Oneida stylist Tisha Orick is pictured inside her Main Street shop, Faded on Main. Photo: Baylee Newport.

Tisha Orick knows the impact substance abuse can have when its steel tentacles entangle a family. 

Like so many in rural Appalachia, Orick — an Oneida hair stylist and business owner — has experienced the impact of addiction in her own family. So she’s determined to do something to combat it in Scott County.

Orick, whose Faded on Main barbershop celebrated its first anniversary this week, announced on February 2 that she will be contributing  10 percent of all her sales to a new fund that is a joint effort between her shop, the S.T.A.N.D. Coalition and the Scott County Recovery Court. The purpose of the fund will be to help people who are struggling with addiction get to rehabilitation clinics that can assist their recovery.

The name of the fund is 3xStrong. It’s in honor of Orick’s mother, Ada Baird, and inspired by Baird’s three children — Orick and her two siblings, who she helped care for as they grew up in a home gripped by addiction — and the fact that their experiences, she said, helps make them stronger.

The reasoning behind Orick’s effort is simple enough. Faded on Main exploded in popularity soon after its February 2019 opening. She says that “God has blessed me tremendously with my business and I want to give back to something that means a lot to me.” And what means a lot to her is helping people suffering from addiction as they try to find their way back. She’s seen both sides of the fight. She watched her father battle his way back. She also watched her mother try to battle back and ultimately lose the fight. That’s the story she wants to tell. And it’s a powerful story.

‘Understand my passion for addicts’

“I think it’s important you see where addiction can get you.”

That’s how Orick begins her story.

She tells of how her parents split when she was in the fourth grade — of how she awoke one day to find her mother gone. “She and I were inseparable,” she says. And she tells of how that traumatic experience for her and her siblings was only the beginning.

“I can remember my mom in and out of our home,” she said. “Sometimes she’d stay only long enough for me to fall asleep and I’d wake up to her being gone again. I can remember my dad crying because he wanted my mom to stay so badly.”

Her mother was suffering from severe alcoholism; she’d drink until she passed out. But even that wasn’t the worst of it. She would later learn that her father, too, was battling inner demons — a meth addiction that he couldn’t seem to lick.

Part of Orick’s childhood was spent caring for her younger siblings as things went on inside the family’s home that she didn’t understand — the faces of people coming and going, overhearing her grandmother tell her father that he would sign over the rights to his children or go to jail. Eventually, Orick’s grandparents took custody of her and her siblings, and then her aunt and uncle took her in. 

It wasn’t that Orick’s parents didn’t care about their children, and it wasn’t that her mother didn’t have a desire to beat her addiction. But some fights are too big to fight alone.

“I spent years upon years crying and begging her to stop drinking so we could see her and be with her,” Orick said of her mother. “I could not understand why it was so hard for her. In my mind, all she had to do was put down the alcohol and she could have us. But the older I got the more I realized that it’s not that simple.”

Orick recalls her mother looking at her and saying, “Tisha, you’ll never know how bad I want to (stop drinking) and how sorry I am.” Sometimes, her mother would say that alcohol was her only escape from the wrong she’d done, even if just a little while, and then she’d just cry.

“It was honestly the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” Orick said. “She wanted to quit so bad and she loved us so much. If you knew her, you knew this to be true.”

The story wasn’t completely one of heartbreak. After five years of addiction, Orick’s dad was able to beat his meth habit. He found his way back, and became a father to his children once more.

“Somehow, something came over him and he wanted his kids back,” she said. “He was able to recover and he’s been sober for years now. God is good. He is still around and has become not only an amazing dad but an even better pops to my boy, and he would do anything for any of us kids. I’m truly thankful for this.”

Unfortunately, the same wasn’t true for Orick’s mother. She only saw her mom sober a handful of times after her parents divorced. She never stopped loving her mother; never stopped caring for her. In fact, Orick in some ways became her mother’s caregiver, and remained committed to helping her beat addiction.

But it was a dream that wouldn’t be realized. On February 2, 2014 — six years to the day before Orick announced the 3xStrong fund last week — Ada Baird was found unresponsive. She was rushed to a hospital, but the end of her fight was at hand.

“When I got (to her house), the ambulance was already there and they wouldn’t let me back to her room to see her,” she said. “I stood in her kitchen and watched them carry her out wrapped in sheets because they couldn’t get the stretcher through the house.”

By the time Orick got to the hospital, a doctor was ready to deliver grim news. 

“He asked me to step into a room,” she said. “It wasn’t just any room. It was dark with nothing but a lamp and some tissues and I knew what was coming next.”

The doctor advised her that it was time to call her family. There was nothing that could be done.

A nurse in the hospital’s internsive care unit broke protocol by allowing Orick to spend one last night with her mother. There, surrounded by beeping machines, Orick spent the night lying beside her mom — the woman she never stopped hoping would find her way back from the grip of addiction — holding her hand and singing to her.

“I begged God for a miracle,” she said. “She was my whole world. But it just wasn’t in the cards.”

As the hours passed, Ada slipped away. Finally, on February 3, it was left to Orick — as the oldest child — to make the decision to pull the plug.

