction,” he said.
Robinson moved from drinking alcohol when he was 10 years old to smoking marijuana in junior high school. By the time he had thrown out his arm playing baseball in college, he had moved on to a stronger substance in meth.
“I took it pretty far pretty quick,” he said.
Robinson, a Powell native, lived all over Wyoming while growing up and graduated from Rawlins High School. He moved back to the Cody area around eight years ago.
Robinson was found guilty of felony drug possession in 2017. Despite attending Cedar Mountain Center in 2018, he broke his probation twice in 2019. Even before trying to turn himself in for breaking probation, Robinson realized he needed to make a change in his life. He started reading literature while awaiting his prison sentence at the Park County Detention Center.
“I didn’t think I would ever not be hooked on drugs,” he said. “I thought I was going to die that way.”
In the literal 11th hour, less than 60 minutes before his sentencing hearing, Robinson was given a last chance to turn himself around by voluntarily enrolling in the Supervised Treatment Program, also known as Drug Court. It was an opportunity he did not take for granted, fully immersing himself with everything the program had to offer when he started in February 2021.
“It’s a daily thing you have to work on, that I have to work on,” he said. “If I’m not working toward recovery, I’m working toward active addiction.”
Drug Court is a 501©3 nonprofit dedicated to assisting participants with breaking the cycle of substance abuse and crimes committed as a result thereof. Only those charged with a crime are eligible to participate and must undergo a screening process that involves multiple factors, including drug and alcohol and risk assessments.
Shannon Votaw, program director for Drug Court, said if candidates are determined to be eligible based on these criteria, the court is notified and it’s up to the sentencing judge in their case whether they are allowed to enter the program.
Drug Court is designed to provide sentencing alternatives to non-violent offenders who have committed substance abuse. Participants must be admitted to the program and must either submit an admission to breaking probation, or guilty or a no contest plea on their charged offense. Completing the program typically takes 12-18 months, Votaw said.
There are 16 drug court programs throughout the state. As part of the government spending bill that was passed in March, $80 million will be devoted to funding drug court programs throughout the country.
“They’re just the starting point for you,” Robinson said. “They’re just guiding you to a better life.”
Within Drug Court, Robinson found a community he could call his own, that showed him love and happiness for life and a vision for a higher purpose. He made attending support groups a near daily routine, which he continues to this day. Robinson spent his day off from work last Wednesday attending a Drug Court session.
“They showed me there is a different life you can live, but you need people for that,” he said. “I can have all the books in the world, and all the knowledge, but if I don’t have my support circle I don’t have anything.”
While he was in the Drug Court program, three of Robinson’s friends took their own lives because of addiction.
He said if he hadn’t been seeking treatment during these events, he would’ve “been dead or living dead,” depending on drugs to cope with this trauma, but instead was able to view these losses from a recovery point of view.
“They showed me in concrete, and let me feel this is a deadly disease,” he said.
Robinson moved through the five-phase program, transitioning from active addiction to recovery, becoming a role model for other participants. Enrollees start the program by attending four, three-hour sessions a week, with each group offering a different focus like relapse prevention and self-awareness. As they work through the program, the responsibilities are reduced, putting the onus on participants to create their own structure.
“Once you take the drugs away … you have to fill that with something,” Robinson said. “It becomes filling it with something positive.”
Robinson has fully embraced the service aspect of the program and speaks at Cedar Mountain Center about his life story. He said he was touched when a patient approached him recently and asked if he would do the fifth step with them. The fifth step of the recovery process is admitting to God, yourself and another human being the exact nature of your wrongs.
“If I can say one thing that reaches someone about my story or my troubles that helps them in their recovery, then all that pain and suffering I went through is completely worth it just to reach one person,” he said.
Robinson surrounds himself with people in recovery and support as a reminder of the task at hand, crediting others for the improved life he keeps today.
“Everything that keeps me moving forward I learned in those places from those people,” he said.
For Robinson and other recovering addicts, their addictions will never be solved, cured or fixed. It takes their constant dedication and resiliency to live a sober life, holding themselves to a higher standard than most others in society because of the choices they made earlier in their lives. Robinson said not a day goes by that he isn’t taking steps toward his recovery and he looks at his graduation from Drug Court as just the beginning of his “other life.”
“I’m standing as living proof, this works,” he told the audience through tears at his graduation in the Park County Circuit Courtroom on April 1.
During his graduation, Robinson was surrounded by friends, family and counselors – all making up a strong support group he will continue to lean on for the rest of his life, just as they will lean on him.
“Look at all the people in this crowd today – it’s a testament to what you’ve given back to the recovery community – that’s why this room is packed right now,” Votaw said.
Many do not get a second chance as Robinson did. Often, repeat offenders will be sent to prison to serve their sentence. Robinson said although it is possible to gain recovery while incarcerated, where some treatment and counseling services are provided, he finds it an unlikely scenario.
“I don’t think that’s a real way to get recovery,” Robinson said.
Drug Court has been hosting a variety of community outreach events like an Honor Recovery celebration held at City Park last September and a free movie showing of “Tipping the Pain Scale,” a documentary on the opioid crisis, held at Big Horn Cinemas last month.
Poet and educator Joseph Green is profiled in the movie. Green visits elementary classrooms to help the students better express their emotions and learn how to handle the challenges of life. Green and others in the movie promoted the idea that by instilling children with these lessons, they will be less likely to turn to drugs as a way to cope with trauma and adversity down the road.
Robinson plans to continue speaking at CMC and attending Drug Court sessions for the foreseeable future. With a new contingency of members enrolled in Drug Court, he said the time is ripe to continue making a positive difference in the lives of others.
“It helps remind me where I was in the beginning,” he said of working with new members.
He said he would be interested in pursuing this as a lifelong profession as a unit coordinator at CMC someday. Many of these unit coordinators are still in his life today.
“Those people are amazing to me because they’re just trying to help people have a better life and they really don’t expect anything in return,” Robinson said.
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