“Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are, precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way." I believe this quote by Al Franken in “Oh, the Things I Know” is incredibly truthful. Sometimes people have to go through hell just to realize how good life really is. I have been blessed with many gifts, as well as some amazing people in my life. Without God in my life none of this mattered. Before I saw the light, I was an ungrateful hopeless human being with no ambition or goals. Today, I can truly say that my life is beyond my wildest dreams! I am a person that stays positive and cannot wait to achieve all of my goals. I did not always have this outlook on life. Allow me tell you the story of how my life went from negative to positive.
Growing up, life was great. I was the oldest of four with a father and mother who loved us dearly. My parents were great role models. My brother, sisters, and I, got along well and played together endlessly. My mom would always say I was her best child, the hardest worker and the most responsible. Once I grew up everything changed.
Being a teenager was a difficult time in my life. I was not confident and had a hard time fitting in. I stopped playing sports and was not a strong student. Hanging out with friends was more important than everything else in my life. Even though, I had so much good in my life it was never enough. I always wanted more. I was never comfortable in my own skin. I did not like myself and always felt like I was not good enough. At this time in my life, I was introduced to drugs and alcohol.
I can remember the first time I smoked marijuana like it was yesterday. I loved it. I felt free and happy without a care in the world. The same thing happened with alcohol. All of my problems and insecurities went away for the time I was under the influence. This was the beginning of me changing into someone I was not. My parents saw the change in me and I would never want to spend time with the family anymore. They thought it was just a phase I was going through and I would only experiment with marijuana and alcohol, and that’s it. Well, drug counselors do not call these drugs gateway drugs without good reason.
After a year or two of using these drugs everything about me changed, my mentality, personality, as well as my ambition. Getting high was all I cared about. I always thought it was not a big deal because it was just pot, it was not like I was using cocaine or heroin. By this time I started to get in trouble with the law too, but I always blamed other people for the events that took place. I did not know anything about addiction at this time, so I was clueless that I had a problem. I was still passing school, working, and had a place to sleep.
Prescription pills started becoming popular in my high school during this time. There was a high demand for them so I decided to start selling them to support my habits. As a result, I ended up getting arrested and put on probation. This is when everything changed. Before this, I promised myself I would never use pills. I didn’t want to use man made drugs. Since I was on probation and marijuana did not come out your system for 30 days I could no longer indulge. So, I decided to experiment with prescription pills. I assumed they could not be that bad for you since they are prescribed by a doctor. I had no clue how powerful they really are and how much they would drastically change my future.
Pills such as painkillers and anti-depressants made me feel like I was invincible. On top of using I was selling, which was another addiction in itself. I would get phone calls from people who wanted drugs and this made me feel wanted. The combination of using and selling pills really made me the person I wanted to be. I was confident, happy, loved, and outgoing. I honestly thought it made me a better person. I finally was who I always wanted to be. Meanwhile in everyone else’s eyes I was arrogant, ignorant, and obviously high. This combination led me down a destructive path.
Within months I found myself sitting in prison because of the person drugs and alcohol created. The sad part is that I was still blaming others and had no clue that I had a drug addiction. While I was incarcerated nothing changed. I had plans on going home and living exactly as I was prior to entering prison. When I went home I did exactly that. It lasted for two years. During this time my life spiraled out of control. No one wanted anything to do with me. I would fight with family constantly and my friends did not want to spend time with me.
This is when I realized I had a serious drug addiction. It got so bad some days I thought that if I died everyone would be happier and the world would be a better place. I overdosed twice and could not comply with out-patient drug counseling. I went to a detox for 5 days. When I completed the detox program, I came home and relapsed within 24 hours. I tried what I thought was everything. I could not stop using drugs. The drugs took over my life and would not let go.
During this time I got a DUI and my lawyer got me an offer for probation. I knew I would not be able to get clean so I asked him to just get me jail time. I could not believe my life became so unmanageable that I would rather go to jail then be on probation. As a result, my lawyer was able to get me into a local jail because of the charge. God was on my side because this ended up being a huge turning point in my journey into recovery.
July 28, 2010, is the day I was incarcerated, as well as, my sober date. The withdrawals were horrible. My body was in so much pain. I had no energy and I could not sleep normally for weeks. It took a month for me to feel somewhat normal. I was using drugs for so long I forgot how to function sober. Even the easiest task such as having a conversation with someone proved to be difficult.
