Marinating Success: SLC Member Reveals Past
While it’s still being written, the story of William Shields is worth telling. The growth between his past and present reaches unmeasurable distance. Between school, death, drugs, and insanity, his story warrants a standing ovation; redemption ages well with skeletons in the closet.
Shields is currently a network and systems administrator major, a Student Ambassador for The First Resort, LBCC’s student support center, and is a Campus Outreach Coordinator for the Student Leadership Council.
However, prior to his time at LB, he has traveled quite the tumultuous road.
Starting at just 15 years old in his hometown of Wellsville, Kansas, Shields broke his coccyx, a bone that makes up the bottom portion of the spine, after his first night of binge drinking. This would serve as a foreshadowing of what would become a staple in his life. It’s here that he entered a commonly unavoided gateway; dabbling in various recreational substances, including his introduction to opioids as a prescribed pain medication.
“From 16 to 18 I was doing opiates. My father was a very sick alcoholic, and I remember him having lots of drugs that I would steal and sell for cigarettes,” said Shields.
After graduating high school he began attending DeVry in 2007, a Career-focused online college with hybrid & online degree programs in Business, Tech & Health. This is where he was introduced to street heroin.
“I’ve been the guy in a room with nothing but a bed and no sheets, and people smoking stuff out of a lightbulb.”
Shields dropped out of DeVry his first semester there, but in 2010 he began attending the Art Institute International of Kansas City, where he earned his bachelor’s of arts in photography in less than three years.
At this point Shields backed off from drug use until 2014, when his father died from a heart attack. Six months prior to his passing, he had moved to Corvallis. But after his father left earthside, the dabbling only intensified and it wasn’t long before he became an alcoholic.
In 2018, things took a turn for the worst when life threw another curve ball at him; his mother passed away due to complications from a bed sore that had developed into necrosis. She had early onset Alzheimer’s, and went to live at a nursing home. After she passed from preventable complications, Shields sued the nursing home for negligence and won. It was at this point that his addiction became seriously solidified in emotional pain and trauma; he began using heroin regularly, as well as other drugs such as LSD and psychedelic mushrooms.
Soon after an eventful few days laced with LSD at Bass Canyon, a popular electronic dance music festival at The Gorge Amphitheater, Shields had a moment of clarity.
“I wasn’t drinking [at the festival] because I was dosing [doing LSD]. And when I got home, I was cleaning and I found my father’s eulogy; I had that realization that I was my dad. I was going to drink myself to death.”
Shields decided to quit that night, but was unaware of what the withdrawals could cause.
These withdrawals pushed him into a dissociative state of mind that lasted for days, along with the influence of little sleep and substance abuse, including opiates, LSD, and “who knows what else. I was doing all those drugs because I couldn’t get the image of my mom dying out of my head.”
During this dissociative time Shields was arrested for trespassing, though the charges were dropped due to an insanity plea. He lost his job at local Corvallis restaurant Bellhop a week before getting a promised promotion of a salaried kitchen manager, and was so separated from himself he was going by the name of “Carla,” while asking friends to help him find the man on his I.D. so he could return the copious amount of drugs he had.
He was seemingly rescued when a woman pulled him out of a catatonic state while standing in traffic, and told him to go see a Benton County crisis counselor.
“I’ll never forget that woman.”
He listened to her advice, and was able to get some counseling where he found out he had suicidal tendancies. Shortly after, he came to the conclusion that he “couldn’t keep doing this anymore,” and shot up heroin for the first time, causing an overdose.
“I remember waking up on the bathroom floor aftering trying to overdose, and all I could think about was when she was administered her last dose of morphine. Hospice is a strange and wild thing.”
However, Shields continued his use resulting in more dissociative acts.
It wasn’t until he was forced to go to the Samaritan Mental Health Hospital in Corvallis by the police, after popping a kids basketball with a bicycle spoke, that he took the first steps towards sobriety. It was here that he was diagnosed with unspecified schizophrenia.
“I was suffering from hard core psychosis relating to the drugs,” said Shields.
“Another patient had drawn on the walls with crayons and they were taken away. The only way we could color was if I stood at the nurses station. So I’m up at the nurses station, and she never told me not to go get high again, but would just question me, and put together a schedule of events she suggested I attend. I’ll never forget her either.”
After his release to outpatient, he “listened to God. I was a mess, and among all these scattered papers, I found the list the nurse had made for me, and on the list was Saturday morning cartoons at the Sixtrh and Madison church [Madison Street Methodist Church], so I went.”
This is where Shields met his sponsor, who “drastically changed my life. I was lost, and this guy sort of became a surrogate father for me. He changed my life.”
Shields says his biggest take away from this experience was learning how to ask for help. “Just do the next right thing”; a motto he now lives by.
Shields is now coming up on three and a half years sober.
He’s been at LB since fall of 2020, and is reveling in it. LBCC has fostered an environment for him to prosper through the scholastic opportunities it offers. He is now flourishing.
As a Student Ambassador, he helps potential, new, and continuing students navigate the murky waters of student life.
“It’s a pretty surreal experience to be honest. I would have never imagined that I would be working with the First Resort and Admissions. It’s a true honor.”
As a Campus Outreach Coordinator, Shields works on student engagement and event marketing. He creates promotional materials, like flyers, that are hung throughout the walls of the college, in addition to being shared on the SLC’s Instagram, Facebook, and LBLive page; the college’s own social media platform. He also works with others to make sure that the student voice is heard in board meetings, and that their concerns are addressed.
“Both of these positions bring their own unique opportunities. As a student ambassador I get to help other students directly, and it’s a job that really helps me with soft skills. It’s been a truly amazing experience and one that I am very fortunate to have been able to do. I think the perspective that I get to bring to this position as a student is just something that cannot be provided without us [students]. I find myself able to relate to everyone that I interact with.”
When asked what his best advice for students was, he didn’t hesitate to recite one of his mother’s last quotes.
“When you go back to school, just take your time, don’t rush through it,” she said before passing away. “She just knew that I was going to go back to school,” said Shields.
He takes eight to 12 credits per term, and this has allowed him “to participate in opportunities like the SLC and work as Student Ambassador. I realized that this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I should enjoy it, so I am.”
The Student Leadership Council and First Resort has provided Shields with a positive way to use his prior experience for the betterment of himself and those around him.
“I’ve had so many fulfilling and meaningful experiences in these positions. It’s wild to think that I sit where I am today.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Oregon’s Crisis Hotline. Text OREGON to 741741.
Editor’s note: The opioid epidemic touches lives in every corner. I have experienced it first hand, and it’s a passion of mine to share stories of redemption and recovery in hopes of inspiring those who may be struggling. It is something we need to talk more about, both on a micro and macro scale. This crisis needs a policy and solution reform, with alternative treatment options.