DEKALB, Ill. -- The arrival of a new year often means making resolutions and a fresh mindset.
Matt Jordan knows the decision to live a better life is done not only at the beginning of each year, but at the start of each day.
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Jordan, 26, was arrested on drug charges in December 2010. He is in the fourth phase of a five-phase DeKalb County Drug and DUI Court program. He also has been sober almost 13 months.
"It took hitting the rock bottom to get back to it," Jordan said. "I can't just say, `I'm done doing drugs.' I have to work at it. My life has improved 100 percent since I quit drinking and doing drugs."
The DeKalb County Drug Court: Choosing Life and Ending Abuse Now program, a voluntary program that started in 2006, requires participants to complete treatment, appear in court, undergo drug testing and more.
Participants receive treatment and rehabilitation in a five-phase program; each phase takes about three months. Participants who don't complete phases as they have agreed to may face sanctions, including community service or having to redo phases. In extreme cases, a participant may face jail time or be kicked out of drug court, drug court coordinator Marilyn Stromborg said.
Through his experience in drug court, Jordan said he's learned a lot about the concept of his addiction being an actual disease.
He used to believe he partied too much and could stop when he wanted, but that wasn't the case.
"Alcohol and drug addiction is a progressive disease," he said.
Stromborg said Jordan is unique in how quickly he has been able to turn his life around. Staff do encounter some failures, she said, and it can be difficult to witness when they've come to know participants over a period of two or three years.
But when someone experiences success through drug court and embraces a sober lifestyle as Jordan continues to do, "it makes it all worthwhile," Stromborg said.
`Partying without an end in sight'
Jordan, who lives in Sycamore, began drinking and using drugs at a young age, experimenting with marijuana and alcohol at age 13.
When he moved out of his parents' home around age 17, his drug use escalated. His life revolved around partying; he soon graduated to harder drugs and began selling drugs.
In 2005, at 20 years old, Jordan was charged twice in one week for driving under the influence and totaled a new car. Amid a life controlled by addiction, things seemed to go well and then crash, he said. Despite the DUI charges, his lifestyle continued, "partying without an end in sight, I guess," he said.
Jordan later went through periods of using opiates or a cocktail of drugs. Reflecting on his history, he called it a dangerous, illegal and immoral lifestyle.
"I can say that with a clear head today," Jordan said.
In 2010, he was using and selling cocaine, but stopped by late summer. But on Dec. 9, 2010, U.S. marshals arrived at Jordan's workplace with an arrest warrant for charges of possessing and delivering cocaine.
Jordan spent two weeks in jail. When his attorney told him about drug court, he first denied being a drug addict, but agreed to give it a shot. Jordan received an assessment for drug court, and drug court coordinators spoke with police and prosecutors to decide if Jordan was someone who would benefit from the program.
He said that's when it dawned on him how serious his history of abuse was.
"Thank God they let me into drug court," Jordan said.
DeKalb County Public Defender Regina Harris said the structure, monitoring and constant reporting involved in drug court keep participants on track.
"I believe that it works for people who other things have failed for," Harris said.
A contract participants sign includes requirements, what's prohibited and what happens if they succeed or fail, she said, which can help tremendously.
"So, basically, they know going in, `These are my choices,' " Harris said. "And it puts the accountability right squarely where it needs to be."
By March 2011, Jordan began a 90-day, inpatient treatment program, the first of his five phases. Drug court staff want participants in something recovery-based right away, he said.
"That's really where I got my drug addiction education," Jordan said.
While going through treatment, Jordan said he found it eye-opening to put his history with drugs and alcohol into words. He enjoyed working with a counselor and reconnected with his spiritual side.
Drug court participants are required to undergo frequent and random urine testing, attend counseling at the Ben Gordon Center, keep a journal and seek employment or enroll in school, Stromborg said. Jordan is now in Phase 4 and, having celebrated one year of sobriety at the beginning of December, hopes to graduate from drug court in May.
By graduation, Jordan said participants should be sober enough to be on their own in the world. Coping with daily struggles without turning to alcohol or drugs has been the test, he said. Those involved with Alcoholics Anonymous, where he learns how to live sober, have offered critical support, he said.
Jordan said it's important to keep in mind that maintaining sobriety is a daily project. Once he began treatment, he decided his old life was killing him, and he couldn't return to drugs.
"You're not going to do very well in drug court if you don't accept that you're in drug court," Jordan said.
He said he's thankful for new friends that he has made throughout the process. Trying to live sober is tough, he said, and those who attempt to go it alone don't get very far.
"A sober lifestyle kind of requires you to abandon your old life and start anew," Jordan said.
Jordan has found success since deciding in his head and heart to make a change, Harris said. He wanted the life he knew he should have.
"He really looked at it as a life-and-death situation," she said, calling him the "locomotive of drug court," steadily continuing on a sober path.
Harris said drug court isn't easy or soft. As Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert likes to say, it probably is easier to spend time in prison than go through drug court, Stromborg said. But Jordan's mindset has suited him well, Harris said.
"He's a testament, really, to what people can do to change and to reinvent their lives and be the person they were meant to be before all their drug issues. And I'm really proud of him," Harris said.
Jordan said he remains proactive about fighting his disease. He works at Accu Lab of Illinois in Sycamore and goes to drug court once a month. He said he's now more confident, approachable and happy. And he's started to have more hope.
"It's just kind of how I've evolved," Jordan said.