It was the most extraordinary day of his life when, in 2007, Eads High School sophomore Taylor Reed led his football team to win the state championship. It was a huge victory for the team, the school and the town. As quarterback, it was also a personal triumph, for the 15 year old had a dream of one day playing professional sports.
“Winning that game was incredible,” he says. “It felt like I could do anything.”
It’s understandable that Taylor, even as young as he was, would have such a goal for his life. Athletics was in his blood, and there was no doubt he had talent. The son of a farmer, Taylor grew up in Wiley and transferred to high school in Eads where high school sports is part of the lifeblood of those towns and just about every other town in the region. He’d gone to all the games as a young boy and watched the “high school stars doing well in the games they played”. He’d also seen what those same stars did later at night during the parties that followed the games.
On that night after the football team won state, Reed continued what almost seemed like a tradition to him. As one of those stars he’d admired, he, likewise, got drunk. Except, that night, he took it one step further. “My ego blew up,” he says. “That night was the first night I tried cocaine.” More alcohol and then pain pills soon followed. Little did Taylor know that, in the middle of the best year he’d had in school on the night of the best game of his life, he was making a decision that would ultimately take him down a path that led to some very dark and frightening times.
Those who’ve known Taylor describe him with a long list of adjectives. “Charming”, “charismatic”, “kind”, “intelligent”, “loyal”, “articulate”, a “gifted communicator”. Speaking to him at Harvest Farm, a 100 acre farm and rehabilitation center where he’s been in treatment for almost a year, all those traits are evident as Taylor, now 27, speaks of that night. But there’s another characteristic that is equally present in his speech.
Taylor is brutally honest, likely the result of having put in the hard work required to understand the choices he’s made and learning to take responsibility for his addiction. As he tells his story, he doesn’t hold back. He calls it the way it is. Even though he’s gained insight into the ways his personal history and the culture in which he was raised influenced his actions, Taylor neither condemns nor blames anyone or anything. His story begins and ends with him, and it’s both a gut wrenching and inspiring story to hear.
“I started drinking when I was three years old and started smoking pot and having black out drunks by the time I was eight,” he begins. “Farmers and ranchers drink. It’s just a part of life. Nobody really talks about it—there are some things they don’t talk about, at all. Like weaknesses, even though it’s in your weaknesses that you find your strength. And their emotions…farmers and ranchers don’t talk about their emotions. There’s just this expectation to ‘be strong’, no matter what.”
Taylor’s family history is not unlike what literally countless kids experience these days. His parents divorced when he was three and a half years old, and, as typically goes hand in hand with divorce and its aftermath, they fought a lot. “There was just a lot of chaos,” he says, “and I felt like I was the cause, the creation of all of it because a lot of times they were fighting about me.” No parent wants that for their child, but kids tend to view everything in terms of themselves. And so, as is also typical in divorces, the conflict had an impact on how Taylor viewed himself. He may have appeared to others as confident and even “a little bit arrogant”, but Taylor’s internal life was wrought with insecurity, fear of criticism and rejection and abandonment, anxiety, guilt and all those other feelings and emotions that are often born in the beliefs of a young child that doesn’t understand what’s going on with the adults in his life. “Sports was my escape,” he says, “but off the field was a different story.” The drugs became a way to “escape the pain and fear”. As he puts it, “I didn’t want to deal with what I was feeling, so I started looking for an alternate reality.”
He thought he found it in alcohol, cocaine, narcotics. But an already dark situation got even darker when, at 15 years old, Taylor started doing heroine. It became a whole new game, so to speak, when the drugs began to not just impact his life but the world around him. “That year was the first year the high school had to bring in drug dogs. They’d never done that before—the school was clean cut before I got there. But I changed that.” The tone in his voice is part statement, part confession.
His thoughts then take a momentary step back as he views the past with a broader perspective. “I’ve learned that my addiction has a rhythm. It comes in cycles,” he says. “During school, when I was playing football and basketball, I was good a lot of the time. That’s the way I am—I always focus on just one thing or another. So, I’d be clean a lot of the time during sports. But when summer came, and I was driving around…I started getting exposed to a lot of different things.”
