HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Stas Novitsky throws a tennis ball at Deep Run Park. His dog Hudson runs after it for a spirited game of catch.
This park is a favorite spot for Novitsky. It is where he plays soccer, and Hudson can run off-leash. Novitsky can even reflect on his purpose in life.
“I aim to be that kind of bridge between addiction and recovery everywhere that I go,” he stresses.
After graduating from Deep Run High School in 2007, Novitsky majored in biology at Virginia Commonwealth University and planned to go to medical school.
“I had a few beers, and impulses were lowered,” he recalls that moment his freshman year at VCU. “And so I said, ‘Okay, sure. Why not?'”
A friend had asked if he wanted to try an opioid. That one offer to use a painkiller recreationally put Novitsky on a seven-year spiral.
Novitsky says he had to drop out of college, and charges for petit larceny stacked up as his addiction to opioids – and then heroin — intensified.
“The double-edged sword of addiction is that it makes you do these things that you never do to feel better,” he explains. “You’re breaking all kinds of internal moral code that you may have just to get your next fix.”
It took overdoses, getting clean at a facility in Florida and then a relapse for Novitsky to finally find his path to sobriety.
“I’ve lost a lot, but I’ve gained a lot of experience in the process,” Novitsky shares. “I’ve gained a lot of compassion and understanding for people that I may never have interacted with in the past.”
That interaction came through his personal treatment and current work with people in recovery, just like himself.
“When you go to help someone, you don’t just help one kind of person,” Novitsky says. “I’m here to help anyone and everyone who needs it.”
He is now engaged, a certified recovery coach and works at the Virginia Center for Addiction Medicine (VCAM).
“Whereas addiction is the instant gratification that drugs and alcohol may give you, recovery is more of a delayed gratification where these things that have built up in my life now are here to stay,” Novitsky states.
At VCAM, part of Novitsky’s role is to lead Self Management And Recovery Training (SMART) meetings.
Novitsky describes them as an alternative to a 12-step program. SMART, instead, focuses on four points that include building and maintaining motivation; coping with urges; managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors; living a balanced life.
SMART meetings are available at VCAM on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and Thursdays at noon.
Additional SMART meetings in the Richmond area can be found by following this link.
Novitsky says his personal experience and outreach efforts have taught him teenagers are vulnerable to addiction, just like any other age group.
“They maybe don’t have hopes for a better future. They don’t know what’s in store for them, and drugs are an easy escape,” he describes. “Really, it’s not dependent on class or status or anything like that. Really, I think addiction is dependent on if an individual feels out of touch with their surroundings, with their future, with what’s going on in their lives.”
Novitsky attempted to hide his addiction from his family, and there are signs parents can look for in their own teens:
- Burn holes in clothing or a lack of self-care
- When a teen says he or she is going somewhere, then comes back either really quickly or stays out over a reasonable amount of time
- Mood swings
- Runny nose or they shiver and are cold during warm weather
- A teen asks for gas or grocery money more often