Odyssey House Louisiana (OHL) is a nonprofit behavioral health care provider with an emphasis on addiction treatment. OHL was established in 1973 as a nonprofit residential substance abuse treatment facility with the mission of empowering people to conquer addiction. Today, Odyssey House offers a professional, structured and caring Therapeutic Community with comprehensive services and effective support systems that enable individuals to chart new lives and return to their communities as contributing members.
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Wayne Miller was a World Champion in gymnastics, National Sales Vice President for a prominent insurance company making a six-figure salary, a husband and a father. So, when he wound up at Odyssey House with 39 cents to his name, no one was more surprised than he was.
“I look back at where I came from and everything I had, and I just think ‘how did this happen?’” Wayne says.
Originally from Lafayette, Wayne grew up in a loving environment raised by his mother and grandmother. However, he had no male role models, his mother worked long hours to support the family and Wayne was watched by his French-speaking grandmother who could not read or write. As a result, Wayne struggled academically in school and began acting out as “class clown” to garner attention.
Athletically gifted, Wayne excelled in gymnastics and swimming and diving from his pre-teen years through college. Wayne holds NCAA Individual Championship titles and World Championship titles in gymnastics. Looking back know, Wayne can recognize his tendency for addictive behavior starting at a young age. At 15, after winning a national gymnastics title, another coach commented to Wayne’s coach to “imagine how good he could be if he just lost some weight.” From this point, Wayne began a 20-year battle with bulimia, although there was no name for his disorder at the time.
Wayne earned a Bachelors Degree in Kinesiology from the University of Michigan and later a Masters in Administration and Supervision Secondary Educations form Northeastern Missouri State University. Wayne enjoyed success in teaching and coaching gymnastics, but eventually moved into life insurance and investments.
Wayne moved up very quickly in the investments business and shortly started enjoying the corporate perks of company cars, extravagant dinners on the company tab, and expensive hotel suites. Wayne first started experimenting with “recreational” drug use in his early 40’s, noticeably later in life than many chronic drug abusers. While his drug use was in no way instigated or encouraged at his job, Wayne says, “I was out every night dining clients in expensive restaurants and bars. It was all part of the excess of the ‘80s.” One night, Wayne’s drug supplier ran out of cocaine, Wayne’s typical drug of choice. In its place, Wayne was offered crack- “the devil of all things” in Wayne’s words, which quickly led to a deep dependence.
His marriage ended; but, for a while, Wayne was able to maintain his successful career and drug use. Eventually his job began to suffer and Wayne quit working to devote himself fulltime to his party lifestyle. “ I had plenty of money saved up, so it was really easy to be an addict,” Wayne recalls, “ For about eight years, all I did was crack. Then the money started to run out and I began to realize what it was like to be an addict. I lost cars, I lost homes, I started selling my things to pay for my addiction. My daughter didn’t want anything to do with me. By now I was doing the things that you hear addicts do. I could go on and on about the things I did to get money.”
Although he was in the downward spiral of addiction, Wayne continued to care for his elderly mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s. “I avoided having to deal with her illness by using,” Wayne admits. When his mother eventually passed away in March of 2006, it was a turning point for Wayne. He went to University Hospital in Lafayette to seek help. He was referred to a treatment facility in St. Charles parish for detox and 28 days of substance abuse treatment. Once his stay had ended there, Wayne was referred to Odyssey House, where he says he finally came to terms with his core issues, or what he refers to as his “acorn.”
“I realized that I had true abandonment issues from my childhood,” Wayne says. “And from then on, I always tried so hard to fit in, to make people like me. My acorn had grown into an oak tree but I never realized it until I got here.”
It took Wayne a while to climb all the branches in his oak tree. At 60, Wayne was not only the oldest Odyssey House resident post-Katrina, but he also had one of the most tumultuous tenures in treatment, often dropping in stages of treatment for resisting the program’s core values and structure. “ Still wanting to fit in so badly, I would make mistakes and then lie about them. But it’s true what they say: what doesn’t come out in the wash will come out in the rinse.’” Wayne says.
After one year and one week in treatment, Wayne graduated from Odyssey House, but didn’t go too far. He helped open OHL’s detox facility as one of its first staff members. Within a few months, Wayne was promoted to the Admission’s department, where he could assist individuals seeking treatment, just as he had not too long ago. “It’s like when I used to coach gymnastic,” Wayne says. “ I’m a mentor to these kids, and I know exactly where they are coming from. I have had people say to me, ‘Mr. Wayne, thank you for saving my life.’”
Wayne continues to get his life back on track, becoming active in church, buying a new car and working on his relationship with his daughter who lives out of state. On his relationship with his daughter, Wayne says, “It’s a crawl-walk-run situation. At first, I was so excited and nervous that I would call my daughter everyday and she had to tell me to slow down. So, now we talk frequently, and when we do talk, I know I am telling her the truth and it’s good. I know that what I am doing is the right thing, so I don’t feel like I have to prove it to her all the time.”
Still an investor at heart, Wayne says his focus now is turning his liabilities into assets. “I know I can use my background and my experiences, both good and bad. Odyssey House gave me the opportunity to recognize and use my liabilities.” Wayne is studying to become a licensed addiction counselor, and says his dream is to grow with Odyssey House.
Now a ceremonial emcee of sorts, Mr. Wayne has presided as Grand Master of Ceremony for a number of Odyssey House graduations. It only seems fitting that this story should end with the mantra Wayne closes each graduation with: Odyssey House is for a season, but God and your recovery are for a lifetime.