TROSA opportunities move man beyond street life

By Kelcie Landon
UNC  Staff Writer
The Durham VOICE

In 2008, over 24 million Americans used illicit drugs in the course of a month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mark Carter, 38, from Germantown, Md., was one of these statistics.

Mark Carter stands outside TROSA Grocery, where he spends many days working and learning valuable job skills. (Staff photo by Kelcie Landon)

But with the help of Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers Inc. (TROSA), he has been clean since he joined the program 14 months ago.  And for the first time, Carter says he is happy about it.

“I feel great about myself,” he said.  “I have hope.  I have plans.  I have faith.”

Carter leans forward with eagerness as he speaks.  His solid build and confident stance tell of a man who is used to fighting for and taking care of himself.  But it’s his disarming smile, the one that reaches his eyes with a glint, that reveals his new self-assurance and strength of character.

But, Carter said, he never would have had that opinion of himself five years ago.

Carter, full of teenage angst and craving independence, moved out on his own for the first time when he was 16 years old.

“I was rebellious against authority and my dad was a strong authority figure,” he said.  “He told me to move out when I knew everything, so I did.  That’s where my problems with drugs started.”

Carter sold drugs for 12 years, hiding successfully from the law for the most part.  But eventually, he said, his world came crashing down around him.

“When I started dealing heroin, and for some reason tried it, that was the end,” he said.  “Before I knew it, I had to have it just to be normal.”

More than drugs, he said, he was addicted to street life, to the feeling of power and being needed.  It was this lifestyle that began landing him in jail.

Carter learned about TROSA through his caseworker and made the decision to do something positive for his life.

“Everything inside my body said don’t go,” he said, “and that’s when I decided to come.  I got real with myself.  I’ve been running from my own fears and lying for so long that I believed it.”

Carter emphasized how difficult the program was and how hard it was to keep going.  But, he said, he recognizes every day how it woke him up from his former life and opened his eyes to the world around him.

“The first 30 days you don’t know whether you’re coming or going,” he said.  “They separate the fighters from the quitters.  After a year you begin to realize that there’s a life after addiction and you begin to love yourself again.”

Kevin McDonald, president, founder and CEO of TROSA, said that the program has a very high success rate – 90 percent of graduates are still drug free after a year.  He attributes this to the program’s holistic approach that focuses on empowerment, job training, psychiatric and physical issues, as well as the length of the program.

“The length of time really makes a difference for socialization and learning skills,” McDonald said.

Wendy Noël, the manager of TROSA Grocery, spends a lot of time with the TROSA residents, and has frequently seen them overcome setbacks.

“I’ve seen how challenging someone to do something new can be daunting at first, but how in the end, it brings a smile to that person’s face when they complete the challenge successfully,” Noël said. “These are issues that all of us struggle with, whether we’ve had substance abuse in our history or not, but at TROSA, residents learn that imperfection is okay, and that we can all benefit from actively working on improving ourselves.”

Today, Carter is embracing the opportunities he has received at TROSA, both through working at the grocery store and the program in general.  He says he looks forward to going to counseling and to being a mentor for the younger members.

His future holds bright opportunities.  After his graduation from TROSA in November, Carter plans to return to Maryland, to his daughter and his family.  He hopes to take up his craft as a lightning technician, a job he held before coming to TROSA that included installing lightning rods on the Washington Monument and the White House.  He has also given some thought to the idea of being a drug counselor.

Most of all, Carter looks forward to regaining his life as it was meant to be lived.

“I miss being happy,” he said.  “I miss being in love.  All that stuff is something you get real fake with and lose during the course of addiction.”

But, with a half-smile, he recalls some of what he remembers about his life before addiction, the life he is well on his way to getting back.

“I love the stars; I watched the stars all the time, even during my addiction,” he said, “but I forgot about all the things I can do to have fun without getting high.”

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