Alumni Trevor Shukers’ journey from addiction to inspiration

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courtsey of Trevor Shukers

Celebrating his one year sobriety mark, Trevor Shukers and his fiancée Courtney Jaboor smile with their two children: Hailee [6 years] and Sutton [20 months]. Hailee was diagnosed with autism in the middle of last year. “My three girls have all helped me find a purpose for life,” Shukers said. “I believe Hailee is part of God’s reason for helping me and giving me another chance, she needs me. Little does she know I need her more than she needs me. The girls have given me a life better than I could have ever imagined.”

Today marks day 575 of 2012 West graduate Trevor Shukers’ sobriety. After six years of drug abuse and struggling with mental illness, Shukers decided to get clean not only for himself but for his family. Shukers’ addiction began with alcohol and escalated to opiates from prescription painkillers. 

“Before [addiction], I always felt like something was off with me. I couldn’t communicate normally and felt very socially awkward with people. I didn’t feel like I fit in with anyone. I could be sitting in a room with 50 people and still feel totally alone,” Shukers said. “The first time I drank alcohol, all of those feelings went away.” 

Shukers’ first experience with alcohol brought him a feeling of social acceptance. 

“When I first drank alcohol, I didn’t think, ‘I want to do this every day of my life.’ I just became aware of the feeling where I could be myself and be accepted,” Shukers said. 

In Shukers’ junior year of high school, he experienced physical and emotional abuse from a traumatic event and was prescribed narcos. Shukers’ first experience with pain killers differed from alcohol. 

“The first time I was prescribed pain killers it gave me the feeling alcohol did on the inside but significantly heightened. The way I thought of it was ‘ok I can walk around school and work and function on opioids, but I can’t do this from alcohol,’” Shukers said. “After my first time taking one, I was 100% hooked on it. Nothing had ever made me feel that way before. It made every bit of emotional pain I had ever gone through go away.”

When Shukers’ prescription ran out and narcotic accessibility and prices were an obstacle, Shukers struggled severely with his mental health for two years. Eventually, Shukers began to obtain similar drugs by his own means in an attempt to rid himself of his negative emotions. 

“For about two years, I didn’t talk to anyone. I was isolated. I was extremely depressed. The thought of anything gave me panic attacks,” Shukers said. “I was fed up with those feelings, so I reached out to someone who I knew felt the same way and he didn’t have any pain killers, but he had fentanyl.”

Fentanyl is a highly addictive, powerful opioid drug used in the treatment of severe pain. At the time Shukers was unaware he had been given fentanyl, and his addiction quickly escalated to any types of pain pills he could get his hands on. After years of addiction, Shukers began to realize he was losing himself. 

“In addiction, you don’t see the changes happening to yourself. It’s everyone around you. Looking back, I can see those differences that slowly unfolded,” Shukers said. “I had burned bridges with every single person that actually cared about me. My family still loved me just as much at the time, but given my mental health and well being they had to love me from a distance.”

Shukers rejected help and refused to accept his addiction.

“I started isolating even more. The only thing I cared about was drinking and drugging. That was my number one goal in life. I did not care about anyone. People slowly started asking me little questions about it. Every single day I would be gone two or three hours trying to get drugs, and people began asking me why I was gone. If anyone started suspecting I was using drugs, I just cut them out of my life,” Shukers said. “For a while, I was so ashamed of myself and I thought of myself as a functioning drug addict.”

[Current addicts should] talk to someone, anyone. It’s important to value yourself. Feelings and emotions are all temporary. That fear and feeling that you are not worth is all temporary. Bad feelings will pass and become filled with good ones with a little work.”

— Trevor Shuker

In a six-day span, Shukers’ fiancée kicked him out of their house because she became aware of Shukers’ addiction. Shukers moved in with his parents and overdosed two times and was hospitalized. 

“[Overdosing and being hospitalized] still wasn’t enough for me to want to get clean,” Shukers said. “I was lucky enough to survive that. Everyone in my family had actual proof I was a drug addict, and that still wasn’t enough for me.”

Shukers then tried to get clean for his family. 

