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Toril Lavender/For The Herald-Dispatch Billy Thaxton, peer recovery coach at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department's needle exchange program, poses for a photo.

HUNTINGTON - It took William "Billy" Thaxton, 31, some time to admit that he had a problem.

Thaxton, a St. Albans, West Virginia, native, began drinking at 13 after his parents divorced and his mother left.

"I'm a firm believer I was an addict when I was born," he said. "Now, if I had never put that first drink or drug in me, I probably could have prevented it, but I had the 'isms' from the time I was 13 years old."

Thaxton escalated from drinking and smoking marijuana to abusing prescription pain medication.

"High school is where it really took off," he said. "I was drinking every day and using drugs every day."

Eventually, he started using heroin with a needle.

At 24, his dad gave him an ultimatum: Go to the military to get straightened out or go to a homeless shelter.

Thaxton joined the Air Force, but was honorably discharged after 18 months.

"I got stationed in Hawaii, and you would think that would make me quit, but I was only there for 18 months before they asked me to leave - very kindly," he said.

At 27, he had another ultimatum: Go to The Healing Place, now Recovery Point of Huntington, or be homeless.

So, Thaxton entered Recovery Point and stayed for 10 1/2 months. After he graduated, he worked at Recovery Point until he got a job with Prestera Center.

But he relapsed.

He went to Pathways in Kentucky, but relapsed again after three months.

"You can't be forced into (recovery)," Thaxton said. "You have to make it your own idea. Until I made it my own idea, I was never going to stay clean."

Finally, he found himself in Hickory Hill in Hazard, Kentucky, a place modeled after Recovery Point.

"Looking back on it, I hated it while I was there, but it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me," Thaxton said. "I'm grateful for my relapse, because it showed me I really am an alcoholic and a drug addict."

Now he has been sober for more than 20 months.

"I'm going to school. I'm working at Recovery Point. I have all kinds of opportunities today," Thaxton said. "I got my family back. I got my relationships back with my friends. I got everything back they said I would get back. It's been an amazing journey. Nothing is possible without God and a great support group. I have the best support group in the whole world. They hold me accountable when I can't hold myself accountable."

He was the first graduate of Recovery Point's peer recovery coach course, which provides the educational training needed to become a credentialed peer recovery coach in West Virginia.

On Wednesdays, you can find him putting his training to use at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department syringe exchange clinic.

"I wish there would have been (a syringe exchange) when I was out there," Thaxton said. "I shared needles with other people. People coming down trying to fight against hepatitis C and the AIDS epidemic are amazing. Those people are superstars. They are just like me; the only difference is I have a little bit of clean time."

He said helping others find their way into recovery is the best feeling in the world.

"I thought that when I was getting high, that was the best feeling in the world, but being able to point someone in the direction of recovery or help someone in recovery, I get a high off that like nothing I've ever had in my entire life," he said.

But, he said, he is just a vessel.

"God is the one that is directing me," Thaxton said.

Thaxton is thankful for his journey, he said.

"It made me the person I am today, and I'm pretty happy with who I am today," he said.

Thaxton said he just wants people to know recovery is possible and it's worth it. He is proof.

"If I can do it, anybody can do it. Recovery is possible. It's hard. Nothing about it is easy, but it's worth it in the end. It's a struggle. It's a fight, but in the end, my life is so much better than when I was using. I never thought I could stay clean for one day, but here I am over 20 months. It's a miracle."

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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