Medical Assisting student rises from the ashes of addiction
Jerold Maghoney discovered that rock bottom provides a hard surface from which you can push off toward higher ground. His slide to Ground Zero began with his first sip of beer at age 12 on a fishing trip with his dad, and it picked up momentum when he had his last sober birthday party at age 13.
“I grew up around a lot of drugs and alcohol and had family that battled their addictions,” says Jerold. “They’re still not quite there, but after what I’ve been through, it scared them.”
Jerold went from teenage drinking after raiding friends’ parents’ liquor cabinets to – at first – occasional then every weekend drinking to eventually, every day. Everyone called the party guy “Jerry.” “Drinking made me feel good about myself. I was battling obesity, and everyone was picking on me.”
He would wake up every day with a hangover, but he had a cure for that. “I hated hangovers so bad, so I’d drink some more to postpone it. It snowballed, so I just kept drinking non-stop.”
Three years ago, when Jerold was 26 years old, he entered a new state of reality, one that was completely dictated by alcohol. “I was drinking over a fifth of vodka a day, or pretty much anything I could get my hands on that was cheap,” he says. “I couldn’t get out of bed without a drink and would have a drink by my bed because I couldn’t sleep more than about five hours without starting to go through withdrawals. I’d wake up shaking, drenched, and do three or four shots to relax enough to go back to sleep.”
The crash was inevitable. “I knew something bad was going to happen. I had called suicide hotlines just to have someone to talk to. My friends had all turned their backs on me and told me I was worthless, so I lied to everybody and told them I had a handle on my drinking. But I was good at sneaking it.”
On August 18th last year, Jerold managed to drive himself to the hospital Emergency Room as he began to detox. His body was so dehydrated that needles could not penetrate his collapsing veins. Physicians deemed him in such critical condition that they medically induced a coma in hopes of saving his life.
“My body was done,” says Jerold. “I was 260 pounds and had diabetes and pancreatitis that came with it.” The vodka he was drinking wouldn’t even stay down.
Now unconscious, a ventilator controlled his breathing. But nothing could control the vivid dreams during those next 13 days. “I thought I was dead and in hell,” he remembers of those unconscious days. His parents took turns staying with him day and night, and his sister Macie and Aunt Amber provided occasional relief. He was given a low chance of survival.
On September 1st, Jerold was airlifted to another hospital, where he spent a week before he was finally sent home. Six days later, he was rushed to another hospital where he had part of his pancreas removed.
Jerold was finally discharged from the hospital and re-entered the world 100 lbs. lighter, physically and mentally depleted – and sober. There was one other change. “I go by Jerold now,” he says. “I feel ‘Jerry’ was the addict that died in the coma, and Jerold was reborn.”
Jerold is very specific about his current state. “I don’t long for alcohol; not one bit. And, if I had one drink, it’d kill me,” he states matter-of-factly. “Hardships are going to happen, deaths are going to happen. But alcohol is just a band-aid on a bullet hole.”
Part of Jerold’s recovery is a revised plan for how he wants to spend the rest of his life. What does he want to do with his time and who does he want to spend it with? What does he have to share with others, say to others?
“I come from a long line of family members who want to help other people; I have that in my blood,” says Jerold, who had been a personal trainer for several years before his downward spiral. “My larger dream was to help others by being in the medical field.”
Jerold lived just a mile away from SJVC Modesto and decided to pop in one day to see what they had to offer. “I went in and fell in love with it (Medical Assisting program),” he says. Within a couple of weeks, he found himself sitting in class. But he doesn’t sit still very long.
“My very first class was dosage calculations and injections,” he says. “I wasn’t nervous sticking someone for the first time. I have to give myself insulin shots 4-5 times a day, so I love the lab stuff.”
He was in his element. “I don’t learn from just putting a book in front of me; I want to do it myself. I like moving, talking to people. I’m not scared of anything.”
Three months in and Jerold has perfect attendance and is on the Dean’s List for academic accomplishment.
He brings a lot more to the classroom than confidence. “From day one, the energy I bring in puts a smile on everyone’s face when I walk in. I’m very happy to be alive!” It shows, and it’s contagious.
The effect Jerold’s attitude has on fellow students creates a powerful momentum. Tina Husman, Dean of Student Services, askedJerold to be a Peer Mentor to other students.
“I believe that others on campus have struggled or are currently struggling with Jerold’s issues, and he is someone they can relate to,” says Tina. “They see how far he has come, and he is always willing to share and listen to others.”
Jerold has been to hell and back and is willing to use his journey to help others avoid some of his missteps. “He is extremely committed in his pursuit of an education and betterment of his life; and he openly shares his struggles and challenges,” says Tina. “He makes himself available at orientation and on campus to anyone who needs him.”
Jerold knows exactly what it is like to need someone and have no one hear your call for help. That is not how he is living his life today, however.
Although his parents, Nikki and Jerome, have been divorced for many years, they and their spouses, Rich and Michelle, are very involved in his life now. He lives with his mom and stepdad and appreciates their support that allows him to be in school.
Six months ago, he met Elle, who has been one of the biggest contributors to his new way of being. “On our first date, we went to yoga together,” he remembers. “It’s like I’ve known her all my life.”
Jerold was careful about how much of his past he could share in those first few weeks. But he eventually told the details of his struggle and how he was able to exchange addiction for freedom. “I can’t believe that she stuck around. She chose me because of my heart and she knows how much I love her.”
Most 12-step programs would caution someone in addiction recovery to hold off on making any big moves like college and even love until stability was in place a little longer. But Jerold isn’t taking that advice.
“I shouldn’t be standing here right now,” he says. “No one is promised tomorrow. I’m not 100%, but I’m good enough to get started on this and move on with my life. Daylight’s burning!”
Jerold doesn’t spend a lot of time looking back, but when he does, it’s with some sense of gratitude – even for the hardest parts. “Rock bottom became the foundation from which I rebuilt my life. And if I could reach one person, help save one person, get one person to choose a better life path, my second chance will be fulfilled.”
There is no chance Jerold will waste this one.
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