Calm and Slow

How a Tribal Member With Substance Use Disorder Transformed Himself From a “Space Case” Into a Humbled Psychology Student

Overlooking the Smoky Mountains in his home nestled in rural Tennessee, Tribal Member Taylor Wolfinger, 34, has slowed his life down considerably, accompanied by his Malamute-Husky mix, “Lazy Susan.” He focuses on all the good in his life, including his four kids, who now visit without supervision.

Nearly finishing his first year of undergrad virtually at Southern New Hampshire University, Wolfinger enjoys the assignments and interactions with his professors and educators and has even been named to the Dean’s List. Studying psychology, college is fresh off the heels of his GED completion.

The quiet pace of his Tennessee life is a far cry from the breakneck speed in which Wolfinger lived his first 30-plus years. “In my psychology courses, I’ve learned how quick and thoughtless your actions can be. Now I reflect on my life, my compulsion. If you think, ‘everything is bad and against me, what can you do to change that?’”

Having regained his driver’s license over the past year, he feels like he can go anywhere — except his past.

The darkest days for Wolfinger were not that long ago.

On Friday the 13th, in March 2020, his luck ran out when he picked up another felony drug possession. Fleeing his addiction and also the pandemic shutdowns, over the weekend, Wolfinger checked himself into an inpatient rehab clinic based out of Costa Mesa, California. The clinic was run by staff who were quick to discover Wolfinger’s personality and ability to relate well to others facing addiction and depression.

“After I completed my treatment, I was asked if I wanted a job there, and it was interesting,” Wolfinger said. For six months, as a staff member, he counseled others on their issues and administered drug tests. “I would be told to ‘go to hell,’ and other stuff, but none of it was personal; for the first time, I was an authority figure to someone else.”

The past two years have seen Wolfinger picking up the pieces he shattered over the first 30 years in a fast-paced life that almost always included drugs.

In his teens, Wolfinger was a self-described “compulsive space case.” Having attended Hastings High School and a couple of alternative educational programs before he officially dropped out, Wolfinger “was a bad influence; you wouldn’t want your kid around me.”

After dropping out, he was quick to live on a whim, roaming around the country, doing drugs, whatever was easiest to get his hands on, “marijuana, alcohol, heroin, meth.” He racked up felony after felony of drug possession.

Fast forward to several years ago, when “I did enroll myself into a rehab program that I got kicked out of after a few weeks for having Little Debbie snack cakes and some chew.

“I was clean during my first marriage, when my ex-wife and I had the two kids together, a little over a year apart.”

Once his marriage ended, so did his sobriety. “When I go down, I go down hard and fast,” Wolfinger said.

Within weeks, he had moved into a trailer gifted to him by a family member, a new girlfriend had moved in, and soon it was “two druggies, living there.”

Shortly after this time, he picked up the drug possession felony in 2020 that propelled him to get clean.

His drug of choice was meth, “but I have walked away from the needle. Twice.”

Although the thought of his past mistakes could have paralyzed him, Wolfinger instead chooses to focus on other things in life, including his children and the future.

“Things are good and cordial between my ex-wife and me,” Wolfinger said. “She has no reason to trust me and bring all the kids down to see me, but I am so grateful that she did. I can’t believe I get to be with my kids.”

Over the past few months, Wolfinger has worked extensively with NHBP’s Behavioral Health Case Manager David Beatty. “I don’t know how he does it. He draws something out of me. Just the stupidest things he says will stick with me, make an impact.”

Beatty reminds Wolfinger to “choose to make your day calm and slow. You wake up, you have nothing to worry about. Calm and slow.”

Another Tribal Team Member, Heather Younkman, has helped Wolfinger succeed with his personal finance through the Financial Literacy course he was required to complete. “Thanks to Heather at NHBP, she helped me get all my finances in order.”

He cites his mother as another positive influence. “She’s sober, recently graduated from college, doing awesome. My mom moved down to Tennessee, and I followed her here. Just nice to be a half-hour away in case she needs something.”

During this quiet time of his life, Wolfinger has discovered his talents with the written word. “Writing papers for my college courses is leaving me wondering, ‘Who is this? Who wrote this?’”

He hasn’t shied away from the tough subjects that lie close to his heart, such as medical treatment, rather than prison, for people with substance use disorders.

“I never had to spend time in prison; I avoided prison by the skin of my teeth.

“It’s humbling. Every day I don’t wake up in a prison cell; I can have a shower, I can go outside. That thought alone humbles you.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with a substance use disorder, please visit Behavioral Health – NHBP Members Only (nhbp-nsn.gov).

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