From Addiction to Recovery and Everything in Between
Addiction is something that is very difficult for most people to talk about. In our society, there is a stigma that surrounds issues of addiction that creates a barrier to treatment and recovery for a lot of people. Too often, people with addiction disorders are written off as degenerates, people lacking willpower who just need to get their act together. These judgments are enough to dissuade many addicts from seeking the appropriate medical or psychiatric care. Shame, fear, and guilt are all a product of society’s judgments, and these judgments stem from a lack of understanding. Addiction has nothing to do with will-power or poor decision making. In a lot of ways addiction is like diabetes, or any other disease. It is a sickness, but it can be managed. Like diabetes, it is a disease that is on-going, there is no cure, but with a little bit of maintenance you can live a perfectly normal life. The more people that understand this, the easier it will become for addicts to seek the help that they need without fear of judgment. Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to how and why certain people get addicted and others do not. There are many potential factors that can contribute to a person becoming an addict, like genetic predisposition, childhood trauma, or experiencing significant loss, but a lot of the time it simply boils down to brain chemistry, and for lack of a better term, “bad luck." I learned a lot of lessons on my own journey from addiction to recovery, but the two that stand out the most are that you can’t do this alone, and you can’t become complacent. As I previously stated, there is no cure for addiction. There is no beating alcoholism. It is something that us addicts will have to work on and manage for the rest of our lives, but it can be done, and it is so worth it, but you have to remain vigilant.
I grew up in a home with a wonderful sister and two loving parents who did their best and gave me a childhood that any kid would be lucky to have. I had great friends, excelled at sports, and got good grades most of the time. I was a good kid and a happy kid and all signs pointed towards me growing up to be a successful and productive member of society. In high school I saw a lot of my peers starting to get into things like drinking and smoking pot around the middle of freshman year, but at the time I was focused on sports and staying out of trouble and had no interest in these activities. As I got older, more and more of my friends and acquaintances started to experiment with drugs and alcohol. I held out longer than most people I know, but on New Year’s Eve of my junior year I decided to give in and get drunk for the first time, and I immediately loved everything about it. It wasn’t long after that that I started smoking cigarettes and then marijuana regularly. It was like a whole new world of fun had opened up to me and I dove in head-first. I certainly didn’t see it this way at the time, but in hindsight, this was the beginning of a downward spiral of alcoholism and drug addiction that would get progressively worse for years.
Even in the beginning I could see that I was drinking more than most of the people around me, but it was easy to convince myself that I didn’t have a problem when I was young and surrounded by so many people that were party animals. I convinced myself that this was normal behavior for someone my age. I graduated high school and went to St. Louis Community College at Forest Park on a baseball scholarship and the drinking and drugging only got worse from there. Aside from partying, baseball was the only thing I really cared about at this point. It was the only thing that kept my life somewhat in check, but it still wasn’t enough to keep from partying. I showed up to practices and games hungover and went to class just enough to scrape by and keep myself academically eligible. Still, I did not see any of this as a problem.
After two years at Forest Park, I transferred to UMSL in 2010 on a baseball scholarship. The training was more intense, and the academics were tougher, and for a time I was able to reign in the partying and keep myself on a more academically oriented track. I had a good two years at UMSL. I performed well on the baseball field, and my grades weren’t great, but I saw a definite improvement from my two years at Forest Park. I was still a frequent drinker, but I had gotten better at prioritizing and taking nights off when I had something important to do the next day. I met the girl of my dreams and fell deeper in love than I thought was possible. I thought I had my life figured out. I was going to graduate college, get a good job, marry this girl and live happily ever after.
After four years of college, my baseball career was over, but I still needed a little over two semesters to get my degree. Without baseball, the game I had dedicated most of my life to, I fell into a depression. Shortly after that I went through a very painful breakup and the only solace I found was in drinking and getting high. I stopped going to class, and eventually dropped out of school. Just like that, my whole plan had turned upside down. I was aimless, hopeless, and heading down a dark path.
I started working full time at a dead-end job and my drinking only got worse. I went from drinking pretty much every night, to drinking during the day; before, during, and after work. I was depressed, lonely, and ashamed of what my life had become, and I continued to self-medicate. It wasn’t long before I was charged with a DUI, and things only got worse from there. My whole life had unraveled around me, yet I was still not able to admit that I had a problem. I continued on this path of self-destruction for a couple more years, through a 2nd and 3rd drug/alcohol related arrest, before I finally broke down to my parents and admitted that I needed help. My life had become unmanageable, and I didn’t trust myself to make sound decisions anymore. Consequences didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was satisfying that urge to get drunk or high. I didn’t enjoy drinking anymore. I simply needed to drink.
Admitting to friends and family that I had a drinking problem was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, but I was finally getting the help that I needed. I entered a six-month outpatient rehab program and started seeing a therapist every week. For years I had blamed my problems with depression on the loss of baseball, the only thing I had been truly passionate about, and the devastating breakup that I went through. Through therapy I was able to realize that I had been struggling with depression long before either of those things had happened. I had been unhappy for a long time, and was essentially using baseball, and my relationship as an antidepressant. Getting to the root of the problem, and unpacking years of unprocessed emotions did wonders for my mental health. During my six months in this program I was able to stay completely alcohol free and my life started to get back on track. Then I made a very common mistake among people in recovery and everything in my life came crashing down around me again.
Recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is not a short-term thing. There is no cure. Alcoholics are alcoholics for life and thinking otherwise will result in a relapse 100% of the time. I made the mistake of thinking that I had beat alcoholism. After six months of sobriety, I was no longer seeing a therapist or attending groups, or doing any of the things that had led to me achieving those six months of sobriety. One night I decided that it would be ok to have a couple of drinks if I just made sure that it was a one-time thing. I thought at first that it had worked. I didn’t drink again for another month or so. But after that it was only a week until I drank again, and then a couple of days, and before I knew it, I was back to drinking every day. At this point, all of my friends and family, and most of my co-workers knew that I was an alcoholic who was supposed to be in recovery, so I had to be very secretive about it.
The next couple of years I was trapped living in a hell of my own design. I was desperate to keep my drinking a secret and went into complete isolation. Instead of going out and having fun, sober with my friends, I chose to stay at home by myself and drink. I couldn’t go to work unless I was under the influence of one thing or another. I developed a habit of taking copious amounts of Adderall just so I could function at work while under the influence of alcohol or anything else I could get my hands on. Alcohol and marijuana were always my drugs of choice, but at this point there was almost nothing I would say no to. Anything that could briefly alter my mind state and distract me from the pain and mental anguish I was going through was a welcome option. This isolation led me to fall into a deeper depression than ever before, and that in turn led my drinking and drugging to continue to soar to new heights. My mental and physical health was deteriorating, and I was well aware of what I was doing, yet I did not want to stop using. It seemed like the only option.
The more and more I used, the harder it became to keep a secret. I spent the next couple of years in and out of outpatient treatment programs, each time feeling like I had come out a new man, and each time quickly reverting to my default state of isolating, drinking, lying about it, eventually getting found out and starting the whole process over again. I was stuck on the hamster-wheel of addiction, running in place but going absolutely nowhere. I wanted to be sober, but I wanted to keep drinking even more. I wasn’t taking my recovery seriously, and each time it led me back down that same path.
In June of 2019, I had just gotten back from a lunch break at work in which I had polished off a bottle of whiskey. I was called in to my boss’s office and told that I was being sent to urgent care because several of my co-workers had smelled alcohol on my breath. I acted shocked, but I complied, knowing that this wasn’t going to end well for me. I called my mom from the urgent care and told her that I had just lost my job and needed her to come pick me up. This was the second job I had lost in less than a year, due to my drinking, and I was devastated. My parents had been unbelievably supportive through all of my struggles over the years, but I could tell that this time was different. They were terrified that this was going to be the story of the rest of my life, one big drunken mishap after another. I got the tough love that I needed that day, and for the first time ever I accepted the fact that I couldn’t go on like this, that I had to make some serious changes. My life literally depended on it.
Through all of my previous struggles I had always resisted the idea of going to an inpatient rehab facility, but I knew that I had to go all-in on my recovery this time around. I spent six weeks at a place called Life Healing Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico that changed my life forever. I met a bunch of wonderful people and through introspection, reflection, meditation, and other practices I was finally able to get the root of my problems with depression and addiction. For the first time ever, I truly believed that I could stay sober and live a happy and productive life. After six weeks I returned home with a new confidence and an understanding that this was just the beginning. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake of thinking that I was healed and just moving on with my life. I entered an outpatient program, continued to regularly attend meetings, and see a therapist every week. I decided that for the time being it would be best to move back in with my parents and focus on continuing my recovery. Moving back in with your parents is not an easy thing to do at 29 years old, but it was the best decision I could have possibly made at the time and it has truly been a blessing.
I have been completely sober from all drugs and alcohol since that day in June of 2019 and I can’t believe how much better my life has gotten in this year and a half of sobriety. My mental and physical health have both improved drastically. I am happy again, and for the first time in over a decade I am optimistic about the future. I returned to school in the spring of 2020 and after a nearly 8-year hiatus, I will be graduating with a degree in Communication in less than a month. Life is good.
I hope my story can in some way give hope to someone out there who is struggling. I know how hard it is, and I know how hopeless it can feel, but I want to remind you that there is hope, you are not alone, and there are people out there who care and can help. Just a year and a half ago I was living in hell, but today I am happier than I’ve ever been, and life keeps getting better every day. You just have to believe that you can do it and make it happen. A very wise person in recovery once told me that “being an addict is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.” This quote really helped to put things in perspective for me. The shame, guilt, and embarrassment that I felt in early recovery have turned into motivation and pride. Being in recovery is not a shameful thing, rather it should be celebrated. Overcoming addiction is a tremendous achievement. It is not your fault, but only you have the power to turn things around. No one else can do it for you.
There are recovery resources all over the place, you just have to look. I recently learned of a support group called the MACRO (Missouri Alliance of Collegiate Recovery Organizations) recovery corner that is open to all UMSL students in recovery or seeking recovery. The recovery corner is a virtual statewide recovery group open to anyone interested in connecting with other students in recovery, learning about recovery, and sharing their personal experiences with recovery. The group meets at 5PM on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month. The next meeting will be on Tuesday, the 24th, and I plan on attending, and encourage anyone in recovery, or interested in recovery to attend as well. Information about this group can be found on the MACRO website https://pip.missouri.edu/macro/. If you just do a google search, there are AA and NA meetings, as well as various other support groups all over the St. Louis area, and everywhere else, that are full of people that truly care and can relate to what you are going through. There is an app called Meeting Guide that will give you the times and locations of all of the recovery meetings in your area. I was lucky enough to be blessed with two wonderfully supportive parents and a great group of friends that would do anything for me. I understand that not everyone is so lucky, but there are people and groups everywhere that are ready and willing to help people in need. Trying to do this alone is futile. It is so important that you have people that are there to support you and hold you accountable. If there is anyone out there that is struggling with addiction and wants to take that first step to recovery, but doesn’t know where to start, or if you just need someone to talk to, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can do this together.