In this blog, I share my own personal story of recovery from addiction and the reason I have devoted much of my professional life to helping addicts and their families recover from substance abuse.
Recently I read something I really liked in the Facebook group Voices to End Addiction and Inspire Recovery (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thevoicesproject/). The young lady sharing her story said, “I live my recovery out loud, so others don’t have to die quietly.” I’ve been reflecting on writing my story in a blog for months now, and the woman sharing hers gave me the inspiration to tell my own story here.
In the beginning of my recovery being “anonymous” outside my 12-step meetings was extremely important due to the shame and embarrassment I felt about the mess my life had become in the 20 years that I abused alcohol and drugs. However, as the years have passed it has become easier and easier for me to share my story and my recovery with others. Step 12 of the AA program says, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” As a professional interventionist and addiction specialist, I have devoted my life in sobriety to helping others recover. In addition to all the education and training I have received over the years, having experienced what my clients are going through has made me uniquely qualified and passionate about serving them.
How Did You Become Addicted?
My story in a lot of ways is no different than thousands and thousands of other people in recovery. I had childhood trauma that affected me well into adulthood, was predisposed to developing the disease of addiction and had very low self-esteem throughout the years I used alcohol and drugs. I felt hopeless at times, was often depressed and at other times extremely anxious. I lacked the life skills that other people seem to take for granted and found it difficult to navigate even the simplest of social situations, let alone manage my life like any productive adult would.
My family did an intervention and when I didn’t go to treatment after the intervention, they decided to stop allowing (enabling) me to continue hurting them up close. With my refusal to go to treatment, I had finally burned all the bridges in my relationships with my siblings and my parents. At that point I preferred to stay high on drugs and somehow figure out an easier, softer way to take care of my life’s problems than to seek professional help. Crazy as it sounds, I really believed back then that I could continue to use substances and somehow reach a point where my life would work out OK.
Needless to say, my life did not get better that way. In the following months my marriage fell apart, my business failed, my car was repossessed and I was unable to pay my child support. I was unemployed, unemployable and ultimately became homeless.
Once homeless I realized that I needed help and clearly remember attending my first AA meeting on August 1, 1990 in Gainesville, Georgia. Unfortunately, I hadn’t totally hit my bottom yet. It took another eight months for me to get into treatment. Several months after I completed treatment, I still wasn’t able to find employment sufficient enough to pay my child support and take care of myself.
At that time, I felt like there were many reasons to give up and go back to the drugs but only one reason to dive deeper into recovery. And that was because I truly wanted to learn how to live drug-free and sober. I wanted to be honest with myself and learn from other people in recovery how to lead a fully functioning life. I finally wanted to recover more than anything else and made the choice to change!
What Finally Made You Decide to Get Sober?
Often my clients or their families ask me what it was that finally made me want to change my life. For me it was when my family stopped enabling me, which opened the door for the seemingly horrible tragedies described above to occur. It was through those experiences that I finally faced the reality that what I was doing wasn’t working, and no one was going to continue to support me in the insanity of my addiction. I could no longer deny that using was wrecking my health, destroying my mind and I was dying a slow death from addiction. As they say, I finally became “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
While my life as a divorced, homeless, unemployed man was both frightening and extremely depressing, it also was a time of great relief and hope. Day after day in treatment and in 12-step meetings, I listened to other alcoholics in recovery share their stories without crying and breaking down. They told stories of hard times that were similar to mine, but also talked about the good things that came into their lives through rigorous honesty with themselves and continued dedication to their long-term recovery.
The people I met in recovery were employed and paying their bills. They didn’t dread getting up every day. They looked like healthy human beings. They were peaceful and happy even through life’s problems and challenges. I found myself both puzzled and jealous about how they lived. I didn’t always understand some of the things they said, and at times even thought they might be a little crazy. But day after day and week after week those people kept coming back, and they looked and acted the way that I wanted to look and act. I wanted what they had and became willing to learn.
How Did You Stay Sober?
Building a strong recovery network is key to any addict in recovery. I made many friends in recovery by attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly. I also sought out psychotherapy from a skilled therapist and learned to love myself. I remained open to learning more and more about recovery and put forth my best efforts to stay sober. I discovered I was not unique, that I was worth no more and no less than anybody else. I stopped believing that life owed me something, and over time regained the joy and self-respect that addiction had taken away.
As days became weeks and weeks became months and months became years in recovery, the spiritual component of the program took hold of me. I came to believe over time that I couldn’t run my life on willpower alone. That there was in fact something bigger than me out there to guide me and that no matter what happens, there is always hope. With the support of my recovery community, I can weather any storms in life peacefully because I am never alone. Long-term recovery has shown me that anything is possible as long as I remain willing to put my sobriety first.
Why Write this Blog?
Unfortunately, much of our society today still stigmatizes substance abuse. There is a movement called “we do recover” that is made up of addicts in recovery who are seeking to change that. I am hoping that by sharing my experience, strength and hope here that I can make a contribution to those efforts.
I know that those experiencing addiction themselves or within their families often find themselves feeling hopeless. If you are reading this, I just want you to know that no matter the depth of despair you may feel for yourself or a loved one who is trapped in the disease, there IS hope. Please reach out and get the help you need. With some honesty, hard work and the appropriate level of professional treatment you too can recover!
While my personal experiences may be different than someone else's, the choice to change is one that every practicing addict always has. As an addiction professional and recovering addict/alcoholic, my hope is that by sharing my story others may be moved to get treatment and commit to long-term recovery. Getting sober is probably the most bad-ass thing that any addict can do! I have the gifts of recovery not because I created them, but because I opened myself to receive the grace of recovery into my life. And you can too.
Today I celebrate not only my family for caring enough about me to intervene, but the other inspiring people that I met in recovery who were (and still are) there to encourage me. It takes a village to make my recovery successful, and I am grateful for mine. They showed me true love until I could love myself enough to stay long-term and experience a spiritual awakening. The awakening allowed me to see that I am worthy of good things in life.
So today I choose to live my life in recovery out loud. And when life’s challenges come along, I choose to believe my fellow addicts in recovery when they remind me that “this too will pass.”
If you would like to learn more about addiction, please visit my blog for more information.
If you or a loved one may be struggling with addiction, it is very important for you to seek out professional help as soon as possible. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I may be of assistance to you or your loved ones. My website provides more information on my practice and how to contact me with questions or take advantage of a free 20-minute phone appointment.
SUBSCRIBE to my monthly blog column and receive future posts directly to your email box each month.