Four years ago, Jason Wickline watched Child Protective Services take his son, Krystian, into custody.
Police had just arrested Wickline for manufacturing methamphetamine in his Mount Hope, West Virginia, home. The single dad, who was in the throes of active addiction, was also charged with child neglect.
“As they were walking Krystian to the car, he turned around to look at me and said, ‘Daddy, I love you and I’ll never forget you,’” Wickline, 41, told TODAY Health. “He was four and thought he would never see me again.”
Wickline broke down.
“I was bawling my eyes out,” he said. “I had no idea what was going to happen to my kid at that point.”
Though Wickline was “terrified,” he also felt a tremendous sense of of relief. He had been in and out of jail for 15 years.
“I knew my life was never going to be the same again,” he said. “I knew that insanity I had been living in was finally over."
When a judge offered Wickline the opportunity to go to long-term treatment, he jumped at the chance. Wickline was there 13 months, and shortly after, he appeared in court for sentencing.
“I thought I’d be going away for a long time,” Wickline admitted. "I was looking at six to 30 years."
But in the end, Wickline was sentenced to just 30 months probation — on the condition that he stay sober and find suitable housing. Wickline promised he would do that.
And he did.
Wickline, who eventually regained custody of the now 9-year-old Krystian, has become a hopeful symbol of recovery after participating in the #RecoveryChallenge on social media.
While he shared the dramatic before-and-after photos in July, they only recently went viral.
When Wickline looks at the picture of himself taken while he was using, he sees “an empty shell.”
“I’m 5-foot-8 and I weighed 120 pounds,” he told TODAY Health. “I was a dead man.”
But today, Wickline, who attends regular meetings and volunteers at treatment programs, has never felt more alive.
“Everything is so different now,” he said. “I surround myself with positive people and I try to give back whenever I can. I want people to know that this is possibility. If I can do it, anyone can.”
His relationship with Krystian has never been better.
“The other day he came to me and asked for a PlayStation for Christmas,” Wickline told TODAY Health. “Then he goes, “But if I don’t get one, I still have the best present in the world. You.’”