It took me two months to even be able to enter into the DWI program that my probation officer had arranged. When I arrived, my outlook on life was still crazy. I actually thought I could go home, continue to sell drugs and stay sober. Thank God I still had a few months left.
During my stay at the DWI facility I learned about addiction and what it does to the body and mind. I worked with drug counselors, as well as other people in recovery. This was the first time in my life I dug deep and tried to figure out why I was using drugs. This is when I truly began learning about the disease. I’ve been in outpatient before, but I was never honest with myself or others.
I began to pray nightly. I knew something was out there, but was not a believer. So I would pray, “please, show me you’re real because I think you’re a bunch of bullshit and if you don’t show me I’ll never believe.” I am the type of person that needs to see proof before I trust in something. The events that started happening after I began praying made it impossible for me not to believe something was watching over me. I realized that even when I did not want God around, he was around. All of the times I put myself in a negative situation he tried to get through to me.
Every night at the DWI facility people from Alcoholics Anonymous came and shared their stories of addiction and recovery. One particular night changed everything for me. Two of my friends, Jordan and Christian, who I used to get high with, came and spoke. I truly believe God sent them to save my life. Before this evening, I was still on the fence about sobriety. Once I saw how good they looked and that they could stay sober I knew I had a shot. That was the day I promised myself that I would give myself three months to do the right thing, to the best of my ability and if I was not happy with how everything went I could at least say I tried. This was the day I told myself, I was going to start a new beginning. Everything that happened to me before that day, I let go. Problems with people, money people owed me, and resentments that I held onto were all forgiven. This was such a weight lifted off of my shoulders. There was no baggage to go home to. My life was going to start fresh…and it did.
Almost four years later, my life is beyond my wildest dreams. I still pray and do the right thing to the best of my ability and because of this I continue to receive frequent gifts from God. I can look in the mirror and say I truly love who I am and everything about my life. My family and I have never been happier. I set goals for myself and I achieve them. The things I’ve accomplished in sobriety are things I never thought I was capable of. I enjoy challenging and pushing myself to new limits.
If I told anyone a few years ago that I would be in college, in good physical and mental shape, and sober, someone would have bet a million dollars it would never happen. I would have made that same bet. One of the greatest feelings is when I see someone I used to associate with and they hardly recognize me. When they realize who they are looking at, they say things like, “you look so healthy,” or “you look so different.” This solidifies what I am doing is working. It’s amazing how I can see someone I wanted to kill because they robbed thousands of dollars from me and tell them “don’t worry about everything that happened in the past,” it’s in the past and I live differently today. I can truly tell them “no hard feelings and I hope all is well.”
The greatest gift sobriety has given me is the ability to be there for friends and family in need. I’ve experienced so much in the past four years between death, new life, breakups, family and friends. To say I was able to be there for it all is a miracle. My definition of being wealthy was always something that involved money. This has changed drastically since I’ve been in recovery. All the little things like loving myself, showing up, and doing the next right thing makes me a truly wealthy man today. I never imagined loving my life or myself this much. As long as you’re honest, open, and willing anyone can receive the gifts I’ve received. Trust me if I can do it anyone can.
Without God, all the gifts I was blessed with would not matter. Even though, I had the most supporting, loving, family and friends, none of them were able to give me my life back. God gave me a second chance to live life and this time I am not going to waste it.
I feel like no longer remaining anonymous is an important aspect of the recovery movement. To be honest, I almost backed out of this project. I feared that it might affect my future opportunities in life. I then reminded myself that the fear from the stigma associated with addiction is a primary element of this project. People with substance use problems shouldn’t have to hide or be ashamed of who they are just because they want a certain career or want to be accepted by society.
I have a criminal record and I hope because of projects like this, people will realize that having a felony doesn’t make me a bad person. It just means that at one time in my life I made poor decisions. It is unfortunate that these drug-related felonies will stay with me for the rest of my life. I have been stripped of basic rights as an American because of bad choices I have made while suffering from addiction. I have learned from my mistakes. I hope eventually, there will be some way to get certain types of crimes off of my record, it’s hard enough to be successful in today’s times.
I’m really grateful that I was able to be a part of this and hope this affects people’s outlook on those suffering from substance abuse.
My name is Bruce, and I am in recovery.