My name is Carl Antisell, and I am person in long-term recovery, which for me means it has been over four and a half years since I have used drugs or alcohol. Today I am a trusted friend, a loving brother, a dependable employee but just a few years ago I was a homeless college drop out with a serious dependency to heroin. Many people I meet today struggle to believe my story when viewed next to the person I am today; and I believe that is living proof that recovery is possible and does miraculous things. I am not an active addict, I am a person in long term recovery from an addiction and those two things are far from the same.
I can remember as a child always feeling like I had to wear a mask, that I wasn’t good enough as I was. I sat with this feeling of discontent in my stomach, like I never felt good enough, never was good enough, never would be enough. I wanted so badly to be relieved of this feeling and when I could not find that relief I turned to drugs and alcohol as an escape, however temporary that escape may have been. The problem with trying to escape is that you always need to keep running, you always are chasing that temporary reprieve and that chase brought me to bottoms I could never have imagined. I ran from everyone and everything while I chased that escape. I lost friends and grew apart from my family. I threw away jobs, and cars, and houses. I comprised my trust, my character, and my soul in the pursuit of an escape- each step taking me farther and farther from the solution that I truly wanted but could never find.
As human beings we all need to experience some consequences, to go through some pain, to hit a bottom before we decide to make a change. I have experienced many of the stereotypical bottoms you hear about when people speak about substance use disorder, but when I look back those were not my personal bottoms. Jail was not a bottom for me because I was surrounded by other people who knew what it was like to be locked up. Eating in soup kitchens was not a bottom because I ate with other people who knew what it was like to feel hungry. As painful as those experiences were I did not feel completely alone.
My bottom came sometime later, I had attempted to move home with my parents but was unable to stay sober. I had a job where I had to wear a suit and tie and now I was being kicked out of my house and had nowhere to live. At this point maintaining the financial means to support my habit was my number one priority so every day I would walk to work before the store opened. I would use the hand dryers in the bathroom to “iron” my clothes and I would be there ready to go when everyone else showed up. I would work every day they would let me because I had nowhere to go on my days off and I would work all day until the store closed and everyone left. Once the coast was clear I would walk to a nearby apartment complex and check peoples sheds in their backyard until I found a place to sleep. In the morning, I would wake up and do it all over again. This was my bottom, not because it was the most desperate or the direst situation, but because it was the loneliest. I had no friends, my family was out of my life, and the only people I interacted with were these people at work. To them, I was someone who showed up early and left late, someone who worked hard every day, someone they wanted to be like, someone they admired. I was the only person in the world who knew how much pain I was in, who knew I didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night, who knew how scared I was that someone would wake up to mow their lawn one morning and would find me on the floor of their shed.
I went to treatment because I wanted to escape the hell I was living in. I didn’t plan on staying sober but I had run out of money, out of people to manipulate, out of places to stay. I went to rehab hoping to earn another get out of jail free card, to get enough clean time that someone would pick up the phone for me again. After 30 days in that facility I was still left with no options, the bridges I had burned were still smoldering and there was little interest in rebuilding them. I found myself at 21 years old in a Salvation Army homeless shelter. I was surrounded by people who had lost everything, who had every right to hate themselves, to be mad at the world; and yet some of them walked around with this smile that I hadn’t seen in so long. It was like they smiled with their eyes, it wasn’t the contrived forced smile I had been wearing for so many years. There was a sense of relief, of hope, in their smiles that I desperately longed for. Over time I started to realize that these people, through supporting each other, had found a real solution to their problems, and not just another escape. They had learned that the solution lies within them, and could not be found through external things. I had looked everywhere for relief- to money, to titles, to power, to possessions, and to drugs and alcohol, but I had never looked inside myself. Through these people I learned that life was going to be hard, and things come and things go, but I could learn to sit alone with myself and find happiness. I could live a life where I would never have to run from anything or anyone ever again.
That was almost 5 years ago, and in retrospect they were right. I have gotten jobs, and had my position eliminated. I have tried to start a business and failed. I have accumulated possessions, lost them all, and gotten them back. I have had to face years of wreckage left from my active addiction, but never once have I felt like I needed to escape. I have been empowered to face each and every one of those decisions with my head held high as a man of integrity in long term recovery.
So why do I choose to share this story? Why am I okay with letting the world know just how far I fell? The answer is simple, because that is not who I am anymore. Recovery is possible, and our stories have power. I sat in guilt and shame for too long before I shared my story and watched it change people’s lives. What was once my greatest liability is now my greatest asset and I would be doing a disservice to myself and to my community if I did not spread the message that recovery is ALWAYS possible. We live in a society where we all endure pain, make mistakes, and fall short; we all sit in silence as we watch people around us struggle through the same things. Today I choose to not be silent, to let people know that your struggle is a gift if you choose to move forward and to let people know that it gets better, and you don’t have to live that way anymore.