Although I’m in long term recovery and I work in the treatment industry, I still encounter people whose recovery amazes me. Matt Bradley is one of those people.
Matt caught my attention when I saw him on an episode of Deadliest Catch. He’s a fisherman who has crewed with Northwestern for over a decade. What intrigued me wasn’t just the drama and action of the fishing crew, but Matt’s openness and honesty about his struggle with substance use. A long time drug user, Matt didn’t encounter the serious consequences that so many people face until he was in his 20s. Although he grew up with normalized drug use—stealing joints and alcohol from the adults in his Section 8 housing development—he didn’t really think he had a problem until he started using heroin.
Heroin took Matt to some incredibly dark places. Although he had short periods of physical sobriety, he always went back to using heroin, crack, and cocaine. “Money was always my demise,” he said. As soon as he was back on shore from a fishing season, with $50K in his pocket, he was off and running. As he got older, he noticed that his friends were progressing in their lives: they were getting married, buying their second or third homes, having kids, and settling down. Matt was the one with the fun party stories—but that was it. He crashed on people’s couches, did CPR on overdosing friends, and wasn’t evolving. Then, he’d get another job at sea, and repeat the whole cycle again.
He said that he wasn’t the exception to the rule, either. He estimated that 90% of the people he’s crewed with have a substance problem of some kind. The “work hard, play hard” mentality is strongly ingrained. Boats are dry places, with no drugs or alcohol allowed. Matt said that he, like many fisherman, would detox for a few days before leaving port. All crew members must pass a UA, and most don’t bother bringing substances on their voyage.
“What’s the point?” Matt said. “Getting high when you’re on board, you’re not going anywhere. There’s nothing to do. Nowhere to go. My logic, even though it sounds backwards, was that the boat was the most boring place in the world to be loaded. That kept me sober for five or six months, and then I’d get back to the city and think, maybe I can try the game again for a couple weeks.” Then, he’d be off and running.
Now, instead of picking up substances when he’s in port, Matt is giving his time to service and helping others. He’s active in a 12 Step program and has a sponsor and a home group. Once a week, he and a friend take a truck to a local Seattle church. The “wash truck” has a generator and a washer/dryer set up inside it so that homeless people can wash their clothes. There’s also a trailer, where people can shower, change, and get themselves cleaned up while they’re doing the laundry. Matt uses this opportunity to share the message that anyone can make it to recovery, and he’s been able to help several people find their way to organizations and recovery houses that support recovery.
Matt’s journey from a daily drug user to a man in long term recovery really inspired me. The fact is, the media doesn’t include enough stories like his. They focus on the drama and tragedy of substance use. There’s no denying that the opioid epidemic destroys families, wrecks communities, and weakens our nation. But there are also people like me and Matt, and millions of others, who have made it to the other side of recovery. We are living the dream of daily life without active drug use. We work hard to help others find the path we did, and give them the opportunities which were freely given to us. I’m not saying that we are heroes. But I am saying that there are a lot of success stories out there, too, and it’s time to start sharing them.
People like Matt Bradley give me hope for our future as a nation. Even in the dark times of the opioid crisis, when so many people are hurt, scared, and dying, we are recovering and thriving. Matt, thank you for all you do to keep the light of hope burning, and showing others that there is a way out of substance use.
Jeremy Broderick is a national recovery advocate and founder of Windward Way Recovery in Costa Mesa, California.