“There are no words to describe how hard this is, and with two littles looking up to you, trusting you will make the right decision,” she said. “I knew what had to be done, so I made the call. We stayed and held her until her last breath. And my life from that point on was forever changed.”

‘All of this shaped me’

It’s not a pleasant picture, and Tisha Orick knows that this photo of her by her mother’s side on the last night of her mom’s life would be viewed as some as controversial. But, she said, “I think it’s important that you see this in order to truly feel my story and understand my love and passion for addicts.”

“According to statistics, I am at risk of being in these same shoes but I’m not,” Orick says of being the daughter of a woman who struggled with alcoholism and a father who struggled — before beating — an addiction to meth.

Orick gives thanks to God that her own journey has led her in a different direction. But she also recognizes that the person she is has been shaped by the experiences she overcame. So as her business grows, she says, it’s time to give back — and there’s no better way to do that than by helping people who are where her mother and father once were.

“There are success stories and some are not,” she said. “I’ve seen both and I want to use them to witness and spread the word about addiction and the affects of it. This is what my mom would want.”

While Orick knows first-hand the impact that addiction can have on a family, she also knows first-hand how hard it is to get into rehab.

“I’ve been there with my mother and other family members and I know how hard it is to even get your loved ones in due to costs and insurance, and I want to be there to assist with that,” she said.

So, beginning February 3, the sixth anniversary of her mother’s death, Orick began donating 10 percent of her proceeds to the 3xStrong fund. Maybe, she says, it can play a part in saving someone.

“This is where my heart is,” she said.

So far, the response has been a positive one from the community. In addition to the 10 percent that Orick is putting into the fund, several donations have been made.

“I had several people last week just swing in with checks or cash to donate because they had seen my story (on Facebook),” she said.

In the first week, $400 was raised. Orick hopes that’s just the start.

“I’m kinda hoping to take it to other levels to get and keep people on board with it,” she said. 

Eventually, she hopes that an account will be set up that allows donations to be made directly. Until then, people are welcome to swing by her Main Street shop and donate, even if they’re not there for a haircut. And, so far, they’ve been doing just that.

“It was incredible,” she said of the first week. “I had people stop by the shop just to hug me and tell me how much they appreciated me sharing, they appreciated what I was doing, and to donate. I spent most of the week crying because I was so amazed.”

‘Things I want people to understand’

Tisha Orick’s mother died six years ago at the age of 44, after battling alcoholism for years. “You’ll never know how bad I want to (stop drinking) and how sorry I am,” Orick remembers her mother saying.

Trent Coffey, executive director of the S.T.A.N.D. program, has long implored Scott Countians to break the stigma surrounding addiction. Sometimes, he has confided, it feels that his words are falling on deaf ears. But it is a refrain he continues — even as he acknowledges that it’s a mindset that will only take hold when the community gets on board with it.

That’s where business owners like Orick — business owners who don’t just have ideas about addiction and recovery but who have seen it first hand — come in. At the outset of the 3xStrong fund, Orick makes it clear that part of her mission is raising awareness in addition to raising money to help people get into rehab.

There are four things that Orick said she wants people to understand. 

First is that drug or alcohol abuse begins as a choice, “but they never imagine it getting them where they end up,” she said. “I can assure you that they don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘You know what? I think I’ll become an addict and ruin my family’s life.’ It just happens.”

Second is that every addict has a story; something that happened in their life to push them into addiction. Those stories matter. “On top of everything else, my mom never met her real dad and was raped and beaten as a child by her stepdad,” she said. “Try living with that your whole life.”

Third is that addicts will undoubtedly make you angry, “But love them anyway,” she said. “They are still human and deserve love.”

And, fourth, most people who struggle with addiction want help — it’s just that they cannot get it. “I witnessed this with my mom,” she said. “Most places require insurance or tons of money up front, or they put you on a waiting list for months.”

It is that fourth and final reason that inspired Orick to create the 3x Strong fund. She sees it as an opportunity to save lives. And, though she doesn’t say it, one can’t help wondering if maybe it’s the first small step towards breaking the stigma and healing the culture of addiction in rural Appalachia. Change has to start somewhere. What if it starts in a small barbershop on Main Street in Oneida, Tenn.? 

Regardless, Orick knows her mother would be proud of her. That’s what matters most. And her father is proud, too. She knows she’s fortunate that he’s still around to tell her that. And she wants to make sure that others’ fathers are still around to show their love and pride for their children, too. 

“I was afraid Dad wouldn’t like me sharing his info,” she said. But her father’s response? “Tell whatever about my story you need to, if there is even a chance that it could help someone.”

And so that’s what she’s doing. And the message, at the end of it all, is simple: “If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction,” Orick says, “You are loved. And there is hope.”

This story is the February 2020 installment of Profiles of a 3-Star Community, presented by the Industrial Development Board of Scott County on the second week of each month as part of the Independent Herald’s Back Page Features series. A print version of this article can be found on Page B8 of the February 13, 2020 edition of the Independent Herald.