In our own words: Stories from those who have been there and are determined to give back. Featuring contributions from the Avenues Recovery Family.
An Idyllic Childhood
My life began with no hint of the adversity I would need to overcome. I grew up in an affluent neighborhood with parents who had stared down addiction and were safely in recovery. Sports was a big part of my life and I had earned an academic scholarship to Bryant University.
It should be noted that recovery/addiction has had an influence in my life from the start. My mother made the decision to get sober once I was born while my biological father never did. Because of this, he had no place in my life. So, even subconsciously I recognized the consequences of addiction. Mom was sober and in my life, and my dad’s addiction had kept him out. But this reality was not enough to keep me away.
“The pain was so great that suicide looked like a decent retirement plan.”
My addiction started, as it does for most people, with harmless experimentation influenced by others doing the same thing. I felt a tad bit excited knowing I was doing something that for some reason my parents were no longer able to do. There was an allure that I always had towards alcohol, one which I followed to the brink of insanity. Looking back there were signs; I was hoarding alcohol by the age of 16, drinking almost daily by the end of my sophomore year and completely oblivious to any connection between my substance use and trouble. Things quickly escalated from alcohol to marijuana, then cocaine and eventually heroin and crack cocaine became habitual needs in my 20’s.
Consequences of Addiction
By the time I was 19 there was nothing left. Although my dependence on alcohol and drugs had roots in my H.S. years, the freedom of college and the independence it brought, led to my spiraling out of control. And till I was 25, my self-worth, happiness, integrity, purpose, and ability to love and function as a responsible person were non-existent.
After my sophomore year, I was unceremoniously dumped from college. By 20, I was asked to leave my parents home.
Saying Yes to Addiction Treatment
Addiction in its evolution is different for everybody. But I believe, that for many people, a growing sense of isolation from the people we love and things which give us purpose, quickens its pace. The more I drank and drugged, the harder it was to feel any love from the people so desperate to show it to me. I was wrapped up in my destructive cycle, and completely self-imprisoned.
In the wake of my addiction came several arrests, small incarcerations, hospital admissions, and countless experiences that reinforced the idea that I was a worthless person.
The pain was so great that suicide looked like a decent retirement plan.
And then, after I had burned through every job opportunity I was given and every life vest offered was turned away, I was sitting in a parking lot and facing homelessness. Again.
My stepdad pulled up in his truck. For the first time the worry, the love, and the plea to make a change, penetrated.
Here was the place where Grace begins to enter my life. It all started, as it does for many of us in recovery, by saying yes to help.
The Power of Believing
How do you instill hope in those that are hopeless? Or give courage to those that are faithless? What is it that happens in the recovery process which can utterly change the life trajectory of an individual? It might be an impossible feat to explain to you the intensity of the changes that occurred in me.
Because it requires the belief in miracles, the acknowledgment of grace, and recognition of the Power of Love.
My recovery has been anything other than easy. It has included adversity, grief, disappointments, and even failures. But the isolation of addiction that had crippled me for so long, no longer ruled over my life. I was in active recovery and there were people who believed in me and were committed to holding me.
My Mom: My Champion and My Greatest Hero
And when my greatest champion relapsed, I was able to be there for her. My mom, the person who, from the moment I entered this world, protected me, smoothed the path from every thorn (even the ones I was throwing down myself), and did everything in her power to ensure my success, needed me. And I was able to return the love she had so fiercely given me.
“So, my sobriety wasn’t about life just magically getting better, it was more about becoming useful again, dependable to people who had been there for me.”
Perhaps the greatest gift my sobriety has given me is the ability to give back, to make a difference. I shudder to imagine what could have been if I hadn’t been clean during those critical months. I remember that my phone had died while I had spent most of the night trying to help a friend get into a detox center. Later that night I came home, plugged in my phone, and was informed that the battle against active addiction had resumed.
My mom was in detox and I was in my first year of sobriety.
Staying the Course and Giving Back
We held each other. There I was, holding my mother’s hand as she had held mine, encouraging her that she could do this, that the gift of sobriety was achievable for her again, as it was for me.
It was in that moment that I found a deeper gratitude for my own recovery. I realized that for the first time my presence wasn’t negatively effecting others or the situation.
I was helping!
25 years old and I was filled with a simple purpose; stay sober myself and help my mother stay sober as well.
Perhaps the biggest adversity in recovery is overcoming the shame associated with choices I made while in active addiction.
Mom’s relapse started with alcohol she found in my room.
It is true that I’m not responsible for the choices others make. But I am accountable for the effect I have on situations. The hurdle of forgiving myself was made easier knowing that a new spirit, a new purpose lived in me aimed at helping those around me.
So, my sobriety wasn’t about life just magically getting better, it was more about becoming useful again, dependable to people who had been there for me.
I mattered again and the people who loved me mattered too.
I have gained the ability to truly connect with others, and become filled with a singular purpose, helping others. It sees me through any down moments in my life and helps me overcome each challenge as it comes my way.
Putting in the Work
It has been ten years.
Along the way, I have married and been blessed with a wife and children who light up my world and continue to reinforce my sense of purpose.
Ten years of continuous sobriety starts and ends with the daily reminder that I cant stay clean off yesterday’s shower. Recovery takes work on a daily basis, but the good news is that a lot of that work is actually enjoyable.
My life today resembles nothing of what I was like while in active addiction. With God’s help and the love and support of friends and family it will never have to again.
Taking a Chance
If there is anything to get from my story, I hope that people understand the power of “taking a chance”.
I had been brought up in a recovery household and had years of resentment built around the foundation of recovery and all that I thought it meant.
I grew up going to recovery meetings with my mother and knew the serenity prayer by heart at age 7. Being an alcoholic, to me, meant you drank coffee at night, went to meetings where you saw your friends, and hugged random people. And never drank alcohol.
Recovery: From Necessity to a Way of Life
Once I had my first drink, I absolutely knew there was no way I could be an alcoholic. I simply enjoyed the effect too much. I know its comical when writing it down but that was my genuine thought process. By the time my life was in complete shambles, I had believed for years that I was certainly not an alcoholic.
I went into treatment out of necessity. Homelessness terrified me, I needed to reduce the guilt and shame I felt towards my parents, and ultimately, I had to buy some time till I figured out my next move.
My plan going in was to drink wine and do cocaine “just on the weekends like a civilized person”. But the promise of a better life found its way to my heart.
I’m still not sure how it all happened, but in the last 10 years I’ve been provided the privilege to go back to school to get my degree in counseling, worked as the clinical supervisor in an IOP program, created two completely free family support programs in the NY area, performed close to 250 interventions, and helped countless individuals start their journey towards recovery.
Most importantly, I have two children and a wife who have never seen me drink or use substances.
Inspiration From Those who Came Before Me
It is my belief that my recovery would never have been possible if not for the men and women that got sober before me. They were willing to share their experience, time, and energy to help me. With every waking day of sobriety, I am provided the opportunity to share my story, lend my hand, and perhaps be a channel for something far greater than myself.
I can reach someone who is willing to “take a chance “.
And I won’t ever stop trying to pass on the full heart and the pure joy of the gift of sobriety and recovery.
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