Growing up in his childhood home in Flowery Branch, Taylor McCullough describes his childhood as a pretty good one.
“My dad was always the person when he walked into the room everybody’s face lit up,” said McCullough.
McCullough describes his old home as a ‘party house,’ with his father’s continuous stream of friends coming to visit. When McCullough and his older brother were little they’d play darts and cards while their father and his friends gambled and drank.
Unknown to McCullough at the time, his father was selling marijuana. When his father eventually sat McCullough down during middle school, he realized why his father was always the life of the party. He was bringing the drugs.
“He came to me and my brother and he told us ‘hey look this is marijuana. This is pot.’ And he told us not to tell the schools, not to tell nobody. He was like ‘if somebody asks you about it you don’t know what they’re talking about,’” McCullough said.
By the time McCullough graduated high school in 2009, he had fallen in with the wrong crowd and was smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. He also began abusing opioid pain medications Lortab and Roxicodone.
“One day I call a friend of mine who I usually get the pills from…and it’s not my buddy but I think it’s his friend that’s always with him,” McCullough said.
He talked to an unknown man on the phone, believing it to be an acquaintance of his friend. He explained that he had plans to meet with him that day. The voice told McCullough that it was okay for him to come over.
“I go over there and it’s not them at all,” McCullough said. “It’s the undercover police.”
During his second semester of college, McCullough was arrested for criminal intent to purchase Oxycodone and missed his finals, forcing him to withdraw from all of his classes.
His addiction took another turn after a devastating breakup and set McCullough down a path to abusing methamphetamine.
“It wasn’t thrilling, it didn’t excite me – I didn’t like it that much. All I remember is it kept me up. I couldn’t sleep,” McCullough said. “I didn’t feel like Superman or anything special, but for some reason I kept doing it. And the more I kept doing it the more I could see why people like it.”
Eventually McCullough found himself in desperation and attempted to end his life. He woke up in the hospital surrounded by his mom and grandmother who begged him to seek help for his addiction.
In total, McCullough has been admitted for treatment 14 times for various substance abuse related episodes and struggled to remain in treatment until he hit what he described as the bottom.
McCullough found himself living alone in his father’s run down mobile home filled with trash, dirt, roaches and rats and no power or water. He only cared about chasing his next high.
“I stayed in that trailer for a good two years with no power, no water, with nothing,” McCullough said.
In the trailer park, McCullough knew of at least 12 people around him that either did the same drugs as him or lived the same lifestyle.
“I would wake up. I had no power or water so I would go try to find whose house I’m going to shower at or where am I going to get something to eat,” McCullough said. “First I was going to try to get high. Before I would even think about eating food or showering or anything I was like ‘how am I going to get high today?’”
Eventually going house to house to survive was no longer an option as McCullough overstayed his welcome and found himself isolated from his friends and family.
“I had people around me but I was lonely inside,” McCullough said.
McCullough realized that he needed help and sought help at five different facilities in the winter of 2016, but because he was not a threat to himself or others he was turned away.
He decided to take matters into his own hands, knowing that his actions could land him in prison. He decided to burn down his trailer.
On March 31, 2016, McCullough was arrested for arson and was taken to Hall County jail.
“If I hadn’t done that, I don’t know if I’d have gotten clean or I don’t know. I probably would have died. I probably would have kept doing what I was doing,” McCullough said.
While in jail, McCullough was able to get clean and thought about his options for his future. With the help of a lawyer, he was admitted into Hall County drug court and later transferred to Dawson County’s treatment program.
“I was ecstatic. I was like ‘Man this is it. This is going to work,’” McCullough said. “I was getting out of jail but I had my family back. I already had almost a year of clean time under my belt just from being in jail so I was coming out a step ahead.”
Since McCullough entered drug court, he has seen his life change drastically.
Drug court is a two-year outpatient program for referred clients charged with nonviolent felony offenses related to substance abuse.
“Everyone has something that they’re struggling with. It’s just how you handle it and that’s a lot of what we teach the participants here – how to handle things in a healthier way,” said Treatment Court Coordinator Suzanne Stanley.
The five-phase program includes a combination of individual and group counseling to help clients recognize their addiction, change their behavior and help get them integrated back into society.
“People don’t want to admit the wrongs or the bad things that are going on,” Stanley said. “They want to focus on all the good but the truth is this is a real problem and what if that was someone in your family that was struggling? At the end of the day we’re all people. We’re all the same.”
Since entering the program, McCullough has seen his circumstances change for the better. Now surrounded by new friends and a network of people supporting him, he has seen the benefits the program has to offer and has a fresh start in life.
“I have the best job that I’ve ever had. Before any of this I had nothing. I had ashes and coals and one mattress in a corner. And now I have a place to live. I have a newer car. My job is great. I know if I lost my job today I would find another one tomorrow. I’m not worrying about money. I don’t know I mean it’s just living life on my terms,” McCullough said.
Looking back on his experience, McCullough realized he needed to hit his absolute lowest before he was willing to rise and overcome his addiction.
“If not for jail and the treatment systems and all that I would have never done it. I wouldn’t have gotten clean on my own, no way,” McCullough said. “When you’re in desperation and you’re that far down, it doesn’t matter what somebody says. It doesn’t matter how much support you have, you’re not going to do it unless you really want to do it. Something has to make you do it.”
In November, McCullough graduates from the Dawson County drug court program and is not looking back.
McCullough has been clean since March 31, 2016, the day he burned his old life to ashes.
“Two years seems like a long time but it’s not,” McCullough said. “I’m still today picking up the pieces of the destruction.”
Now 27, McCullough finds himself with a new life before him and is still figuring out where he wants to go from here.
“Like anybody else I want a family. I want a good job. Maybe want to own my own business one day,” he said. “It’s still a window of opportunity. Good things happen every day now.”
Editor’s note: This is the second article in the Dawson County News’ continuing series on the Dawson County Substance Abuse Coalition.