Relocation Doesn’t get you Far Enough Away

By Dustin John…

At this time in my addiction, I was a 23-year-old divorcee who had gone through a nasty separation that ended in bankruptcy and a large sack full of bitterness. Married at 21 and divorced at 23, due to infidelity. This was something I couldn’t fathom. I always thought I’d done quite well in life. I also believed I could handle anything that came my way. My days of pristine credit, financial security and a loving, beautiful wife, quickly vanished! One day I woke up and everything was gone. My home was empty. No dishes in the sink. No curtains over the windows. The carpet where strewn clothing once laid was completely bare. The emptiness inside my home mirrored the emptiness that flooded over me. This only fueled my thoughts of failure and disappointment. I was hollow. Hollowed out by the one person I chose as my life-partner.  I thought nothing could ever repair my shattered spirit. My life was now in shambles. This is when my addiction kicked into overdrive. It quickly began rearing its ugly head. Dealing with my new reality proved impossible for me. Shortly after this chain of events, I fell off the deep end.

Five years into my addiction to heroin, getting sober was something that lasted for only very brief intervals. No matter what I tried, I could never stay sober. I was on the verge of losing all hope for myself. I had tried cold turkey, weaning myself down in the amount I used, switching one substance for another, getting thrown in jail, rapid detox, methadone, staying busy, listening to music, picking up new hobbies, exercising more will power… The list goes on and on. I had decided I was not willing to subject myself to AA or NA. Nope. That wasn’t for me. There is no way that sitting in a room full of crazy drunks could help me in any way. It seemed too cult-ish. That, of course, is because I knew absolutely nothing about it.

One of the options I had not tried was relocating. Packing what few belongings I had and skipping town. At the time, it seemed to make sense. Even my worn-out and desperate family thought so. Removing me from my current environment had to work! Everyone I associated with either sold drugs or they did them. How could I possibly stop using heroin under these circumstances.

I boarded the next Greyhound bus and made the sobering trip across 2 state-lines. I had fifty dollars to my name. My goal was to get a motel room, apply for a job the following morning, reinstate my driver’s license and rebuild my life.

I stayed sober for quite a long time — a total of six hours. That’s right. Six hours. I met a group of people on the bus who were traveling to Las Vegas. Two hours past my destination of St. George. After some communication with my new friends, I made a change of plans. I deterred from my original destination and followed along with my new acquaintances. We had a great time in the tourist town of Las Vegas, but eventually they had to catch another bus and continue their travels.

Now I was alone and stranded in Las Vegas. I did the only thing I knew how to do. I used what little bit of cash I had wadded in my pocket and bought drugs — this time, crack cocaine. I walked the streets of Vegas trying to find where I went wrong. (It’s not obvious is it?)

Making my way back to the bus station, I was coming off my jittery high and was completely out of money. Smoking my last bent cigarette in front of the station entrance I was approached by an older woman.

“Do you have a light?” she asked. She was extremely interested in my life and where I had been. She kept asking me questions and wanted to know more about me. I told her about my initial goals and how I’d failed to reach them. Something about her made me feel comfortable and at ease. I have never trusted strangers but this woman was different for some reason. I felt like she truly cared about me. By the end of our conversation she had handed me bus fare to get back to St. George along with a hundred dollars in cash. I was blown away at her selfless gesture. Within seconds, the woman vanished.

I did the right thing and made my way back to St. George and used the money wisely. The anger and disappointment I felt about my relapse gave me a small boost of mental strength and ambition to pursue my sober journey. I purchased a hotel room that night and called the business that held my potential employment the next morning. I ended up scheduling an interview, and a few short days later, I had a job.

For the most part, things went really well. My boss was a very caring individual. He helped me get my driver’s license reinstated and bought me a used vehicle with the promise that I pay him back.

Had I known the real power of my addiction back then, I would probably still be working for a wonderful friend who unselfishly helped me back on my feet. A man I admired. Unfortunately, I lost all that: a good job, a fresh start at a new life and a virtuous, trust-worthy friend.

After a month or so I started making friends with the same sorts of people I’d connected with for years. In a very short time I found a heroin dealer who lived two hours away. I started shooting heroin again on a daily basis. It only took about three weeks of using before I was fired for poor performance and calling in sick. I was given 24 hours to return the vehicle to my former boss. Now jobless and having no source of income, I had to commit crimes to supply my ever-growing addiction. My morals had dropped with the relapse; as they always seemed to do. I’d become involved with a group of people whose rap-sheets made mine look petty. I got caught up in such a huge mess of lies, deceit, weapons and hard-core crime that I had to flee the town before I wound up a chalked outline on the sidewalk. Dodging a cut-throat is not easy in a small, close-knit town and I truly feared for my life.

