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A story of recovery and hope

‘ADDICTION DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE’ — Brandon Novak, former professional skateboarder, actor, stuntman and author, speaks Wednesday at the Millsop Community Center about his 20-year battle with addiction during “A Walk In Their Shoes,” an event organized by Never Alone WV. -- Craig Howell

WEIRTON — Addiction comes in many forms and can affect just about everyone.

Area residents on Wednesday had an opportunity to hear directly from individuals who have battled the disease, as well as those who have been affected by it, as part of “A Walk In Their Shoes” an event organized by Never Alone WV.

Never Alone, formed in 2010 by Weirton resident Patti Barnabei, is a non-profit organization focused on bringing awareness of issues related to addiction in the community.

“We always do a yearly event,” Barnabei noted, explaining the efforts of the organization to continue a dialogue about addiction among residents.

As part of the event, residents gathered in the gymnasium of the Millsop Community Center, heard from Brandon Novak, a former professional skateboarder, stuntman, actor and author, who discussed his approximately 20 years of addiction with alcohol and drugs, along with his times in and out of jail and rehabilitation programs.

“The disease of addiction does not discriminate,” Novak noted, explaining one in five people will be affected by addiction in some way.

Novak said he grew up in a good family in Baltimore, and at the age of 7 decided he wanted to be a professional skateboarder. He received his first endorsement at age 14, designed his first pro model skateboard at age 15, all while skating for the Powell-Peralta team.

“From a very young age, I was doing things people equated with success and happiness,” he said.

Along with the fame, touring and lifestyle came his use of drugs and alcohol. That use would result in him eventually being kicked off the team and losing his spot on tour, despite efforts by mentors such as Mike Vallely and Tony Hawk.

“The drinking and drugs already had its hooks in me,” he said, explaining that through the years he has used heroin, Xanax and other pills, cocaine and alcohol.

Novak went into his first treatment program at the age of 17, and was in and out of centers 13 times through 2015. He has been in jail on multiple occasions and spent time homeless.

Today, he has been clean and sober since March 20, 2015, and since September 2016 has been working for Banyan Treatment Center and touring the country to talk about his life.

“I keep my past married to my present,” Novak said, noting it is important to never forget where he has been.

Other presentations Wednesday included a skit with motivational speaker Meg Givnish and featuring area residents, comedian Tim Grealish and speaker Luke Wollet.

Also during Wednesday’s event, Barnabei took time to present community appreciation awards to the Weirton Police Department and Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, as well as to ArcelorMittal, for their support of the organization.

Barnabei noted Never Alone holds support meetings at 6 p.m. the second Monday of each month at St. Paul Church in Weirton. Meetings also are available at 6 p.m. each Friday at the Arbor Church in New Cumberland.

(Howell can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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