Fighting addiction one step at a time

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SOMEWHERE IN GEORGIA — Hiking the Appalachian Trail from south to north is tough enough on its own, but try doing it when you've been struggling with addiction for nearly two decades.

"It was hard coming out on the trail," said Diana Martin, 33, on Monday, during a resupply stop just shy of North Carolina. "I was detoxing. Hiking up and down, not feeling well, sweating profusely and getting hot and cold. But I kept pushing."

Fortunately, she's not hiking the trail and kicking her habit on her own. She is with a brother she has looked up to, and he may be her last hope.

"She was in a pretty bad downward spiral," said Dan Martin, 41. "She said she had to get away from everybody."

The Martins grew up in and around Brattleboro, the children of Wayne and Kim Martin. Diana lived in Brattleboro until she was about 22, smoking weed, drinking, eventually moving on to cocaine and heroin.

"She would say Brattleboro was the root of the problem," said Dan. "Then she moved to Georgia and said Georgia was the problem. They took her in in Florida; Florida was the problem. Really, she was the problem."

Four of Dan and Diana's eight siblings, all sisters, live in Florida, and he started getting phone calls from them, telling him everyone was at their wit's end with Diana. Dan begged off when they asked him to help, what with work, two kids and a wife. And he was skeptical his sister was serious about quitting.

"They were helping her out, but she had pretty much burned every bridge," he said. "She's been lying and she's been stealing. It's been going on so long ... for years."

They called back, saying Diana was now living on the streets. and that it was his turn to do something. But how, he wondered, was he going to help his sister?

"I'm a logger. I spend all my time in the woods," he said. "I'm an outdoorsy person. If you keep your body active, it helps your mental and physical state. They said 'This is our last hope. Get her out in the woods.'"

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Diana pleaded with him, too.

"I'm sick of living like that," she said. "It's miserable, it's not fun and it's dangerous."

She said despite everything she put her family through, they never gave up on her.

"No matter how many times I fall, I call and say I'm messing up and I need help and they say they'll be right there. They've never walked away. And now Dan has dropped his entire life to be with me. It's amazing."

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"Our family sticks together," said Dan.

At first, Dan thought about a camping trip, but that meant too much time sitting around thinking. They then thought about the Long Trail, the 273-mile-long footpath that runs the length of the Green Mountain State. Dan has hiked the Long Trail but not the Appalachian Trail. They decided this might be the thing that would save Diana's life.

"I don't have an option," said Diana. "To be honest, I've overdosed 15 times. If I don't do this, if I don't do something drastically different, I don't see anything changing."

"She needed to get out," said Dan. "She was going to die."

Dan's decision to be with his sister has been tough. He ended up selling his motorcycle and truck and draining his bank account to fly to Georgia and get ready for the next five to six months with his sister.

"My wife left me after 21 years," said Dan. So maybe this extended hike has special meaning for him, independent of his sister.

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"We can't always control what happens to us, but we can choose how we feel about it," he said. "Life is about finding happiness, and I believe it's about enjoying it one moment at a time and appreciating each moment for what it is."

Less than two weeks in, Diana is hiking only about eight miles a day. They'll need to get up to 15 or 20 a day if they want to finish the trail this year.

"It takes a while to condition, roughly about a month," said Dan. "It will get worse before it gets better and then it will get even worse before finally getting really better."

Sort of like kicking a habit, he mused.

Diana said it was important to make herself uncomfortable as a way of pushing through addiction.

"Traditional treatment has not worked for me," she said. "This is the first time I've ever hiked. It's hard on the body and it's mentally draining. But it's mind over matter, right?"

Diana is posting updates on Facebook when she has a signal and Dan has started a GoFundMe to help cover expenses.

"I wouldn't be able to live with myself if she died and I wasn't positive I did everything I could to help," wrote Dan on his GoFundMe page. "If she comes out on the other side a new woman than that will be amazing. If she goes back to using than at least I know I did everything I could to help and will be able to sleep

at night."


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