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A Part of Something Bigger: Jason Swanger’s Story

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Jason Swanger is the Director of Admissions at Awakenings Recovery Center in Hagerstown, Maryland. Originally from Cumberland, Maryland, Jason’s serious substance use didn’t begin until later than most.

“When I was 29 I got into car sales,” he said. “I never had a good job until then. When I took that job, I realized I could make a living and I did that for three years. I made more and more and more each year.”

Financially stable and looking to continue his success, Swanger began using an old prescription from a previous shoulder injury to help him get through the long work days. He’d work, take pills and come home without much consequence, until one day a sales rush didn’t allow for him to leave the car dealership for lunch.

“I used to take lunch and go get pills, and one day I got stuck selling three cars so I couldn’t leave,” he said. “I got very sick. I thought I had the flu.”

Not well, Swanger went home and took a couple pills. Within 30 minutes, he said, he no longer felt sick.

“That’s when I knew I was addicted.”

While Swanger maintained a façade of normalcy for a while, consequences did begin to pile up. Once he could no longer get prescription pills, he began buying heroin, again using the substance to get him through the work day. Before long he was spending most of his available income on heroin and even stole $40 from the dealership where he worked. He was caught and fired in the same day.

He came home and admitted to his then-girlfriend that he had a problem. It wasn’t long before she left, taking Swanger’s children with her, and moved to Michigan. Between 2013 and 2014, Swanger began to lose everything, pawning possessions for money, and eventually having to live out of his car.

“I thought my life was so bad that I wanted to take my own life,” Swanger said. “I ended up in the psych ward.”

From that day, August 26, 2014, Swanger has not used drugs or alcohol. The psychiatric ward offered to send Swanger to rehab, where he could detox. Upon completing that program he moved into Wells House, a sober living home in Hagerstown.

“The day I showed up, I had no phone, no money, only a trash bag full of clothes,” he said.  “There was nothing left for me back in Cumberland.”

In early recovery, things started to look up for Swanger. He took a job as a waiter and was eventually promoted to Manager. Like many people in recovery, Jason felt was drawn to the idea of working in the treatment industry. He inquired with the owner of Wells House, where he used to live, and was offered a position in admissions. For the next year and a half, Swanger learned the ins and outs of the admissions process, when he came across an article about Amatus Recovery Centers beginning the process of opening an residential substance use treatment center in downtown Hagerstown.

Through the help of a friend who worked at Fresh Start Recovery Center in Gaithersburg, another Amatus Recovery Centers facility, Jason got in touch with Nick Albaugh, the future Executive Director of Awakenings Recovery Center. Impressed by Swanger, Albaugh told him would be in touch closer to the facility’s opening date. Months passed, and Swanger assumed they’d moved on, when one day Albaugh reached out via LinkedIn, setting up a lunch meeting at the very same restaurant where Swanger was a manager. He was offered the position and has worked at Awakenings since November of 2018, months ahead of its April 2019 opening.

Swanger, who has been through treatment himself, recognizes that the care provided at Awakenings is special for several important reasons.

“One thing that stands out about Awakenings is that about 95% of our staff is in recovery,” he said.  “We all have jobs to do, but for us, this is more than a job. We are people in recovery who want the best for everyone who comes through the doors at Awakenings.”

Swanger believes that more than just co-workers, his colleagues are family. This isn’t lost on the clients, who also feel like a part of their community.

“We are a team. We go to the same meetings, and we see each other outside of work,” he said. “The clients see that and realize that they can become part of something bigger.”