HUNTINGTON — For someone deep in the throes of an addiction to heroin or opioids, it's not that uncommon to end up in the news. What is uncommon is fighting that battle while already being a public figure, which means headlines a regular person might not get.
Bernard Slater Jr., resigned from Charleston City Council in April after a string of bad headlines that followed the length of his career as a public servant.
"You go from being elected to city council to digging in people's dumpsters," Slater said. "That was my rock bottom right there. I had hit bottom long ago, but I didn't know rock bottom had a basement. After that, I didn't think nothing of it at the time until I sobered up and saw the headlines."
Slater's first memories of drugs and alcohol are of getting beer for his uncles out of the refrigerator as they played poker. They would let him take the first drink. Then, at age 5, while at the beach, his uncles – teenagers at the time – got him drunk.
Alcohol was his first substance. He has memories of stealing moonshine as a 10 year old. He was going to high school parties as a middle-schooler. He got a fake I.D. in high school at 16 and was the provider for parties.
"I liked being that guy," he said.
Slater said he never lost a popularity contest, but still, he felt alone. Like something was missing.
Despite a blood clotting disorder, Slater played football, but he broke his leg in ninth grade. That's when he tried opioids for the first time.
"I had that 'ah-ha' moment, like I have arrived the moment I took those opioids," Slater said. "A light bulb went off in my head. That was my first real experience besides marijuana and alcohol. That summer after ninth grade, I tried powder cocaine for the first time. From then on, everything intensified."
He started selling marijuana, though it was mainly just to supply his own smoking habit and to be the cool guy.
"It's always been about stroking my ego," Slater said. "Even when I ran for office."
Then he tried benzodiazepines for the first time.
"I had another 'ah-ha' moment when I took those Xanax," he said.
Slater went to Marshall University for a semester, but flunked out. He moved back to Charleston, and started working for Charleston Newspapers in circulation.
Then the beginning of the perfect storm hit the capital city. Prescription pain medication took off. Still, Slater was functioning and he thought life was pretty good.
"I called my drug dealer, and I told him to bring me 10 Lortab 10s," Slater said. "He was selling them for $8 a piece. He shows up an hour later with OxyContin 80s. He said I'll let you get this for $70 this time. I was mad. This little pill right here? He said don't do all of it. Just break off a piece and try it. I was probably 23 or 24 at the time. When I done that OxyContin, I knew I was addicted. I loved that stuff. This is when everything started going downhill for me."
He would do a Xanax bar on top of the OxyContin. This is when he got his first DUI, after passing out behind the wheel on the way to his apartment.
His second DUI came shortly after when he sideswiped another vehicle on the interstate.
"I could have killed that man," Slater said. "Thank God I didn't."
During this time, Slater had two children with his first wife, but she left him. Slater moved in with his parents on the West Side of Charleston. He isolated himself for a few months and became sober. He went back to college and started an internship at Covenant House that he loved.
He tried to get into methadone and suboxone treatment, but by the time he got called off the wait list, he was already using again.
Then he tried Opana.
"They found me on the side of the road on Florida Street in Charleston by the underpass," he said. "I was passed out on the sidewalk. I had overdosed. This was about 2 o'clock in the morning. The cop came to the hospital after they Narcaned me…He said 'I was sternum pressing you really hard and you wouldn't move.' I said, 'How did you find me?' He said, 'There was a deaf guy in a blue truck who had seen ya and he stopped me and flagged me down.' I think that was an angel."
Slater then had a domestic violence situation with the mother of his third child and lost custody of all his kids.
Then he tried heroin for the first time. The friend he tried it with is now dead.
He lost his job. He got a divorce. He would stop using then start again. It was a vicious cycle.
"It got to the point where I had to have pills to get out and do my job," Slater said. "I hated myself. I disgusted myself. I had to be high to be able to look myself in the mirror every day."
So, he decided to stroke his ego a little more. In 2014, Slater ran to represent Ward 1 on Charleston's City Council and won by three votes.
"Let me tell you something about alcoholics and addicts: We can do anything we set our minds to," Slater said. "It's just a struggle for us to get high every day. Who in the world do you know that can come up with all these different way to get high? We are very creative people and if we set our mind to something, we will get it accomplished."
His run was not without controversy. Slater's cousin was charged with murder after a woman had a fatal heroin overdose. Police found incriminating text messages between Slater and his cousin, though Slater was never charged.
Then, he got another DUI, this time while in office. He tried to wean himself off of heroin by using meth, but the meth made him crazy. He would stay up for days at a time. He had been up for eight days when he was caught digging in the trash.
He used for a couple more weeks after the dumpster incident, but then he reached out to a woman who had offered him a bed at Recovery Point a year prior. He called his dad, whom he hadn't spoken to in some time, and told him he was ready to go. His dad dropped him off at Recovery Point in Huntington after getting him food. He hadn't eaten in days.
"I knew I was going to die," Slater said. "I had written letters to my kids saying I was sorry."
Slater has now been at Recovery Point of Huntington for five months. He's healthy, he has two of his three children back in his life, and he said he's found what he was always looking for.
"I found my brotherhood," Slater said. "I feel a part of something. I smile. I'm happy."
Slater said he knows he needs to make amends with the city of Charleston, his coworkers on city council and Mayor Danny Jones, and he is ready to do so.
Slater said he doesn't know what the future holds for him, but he knows God has plans. He said he thinks he will stay in Huntington, where he has built a support system.
"If I can do it, anyone can," Slater said of recovery. "But you can't do it on your own. There are people willing to help."
Anyone who is ready to seek help for addiction and substance use disorder can call Help-4-WV 24/7 for free at 1-844-HELP4WV or visit www.help4wv.com.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.