York County man gets clean from heroin through God


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It's late October 2014 in Blair County. After about two weeks in rehab, Jacob Ruth decided to escape.

The Shrewsbury resident remembers walking down the mountain and coming across a white church in the woods. A man appeared to be smoking a cigarette on the porch.

With his mind in a haze from detoxification and psychiatric medications, Ruth asked him for a lighter. He's still not sure if the man was actually there.

"I thought I was going to be OK because I had four packs of cigarettes," Ruth said in January. "That's how my addict mentality kicked in."

The man, apparently a local, helped him hide behind the church, saying it was the time of year when patients start leaving the rehab. When the flashing lights and cop cars showed up, the man disappeared.

Getting cut up by sticker bushes as he hid, 23-year-old Ruth heard the water crashing on the line of rocks below — a small branch of the Juniata River. He couldn't calm himself down.

"And my life just kind of flashed back before me, and it's just like, I'm either gonna get taken down here, maybe get shot and killed, might not make it back home – I mean, it was sad, that's how I was thinking – might not make it back home, or I could try to make it across the river," he said. "And I knew I didn't know how to swim."

Drug history: Up until his late teens, Ruth said, he never did drugs. But in always saying no, he lost his popularity and got depressed years later after losing his friends, he said.

"That can happen. You say 'no,' and then everyone doesn't want to be your friend because you're not cool anymore," Ruth said. "That's the reality of it."

A doctor prescribed antidepressants, which he said altered his mind and made him vulnerable the next time someone asked him if he wanted pain pills.

"It only took one time," Ruth said.

He said he started snorting pills like oxycodone. At one point, he needed six or more Percocets to feel better, feel anything or get high — at a hefty price of $35 a pill.

"A lot of people start off with pills because you feel like it's less dangerous, and your doctor gives you pills," Ruth said.

You hear it all the time, he said: People start off with pain pills, which are very expensive, so they switch to heroin because it's cheaper. And that's what he did.

"You don't know what you're getting when you do heroin," Ruth said. "The thing about pills, like I stuck with pills for a while, is that you always knew how many you needed, and you knew what you were getting. Like, you knew it wasn't cut with anything."

The jump: Ruth remembers hearing a helicopter in the air before he jumped a small bank into the water. At the time, state police were on a manhunt for accused cop killer Eric Frein.

"I'm thinking, that helicopter can't be for me," he said. But it was.

As Ruth hid behind a tree, he saw officers shining flashlights as they searched for him. It was either get arrested or jump into the cold water, he thought.

"Even before the jump, I felt so hopeless and lifeless and just thought, like, man, there's just nothing left in this world for me," he said.

Ruth could see by only the light of the moon, and as he jumped, his jacket got caught on a branch, so he shook it off.

He remembers smacking the water, trying to keep himself dry and worrying about those cigarettes.

"After that, my mind went blank," Ruth said. "I could've gotten out myself. I don't remember."

Waking up: He woke up in a car, in a barn in the middle of nowhere. Wearing a tank top and shorts, he said, he was still wet, wrapped up in a blanket with two pillows.

It was a newer four-door car. Ruth still doesn't know how he got in there.

A Bible was sitting on the front seat. He didn't take it, but he opened it up to a page — just to make sure it was actually there.

The windows were steamed up, birds were chirping, and the sun was coming up on a beautiful October morning, Ruth said.

"Something just came over me and said, wow, they didn't find me that night, but I knew God had found me that night. ... How else did I live through that night while my mom waited by the phone?" Ruth said.

As he got out of the car and walked down an old gravel road, he said, the words "surrender" and "acceptance" hit him.

Nine lives: The battle was over. Ruth wanted to go back to the rehab and get help — he was ready to finally admit that he had a problem — and police were already at the bottom of the hill, waiting to arrest him.

They took Ruth to a psychiatric ward for an evaluation, and he said he'd like to go back to the rehab only to hear that it wouldn't take him back. But as a worker drove him the three or four hours home, he said, he realized for the first time that people cared and wanted to see him get better.

"I've been in eight rehabs. I'm not gonna get nine like a cat. I've used all my lives up, is the way I look at it," he said.

Up until he got clean in the days after his experience, Ruth thought he would never quit drugs and alcohol. It was how he was going to live; how he was going to die.

"And I think back and I just realize how blessed and grateful I am for the opportunities I've gotten lately, because I know for a fact that I'm not gonna get another chance at this," he said. "I know that."

His body shows his struggle: He likely tore up his hands, fingers, neck and face on the rocks in the water, and he still bears scars from his addiction.

"You get scars when you don't care. ... They're always gonna be a reminder to me about what my addiction did to me, what it could've done to me and what it hasn't done to me," Ruth said.

Higher power: Ruth now has a job, a car and — admittedly — a long way to go, but he calls his recovery a spiritual awakening.

"Today I know God saves lives; drugs take lives. ... And he was there all along, throughout my addiction, through my whole life, and he was waiting for me to reach my hand back," he said.

Now, after passing the 100-days-sober mark in February, Ruth is just looking forward to more sobriety — maybe even going back to that rehab on the mountain and saying, "I made it. I got a year."

He said he lives on a day-to-day basis. And although he hadn't been to church in 10 years, Ruth found a home at Grace Fellowship Church in Shrewsbury, where he runs at The Lord's Gym every day, volunteers most days and attends church on Sundays. He also attends faith-based and recovery meetings.

Ruth never worked out before he got sober. Now, he's in the gym for about an hour a day, and he lets himself fuel off the naysayers and doubters — the people who said he wasn't going to make it.

"And I let myself go in those dark moments," Ruth said. "And I find that it's healthy because I'm working out and I'm working through it, the way I look at it."

Each morning, he thanks God for another day clean and sober. He's had to get a new phone number, create new social media pages and avoid bars in order to stay clean. He even decided to go by his full name.

"I don't want to go by the old, short Jake, because that was like I was cutting myself short," Ruth said.

The experience also has changed his outlook on life.

"I'm no longer looking down today when I go walking," Ruth said. "I'm looking up for my answers. Because before, when I was looking down, I couldn't see the world or reality or life how it was. Today I see it for what it is, and it's a beautiful thing to be sober and to be open-minded and able to listen."

His main goal used to be "to get high to get by." Now, it's to inspire or motivate people who are caught in the grips of addiction to be better today than yesterday — through the grace of God, who has restored him back to sanity.

"Because I know he does exist. He is real. He continues to show up in the least-expected ways or people," Ruth said. "And I know I can't make this stuff up."

— Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.