Marijuana. Alcohol. Painkillers. Partying.
“I just thought it was cool,” Chad Ling says. “I was a fool.”
The Williamsport man has spent many of his 32 years firmly addicted to illegal drugs and bad choices.
A counselor at the Centre County Jail where Ling had landed nearly three years ago set him on a new path, one that has opened his eyes. For about two years, he has been involved with the American Rescue Workers’ program known as Fresh Start.
“I love being in control of my own world, as much as I can be,” he said.
Ling acknowledges the way using drugs had made him feel but notes that he “had no true understanding of what made me feel whole.”
He initially wasn’t sold on the nine-month program. The commitment felt like more than he wanted to handle.
The live-in program helps its participants to develop good working habits, financial accountability and finding a permanent residence.
“But I didn’t fully fight it. I knew, in my mind, I was working on myself.”
The counselor continued to push the idea and, before long, Ling found himself talking on the phone to Cleveland Way, the then-shelter director at the American Rescue Workers. Soon, Ling was on a bus to Williamsport.
‘Something felt different’
“I had nothing. I had a bag of paperwork and some dirty, ripped-up clothes I was wearing.”
Ling said he noticed a difference right away.
“The minute I came in here … something felt different. Love. That’s what it is. People just genuinely care about other people. It doesn’t matter what you did.”
Staff explained what he could do for himself and reassured him that they wanted to help him accomplish more than he ever dreamed he could do.
“And then we just went. Anytime I came and asked for support or to talk to somebody, it was never like it is in jail – ‘put in a slip and we’ll get to you in a month.’ It was, ‘OK, what’s going on?’”
Ling said he now tries to model that same behavior with other people.
“I feel like a mistake is a mistake … and I’m going to love you anyway,” he said.
“I’ve grown. I’ve grown in all the things that make life easier. And I’ve also grown in my understanding of what really matters in this life here. It’s not money and it’s not cars. It’s not how many people like you.”
Ling said he believes finding a purpose is an instrumental part of anyone’s life.
“Then you can start living for that purpose. That’s what it’s all about.
“Without Cleveland and his ideas to set up this program or without the support of Pastor Sam and Miss Dawn and all the other individuals that are involved in our organization, without all of that, it falls apart. Just like each individual person. If you just have a job, it’s not going to work. You gotta have all these pieces come into play.”
Ling said he believes part of his purpose is to help other people as he has been helped.
“I couldn’t have done it on my own. I needed a place like Lycoming County, like Williamsport, like the American Rescue Workers to help me get to where I knew I should be.”
‘I’m an addict’
“I’m clean and I don’t want to get high,” he added.
That wasn’t always the case. Born and raised in a small town in Clearfield County, Ling says he has an addictive personality, and was no stranger to drugs from a young age.
“I think I started smoking pot when I was 12. It didn’t affect me. I got good grades in school,” he said. “I was drinking … At a young age, I got away with a lot. Nothing really mattered.”
In college, though, his years of avoiding responsibility for his actions came to an end.
“Then I didn’t get away with it. I got caught … in 2007 … with a substantial amount of marijuana,” Ling said.
Since it was his first offense, the courts showed leniency, and Ling continued on his path of abusing drugs. An injury to his shoulder earned him prescriptions for painkillers.
“I loved ’em. They just took everything away,” he said. “I just kept doing it. I was hooked.”
Still able to function and hold a job, Ling moved to Arizona with a friend to go to school and learn how to repair motorcycles. While there, he received word that his father had died in a violent suicide.
“That hurt. I spent the next however many years of my life … just getting by,” he said. “I just went further and further down.”
Ling returned to Pennsylvania and vowed to get clean and sober. He got a job and was living at his mom’s house.
“I was doing good,” he said, but with no solid support structure, he turned again to drugs. A slow start blossomed into heavy use after his mom kicked him out and he lost his job.
By then, his use of prescription drugs had led him to bath salts, which transitioned into heroin. He was in and out of jail, then found his way to a Fresh Start, though he keeps his past in mind.
“I’m an addict. I think it’s in me,” he said.