As flagrant as Taylor’s drug use seemed to be, there were still not that many people who knew what he was doing. “I manipulated situations,” he says, in a matter-of-fact way that belies the work it must have taken to make such an admission. “I knew some people would give me a pass on things.” That “pass” was something Taylor used to his advantage.
But there were also those who suspected what was going on and repeatedly reached out to him. Betsy Barnett, Eads’ High School principal, was one of those people. “Mrs. Barnett talked to me a lot,” he recalls. ”But there’s not much people can do when someone doesn’t want the help. That’s the way I was. I hadn’t reached the bottom yet.”
Taylor graduated from high school in 2010, and he describes the next few years that followed as being “full of peaks and valleys and missed opportunities to pursue college basketball…and expand a very successful oilfield company.”
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that use of methamphetamines had increased 255% over 2005. It’s also a drug that targets a certain group of people—middle school and high school students and adults in their early twenties—largely because it’s “made with household products, is easy to get and cheap”.
Reflecting what was happening across the nation, Taylor took “meth” for the first time in 2014, a step that was, in many ways, the most dangerous step of all. It was also a shock to members of his family. “My parents knew about the drinking and smoking pot,” he says, “but they were devastated by my addiction to heroine and meth.”
THE HEART OF DARKNESS
Betsy Barnett describes Taylor Reed in the following way, and it seems only fitting that the description related to the times he was on a basketball court. “Taylor was brave,” she says. “He was willing to go for it. He put himself out there. For instance, he wanted the ball when the game was on the line. He was intuitive. He was also somewhat stubborn.”
Perhaps it was that same stubbornness, that unwillingness to give up that inspired Taylor to take a crucial step in a different direction. Whatever it was, Taylor tried rehab, doing two stints in a 30 day rehab center in Kansas.
When he got out of treatment the second time, he started working with his brother in the oilfields around Cheyenne Wells. Things seemed to be going well. He had a good job. Although still struggling, he was focused on sobriety. He was in a relationship.
And then, as happens in life, things got tough. Really tough.
“A relationship ended,” he says. “A few days later, a close friend of mine died. And I thought…I’ve been trying so hard. But why try if it all just goes wrong anyway?” Each of us have different ways of dealing with pain. In Taylor’s case, the pain led to a relapse.
Around November or December, Taylor quit his job and moved home to Wiley and neighboring Lamar where, like always, drugs were easy to find. He describes that time in his life with an image so vivid that it’s almost frightening. “I was a ghost,” he says. “I only saw people at night.”
In January of 2018, Taylor tried to commit suicide, for the second time. “It was the guilt. And the shame. And the disappointment of knowing I’d let people down. It was the feeling of being powerless—what is this? Why can’t I overcome this? Suicide was the only power I had left.”
Taylor took four times the amount of heroine he would usually take to get high, thinking it would kill him. It didn’t. When he woke up, he was angry to still be alive.
He then describes what happened a few months later. “I was shooting up with—I wouldn’t call him a friend, he was just someone I used with. He went first, and then he started overdosing. His lips started turning blue, and he passed out. I checked and couldn’t feel a pulse. I put my cheek down by his mouth, and he wasn’t breathing. I started screaming his name, but…nothing. I put him in the shower—I thought cold water might help. Nothing. No response. I was thinking, I did this. This guy has two kids and I gave him the heroine that did this to him. I didn’t know what to do—I was thinking all kinds of crazy thoughts about what was going to happen. And then—I think it was God who told me—I just took my hands and made a fist and hit him in the chest as hard as I could. And after a minute, the guy came back.” Taylor pauses for a minute and then says, “As bad as that was, I still hadn’t hit rock bottom.”
As it turned out, that lowest of lows happened just two or three days later. A series of circumstances resulted in a high speed chase at night where Taylor had no idea that the car chasing him was actually a police car until he saw the flashing red and blue lights in his rear view mirror.
Taylor was arrested, put in county jail and charged with a misdemeanor for reckless driving and a Class Five Felony for Eluding Arrest, which can bring a maximum of five years in prison.
“Sitting in that cell, I knew I couldn’t point the finger at anyone else,” he says. “I was the one who put myself there. I did that to myself.” He knew he’d finally hit the bottom and it left him with the most important choice of his life. He could get clean. He could go to jail. Or he could die. “I thought about the person I’d wanted to be, and I thought about the person I was. I decided that, if the judge gave me the choice to go to rehab, I’d leave the person I was in that cell.” He pauses for just a moment. “And he’s still there. That person is still locked up in that jail cell in Lamar.”
