I hated drugs and alcohol for a long time. I was completely against them because of things that happened in my family. My dad was an alcoholic. Our house was essentially made for a party. We had dance floors; I learned how to play quarters at age seven. But I was also very fortunate because my dad was successful so I had a lot of things and got to travel a lot. He wasn’t around much because of his success and his alcoholism but the times I actually did get to see my dad for who he really was are some of the fondest memories I have. He was such a great guy but he had a disease that never got treated. Professionally though, he really went from nothing to something. He built everything on his own. But he had his demons and when he did find success, the demons were still there. Success isn’t a cure for it.
The parties were crazy. The cops came to our house a lot. My dad was abusive to my mom. She took in the parties for as long as she could. Once the party was over and everybody had gone home, that was the worst time. It was an interesting way to come up. They eventually got divorced. I remember the last day in our house, we came home and there was a party going on and then my mom and dad got into a fight. She came storming out of their room and left, then everybody else left. My dad grabbed me and was holding me on the couch. I remember smelling alcohol. I hated it so much. I was so uncomfortable. He was upset about losing his family, not understanding he was sick. I was terrified. He passed out, and I sneaked up to my room and then heard rocks being thrown at my window. It was my mom in the yard with police. They came in and arrested him. That was the last night we spent together as a family.
So I stayed away from all drugs and alcohol for a long time, until senior year of high school. Then I started smoking weed. Once I got into that, it ended up being a daily thing. Back then, I wasn’t convinced I had an addiction problem; I just liked to smoke weed. I also liked to party and drink. My dad had sold his business but sort of passed a torch to me. I would go over to his house and have huge parties, and he would drink with us.
I didn’t consider myself an addict until the opiates hit. I had first started using opiates through a doctor. I remember getting a bunch and experimenting, thinking this is cool—it wasn’t necessarily a problem back then. I was able to start and stop as I wanted to. I’d get them from different family members but it wasn’t like I had developed a habit at that point.
I spent a lot of time trying to help my dad. I was really good at my job then, selling IT to the federal government. A lot of what I did back then was to gain his approval. In 2007, his addiction and underlying depression, stuff he was too proud to get help for, overtook him and he died by suicide. When that happened, that’s when my addiction to opiates really took off and the same thing happened with my brother. We were kind of in it together.
It was extremely traumatic. I hated what I was doing for work but like I said, I was very good at it. But I took my bereavement and quit. I was renting a house with the option to buy from my dad. Both my brothers left where they were and came to live in my house and it was just a disaster.
While I stuck with opiates, drinking and partying, my younger brother got heavily into party drugs. It was all a direct result of trauma of losing our dad. We all had our own issues already but the trauma escalated everything times 10. Through the course of that, my brother started to lose himself completely. It got to the point where he was getting himself in lots of trouble and not really thinking clearly. He was all over the place, basically in a drug-induced psychosis. I got a call from people we knew in LA saying he had come there and locked himself in a room in their house and wouldn’t leave and was acting strangely. That lasted for a day and half. I got on a plane to come help and by the time I landed, he wasn’t there anymore. Our friend picked me up from the airport and as we’re driving back to their house, we found my brother walking down the street completely out of place. I got him in a hotel room with the purpose of leaving the next day. When I went to his door the next morning, he refused to open it so the hotel staff had to do it. When they finally did, it was the most gut wrenching thing I’ve ever experienced. I looked into his eyes and the person I saw was not my brother. He was trying to leave but refusing to come with me and get on plane. At that time in my life calling police on someone was last thing I’d ever do but I was terrified he was going to die. Police did the first of many involuntary commitments on him.
Incidents like that kept happening. Friends were dying and going to jail. And the whole time I was trying to help my brother or my friends, I was using. I couldn’t sleep through the night without waking up with withdrawals. They would wake me up and I’d have to use to be able to go back to sleep. I was in misery. I remember waking up one morning and just 100% gone, looking at myself in mirror and thinking I had two options: I was going to get well or I wasn’t. Not getting well was basically the end in my mind. I started to get very angry—angry at everything, the disease of addiction, what it had taken from me—I have dealt with it my entire life. In the beginning, I used that anger to get well. I went to my mom and my stepdad. Without their influence, I don’t know where I’d be. In my mind, I was pulling wool over everyone’s eyes. They didn’t know the extent of what I was doing but they knew something was wrong. I told them I needed help. I was set to go to a place in Tennessee but my mom wanted to do a little more research and that’s when Serenity Acres popped up.
I wanted to leave treatment after 27 days because there was still so much going on with my brother and I always felt like I had to save everyone. But I extended my stay, which was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, going against that internal compass, the one that guides all of us. My running around doing drugs and supposedly trying to help people didn’t come from bad intentions; it’s just that my compass was off. What rehab can do is help to start to realign that compass. Rehab and early sobriety is doing what you have to do, not what you want to do. Eventually, if you do what you have to do for long enough, what you have to do and want you want to do become the same thing. It just takes time. It’s like being really sick: you’re hunched over the toilet and you’re thinking, I am never going to feel any better than I feel right now. You’re scared. What do you do? Eventually, you get up from toilet because you have to. You take that first bite of food, that first sip of water because you have to—if you keep doing what you have to long enough, the challenge becomes remembering how bad you felt.
Twelve-step is part of the program at Serenity Acres but the biggest difference there is the one-on-one approach. You get a lot of individual counseling—somebody helps you figure out why you’re in the position you’re in. With addiction a lot of the symptoms are similar but the reasons why we all end up there are different. In treatment though, many different paths lead to the same place. What Serenity Acres offers is 12-step, holistic therapy, acupuncture, massage, yoga, meditation, mindfulness training—the only stipulation is participating in everything while you are there. You get the opportunity to find what works for you.
The only thing I hate about being an addict is the stigma society puts on it. My brother eventually died by suicide too. That didn’t happen until I was sober. Although I’ve been through a lot of stuff, I wouldn’t change any of it. Addicts and alcoholics are some of the smartest, most creative people you’ll ever meet; they’re just lost. Once they find themselves, it’s unique. Not many people get the opportunity to discover themselves on a deeper level. One of the things I discovered when I got out and started doing the work of recovery is just how out of touch the world can be.
I have now been sober since September 2, 2011. One of the most useful tools I’ve developed in sobriety is this equation I use whenever I’m trying to figure something out. When I go into a situation, I identify my goal and get extremely realistic with myself about where I’m at—it’s getting honest with myself without getting down on myself. After I get realistic and honest about where I truly am, from there I always understand what my options are every step of the way. I give myself the best chance I can to be successful with my goal with the options that I have. That’s what I do with sobriety. It’s funny how simple it can sound. It helps me understand who is in the driver’s seat, sick me or healthy me.
The most valuable thing I’ve gained in recovery is freedom. I’m not afraid to be me and I’m not afraid to love me and really take chances. I have fun practicing being vulnerable. Sobriety gave me that. There are not many people that get to that point in life. Sobriety is a parallel to life, it’s just learning it. People come into rehab and think 30 days, that’ll be it, but it’s about continual growth and putting one foot in front of next. We have to practice being vulnerable; a lot of pain can be derived from that but there isn’t one person on this planet who accomplished something real that didn’t start with vulnerability.
If your goal is to get happy, healthy and sober, then get honest about where you’re at: this is what and how much I’m using; this is how I’m feeling. Lie all you want, you’ll just hurt yourself. After you get honest, understand what options are and make decisions based on what’s going to give you best opportunity to get well. Focus on doing the next right thing. If you do that, you will be successful—you can’t fail.
Photo courtesy of Serenity Acres. Used with permission.
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