In 2016, WNIJ News reported on drug overdoses in Winnebago County. Jenna Dooley provides an update on one of the families that was featured in that series.
Last year, Josh Shuga overdosed on heroin. It took several doses of an opioid-reversal drug to save him.
This month, Josh celebrates one year in recovery.
It took several life-changing steps to achieve that milestone.
During a recent telephone conversation with her son, Connie Holmes says a lot has changed in both of their lives.
Surgery Triggered More Substance Abuse
After our story aired last year, Josh had back surgery. Connie was nervous going into the procedure, knowing that he had issues in the past with prescription pills. The situation once again spiraled out of control and he was back to abusing drugs while facing other legal issues.
"I found him at my house at three in the morning," Connie explained. "I got him and I told him, 'You are going to jail.' I was done."
After he was behind bars, she stayed actively involved in his legal process.
"I started contacting the lead state's attorney, the prosecuting attorney, probation officers," Connie said. "Every morning I would call them up and I would always say 'Good morning, sunshine!' so that they would remember who I was."
The constant communication was to keep her son off the streets.
"I said, 'Every moment that he is supposed to stay in here, he is going to stay,'" she recalled. "'I don’t want probation, I want everything done,' and then I said, 'From here, he is going to the Owl's Nest.'"
Recovery In South Carolina
The Owl’s Nest is a recovery community that Connie had contacted which provides residential living in South Carolina based on 12-step programs.
At first, Josh was more than a little hesitant. "The day I went to jail, my mom was like, 'Here’s a card, talk to this guy when you get out of jail, he can probably help you,' and I’m like 'No!'"
It took the encouragement from others behind bars to convince him to make the move.
"A lot of the guys that were looking at prison time were like, 'You need to do this,'" Josh recalled. "The more they talked to me and everything like that, and mom kept telling me about this place, it didn’t sound so bad."
So he left jail and boarded a bus to South Carolina.
"It was an emotional roller coaster," Josh admits. "Even coming in there a month and a half clean already, I was still just ... I was broken. I was a complete and total wreck."
But he made it there and started to again rebuild his life without drugs, with the help of his recovery community.
"You know your bottom and you know when you want to change," Josh said over the phone to his mom.
Recovery In Rockford
It was also the space Connie needed after years of following his ups and downs.
"He did mention one time he wanted to come back, and I wasn’t ready for him to come back," Connie explained. "I told him he needed to give me some peace of mind because, for 12 years, I haven’t had any. While he was there was the time that I finally started to be able to have some peace for me."
Josh agrees that they are actually closer in their relationship as they live farther away. Now their visits mean more, said sister McKinzie.
"I know he’s in a good spot and I know [mom's] better now. I think they are closer too," McKinzie said.
Connie tells her son she is proud of his recovery.
"I don’t sleep with my phone on anymore," Connie said. "That’s the first time in, I don’t know how long, that I don’t wait for that phone call anymore."
Josh also reflects positively on his progress.
"I’m doing stuff to help people that people did for me," Josh said. "The only way you can help people is to give away what was freely given to you."
He’s staying busy—working in landscaping and auto repair. He even got a new dog. So busy, he even had to take a break from the call.
Josh: Hold on one sec.
Unknown: How’s the puppy doing?
Josh: The puppy is doing great. Thanks, I’m doing a follow-up interview from one I did after I did after I OD’d back home so I’m doing an interview right now. Thanks.
Unknown: Well don’t ever do that again (chuckles)
Josh: Thanks (laughs)
Recovery for Josh Shuga comes one day at a time. He says he feels supported through family and those who have had to walk alongside him as they fight the daily battle against addiction.
"It’s just really cool to see a lot of people that, a big group of us that went through, we're all friends, we all stay connected with each other, and we’re all doing this together," he said. "But you figure out what you have to do for you to make it work for you."
They hang up and it's back to life as they now know it in South Carolina and Rockford.