By Justin Sweitzer

For Christopher Thomas, his formative years were fairly normal. “My upbringing was completely fine,” Thomas said. The same internal battles that plague the 33-year-old’s mind are the same ones that led him to have his first drink at the age of 13.

He first recalled experiencing anxiety while participating in team sports as a child; he often allowed the fear of letting teammates down overwhelm him.
But Thomas found a way to minimize his anxieties, starting with that first drink in his early teenage years. “As soon as I took that first drink, all my insecurities went away,” he said.

Such insecurities would become a driving factor behind Thomas’ substance abuse.
His drinking habits continued throughout college, where he majored in medical laboratory science, and into his adult life. By the time Thomas was working a steady job at St. Joseph Medical Center in his hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, he had succumbed to full-blown alcoholism, often drinking a fifth of hard liquor a day to quell his body’s demands.

Thomas began to lose sight of who he really was as the alcohol consumed him. As he began to feel the physical effects of alcohol addiction, he soon graduated to Oxycontin and then to heroin.

In the opioid family, heroin presents a cheaper option that is readily available and easier to access. Since beginning his heroin use, Thomas has found himself in and out of rehab for the last three years, most recently relapsing two weeks before this article was published.

Thomas’ own insecurities and anxieties have been insurmountable in his battle with addiction. “I just don’t like who I am when I look in the mirror,” he says. “When I get sober, I don’t know myself; it’s an identity crisis.”

In addition to his drug use, Thomas has also experienced run-ins with self-mutilation due to struggling with discomfort in his own skin. A glance at his shoulder reveals a multitude of scars. “It’s a release,” he said. “I use it the same way as I would a drink or a drug, just to get out of myself.”

To be so reliant on foreign substances is unfathomable to many, and despite how intimidating such a process may be, Thomas is making an effort to fight against his fears and learn his true nature without the influence of drugs or alcohol. “I’m scared to get in touch and find out who I am,” Thomas said.

Thomas has adopted skateboarding and poetry as outlets to express himself and release negative energy that would otherwise be channeled into substance abuse.

“When I get sober, I don’t know myself; it’s an identity crisis.”

As he continues to find ways to positively focus his energy, Thomas aspires to get his life back on track. “I want to get back into my career. I want some stability which I’ve never had in my life,” he said.

Slowly but surely, Thomas seems to be finding the proper mindset to positively rise above his illness. “The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself,” he said. It’s a relationship that Thomas is working to repair each and every day, searching for a deeper understanding of himself to help combat the repetitive nature of addiction.

As Thomas focuses on improving his relationship with himself, his fellow residents at EDI offer an unusual yet effective support system, according to Thomas. “The only thing that really keeps me going is knowing that I’m not alone.” When asked if his fellow residents create a perfect community to offer support, Thomas disagrees. “They’re flawed in every fucking way possible — but when I’m hurting inside, they all come together.”