A LOT OF FAITH, A LOT OF HARD WORK AND THE FIRST STEP
March 13, 2018 marked Day One of Taylor’s new life, and, thanks to a lot of hard work plus the wisdom and guidance he’s received from the men at Harvest Farm, March 13, 2019 made it a full year that he’s been clean.
When asked how the year has been, Taylor answers without hesitation. “It’s awesome. And it’s uncharted water,” he says. “I don’t have any craving. I don’t have any desire. I haven’t been sober for this long since I was a kid, and I’m just seeing how much I can accomplish and wondering how much strength I have. I’m reading a lot and learning a lot. I want to focus on self-discovery. I know a lot depends on my imagination, so I do things to keep my mind alert.”
His spirituality is also an enormous part of his journey to recovery. “We went to church when I was a kid, but it didn’t really speak to me then. Now, my faith is everything. If I don’t have faith, if I don’t believe, then none of this is possible.”
Taylor is also aware that there are no easy fixes, no instant cures for the disease of addiction. “I’m not reliving the pain but I am remembering how it was. It’s a lifelong journey, and it’s a day to day thing, too. And I know one drink would switch a switch that would take me right back to where I was.” He stops and then puts it another way. “There is no Plan B. I want to build my life around recovery.”
He also wants to give back, to make up for some of the harm he did to others. “When I was drinking, I was really shitty to a lot of people,” he says. “And when I was in high school, I had a chance to be a role model. To show people what was right and wrong. I didn’t do that then. I’d like to try to do that now.”
Taylor is “dead set on making a career” of helping others and, toward that end, has started speaking to groups of people—teenagers, mostly, some of whom he knows are struggling with the same things he struggled with at their age. And there’s no shortage of people—teenagers and adults—who are struggling with serious, life threatening drug use. “It’s everywhere,” he says, “It’s pervasive. People who think their towns are safe…they’re not. They either don’t see it or don’t want to talk about it, but the problem is there, and it’s getting worse.”
To date, Taylor’s spoken at roughly twelve high schools, some church groups and done a few interviews. “When kids come up afterwards…that’s the most amazing thing,” he says. “Sometimes, they have questions. Sometimes, they offer encouragement. Sometimes, they just want somebody to listen to them, and, hey, I’ll do that. I’ll listen for as long as they want to talk if it will help them.”
He has other long term goals, such as doing more motivational talks on Facebook (“doing that really forced me out of my comfort zone”, he says) and traveling the country encouraging others.
But, in the more immediate future, he’s started his own apparel business named “51%”. Why 51%? It’s about the desire to overcome being stronger than the desire to stay where you are. “That one percent represents a whole hearted decision to get better, to get well.”
During the conversation, Taylor quoted John Maxwell, an author known as “the master of personal growth”. Maxwell once said that “most people quit before even taking the first step.”
Perhaps there’s additional wisdom in Maxwell’s quote that is implied more than stated. The first step is the hardest to take because it suggests a change in direction. And human beings are resistant to change. We’re resistant to doing things differently, to viewing familiar situations in a new light, to recognizing that the refusal to see a problem only makes us blind while the problem only grows larger. We’re even resistant—sometimes aggressively so—to recognizing valuable wisdom and insight when it’s offered, especially if that wisdom threatens those things we want or believed to be true. And so, as Maxwell suggests, we quit and then, ironically, ponder the mystery of why things continue to be the way they are.
Taylor Reed didn’t quit. No matter how many times he could have chosen to do so, no matter how hard his inner demons tried to stop him, he, nonetheless, took that first step. And he’s been steadily walking toward the light ever since.
Taylor Reed’s motivational videos and 51% apparel can be found on his Facebook page.
Harvest Farm Rehabilitation Center is a 100 acre farm and rehab center that accommodates up to 72 men looking to break the addiction cycle. It’s been reported that this one of a kind, nationally known center has a 91% success rate. Harvest Farm operates solely on donations. Anyone wishing to make a contribution or obtain more information should visit their website at www.harvestfarm.net