Nearly three years ago, Tulsa native Marcus Abernathy was homeless in Phoenix. He’d been in and out of rehabilitation centers, but kept returning to heroin.
“I can remember several times loading up my syringe, looking at it and thinking, ‘Man, that’s a lot. That could kill me,’” Abernathy says. “Death doesn’t seem like that bad of an option because you’re already in hell. So the eternal void that I believed in at the time, which was just darkness, seemed kind of comforting. I wasn’t trying to die, but I didn’t really care.”
After more than a month of living on the streets, a group of men Abernathy had met in recovery picked him up and drove to Mexico to build a house on a mission trip. Their secondary mission was to see to it that Abernathy kicked the drug for good.
He spent a week detoxing and got pneumonia. When they returned to Phoenix, he checked into a hospital and went to rehab for the final time. That’s when he decided to move back home to Tulsa.
The 37-year-old reflects on his past struggles from Sangha (Sanskrit for “community”), the Tulsa nonprofit sober living house he started in 2018.
The home can house up to eight men at a time. They stay up to six months before moving out to live on their own. To date, Sangha has helped more than 20 men combating addictions to alcohol, heroin, methamphetamines and opioids.
Like them, Abernathy didn’t set out to choose addiction. At 18, the Holland Hall graduate and Auburn University freshman became hooked on opioids after taking them to combat mononucleosis. When the pills became too expensive, Abernathy eventually turned to heroin.
Nearly two decades later, he has a master’s degree focusing on addiction and recovery, he is developing a new business venture and he devotes time to policy work — all on top of operating Sangha.
“This is my 12th step, basically,” explains
Abernathy, a reference to carrying the message of Alcoholics Anonymous and practicing its principles. “I have the experience to know how to best help others reintegrate into our community and be healthy, productive and stronger. It’s really exciting. I’m having fun.”