By Niki DiGaetano
One of the first things Bryan Belk did when he saw my camera sitting on the picnic table was grin, strike a pose, and ask, “Are you going to take my picture? I’d better get ready!” It quickly became apparent that he was charismatic and witty, eager to talk and share his story, which he did in a well-spoken manner. Like all the residents at Easy Does It (EDI), 21-year-old Belk has a story that is complex and authentic, interspersed with pitfalls as well as triumphs. Growing up, Belk’s stepfather dealt drugs in their home. He previously lived with his grandmother, who is a drug and alcohol counselor, as well as a former alcoholic. After being asked to leave his grandmother’s home, he bounced between three different rehabilitation facilities, one of which was EDI. There, he was able to settle into their transitional housing program.
At EDI, the residents are required to either be students or to have a job. Belk is an education major at RACC; he hopes to eventually teach at the high school level. As Belk expressed satisfaction with EDI as a whole, his face lit up. “It’s really a blessing to be here,” he said. “The people are great, and we have meetings we go to.” Laughing, he added, “They have great food.”
Despite several missteps, including an Adderall relapse that resulted in his leaving EDI for different rehab centers in Reading and Philadelphia, Belk announced, “I’m clean eight months yesterday.” Up until then, he had been using drugs since age 14.
In a culture that celebrates fake lives and insincerity, stories like Belk’s are brutal in their struggles, and beautiful in their honesty.
After sharing his story in a relatively cut-and-dry manner, our dialogue became almost like that of two friends — less of an interview and more of a conversation. During this time, I shared that a dear family member had been addicted to marijuana, and how I felt that he wasn’t my family anymore. The drugs altered him too much; he was a stranger to me. Belk began rubbing his eyes. “I’m crying a little because what you said, it really touched me,” he said. “My little sister said I wasn’t the same person when I was on drugs.”
Even today, remaining clean is not always easy, especially since Belk suffers from mental health issues, the worst being severe anxiety.
“I still deal with it, and it makes it hard to stay clean because it’s a major trigger for me,” he says.
Despite this, he has managed to achieve his goal so far, and his family is proud of him.
“The best part of being clean is feeling so much better, so much different than when I was on drugs,” Belk said with a smile.
In a culture that celebrates fake lives and insincerity, stories like Belk’s are brutal in their struggles, and beautiful in their honesty. The typical person might not describe someone suffering from addiction in this way: honest, sincere, and charismatic. Yet, Belk personifies these traits. He will surely face challenges as he continues in his recovery, as will everyone else who has ever struggled with addiction. The disease of addiction has been described as the lifelong marathon — a battle that does not end upon leaving their rehabilitation program, their transitional housing program, or their treatment center. But just as their recovery and battles do not end with the end of the treatment, neither do their stories.