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Fargo man escapes 5-year meth addiction through drug court and uncle's help

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Austin Lancaster and his uncle Lester Holbrook embrace as Lancaster graduates Cass County's drug court program. WDAY photo2 / 2

FARGO — Recovering from meth addiction is grueling, but many have shown it is possible. One Fargo family is proving this, staying sober after a long history of addiction.

Despite high relapse rates and increasing overdose deaths in the United States, Austin Lancaster is beating the odds. If you were to go back in time to just a few years ago, and tell him he'll be one year sober by March of 2019, he wouldn't believe you.

"No way, no way," Lancaster exclaimed. "I was so deep into my addiction, there wasn't a day that could go by without me getting high."

About five years ago, shortly after his grandfather passed away, he began going down the dark and difficult path of meth addiction. It all started with a chance encounter with a friend.

"(I) walked out into the garage one day," Lancaster explained. "Saw him smoking, asked me if I wanted some and I said sure. It didn't start off in full blown addiction right away, it was once a week or so. Eventually, as things progressed, it got worse, and I started doing it every day. Eventually it got worse and I started to be an IV (intravenous) user. I was an IV user for two and a half years."

At the time, nothing else mattered to him. He paid no mind to what the drugs were doing to his body and his life, not caring about the possibility of an overdose.

"I would cheat, steal from people, which is so sad, but when you're that far into it, it doesn't matter," he said. "The only thing you care about is how you're going to get your next high."

Through roughly five years of addiction, the law eventually caught up with him. He and his girlfriend at the time had their place raided by police, and Lancaster was thrown in jail for a short time. When he got out, he knew it was time to change.

"Told my Uncle, I need to get out of here, I need to move in with you," he said.

"You know what you have to do," his uncle Lester Holbrook recalled telling Lancaster. "You have to go check into treatment."

Holbrook knew how to help because he too went through the struggle. His journey was much longer and more deeply rooted.

"I started smoking weed when I was 10 years old," Holbrook said. "I hung out with an older cousin, so I thought I was cool for doing it. Tried cocaine when I was 10, drank Jack Daniel's and vodka when I was 10, had my first sexual experience when I was 10 years old. I've been through it."

Eventually, the law caught up with him too.

"The feds come knocking at the door, gave me 144 months," Holbrook said. "I vowed then that it was time to stop."

In his 12 years in prison, Holbrook got off drugs, and said he's been sober ever since. He was forced to take on addiction recovery while behind bars. Now he's working with Lancaster so he doesn't have to go through the same fate.

"He's committed to my recovery and he wasn't going anywhere," Lancaster said.

Lancaster's uncle put him on the pathway to treatment and led him to Cass County's drug court in April of 2018. It's a rigorous recovery program based on "tough love" and accountability. While the program is effective, not everyone makes it through.

"People can be there to support you and help you get through tough times, but if you don't want it, it's going to be hard for you to have," Lancaster said. "But it's so worth it."

"You're making the choice, you're going to put the work in, so now we can do this," Holbrook added.

He worked with other support groups, his newly found church community, and even cut off the friends of his past.

"In your active addiction, you think that that's all you've got . . . those 'friends.' But they're not real friends. Their just acquaintances, people who are there to use with you," Lancaster described. "I felt so relieved when I finally got them all cut off. I changed my number as soon as I got into recovery. And probably a few months later, I changed it again just to make sure."

At the end of March, Lancaster was set to graduate from drug court after more than one year of staying sober. As he described: "This is where my real test begins."

At graduation, they handed over the pin showing Lancaster completed the trials of drug court. Dozens of friends, co-workers and family members packed the court room.

Lancaster said there is never a final step to recovery. It's an ongoing fight that will likely last the rest of his life. But now he has the tools to take on recovery outside the program.

Several family members traveled to the graduation to watch this transitional moment on his life. He said, "My dad, I'm so glad that you're here and my little brother, thanks for coming. I know I missed out on some years, but . . . I'm working on getting better so that this can all be better."

Together, he and his uncle continue to put addiction in the past, building up the family and getting back the life they lost — one day at a time.

Lancaster and his Uncle are still staying sober and keeping busy with full-time jobs. They hope their stories inspire others struggling with addiction to seek help, showing recovery is possible.