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'Never-ending hole in your soul': Former football star tells of addiction battle
Avery Nix is 3 years clean, now teaches others how to kick drug habit
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Avery Nix - photo by David Barnes

With a family history riddled with people suffering from substance-use disorders, Avery Nix said he felt he was born “with a genetic disposition.”

With that first feeling at age 12 from a hit of morphine for a broken arm off a skateboard, he can remember like it was yesterday “the rush, the feeling” for the brief seconds before passing out.

“All the nervousness, all the anxiety, all that self pity, all that resentment I had bottled up in here. Addiction is kind of like having this never-ending hole in your soul. No matter how much I used or how much I did, there was no filling it,” Nix said, who grew up in Clermont.

Nix is sharing his story as part of Partnership for a Drug Free Hall’s Forum Series: Not My Family, the first scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Brenau Downtown Center.

Partnership for a Drug Free Hall: Not My Family

When: 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Brenau Downtown Center, 301 Main St. SW, Gainesville

“This is the biggest thing we’ve done by far in Hall County, and it’s one explaining how extensive this is, which most people don’t really realize,” said Dallas Gay, one of the chief organizers of the partnership.

The subtitle of the forum Tuesday is “Pain Pills and Heroin are Killing Our Families.”

Gay said Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s emergency rooms are handling 63 overdoses per month. In 2016, the number of overdoses at the hospital jumped to nearly 700 after just 275 cases the year before.

Nix, who played football at North Hall High School, lived in the Ridgecrest Apartments before moving to Clermont.

“We had the white picket fence. We wore nice clothes. Everything was good, and don’t get me wrong — I had a great childhood. But there was a lot of ‘let’s not talk about the white elephant in the room,’” he said.

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Avery Nix speaks with a reporter during an interview Thursday in Gainesville. Nix was first exposed to opiates during treatment for a broken arm and later became addicted. He has been clean for three years. - photo by David Barnes

His first experience with Oxycontin came on an archetypal, adolescent journey for alcohol at 15 before a homecoming dance. His friend instead suggested taking a half of a pill, which wouldn’t create the smell of booze around school administrators.

“There again, the same feeling that came from the morphine. I thought I was on top of the world. I was completely connected with everybody. There was no nervous disposition, no feelings of inadequacies,” Nix said.

Football was the force keeping Nix centered, helping him to graduate with B-average grades.

When it came to the idea of going to college and continuing to play football, he said he wasn’t prepared to leave the drugs, alcohol and connections of Hall County behind.

The time period is blurry, Nix said, due to his increased use of oxycodone and experimenting with benzodiazepines such as Valium.

“My standards of living got increasingly lower because of the rate that I needed to use, to me at the time, was to survive. I was using not to feel, just to continue using it and trying my best to keep up the appearances at the same time,” he said.

He bottomed out between ages 17 and 18 before he entered the Laurelwood detox treatment facility around the time of his introduction to intravenous opioids and heroin.

“I started looking for differences instead of similarities with other people in that program,” he said.

He backed out of the program clean after 70 to 80 days before using again.

At 21, Nix found himself at a buddy’s house deciding to get high after already using earlier that day.

“The last thing I remember putting it in, and then I woke up in an ambulance however many hours later,” he said.

His family was told he would not survive before being revived after multiple doses of Naloxone. 

In 2013, he entered a Blue Ridge recovery program a shadow of his former self: he weighed in at 185 pounds at the end of a football season, and now weighed just 135.

There would be more recovery and treatment programs, where he said he learned to practice humility, openness, honesty and other positive qualities.

“For me, the solution is spiritual in nature. It’s truly about trusting some power greater than yourself. Some people call that power God. Some people call it the Buddha. Some people call it Mother Nature. I like to think of it as a greater consciousness,” he said.

Nix now works at Twin Lakes Recovery Center in Monroe as a substance abuse tech, where he can talk to groups and teach about recovery. He is working toward his third anniversary of being clean.

“In all honesty, the reason I do what I do every day and I speak out is because I’m not supposed to be here,” he said.

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Avery Nix is hoping to launch a Recovery Community Organization to bring supporters together in the fight against drug addiction. - photo by David Barnes

Nix missed his daughter’s first birthday while he was in a recovery program, and he worried if she would ever want anything to do with him. But he said he has reconciled with his family, and his little girl helps him remain clean.

Nix said he hopes people will start to understand addiction not as a moral deficiency but as a disorder. 

“I think the biggest thing, first and foremost, people don’t want to admit at face value that somebody in their family and their family name in conservative Gainesville, Georgia, that there’s maybe a problem with addiction,” he said.

For me, the solution is spiritual in nature. It’s truly about trusting some power greater than yourself. Some people call that power God. Some people call it the Buddha. Some people call it Mother Nature. I like to think of it as a greater consciousness.
Avery Nix