My name is Dean, and I am a person in long-term recovery. What that means to me is I haven’t had a drink or drug since July 7, 2007 and I have learned to live life on life’s terms without any mind-altering substances.
I grew up in a small rural town in Upstate N.Y. I was a “good kid.” Addiction isn’t about “bad” or “good,” but is about unhealthy and healthy. Addiction isn’t just a BIG city thing either. I was an altar boy, in the school band, and played many instruments (trumpet, alto-saxophone, tenor-saxophone, and drums). I also played sports and was a volunteer fireman.
At age 14, I began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. Not unlike many kids, you could say I was a “typical teen.” Two years after I began “experimenting,” just drinking and smoking weed on the weekends or at parties, I was introduced to cocaine. Within six months of trying cocaine I was expelled from school and arrested for the first time, then sent to jail. For the next 4 years I used alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine on the weekends.
At 20 years old, my use of cocaine progressed to daily use and yet again I found myself in front of a judge looking at 2 – 7 years in prison. Nothing seemed to scare me. What would be consequences to most people I simply viewed it as “par for the course” and part of the package. My attitude was burn that bridge I’ll rebuild it later.
For the next 13 years, from 20 to 33 my life was a living hell filled with depression, psychiatric stints, getting arrested, the typical jails, institutions, and somehow avoiding death by the grace of God. Multiple stomach pumps after overdose and suicide attempts came to a halt in 2007. What I describe as a spiritual awakening is what put me on my path to recovery. I had previously made many half measured attempts more or less just to shut people up temporarily. I did this by going to outpatient here and there or by telling people what they wanted to hear.
There wasn’t a single person who came in contact with me that wasn’t affected in one way or another. If my parents weren’t sitting with me in a psychiatric unit they were waiting for a phone call at two in the morning. My addiction made me someone else, and as much as everyone didn’t like the person I became when I used I hated that person even more. I was afraid to stop using because using was all I knew, it had become who I was but deep down inside it was not who I truly was. It was a long hard road to surrender, but once I did and did it for me that was it, no looking back. I went to a 28 day rehab and took the suggestions given to me. Getting out of my own way was one of the best suggestions.
I think one of the BIGGEST misconceptions about addiction is that someone is beyond hope and beyond help. I had thought that person was me for many years, but if I got sober ANYONE can! Since I’ve gotten sober, I’ve continued my education and became a Substance Abuse Counselor for a program in N.Y. I worked my way up to Senior Counselor, and now I am the Director of Residential Services. Also, I became a Recovery Coach and produce an online series called Inside Addiction which has been seen in 28 countries and is on public access television. In my free time, I go into schools and share my message with Middle and High School students. I also volunteer doing service work in a 12 step program.
Recovery has given me a life I wasn’t living before July 7, 2007. Entering into recovery I thought I’d be alone with no friends, but today I realize what a true friend is. A lot of words I used to use have been redefined thanks to me getting sober. Words like love, friend, and fatherhood all have new meaning to me. Instead of people crossing the street to get away from me or walking out of the room when I walked in, people are now happy to see me. It may have taken me some time, but I have found that not only is recovery possible but with recovery all things are possible.