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Jaffrey

Beyond Addiction

Chris Thigpen: Former Conant High athlete talks about his long fall and rise to recovery

  • Christopher Thigpen and his mother, Kathy, talk in their Jaffrey home about Christopher's 14-year-long struggle, and recovery from, drug addiction.

    Christopher Thigpen and his mother, Kathy, talk in their Jaffrey home about Christopher's 14-year-long struggle, and recovery from, drug addiction.

  • Christopher Thigpen and his mother, Kathy, talk in their Jaffrey home about Christopher's 14-year-long struggle, and recovery from, drug addiction.

    Christopher Thigpen and his mother, Kathy, talk in their Jaffrey home about Christopher's 14-year-long struggle, and recovery from, drug addiction.

  • Christopher Thigpen and his mother, Kathy, talk in their Jaffrey home about Christopher's 14-year-long struggle, and recovery from, drug addiction.
  • Christopher Thigpen and his mother, Kathy, talk in their Jaffrey home about Christopher's 14-year-long struggle, and recovery from, drug addiction.

Many people reach a point in their life where they feel stuck in a bad place, helpless and hopeless. Even as the world moves around them, they stand still, unable to move or change. How is it, then, that you get out? How do you leave the past behind?

For some, forgetting what’s behind you isn’t requisite to moving forward. Chris Thigpen still talks about his previous 14-year-long drug addiction in the present tense, using phrases like “I can’t stop” and “I’m not satisfied” close to three years after becoming sober. For Thigpen, who grew up in Jaffrey and is now 30 and lives in Derry, the intense presence of his addiction is what makes him commit to staying sober, to continuing on with a productive, active life.

Thigpen is actively fighting against his drug addiction, and he’s winning.

Thigpen started using drugs when he was 13 years old. He began smoking marijuana in middle school, which was the beginning of a long relationship with illegal substances. “It took over,” said Thigpen in a recent interview in his childhood home. “I couldn’t shake it when I was sober.”

Thigpen believes he was predisposed to drug addiction, with several relatives on his father’s side struggling with alcoholism. “I was born that way I guess. It’s in my genes,” he said.

Despite his early use, Thigpen excelled at sports at Conant High School. He described his upbringing, saying, “I grew up with good morals and values. I had great parents.” Thigpen added, “I had countless opportunities as my disposal.”

Thigpen eventually stopped playing sports and got kicked out of school for drugs, though he did eventually graduate some years later. Though he did a rehab stint at Phoenix House in Dublin at the age of 15, it didn’t help. “All it was, was separation, no substitution, no solution,” said Thigpen. “When I stopped doing drugs, internally it got worse.”

A Bad Habit

After getting through high school, Thigpen looked to his next steps. “I had dreams of going to college, but all those dreams went out the window,” he said. “I was using.”

Though Thigpen started college three times, he never made it very far. Thigpen also tried to enter the Air Force, but failed the drug test. After getting arrested multiple times in Jaffrey and working low-wage jobs, Thigpen decided to get away.

He then spent years moving around between Jaffrey, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Boston. At this point, “the disease progressed,” said Thigpen. Marijuana was no longer giving Thigpen the release he was searching for, so he started using harder drugs, like cocaine. “It took hold of me,” he said.

Working two jobs in Boston to fund his $250-a-day habit, Thigpen led a fast-paced, down-spiraling lifestyle, stealing extra money from work to buy the drugs. “It’s an insanity that encompasses hopeless drug addicts and alcoholics,” he said.

Thigpen tried to do another detox session in Boston, looking for relief. “I didn’t want to keep using,” he said. “I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”

As soon as the rehabilitation process was over, Thigpen used again. “Just once,” he said. “Every time I thought I was getting my head above water, it happened again. It looks like a conscious choice, but in my experience, it wasn’t ever a choice.”

Rock Bottom

By age 27, Thigpen had reached the point where he had nowhere else to turn but home. “I burnt out all my sources,” he said, adding that he had started using prescription drugs to manage his habit. “I was using the pharmacy like my drug dealer,” he said.

Staying at home and doing some landscaping work, Thigpen continued in the constant cycle of ups and downs. Then one day, he got into a car accident. When police arrived on the scene, they found drugs in the car. “I was never a drug dealer,” Thigpen said, adding that he was sent to the Cheshire County House of Corrections for possession.

During his two month stay, Thigpen was allow out of the jail to go to work. After being caught smuggling drugs back into the jail one day, Thigpen was suddenly found himself facing a two-year jail sentence.

