Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Zach Norris: a recovered man

Thursday, May 3, 2018
Zach Norris
Submitted photo

Throughout his life, Zach Norris struggled to find stability.

The last time Norris was hospitalized for overdosing, he was found in the middle of a street, blocking traffic, on his knees.

He had spent the week not sleeping, selling meth. As he was about to rest for the first time in days, a man came over with a stash of ecstacy — Norris obliged.

They sat down, packaging the paraphernalia. Norris said they began taking tears and enjoying themselves.

Norris didn’t have a particular drug of choice, he just used whatever he could get his hands on.

Shackled by paranoia from his elevated drug consumption and the ringing of sirens from the nearby hospital, Norris began to flee from his home to escape what he thought to be an impending police raid.

He dashed from his home barefoot, jumped into his car and slammed it into gear.

As the sirens grew louder in his head, Norris kept checking his rearview mirror for a hint of the red and blue lights on his tail. He didn’t see anything.

The police weren’t chasing him, he just didn’t know it.

Next thing Norris knew, he had crashed his car into an apartment complex. The episode did not end, however, as he fled the scene on foot despite his injuries from the crash.

He was desperate, all he knew is he needed to escape the police.

The police that weren’t chasing him.

“I ended up on my knees in the rain stopping traffic and I didn’t know what else to do,” Norris said.

Instead, he was greeted by real sirens. An ambulance drove up to him, the paramedics found him on his knees and escorted him to the local hospital where he spent five days getting sober.

Those five days, Norris said, he just tried to piece his mind back together. From a rapid heart rate to hallucinations, Norris would “smoke” from his finger thinking it was a cigarette. He said during that time, he experienced every withdrawal symptom imaginable.

“Once you’re at that level, it’s hard to put it all back together,” Norris said.

In his brokenness, Norris began merging together the pieces of his life.

It took seven car crashes, 10 rehabilitation centers and several missteps along his journey for Norris to find his balance.

After 12 years of being addicted to every drug in the book, Norris found solitude at Teen Challenge, an all-men inpatient rehabilitation center, where he spent 14 months as a student, and years following as an intern.

Norris said his time as Teen Challenge marked a turning point, a time of higher standards, responsibility and hope.

Much of his recovery, Norris attributes to spirituality.

“I guess it connected me to something bigger than myself,” Norris said. “Maybe it’s connected me to something that has told me I can do anything. Because before I couldn’t do anything at all, and I proved it over and over again.”

Teen Challenge, a faith-based organization, allowed his spiritual connection to ferment and lift him from the darkness of his addiction.

“I had one church service where I really felt something happened, a spiritual thing, where I felt my addiction break,” Norris said.

Other than that, Norris said he took his recovery day-by-day. He would absorb what he was learning during his time at Teen Challenge, and set precedents and goals he met every single day. He said sometimes it was hard, but he knew in order to adequately recover he could never lower his standard.

“Sometimes it’s an emotional thing, sometimes it’s mental, but other times its using those principles that you learned and being able to apply those into your life, even through more difficult times,” Norris said.

In 2013, Norris left Teen Challenge a changed man, and started to attend a bible college in Springfield.

Not long after, he relapsed.

He was quick to return to Teen Challenge, where he went through a restoration program that supplied him with the extra assistance he needed to stop using again.

Since his restoration in 2014, Norris has been sober and climbed through the ranks in the Teen Challenge administration during recovery.

He started off as an intern and general staff member. Through hardwork and dedication Norris became the intake director, then the academic dean, then the medical director.

Today, Norris is the program director at the Adult and Teen Challenge Mid-America induction center.

The career he found in Teen Challenge motivated him through his recovery, and set a precedent for himself to be someone students going through the program could rely on and look up to.

“I started seeing people depend on me,” Norris said. “If I wasn’t there to wake the guys up in the morning, I saw how that could affect their routine and cause a guy to get upset and leave. When they leave, they could die ... it happens all the time.”

Being a good role model for his students is particularly important to Norris, because idolizing the wrong role-models is what began his long-time addiction.

At 9-years-old Norris said rock n’ roll had a grasp on his soul, and Jim Morrison’s famous quote “the road of excess leads to the power of wisdom” intrigued him.

“I had church people that raised me, and did good in school,” Norris said. “I think maybe what got me mixed up from an early age was I had a skewed view of what a hero was.”

With inspiration from his idols, Norris began filling water bottles with vodka and taking them to school when he was 13 years old, as well as smoking marijuana.

The behavior soon developed into something much worse.

“Everything I ever did was 100 times greater than it needed to be,” Norris said. “I couldn’t just do a little bit of any drug. I had to do it as much as humanly possible.”

He encountered his first rehabilitation experience at age 15. For one year, he fought his addiction for the first time. After that year, Norris returned to the drugs that put him there.

Throughout high school, he said he was just trying to have fun.

“I thought having fun always had to include extras, like I could never just be satisfied with myself or my current circumstance,” Norris said.

Between the music festivals and getting high with his friends, Norris’ addiction grew stronger when he was introduced to synthetics. From there he started using meth, heroin and pain pills.

“I couldn’t stop myself, and I would do absolutely anything to keep going,” Norris said.

Eventually, he was sent to New York to detox and go through a heroin recovery program. The trip, however, did more harm than good. In New York at the time, heroin was everywhere — and cheap.

“At New York, I would fall apart at a sober house. I didn’t have friends or family or anybody there,” Norris said. “I was literally a homeless drug addict. I would be detoxing with pneumonia at the same time, and just constantly falling apart.”

Living in the streets of New York, Norris knew little about the future that was in store for him.

“To have what I have now, and have an entire program under my view, there’s a lot of people that depend on me, and it really helps me keep my standard,” Norris said.

Now, he’s living a life he could only dream of.

“My life now is pretty cool, I am married and have a 12-year-old daughter from before, with a baby on the way,” Norris said. “I have a house, and a couple dogs and a nice vehicle and a nice wife.”

Even four years into recovery, Norris still faces challenges. He has to dispose of needles and other drugs quite frequently, staring his past addiction right in the eyes. He said that although it bothers him, dealing with little things like needles over time has really made a difference.

He’s dedicated his life to helping other suffering from addiction, and keep a high standard for himself so others know they, too, can recover.

“There’s hope, you’re never counted out. No matter how dark it is, or how deep the hole, every passing minute is a chance to turn it all around,” Norris said. “Everything can change in an instant. It has to start with a brokenness, that there's a better life out there and that he has to get it.“