I made a phone call to my family and I was back in my home town some six hours later. However, I didn’t move home and live happily ever-after. I continued using drugs and walking the streets. I kept getting into trouble with the law, committing more crimes, doing many other horrendous things that yielded a large stack of intimidating warrants. When the long arm of the law finally caught up with me, I was sentenced to 12 months in a maximum security institution. I was arrested on July 18, 2006 and was released July 10, 2007.

That final arrest was as close to the bottom as I could possibly be, other than being witness to my own death. I weighed 112 pounds. I was only a few heartbeats away from kicking the bucket down Sayonara Road.

But I used those13 months behind bars to search my soul and do all I could to understand my addiction. I was willing to do whatever was necessary to stop, for once and for all. I volunteered for a 6-month program offered by the prison, and went to every AA/NA and 12-step program they made available. I did it with an open heart and an open mind. I had finally accepted that I could not stay sober on my own. I allowed the system of AA and NA to work in my life. Things changed.

Over the past seven years I’ve had a 1-month slip-up and a 2-week slip. Both times I’d stopped using the lifestyle changes I painstakingly learned in AA/NA, I’d quit going to meetings, and I’d quit working with other sober addicts. But that was all. Unlike every other time, these slips were temporary. That world was no longer where I lived.

It is my experience that just changing your geographic location does not and will not work. I had tried to change all my surroundings; finding a different place to live, travel different roads, a different job, meet unfamiliar faces and so on. Without using the skills and principles provided by AA/NA, it was only a matter of time before I reverted back to my old ways, even amidst all my new environments.

I have been completely sober from alcohol and drugs since February 1, 2012. I haven’t used heroin or cocaine in over 5 years. Something has changed for good.

To hear more of my story, my battles and triumphs over addiction, go to or follow me on Twitter @DustinLJohn.


Please see Dustin’s recently released book, for sale on



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5 thoughts on “Relocation Doesn’t get you Far Enough Away

  1. Janet June 10, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    This is terrific. The truth is what we are all searching for as hard as it may be. But it is so much better than the lost and lonely world of drugs. I am so sorry, Dustin, that you had to know this pain of addiction, and your family, too. There is so much suffering. Almost impossible to bear, and to witness. But there are miracles, too. And you are living one. I love the woman who spoke to you at the bus station in Vegas… an angel. Thank you for writing this piece. It is very powerful and full of hope, including the fact that AA and NA have given you such strength. Great memoir writing.

  2. Dustin John June 10, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    Thank you Janet. There were many desperate days where it seemed the darkness would swallow me whole. In hindsight, I believe that my subconscious was just building a back door that would allow me to continue using. I say this because I was willing to try so many ways to get sober- as long as those ways of getting sober were my own ideas. Relocating seemed practical, but deep down i think I knew it would fail. Thanks for your comment and taking time to read my post. 🙂

  3. Joanne G July 26, 2015 at 8:24 am #

    Thank you for sharing this; as my son is on the cusp of entering rehab (11 days away – the heroin problem in our state is so prevalent that rehab has to be scheduled …imagine not being able to get in when you are READY) and I have been wondering if it would be better for him to be away from all of his using friends when he gets out. Last week I did a Walking for Wellness – Stop Heroin walk in my city and a recovering addict said to me ” No matter where you go, you take yourself”. So your post conveyed the exact same message – the recovery needs to come form the inside out, and it doesnt matter where you are. The problem is everywhere today.Thanks again for your insight.

  4. James July 27, 2015 at 6:30 pm #

    Fantastic stories. All of these memoirs are so inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing yours.

    The human mind is so powerful and your tale is truly inspiring.


  5. Bethany November 2, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    Wow what a journey and after of that, you sobered up!!! I know addiction very well. I battle my own with alcohol and my sister had her battles too.
    I wish she were alive to read your post but she unfortunately lost the battle to heroin. I know how hard she struggled and wanted a life that seemed to be out of reach. I know the times she would get sober from rehab, she rejoiced in life and was her loving creative self again.
    Our family never gave up hope and every time she got sober, we hoped it was just like your last venture. However, she would always find someone that would kick start her habit again. I don’t think it was like the angel showed up and who helped you at the bus station but rather my sister seeking what she wanted to find.
    I know, like her, how it can feel isolating. How your pride can get the best of you and denial runs deep each time you start to feel better. It is a hard road and one that we are beginning to understand more. I am glad you made it out and are here to speak about the journey to sobriety. It helps people to see that it is not easy at ALL.
    Keep doing awesome.

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