Local professionals share experiences at Substance Abuse Fair
By J.J. KINDRED | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The lives of Webster Bailey and Karla Gourley parallel
The former is outreach manager for Cornerstone of Recovery, while the latter is a well-known real estate agent in Blount County. Both individuals have successful careers that could have ended dramatically if they had not overcome their struggles with substance abuse.
Bailey and Gourley shared their experiences and how they conquered their past addictions during Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness Day Wednesday afternoon at Pellissippi State Community College’s Blount County campus.
Gourley, a Blount County native, has been a real estate agent for nine years and has had a reputable name in Blount County.
A married mother of two young children, Gourley’s career as a real estate agent was blossoming, until prescription drug addiction got the best of her.
In June 2009, Gourley was convicted of three counts of prescription fraud, being charged with obtaining hydrocodone on three different occasions.
“When I had children, I had no idea what it meant to be a parent,” Gourley said. “I don’t think I was prepared for what that entailed. There were so many feelings. I started taking hydrocodone, and I became psychologically and physically addicted.
“I was a new mom and I wanted to continue to be an addict,” Gourley continued. “I was hooked on pills and finally I went to a detox center in Florida. I’ve been clean since 2008.”
Gourley agreed to participate in the Blount County Drug Court program while she served a 60-day sentence in the Blount County Jail.
“I still had legal repercussions to deal with,” she said. “I went to jail and it was the most humbling experience of my life. I met people who had hard lives and did not have any family support. I was on the front page of (The Daily Times), and my husband dealt with phone calls at home and at work. People were driving by our house and taking pictures. It was very hard on him and my family.
“When I was in drug court, they held me accountable and they encouraged me and helped me get my confidence back,” Gourley continued. “People assumed that I would not be in real estate anymore. I felt ashamed and guilty. How would I explain all of this to my son, that we all make mistakes? But he was my motivator.”
After graduating from drug court, not only has Gourley continued her real estate career, but she also talked to many people about her experience and how others like her can overcome addiction.
“I refuse to let addiction define me,” Gourley said. “It will not be my legacy. It’s a disease that should be treated as a disease. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. People probably know someone who has struggled with addiction. You can overcome it, and have the tools to live.”
Bailey, a Knoxville native, shared that his first exposure to drugs was in the fourth grade, where he had a friend and classmate whose parents were addicts.
“I grew up in a well-to-do neighborhood,” Bailey said. “He had seen his parents use drugs, and one day he pulled out a joint. We locked the door and I smoked it. It made me feel rebellious and different. I had been through years of wanting to feel different, because my dad was dying of cancer. Using (drugs) was changing the way I felt about myself.”
As he started to abuse different kinds of drugs as he got older, Bailey said he had no intention of getting clean.
“I just wanted to play games (with people),” Bailey said. “I used pills to help me with school and to help me after school. I was mixing and matching. When I was working, I was using every day on the job.
“I went to the Ford Detox Center in California and a guy I was using with I talked to for months about how to get clean,” Bailey continued. “I went to Las Vegas and even had a dealer there. I got back to Knoxville and I was honest with my fiancee, that I needed help.”
Fiancee cancels wedding
Bailey went to another detox center in Detroit, and during that time his fiancee canceled their wedding.
“When I got back to Knoxville and came back clean, I went back to my job and they said we’re proud of you, but we can’t have you working here,” he said.
Losing his job humbled him further, Bailey said. He got involved in some 12-step fellowship programs and ultimately started volunteering with the Cornerstone of Recovery.
“I wanted to give hope to people,” Bailey said. “I wanted to let them know they could have fun and go a ball game without drinking, and don’t have to surround their lives with drugs or alcohol.”
But the people at Cornerstone had other plans for him.
“They said how about applying for a job?” he said. “They told me I could share my personal experiences and they could teach me things to prepare me.”
After starting out as a weekend residential counselor, Bailey rose to his current position and strives to continue giving hope to those he encounters.
“It’s easy to get caught up in who we are, but we don’t know how to love each other,” Bailey said. “This is a problem we have to go at socially. We need to bring community-minded people to work on those issues to make a difference.”
The program was part of Blount County Substance Abuse Prevention Week, sponsored by the Blount County Community Health Initiative’s Substance Abuse Prevention Action Team.