Follow Up: Matt Neal
Matt Neal is a survivor. This is his story.
JS: What specifically turned things around for you?
MN: In all seriousness, I firmly believe that all of the thoughts and prayers of my family and friends instilled in me a little faith. I finally SET STILL, and I like to say I “WAS SET” STILL, long enough to allow the process to take hold. I was released from jail in the summer of 2014 on the condition that I have an address, per my judge. My caseworker at Prevention Point Philadelphia was able to do this by linking me to a safe haven, a shelter of sorts, with Project HOME called St. Colomba. My health continued to deteriorate and I had two, one-month long stays in Kensington Hospital receiving IV antibiotic therapy for the sepsis in my system (MRSA) and chronic osteomyelitis in my left ankle. Due to the severity of my addiction, I was still unable to stay clean. Again, with urges from both Prevention Point and Project HOME I was encouraged to go to inpatient treatment. This was long term, trauma focused, medication assisted treatment (MAT) at Kirkbride for 4 months. I was then admitted to Presbyterian Hospital for a month to have my left leg amputated below the knee. All the while, behind the scenes Prevention Point was working to get my “111” status, a status deeming a person chronically homeless. This status enabled me to be admitted into the Journey of Hope, Miracles in Progress program here in Philadelphia for long term treatment. I participated in that program for a year before receiving housing. As far as treatment was concerned, when I received my housing I was and still am linked to outpatient care at Golman Clinic, MAT. I must interject that throughout my active addiction and this early time in recovery I also received excellent care from doctors, nurses and case management staff at Philadelphia FIGHT.
Matt & Gato, Mc Phearson Square Library, 2012.
JS: Did anyone or any type of treatment help the most?
MN: One aspect of the treatment world that was practiced by nearly all, if not all of the clinicians that crossed my path is Harm Reduction. It was effective. It worked. It saved my life. For me to single out just one or two individuals that impacted my life would not give credit to ALL of the persons that were involved and still to this day are involved in recreating my life. Further, I must add that the clinicians who cared, dare I say loved me enough, to tell me that I was, at one point, with a liver transplant looking at two years of life left while at the same time being compassionate enough to offer to tie my shoe (as my belly was distended to the point I had difficulty doing this for myself), left indelible imprints on me and the person I am and aspire to become.
JS: What kind of advice would you give to someone struggling?
MN: I would encourage them not to give up, continue to try, and keep knocking on the proverbial door. I would strongly encourage them to not be afraid or ashamed of who they are and where they are. I would do my best to show the person the way I was shown, that they MATTER! I say the latter because getting me to the point where I was even willing to consider treatment, despite the atrociousness of my life, was a process. I was ALLOWED to be me and was met where I was. There was no need too great or too small that wasn’t addressed.
Matt looks at photos of himself from 2012 in the photographer’s studio, 2017.
JS: What do you hope to do in the future?
MN: Hmmmm, what do I want to do in the future?? Ideally, I would like to finish my education. I have 91 credit hours in total from both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I do not see myself finishing my education in Music. At one point I was pursuing a Vocal Performance degree and was 2nd in the State and 3rd in the Region based on my year of study… I see myself pursuing something in the field of Social Work, Psychology, or Sociology. My life experiences have helped refine this path.
I would also like to note that by no means am I the poster boy for success in the field of addiction. There are many successes.