“What am I going to do tomorrow to make myself better?”
That’s the question Frank Cascino, a former heroin addict who shared his story Wednesday night at First Presbyterian Church in Johnstown as part of National Recovery Month, said anyone who’s struggling with addiction should ask himself or herself every day.
Those struggling with addiction should know that “the best part about recovery is that there’s so many ways to do it,” said Cascino, of Johnstown, who has founded an organization called The Frontline in an attempt to share his message with as many people as possible.
“For me, it wasn’t the 12-step program,” he added. “For me, it was one-on-one counseling, getting back to work and believing in my process. ... That’s what a lot of people should think about. You can do it your own way. Recovery is an ongoing process, just like addiction is.”
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Alice Tondola, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, called Cascino “an inspirational man” and voiced her hope that his story will give someone out there who’s struggling with drug addiction the push needed to make a change in his or her life.
“The more people tell their stories, the more others know that they’re not alone. They can help one another through the process in ways that people who haven’t been there just can’t do,” Tondola said.
The story Cascino told Wednesday was a roller coaster of low points in his life, narrated in vivid detail – from the moment he took his first drink of alcohol; to the moment that he accepted three codeine pills from a coworker, hoping to quash a migraine; to the moment he looked at a line of powdered heroin and said: “There’s no way that little line’s going to hurt me.”
Over the years, Cascino’s struggles with opiates blossomed into a full-blown heroin addiction, augmented by whatever other drugs he could get his hands on. By the end, he said, he was taking handfuls of assorted pills and hoping he wouldn’t wake up in the morning.
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One day in November 2011, he said, he looked in a mirror and realized he had only two choices – to find some help or to give up and accept that he would be a drug addict for the rest of his life.
“I chose the first option,” he said.
Cascino called an old friend from high school, whose wife arranged a spot for him at New Visions Chemical Dependency Program in downtown Johnstown. A few months later, he found a $9-per-hour job as a landscaper – and he was able to go to work sober every day.
Eventually, as Cascino built up years of sobriety, he made a successful career for himself as a traveling snack-foods salesman – but there was something missing, he said. It wasn’t until he stopped at a Johnstown Sheetz store one day and saw a girl shooting up heroin in the parking lot that he realized what that something was.
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“I’m four years sober and I’m doing nothing with it,” he told himself.
That sight made him realize, he said, that he needed to do more than build himself up to be successful – he needed to build others up, too. Since then, he’s shared his story with members of Bridge to Life Church in Upper Yoder Township and with high school students in Johnstown and Somerset, among others.
“I don’t want them to associate having a beer with dealing with their bad day,” he said. “I want them to associate, from a young age, to congratulate one another – to take a brother, a sister, someone special in their lives, and spend 15 minutes in a conversation with them.”
“That’s what The Frontline is all about.”