See Valerie Brodbeck run.
See her run through the woods on Wright State’s campus, through Sugarcreek MetroPark on another day, or on the streets of Oakwood on yet another. Watch the long-haired brunette, fit as a decathlete, run hard and focused, pushing through stress and pain, some 40 miles a week, always moving forward, forward, forward, leaving her drug life and heroin addiction in the dust.
She runs for clarity and peace of mind, the equanimity she yearned for in a near decade of drug dependence. She runs for son Harrison, age two. She runs for her parents and the people who support her. In short, she runs for her life.
“I’m addicted to running,” said Brodbeck, 30, smiling at her word choice in her Oakwood living room this September. “It’s all about balance for me, making sure I help other people, making sure I take care of my physical health and take care of my son, and making sure I’m a good mom.”
A senior majoring in social work, Brodbeck plans to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in May, then enter graduate school next fall at Wright State to earn a master’s in social work. From there, she wants to be a mental health counselor, helping others overcome their demons, no matter the sort.
She certainly has the resume for it.
Growing up the only child in an affluent family in Oakwood, Brodbeck said she had a “great childhood.” Her drug-use career began as many do, sampling alcohol and marijuana in high school then quickly becoming addicted. “I was smoking pot every day,” she recalled.
In the early 2000s, Brodbeck’s worried parents, sent her to a Utah residential center purported to help struggling teens. The center has since closed following numerous lawsuits and media reports documenting abusive treatment and squalid conditions.
After a little more than two years at the center, Brodbeck returned to Oakwood feeling institutionalized, brainwashed, and disconnected from her friends and school. She called a friend to get high; the friend obliged, serving up marijuana and cocaine.
“Within three days I was homeless,” Brodbeck recalled. Her parents had kicked her out, taking the tough-love approach. So Brodbeck couch hopped for a while, worked odd jobs, took some classes at Sinclair Community College, and continued her drug journey along the way.
Then she tried heroin, and all felt right in the world. “It’s like you’re being sucked into the middle of the earth,” she remembered. “You feel really heavy, but in a good way. Nothing else matters. You’re just here in this bubble, feeling safe and comfortable. You don’t have any worries, you don’t have any problems, you don’t remember anything that’s bad. It just numbs you. You feel nothing, and at that time I liked that.”
“I had to have it everyday,” she said. “You need it like you need to breathe.”
In the years that followed, Brodbeck’s life was all about “the chase,” a daily obsession to score heroin. Not just for the euphoric high it produced, but to ward off the excruciating pain and sickness that came with withdrawal.
She watched drug friends overdose, then be revived by paramedics. One died in her arms. She survived a bout with endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart, even though she walked away from the hospital in search of another score as doctors and nurses pleaded with her, “If you leave here, you will die.” She lived through homelessness and hunger, violence, and other horrors she prefers to keep to herself, all the while yearning for sobriety, an end to the nightmare.
“I would cry all the time because I wanted to be clean,” said Brodbeck, who tried inpatient drug and alcohol treatment programs seven times by September 1, 2010, the start of her clean and sober life.
“The best part of my day is waking up and not having the chase,” she said. “Now when I wake up in the morning, the day is mine.”
Today, Brodbeck is a student intern for a local behavioral health center. She also volunteers for charities such as Homefull, which serves the homeless in Dayton, and The Good Deeds Project, an online-based community movement that promotes random acts of kindness to bring about positive change in the world.
“Honestly, living through addiction and going through that hell and being that low, I just feel like the whole world has opened up to me now,” Brodbeck said, smiling. “I feel like I’m doing the right thing, that things are falling into place, and I know now I can get through anything.”
— Anthony Gottschlich