Student fights his way back from addiction
By Michael Simpson - Staff Reporter
Walter Heyman pulled stacks of plastic milk crates, bread pallets and Dole banana boxes from the back of a former moving truck that was loaded to the ceiling.
Heyman, 42, in a coverall jumpsuit, black rimmed glasses and work gloves, was among a group of volunteers handing out food at a building that houses senior citizens in Kent.
"Why are you being so nice? You don't even know me," a woman asked him as she filled her bags with groceries.
The answer is the story of a drug dealer's redemption.
He sold drugs to do drugs, which took him in and out jail and finally, after a religious awakening, into Highline's program to train counselors to help the chemically-dependent.
Twenty-nine years ago, when Heyman was 13, he moved to the Seattle area from Cleveland. His father thought it was a better environment for a teenager. Heyman enrolled at Renton High School.But his dad worked nights, he was estranged from his mother, and left on his own in the evenings, Heyman said. "I was basically raising myself, but not really raising myself. So I turned to the streets."
He did weed rather than homework. His grades were mediocre. Then, as he entered the final semester of his senior year, he impregnated his girlfriend. Instead of buying a cap and gown, he rented an apartment at 28th Avenue and South Jackson Street to share with her and their baby daughter.
He took a job as a carpet cleaner, but sold marijuana on the side.
"Easy fast money is what it really is," Heyman said.
He knew the lifestyle because he grew up watching close family who lived it.
And as he sold more, he used more. On any given day, he drank a six-pack to twelve-pack of beer, a pint to 1.5 pints of hard liquor, cocaine, heroin, or all.
"Drinking and drugging," Heyman said. "That was the life."
His father was concerned as Heyman stepped in and out of the lifestyle throughout his 20s and 30s. When his son came home for visits, it came with repeated lessons on how his choices held him back.
But the lectures that Heyman had memorized didn't stop him. Only close-calls and family obligations slowed him down. He finished his high school diploma after a bullet ricocheted off his collarbone during a drug deal, and wired electrical boxes for construction vehicles after he married the mother of his son.
And challenges set him back. He served six months in jail in connection to a drug offense after a head-on-collision left him with a back injury, and slept on buses and couch-surfed after he was laid-off from his union job.
Heyman knew his life had changed after three surgeries to save his leg failed. A break caused by a jump down a flight of stairs while showing off at a family party became a bone infection that persisted for two years.
"If it don't work this time, then cut it off," he told doctors after the third attempt.
He now walks with an artificial leg.
Heyman got into religion as he recovered. He continued to fight his addictions, selling his prescription medication for drugs, but studied a Bible that his father, now pastor of his own church, gave him after the accident.
Then every Saturday, he volunteered in a food ministry, delivering produce to local community centers along with people receiving treatment from Praisealujah, a faith-based drug rehabilitation center in Burien.
Heyman was inspired by the volunteers to enter Praisealujah's 90-day recovery program. By this point, he was sober. He wanted to change and saw the three-phase program as a step to cutting ties with his past.
"Now that I'm stable, now I can get back to who I'm supposed to be," Heyman said. "I finally came to the realization that without God I ain't gonna be able to do it."
He enrolled last May and began the 30-day blackout period. No phone calls. And no visits to the house that he and 20 men shared.
"More leave than make it," Heyman said. Some left to get high and some came back after regressing.
Those who remained did everything together including Bible classes, homework, meals, household chores and church on Sunday. By sharing their experiences, they got close and offered encouragement when temptations to fall back into former lifestyles came up.
To graduate, all had to find full-time employment, or vocational training. Heyman chose the chemical dependency professional program at Highline with the goal of becoming a state Department of Health certified counselor, because he wants to approach patients from a place of shared experience.
Students in the program study the history of addictions treatment and the effects that drugs including alcohol has on people and society. And they learn counselling techniques practiced through internships.
Here he found out he was one of the majority of students who have encountered addiction first-hand.
Ken Pimpleton, adjunct professor in Highline's chemical dependency program, said in 11 years of teaching classes of 36 to 40 students, 25 to 30 have overcome addiction, or have family that have.
"They want to give back what was given to them," Pimpleton said, adding that they tend to be strong caregivers because a counselor helped them through their recovery.
Some patients prefer to be treated by chemical dependency professional who has overcome addiction, said Brad Burnham, a program manager at the state Department of Health.
Heyman, with a 4.0 grade-point average and a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, says chemical dependency is an incurable disease and he will always struggle with temptation. Because of his studies at Highline and Praisealujah he said he understands the triggers to relapse and how to avoid them through his support systems of family, counselors, teachers and friends who say they recognize his dedication to remain sober.
This summer, Heyman is set to intern at Valley Cities, a behavioral healthcare provider, and on successful completion of his certification at Highline, Heyman wants to work in a faith-based recovery program such as the one that helped him.
"That's the front line of addiction," Heyman said. "It's my purpose to be that example for those that are still out there struggling."