“My worst nightmare came true, Thigpen said. “I got down on my knees and literally begged God to save me.”

At this point, said Thigpen, things started to change.

“You can’t scare me with death,” he said. “What scared me was looking back on a wasted life.”

A Deal

In exchange for the prison sentence, Thigpen’s family found an alternative solution. Police would not press charges if Thigpen went to a rehabilitation center in Texas for three months. “It literally left me with no way out,” Thigpen said. No money or contacts were there in Texas to help him if he failed.

Looking back, Thigpen said, “I’m really thankful for exhausting all my options, all the bottoms that I hit.”

With the help of an interventionist from Colorado, Thigpen’s family made plans for him to go to Benchmark Recovery Center in Austin. Richard Ryan, the interventionist who was also a former addict, told Thigpen he had to do it if we wanted to get better. “I was presented with a solution. A guy that used to be just like me said if I did what he did, I’d be well,” Thigpen said.

Kathy Thigpen, who was interviewed at the same time as Chris, said the interventionist made the difference. “He’s the one who came up with the plan,” she said.

With the $12,000 fee spent by his father and a ride from his uncle, Chris Thigpen made it to the recovery center. He officially started his rehab on April 15, 2011.

Recovery

On July 15, 2011, Thigpen emerged from the recovery center as a sober man. Working with former addicts for help, Thigpen and others learned how to follow a 12-step plan that would help them move out of using and forward with their lives. “It changes me from the inside out, not the outside in,” said Thigpen of the same steps he is currently still following.

Upon completing the program, Thigpen moved to a sober living house, which he was asked to manage starting April 15, 2012, one year since his sobriety date. “It was a humbling experience,” Thigpen said.

Humility to something higher than himself played a big part in recovery, according to Thigpen. “It’s all about God,” he said. “I always had a feeling it would be spiritual in nature.”

As Thigpen continued living soberly in Texas, more and more opportunities presented themselves.

Eventually, Thigpen went on to help start Anchor West, a rehabilitation center in Austin, T.X.. Thigpen was the director of recovery services there for some time. Thigpen has since moved back to New Hampshire, where he has been a case manager for Granite House Treatment Center in Derry since February.

“That’s the miracle of the program,” said Thigpen. “I went from hopeless junkie to this.”

Kathy Thigpen described the process of watching her son get well. “I was astonished,” she said. “Things opened up for [him].”

Chris Thigpen described his overall experience in more simple words. ““I had escaped the grips of death.”

Moving Forward

In his commitment to continual sobriety, Thigpen does several things each day, including meditation in the morning and reviewing his day in the evening. Thigpen also has a life-long sponsor, who he calls to talk to about addiction and recover, and attends meetings periodically.

“It’s not the time,” said Thigpen of how former addicts stay sober. “It’s how well-connected you are to the steps, and how serious you are in committing your life to that.” Thigpen added, “The only way I’m going to stay this way is if I keep doing this the rest of my life. In my experience, nothing else works.”

Thigpen said of his current work with other addicts, and of his own recovery, “I’m going to keep growing, keep carrying the message.”

Helping Others

Chris and Kathy Thigpen not only want their lives to continue being free of the grips of addiction, but want to see that happen for others, too. Chris is planning on going to college in January, where he’d like to get a degree in psychology and wants to become an alcohol dependency counselor.

Kathy wants to help the families of loved ones struggling with addiction. “I would really like to meet them and give them hope,” she said. “There’s a way to do it. It’s not easy, there’s no quick fix. You have to let that person hit the bottom. If they hit it quicker, they might be able to be accepting [of help].”

Kathy said that if there were some resource that could help families of drug addicts, it would have been something she turned to. “I wish that when I was going through this, that I had met somebody that was on the other side of this.”

Above all, beyond rehabilitation centers, interventionists, or anything else, one thing has to be true to get through addiction to drugs. “You have to stay connected,” said Kathy. “You have to stay loving in order to get through this.”

Elodie can be reached by phone at 924-7172 ext. 228, or by email at ereed@ledgertranscript.com. Elodie is also on Twitter @elodie_reed.

Chris' story is very inspiring. Thank you Elodie for this well written article about a true hero. Chris is a remarkable young man. The work he is doing at Granite house is life changing and life saving for many others. My son is but one example of the many turn-arounds and successes that may not have been were it not for Chris. A million thank you's to you Chris, your family and to Granite House! 3

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