Matt Paris is the Regional Community Outreach Specialist at Fresh Start Recovery Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Paris is uniquely qualified to share the message from Fresh Start because he, too, has been in treatment for a Substance Use Disorder. Today he has more than seven years clean. Born and raised in Montgomery County, Maryland, Paris began drinking and using at about 14-years old, the same age many start. His choice of substances, also common, were alcohol and marijuana. But Paris, a gifted athlete who played baseball and football, broke his wrist during his sophomore year and was prescribed painkillers after surgery.
With prescription opiates at his disposal, Paris started abusing the substances right away. “Unlike most people, when I was prescribed the opiates, I broke them down and snorted them right away,” he said. “I jumped the gun as soon as I got them.” Before graduation, Paris had several offers to play football in college. His addiction, however, progressed to the point that he could not keep up his grades. He decided to skip college and work in the restaurant industry instead, a culture which exacerbated his drinking and drug use. Paris got the wakeup call he needed after he and his girlfriend got into a car crash. “My first thought was, ‘I need to tell the dope man that we’re still coming,’” Paris says. “But when I saw the car later on, I thought, ‘We shouldn’t have walked away that day. We should have died.’” Shaken by the incident, Paris and his family enrolled him into an Intensive Outpatient Program, where he got sober and committed himself to recovery. “Through my recovery, I’ve gained relationships back with my mother and grandmother and shown support for other members with addiction, getting them treatment,” Paris says. Within two years of starting recovery, Paris began working in the substance use treatment field. He first worked with adolescents in the Juvenile Justice System.
Later he was approached by members of Amatus Recovery Centers, who asked him to become part of Fresh Start Recovery Center’s outreach team. As part of Paris’ work, he runs Fresh Start Recovery Center’s Alumni Program, which features weekly Tuesday night meetings and–before the pandemic–monthly outings such as playing laser tag or attending Major League Baseball games. Though COVID-19 has put a hold on in-person gatherings, Paris hasn’t missed a beat when keeping Fresh Start alumni engaged. “The biggest thing that I’ve done right now is create the ZOOM platform ‘12 O’Clock Chop Shop.’” Anyone can stop by,” he says. “We all hang out and check in to see how everyone’s doing. I’m stuck in the house with two toddlers, so I’m going a little crazy. These meetings are a way to have some form of release with another adult.” Paris is eager to begin the alumni outings again, as he is about to start a program to support the families of Fresh Start clients and alumni. “My favorite part of this job is seeing the lights turn on, when a client really gets it,” said Paris. “Going to a clients’ one-year anniversary and hearing their parents speak, that’s what it’s all about.”