“I went to a rehab center and stayed clean only for 30 days after I left because I had tried stopping for someone else, not for myself. In order to get and stay clean, I had to look myself in the mirror and dive into the internal problems I had going on,” Shukers said. 

Shukers believes that during that time, he met rock bottom and had nothing. 

“To me, everyone’s rock bottom is different. It takes some type of rock bottom for you to actually want to get clean. Being hopeless and not having a choice is what it took for me,” Shukers said. “At that moment in time, I was truly convinced that if I didn’t actually make serious changes I was gonna have nobody. I didn’t even care about living, I didn’t value myself or my life.”

Five hundred and seventy-five days ago today, Shukers decided to turn his life around. Shukers credits his addiction to the person he is today.

“Even though I put my friends and family through absolute terror and chaos, all those choices made me who I am today,” Shukers said. “The person I am today, I never thought I would become. If I could change anything, I wish I would’ve asked for help when I was having issues. I’m sure if I told any of my teachers or my mom someone would have helped, but I was too ashamed to reach out and I also didn’t know how to talk about it.”

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 96% of people who are actively addicted to substances and not seeking help don’t believe they need to get treatment for help. The remaining 4% either felt they needed treatment but didn’t try to find it. Shukers advises current addicts to seek help

“[Current addicts should] talk to someone, anyone. It’s important to value yourself,” Shukers said. “Feelings and emotions are all temporary. That fear and feeling that you are not worth is all temporary. Bad feelings will pass and become filled with good ones with a little work.” 

This infographic details risk factors for teen substance abuse. (Makinsey Drake)

Nearly 841,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. In 2019, 70,630 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States. A new survey from DrugFree.org finds an estimated 17% of American high school students say they drink, smoke or use drugs during the school day. Shukers wishes schools did more to educate students about addiction and alcoholism.

“I wish schools would do more about these issues. So many people still think it’s not gonna happen to them, but it happens every day,” Shukers said. “People see someone begging for money on the street corner or living under the bridge, and that’s how people picture drug addicts. That’s not what drug addiction looks like when it starts. People need to be educated more on what drug addiction looks like and the importance of mental health.”

Shukers believes these issues go hand-in-hand with mental health and it’s important to reach out. Roughly 50% of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse.

“People also don’t take mental health seriously. People bully kids in school and think it’s all fun and games. People don’t know what’s going on in their heads. I wish that when I was having a lot of depression and anxiety, I would’ve talked about those issues with someone,” Shukers said.

As a father of two young girls, Shukers plans to use his experience to teach children the consequences of drug and alcohol use. He plans to ensure that his children know they are more susceptible to substance abuse, as it is genetic

“I know I can’t watch my daughters every second of the rest of their lives.  As they continue to get older, I’m going to be brutally honest with them so they know the effects of everything. I know everything I put my parents through and I don’t want to go through that. I don’t want to lose either of my kids to this disease,” Shukers said. “I know marijuana is very political and even though some people think it’s okay, that was not okay for me. I’m going to make sure my daughters know that. Alcoholism and addiction is genetic. It’s only fair for them to know this runs in our family, and we need to be careful of it.”

Shukers not only wants to share his experience with his daughters but also with others in hopes of preventing or ending addictions. 

“If I had one wish, it would be to cure alcoholism and addiction permanently. It tears apart so many peoples’ families. I’ve lost several people to substance abuse and that’s something I wish no one had to ever experience,” Shukers said. “People need to know there is hope, there’s a better way to live. Since I made that decision for myself I’ve achieved things, gotten materialistic things, more than I ever had. I’ve gotten all of my family back. The worst days I’ve had since I’ve gotten sober are still better than the absolute best day I had drinking and using.”

Since recovery, Shukers feels empowered. 

“If I can apply determination and all those things it took for me to turn my life around to my everyday life, there is no task too big,” Shukers said. “I am trying really hard to be present and not dwell on the future as much. But my number one goal is to just be a decent human. Which means being there for my kids. Being a partner. Helping others who are struggling. I just got engaged. We just put an offer in for a new house today. Now that I am sober, I feel I can accomplish anything.”