I never thought I would be able to get to the other side. They called me a chronic relapser; they said I was a lost cause. My friends, my family, the judge, and even my counselors gave up hope.
So, I gave up hope.
I spent a majority of my teenage years and most of my twenties destroying my life. At the time, I couldn’t fathom how I ended up in the places I did. Now, I see those consequences were all outcomes to my terrible decision making.
Countless trips to rehab and several criminal charges later, yet nothing could stop me. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I stop? Why couldn’t I get sober? I eventually gave up on the notion of rehab and recovery. I came to accept my fate. I was going to die from drug addiction.
The Early Years
No one ever wakes up one day and says they want to become a drug addict. No one dreams of that as a little kid. As a boy, I wanted to be all of the things little kids dream of being; an astronaut, a cop, a rock star. As a teenager, I wanted to go to college, and maybe major in business. I just wanted normal things.
My life was nothing out of the ordinary. Although my parents were divorced, they stayed on good terms for my sister and me. We weren’t rich, yet we weren’t poor. We lived comfortably and never wanted for anything. Our parents worked really hard to give us a good life. Like I said, my life was pretty ordinary.
Although I enjoyed playing sports and was a good student, I remember never really applying myself. The bare minimum seemed to always be okay with me. I would carry that mentality into my adult years.
I remember the first time I tried smoking pot. I was 15. Today, I hear people talk about their first experience with drugs and alcohol, and how they describe it with words such as “magical” and “amazing.” Some even say it was the moment in their life where they had “arrived.” It wasn’t like that for me.
Experimenting with drugs and booze in the beginning was fun, but it wasn’t the be-all-end-all. Yes, I enjoyed it, but I was still able to function as a normal teenager. Honestly, it was really just something for me to do when I hung out with my friends. Nevertheless, I eventually crossed that invisible line everyone talks about. The one that separates the casual user from the addict. I’m not sure when that line got crossed, but I remember waking up one day and thinking, “I can’t go one day without some sort of chemical in my body.” I was only 18.
College & My Early Twenties
I didn’t get very far into my college career, before I wound up throwing it all away for drugs and alcohol. By the time my second semester rolled around, I had graduated to heavier drugs, most of which were of the pharmaceutical variety.
At first, they were only supposed to help me. One pill to help me study, another to help me sleep. Before long, I found myself on a never ending seesaw of highs and lows, induced by a fog of stimulants and opiates. After that semester, I would never return back to college.
By the end of summer, I had been arrested for my first DUI and mandated to attend outpatient drug and alcohol counseling. While I could see the importance of therapy for some people, I believed it wasn’t necessary for me. I just got mixed up with the wrong people and made a few bad decisions. I didn’t have a drug problem.
Within another year, I managed to be arrested two more times for drug possession. My grip on reality and on the control of my life started to slip out of my hands. It was time to try inpatient rehab. Although I still wasn’t fully convinced that recovery and the 12-steps were for me, I needed to clean up this mess I made.
The problem was, I never applied myself. Something I learned early on. I expected recovery to come naturally, and thought putting forth the minimum effort would suffice. Those childhood behaviors would not work in this instance. Within 2 months of “white knuckling” it, I was high once again.
I would go on to spend the next 9 years repeating the same cycle.
Addiction & My Rock Bottom
I am not going to bore you with the details of my addiction. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. By the end, I found myself homeless, jobless, and alone. Like I said earlier, everyone gave up on me…including myself. I genuinely believed I was going to die a junkie. And at certain times, I was okay with that.
My rock bottom came when I was 28 years old. It’s wasn’t one monumental thing that changed everything; more like a series of events that led me to giving up. I was squatting in an abandoned building with two other addicts and panhandling to feed my habit. Each day became a rat race of finding ways and means to get more, just so I could feel half normal.
Eventually, the drugs stopped working. The one thing that I thought I could rely on, wasn’t there to comfort me anymore. I was not only alone without support from those I loved most, but now I couldn’t even numb the pain. I threw away everything good in life for drugs and alcohol, and even that gave up on me.
I knew something needed to change. But, it had to start with me.
Since I couldn’t reach out to my friends or family for help, I called someone I had met along the way that was now in recovery. Within two days, he managed to get me into a detox center that would eventually transfer for me to a long-term inpatient facility. My life began to change.
Although I struggled to believe in myself and my ability to stay sober, I figured I had to at least try and do something different. At that point, I had nothing else to lose.
I began genuinely applying myself and putting forth effort. I soon learned that no one was going to just give it to me. I had to work for it. I spent 7 months in that facility, truly immersing myself into the program. Not only did I dig deep into the reasons why I used drugs and alcohol, but also the reasons why I struggled to maintain sobriety.
Upon completion of that program, I entered into a halfway house, where I would spend another 3 months. It was there that I learned how to truly live in recovery. They taught me life skills that I never had the opportunity to learn. I was soon employed and saving money, and I would eventually go on to have my own place.
I had a great sponsor, who I worked with diligently, and a great group of guys that I could lean on for support. I began working my steps thoroughly, and soon I was able to start helping other people. I truly loved everything about recovery and the fellowship. They became my second family.
What Sobriety Has Given Me
I could sit here and list all of the amazing things I have today, and yes, some would include material possessions. Nevertheless, none of those things come close to what recovery has truly given me. Here are some of the many blessings I have today.
- The Freedom of Choice | I no longer wake up and have to put a chemical in my body, just to feel normal. Addiction took away my power of choice. Today, I have freedom to do what I want and go where I want. My life is no longer dictated by a bottle, a pill, or a bag.
- The Support of my Family | Although it took a very long time, my family is back in my life. Today they trust me in their homes and my sister allows me to be around her children. We spend weekends going on trips or having family dinners. They are truly my best friends today.
- I am Accountable | I never had to be accountable for myself or my actions. Today, I pay my own bills, I show up to work and do a good job, and I am a good friend. Most importantly, when I say I am going to do something, I stick to my word.
- A Place to Call Home | I’ll never forget the cold nights when I would give anything for a blanket and a decent meal. Today, I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a safe place to call home.
- I am Proud of Who I Am | Most people take for granted the ability to look oneself in the mirror. While it may seem simple, it is probably the most difficult thing to do when you’re destroying your life. For years I was filled with shame, guilt, and disgust for myself and my actions. Today, I am proud of the person I have become. I can lay my head down on the pillow at night. I sleep soundly knowing that I did not harm myself or anyone else. Today, I can look myself in the mirror, and like the person staring back.
Don’t Give Up Hope
I convinced myself that there was no other way. I was doomed to a life of homelessness and addiction. I even went as far as convincing myself that I didn’t deserve any better. Everything I told myself in addiction, turned out to be a lie.
The truth is, people gave up on me, because they were afraid. They eventually had to protect themselves. The judges and the counselors didn’t give up on me, they just knew I had to figure it out in my own time. The only person who ever truly gave up, was myself. It turns out, I couldn’t stay sober, because I wasn’t willing to do anything different. I wasn’t willing to open my mind and change my actions.
Although it was a long, painful road, I do not regret any of it. Why? Well, because without the pain, and without my struggles, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It truly was at my rock bottom that my life finally changed.
If you are out there struggling, lost in the hopelessness of addiction, you should know there is a way out. Do not give up hope on yourself or on the process of recovery. You can recover! You just have to be willing to do the work.
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