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Personal Recovery Story: Building Better, Building Together

Issue 26

Matthew Jones’ Story

A good day at work looks different for everyone. If you’re lucky, your job keeps you busy; makes you feel safe, appreciated and supported; and pays you well at the end of the day.

At the beginning of his recovery , Matthew Jones of Portland found that a good day at work is a good day sober. Since Thanksgiving 2019, he’s been sober and creating opportunities for his community to follow his lead.

Matthew was a hyperactive kid –athletic and eager to please. Growing up in Old Town, he had difficulty following the rules. He was expelled from school and finished high school in California. Grades were never an issue – he graduated with high honors and was accepted into Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.

Matthew had experimented with opiates in high school, but after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while snowboarding at college, he had a hard time staying away from drugs. Consequently, he was arrested for armed robbery in 2011 and spent two years in prison and four years on probation. He first got clean in prison while spending time with himself, getting to know the boy under all the expectations and missteps.

But after about a year in prison, Matthew took a step backward when he got into a fight. He suffered skull fractures and a shattered orbital bone that took four months to heal from. With just nine months until his release, he started drawing and writing, as well as healing and finding himself.

Once out of prison in December 2013, Matthew moved to Portland, got a roofing job and enrolled at the University of Southern Maine to finish his degree in environmental science. Things seemed to be turning around. He made good friends, played on USM’s soccer team as a scholar athlete, was vice president of an environmental science group, and was liked by professors.

He was heavily drinking but never considered it a problem. “I thought only opiates were a problem for me,” he said.

Matthew seemed to make friends wherever he went, creative friends with ideas as wild as his. Soon, he quit working for the roofing company and started working for himself with some buddies, starting Forest Street Carpentry in 2016, while also building a creative community in Portland.

It felt like the best time of his life. But by 2017, the best time grew dark. Matthew had graduated and become a father, though his daughter lived up north. He watched his friends move away one by one, onto bigger and better things. He was keeping opiates at a distance, but drinking more than he ever had. And, on top of that, he tore his other ACL while skateboarding. This time, he didn’t refuse the opiates. His family eventually cut him off, his relationships fell apart, and funds were low.

Around that same time, Matthew read an article about a buddy of his – Jon Cross – who was in recovery.

They had been on the USM soccer team together. Without thinking, Matthew called him.

“I can get you right now,” Jon said, talking up treatment facilities that could help. Matthew refused initially, but when he crashed his car within the hour, he called Jon back.

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know that I would get from recovery,” Matthew said. He couldn’t know that on the other side of addiction would be financial freedom, community, forgiveness, and even a new purpose. He decided to give himself an “honest and thorough shot” at sobriety and happiness.

A few months into his stay at a recovery house, Matthew endured yet another injury, tearing his meniscus 2020. He refused pain medication and stayed on track. He allowed himself to fully dive into carpentry. He showed up on time, gave full attention to his work and found friendship among coworkers who were also in recovery. Matthew was finding that the secret to living a good life was structure and community, though the money didn’t hurt.

“There’s a lot of guys that just need structure and they need a place to either volunteer or to make a little bit of money when they’re early in recovery. They don’t really care what their job is gonna be. I started reaching back out to the guys who ran the sober houses that I was in. I said, ‘If you have any guys that need volunteer hours or they wanna stay busy and do some work, send them to me.’ ”

And that’s what they did. Matthew offered opportunities to people who needed jobs and taught them along the way – they even enjoyed themselves. “And at the end of the day I told them that they did a great job and they could come back if they wanted.” Many did and many moved on to use the skills they learned elsewhere, maintaining their work ethic and their sobriety.

“I think a lot of guys come back into the world newly sober and they find these jobs and there’s no support where they’re working … that’s a lot of time spent in places where there’s no support, there’s no one right around you who’s going through what you’re going through and can understand.”

Matthew, now 33, met his workers where they were, and they worked as a team, completing bigger and bigger projects together. And Matthew needed them, too. Not just to complete a job, but to keep him motivated to get up in the morning, continue on his own recovery journey, and to continue helping those around him.

Among his success stories is building a spec house in South Portland from the ground up – a dream Matthew had had since youth.

His are bigger now, and his confidence in himself and his team is growing. He purchased a house in Bangor that had been seized by the federal government after operating as a place where drugs were sold. Matthew fully renovated it with hopes of flipping it but came to realize that it, too, had a larger purpose.

He decided to help his sister transition out of healthcare and into a small garden and flower business there. And now, he has assembled a small team to help create a women’s recovery residence there, where women in recovery can get to know themselves again and, if they like, work with their hands in the garden and find a community through work and mutual respect, as Matthew has. The house is expected to open by May.

Gabrielle Gilbert
Gabrielle Gilbert
Gabrielle Gilbert is an endlessly curious freelance writer, poet, and visual artist waking up in Southern Maine.

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