Whitney Johnson and Jeremy Rhoades are well known in Logan, Ohio. Whitney says they were “the worst of the worst” when it came to the addicts in town, but right now they’re both clean and trying to stay that way.
Whitney is the kind of person who can’t walk down the street without stopping to talk to someone she knows. She’s loud, and charming, and her catchphrases spread like wildfire. Jeremy is more reserved and quiet. He’s deeply empathetic, and he’s loyal to a fault when it comes to the people he loves.
No one ever expected that Whitney and Jeremy would get together, but they found solace in each other when they started their recovery. Whitney likes to point out the irony in the fact that Jeremy, her partner in sobriety, was once the first person to sell her heroin.
Like many other addicts, Whitney and Jeremy were driven to get clean, in part, out of fear. Not fear of jail time, which they say barely feels like a punishment at this point, but fear of death. Opioid overdose deaths have risen drastically over the past few years, tripling in Ohio in the last five years alone, according to the Ohio Department of Health. “People are dying, and I didn’t want to die, so I got clean,” Whitney said.
Whitney and Jeremy weren’t motivated entirely by fear, however. Over the past year, they each discovered a deep faith in God, which they say has given them strength and hope. “If you have spirituality in your life and you really believe in God, that’s the one that’s going to help you the most,” Jeremy said.
Whitney and Jeremy both found their faith in somewhat unusual ways. Jeremy had just gotten back from a stint in jail, and he found himself slipping back into old patterns, smoking weed and getting high on Suboxone. One night he did a shot of meth, and it kept him up for over 48 hours. “The second night, or maybe even the third night I was up, I had an epiphany. Like Jesus actually talked to me,” Jeremy said. “I know a lot of people…are gonna say it’s because I was up on meth and I was delirious, but no, it wasn’t, and ever since that day I’ve been determined to be with God and to be clean.”
Whitney says she found her faith in “the hole” when she was in jail. “Best place ever. I miss it sometimes,” Whitney said. During her incarceration, Larry Swart visited her regularly as part of a jail ministry program. She wasn’t sold at first, but when she was put in solitary confinement and all her books were taken away, she fought to keep her bible. When she rejoined the rest of the inmates she felt like a new person, and she started spending her time preaching to anyone who would listen.
Larry and Whitney formed a strong bond through the jail ministry, and when she finally got out Larry and his wife Karen took her in for a while. Whitney became a part of the family, and even got baptized in the river behind their property. That spot is special to her, and when Jeremy was ready to get baptized in October, she let him use it. She’s made it clear that’s not something she would do for just anyone.
Jeremy’s baptism was important to him, not only because he was committing his life to God, but also because all four of his children were able to be there for it, which is something that rarely happens. Though he would like to, Jeremy doesn’t have custody of any of his children. He likes to think that he’s a good dad to them when he’s around, but he doesn’t feel like it’s enough. “They deserve better,” Jeremy said. “They deserve a dad that’s not getting high.”
Both Jeremy and Whitney dream of having a family. Whitney talks constantly about getting her kids back, but for now she tries to treat Jeremy’s kids like they’re her own when they come to visit.
Recovery hasn’t been easy for Whitney and Jeremy. Whitney had trouble getting off of the Suboxone that she had been addicted to for nearly a decade, and she started using meth to help get through the month-long dope sickness that she experienced. Then she had trouble getting off of the meth.
Jeremy’s recovery is monitored by the Vivitrol program that he attends through Hocking County Municipal Court. A few months into his recovery he got caught with Neurontin in his system, and was ordered to move out of Whitney’s and into a sober house for 30 days. Jeremy says he was lying to himself and claiming he was clean while still taking Neurontin because it’s technically a non-narcotic, even though it can get you high if taken in large quantities.
Whitney was angry when Jeremy had to leave. She felt abandoned, like she was being punished for something he did wrong. Initially Jeremy was put on house arrest and wasn’t allowed to have visitors, which Whitney thought was completely unreasonable, and she was frustrated that he didn’t stand up for himself with the judge. Most of Jeremy’s restrictions were eventually lifted, but it was a difficult period in Whitney and Jeremy’s relationship. “Messing up and going to recovery house… did have a toll on our relationship,” Jeremy said. “Hopefully we can get it back. We’re doing a lot better now.”
For the first few months of recovery, Whitney and Jeremy had little to do outside of attending court, church, and support groups. Time during the day that was once filled by a constant drive to fuel addiction gave way to an almost-overwhelming sense of listlessness. Whitney and Jeremy have had to find new ways to fill their time, and both have started working. Jeremy applied for multiple jobs while living at the sober house, and is now working at Wendy’s. Whitney is helping to fix up JR’s Transmission, a mom and pop mechanic shop that is owned by another recovering addict.
Whitney doesn’t plan to stay in Logan much longer because she’s constantly surrounded by addicts and reminders of her old life. “I don’t think it’s conducive to my recovery whatsoever,” she said. “I really felt drawn to help addicts, and that’s what tripped me up.” She has big dreams of moving down the road to Nelsonville and taking care of Larry and Karen’s property. “I’m gonna have to go somewhere else and have a fresh start, because I deserve that too,” Whitney said.
While Whitney likes to look toward the future, Jeremy tries to stay grounded in the present. Of course he has hopes of one day marrying Whitney and raising their kids together, but for now he tries to keep his mind from straying too far. “I’m trying to take it one day at a time, for real,” he said.
Jeremy is moving back into the sober house soon, but this time it’s his choice. He’s not sure what it might mean for his relationship with Whitney, but she agrees that it’s probably best for his recovery, and he says he’s sure of how he feels. “You’re not supposed to be in a relationship the first year you’re clean, you’re just supposed to work on you,” Jeremy said. “But I really feel like she’s my soulmate, and I’m gonna fight ‘til I can’t fight no more.”