Veteran Overcomes PTSD, Addiction to Launch Political Career

A combat veteran and a star high school athlete from a well-respected family, Chris Taylor wound up a heroin addict. But today, he serves on the Safford City Council as its youngest member ever at age 30. He earned the most votes of any candidate, even beating out a 20-year incumbent.

The turnaround is nothing short of remarkable even though his story of addiction is not at all unusual.

In an interview with Foundations Recovery Network, Taylor described his journey from the ditch to the dais. He is by no means a die-hard 12-Stepper (“I haven’t been to a meeting in years,” he told Foundations), it is his higher power – Jesus Christ – that has helped him defy the huge deck of cards that life stacked against him.

Like so many high school athletes, Taylor sustained a painful, debilitating injury while in high school. The pain was so bad, it knocked him unconscious a few times as the car hit bumps in the road on the way to the hospital. And then, a nurse administered pain medication that, in retrospect, he immediately should have known was going to become a huge problem.

“Almost instantly, it was like this comforting feeling, this warm rush came over me,” he told the Gila Valley Central. (1) “I had the worst pain one second, and the best feeling I ever felt in my life the next.”

And he soon learned that the opioid-based medicine he was given could not only numb physical pain, but also emotional pain.

Popping Painkillers to Push Back Pain During Practice

As time went on, Taylor started using the pain medication to push through scrimmages and games. It kept the hurt from the initial accident – a hard blow during a football game – at bay. In practically no time at all, Taylor became hooked. He recalled being at a Sonic fast food restaurant when he scored his first non-prescribed pain pill. A friend told him that if it was prescription medication, it couldn’t be that bad.

By the time he was out of high school, without sports to keep him focused, Taylor began to flounder. The next thing he knew, he was smoking heroin.

When his grandma died, and then two friends perished in a car accident, the emotional trauma only fueled his use. He moved from Safford to Phoenix, where things only got worse. He had moved in with his brother after his parents kicked him out of the house.

After six weeks of heroin use, “I started doing things I would never do (before the addiction),” he told Foundations. “This is not me,” he told himself. “I cannot do this.”

His parents sent him to rehab. There, Taylor said he was surrounded by longtime addicts who exposed him to even more realities that he could hardly comprehend. After six months of sobriety, he joined the military.

Psychological Warfare Training Still No Match for Addiction

Taylor was proud to serve, particularly as a paratrooper assigned to the Green Berets who specialized in psychological warfare. Incredibly intelligent, Taylor had special training to gather intelligence and help people in Afghanistan rebuild their communities and establish their own local governments.

But Afghanistan was by no means a friendly place during the two tours of duty he served. Like so many service people, he saw people get killed. He saw things that forever changed him.

And when he left the service, he knew exactly how he could escape the emotional pain brought on by that trauma. He was diagnosed with PTSD and was back on heroin in no time at all.

Taylor did seek help, but since Phoenix was a flashpoint for the nation’s Veterans Administration scandal, it took him more than six months to get in for an appointment. Life again became disastrous, and Taylor wound up in the hospital for a horrible, life-threatening infection that developed from repeated injection drug use.

Taylor, who is smart and knows how to advocate not only for others but also for himself, insisted on being treated at a facility in Northern California that is noted for its work with veterans. This time around, he got clean and stayed clean.

“Obviously, I had a co-occurring diagnosis, and they focused on my trauma and why I was self-medicating. I was not treated like a drug addict or looked at like a drug addict. I was looked at as a combat veteran who had post-traumatic stress, and that worked for me.”

Service to Others Takes Taylor Out of ‘Self’

So how has he done it? How has Taylor stayed sober, even winning the Safford City Council election, while living with trauma that still haunts him from time to time?

Tremendous purpose. Today, Taylor runs his own sober living house, Desert Eagle. He started it after, as a recovering addict himself, he became painfully aware that Safford did not have any such places.

He began to lobby the townspeople and the City Council to gain approval to open one. It was not an easy task, as NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitudes remain pervasive when people or companies try to open rehab centers and halfway houses. The stigma people with substance abuse disorder face remains very, very high.

“It was just ridiculous,” Taylor said of the resistance he experienced while trying to open the sober living home. “Every community has sober living homes.”

Stigma Is Not Part of the Vocabulary in Taylor’s Family

Despite the pushback he faced while trying to open the sober living center, Taylor did not give up. His background is such that giving up isn’t ever an option, really.

“For three years, (prior to his election to the City Council and swearing in during spring 2017), I was extremely visible in the community,” he told Foundations. “I have seen tangible evidence of people’s mindsets changing. I learned in the military with the psychological warfare how to try to influence people’s perceptions to think a certain way and some of the things I’ve done in a civilian manner have been about changing the stigma of addiction.”

Taylor also notes that, like many well-known families whose children become addicted to opioids, his never became ashamed of it or tried to hide it. When families “try to cover up or hide it, (the addict) ends up dead.”

On the campaign trail, Taylor never tried to hide his addiction either. It would have been difficult – Safford has a population of 10,000, with the general metro area having only about 20,000 residents total.

“It’s like everything has worked out for me right now, and I was transparent through the entire [campaign] process, which is rare with politicians. Most politicians just want to shape how people look at them [and are] motivated by self-preservation.”

Despite his dramatic turnaround, life today is no walk in the park for Taylor. “I still have [bad] memories, I still have nightmares, I still get a little irritable and have trouble concentrating. But when I was at rock bottom, I turned my life over to Jesus Christ, and it lifted my burdens, although they have not been completely taken away. I now believe I was given those burdens for a reason. I never thought I would be one of those people who would be talking about Christ’s grace.”


Sources
1. Burk, E. (2017, Jan. 12) From Rock Bottom to Redemption: The Chris Taylor Story. Gila Valley Central. Retrieved Feb. 14, 2017, from http://gilavalleycentral.net/from-rock-bottom-to-redemption-the-chris-taylor-story/

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