Is life this hard for everyone else? Why do I feel so damn different? Am I the only one who struggles like this? These were just some of the questions that would recycle through my head growing up.
I was the guy who was friends with everyone and no one. I was the guy who felt alone in a room full of people. Nothing seemed to come easy for me. However, when I looked around everyone else appeared to have it figured out. Believing that this was true took its toll on me mentally and emotionally. In many ways, it is what resulted in me going down the path I did. Being liked, and fitting in, was so important to me, that I became a reckless and shameless person. If you thought it was a good idea, then we should do it. If you thought we should try it then what are we waiting for, let’s go. If you thought it was a bad idea, then let me tell you why it’s a good idea. It’s time to go home, no it’s not. You probably shouldn’t do that was, oh yeah watch me. I was willing to pay a high price to feel liked and to be apart. I was not a bad person; I was a fearful person with no greater purpose, yet.
Following my 19th birthday in July 1999, which I spent partying at Woodstock 30th Anniversary event, I found myself in the emptiest place ever. I had pushed my mind and my body about as far as it could go. A friend of mine confronted me about how I was living, and they expressed a lot of concern for me. I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. It suddenly occurred to me that I was a horrible person for doing the things I did and I went into a full-fledged panic attack. From that day on life as I knew it would never be the same. On a daily basis from August 1999 to December 1999 I contemplated taking my life. After years of alcohol and drug use, I had lost my mind. I was filled with fear, guilt, shame, and remorse. Every day I thought “what have I done.” I thought I was going to be broken forever.
In late December of 1999, I entered into an outpatient program for addiction and mental illness treatment. Over the next six months or so, with the help of counseling, I began to pull it together. My suffering had been so intense that what I often thought to myself was that nobody should ever have to go through that pain like I did. It was a real life nightmare.
I decided to go to SUNY Albany to study psychology and as I like to say “to figure myself out.” For the two years, I was in Albany, I did not use drugs, but did drink alcohol and at times I drank heavily. Unfortunately, some people may read this about me and think to themselves after all that he went through how could he drink again? The fact is few people have an initial awakening and become able to achieve permanent recovery on the first go around. I was no exception. There is no light switch or faucet that will just shut it off. My inner pains and poor self-esteem were still very real for me. While I was able to cope without using drugs, at times it was too much, and so I did buffer it with alcohol. Despite my imperfections along the way by the end of school I rarely used alcohol anymore. I had not yet fully conceded that I was an alcoholic who should not use alcohol at all. Even though I had not fully entered into recovery to me at that time, the progress was tremendous. I had persevered and fought hard to earn that degree, despite my alter ego wanting to take me down. I did graduate and in the process applied to graduate school for an MSW degree.
I got accepted to Fordham University, and my first field placement was at a long-term residential program for chronic alcoholics and drug addicted men. I was training on how to be a counselor. After about five months of school and interning, I began to contemplate the last of my alcohol use. I could count on my one hand how many times I drank in that five months, but it felt wrong. I would run recovery groups and as I listened to these men share I thought to myself, I can relate to that. I also thought to myself how was I going to be a counselor, who preached recovery, but still drinks? I approached a counselor who I became friendly with and told him I thought I was an alcoholic. His response was short and to the point, “then you probably should drink, right.” That was February 2nd, 2004 and I was 23 years old. I have never had a drink or used a drug since. By the Grace of God, I celebrated 13 years of continuous recovery on 2/2/17.
Today, at almost 37 years old, I am the proud father of a beautiful little girl who is about to turn two. I am a grateful husband to my amazing bride, Christina, my best friend, and the love of my life. After ten plus years of working in the addiction field, I recently established a full-time clinical psychotherapy practice that provides services for people with addiction and other mental health concerns. From a scared, lonely, self-doubting young boy who wanted to die, I have grown into a confident man with a career in helping guide others, and an excellent family life at home. I am living out my dreams. My past has become my greatest asset, and I have no regrets. I survived a tough early part of my life, and I am immensely grateful for all that I have. Unfortunately, thousands upon thousands of people are currently in that dark place like I was where suffering seems the only option. For them, there doesn’t appear to be a way out. The families do not have it any easier either. There are few things more stressful, anxiety provoking, frustrating, and heart wrenching then loving someone with an addiction.
Like so many I have given all of myself to fight this powerful and relentless disease of addiction. Each and every time I hear about the passing of someone from an opiate or heroin overdose for a moment I lose the air in my lungs. Sadly, yet another person has lost their battle with addiction, and it is very much a battle; a fight for life and a chance to exist. It brings me back to that desperate place, that suffering period in my life, whose grips I'm blessed to be able to escape. I know from experience that inside of every single addicted person is an individual who is mentally imprisoned. When we look upon an addict what we see is not a reflection of what they truly are as a person. Their minds are hijacked and their bodies abducted. I remember the sensation like it was yesterday. Today I am free, and I am loved and cared for unconditionally by a God of my understanding. I believe that is what every single person deserves and it is what motivates me to do what I can to see it through. Everyone should be able to experience the joys of recovery and the possibilities of this life.
It is for these reasons that I am so honored to put my name in the hat amongst people who believe in what I Am Not Anonymous is doing. IANA is providing the light to help ((CRUSH)) the stigma. They believe that recovering out loud is the solution. Today I want my voice and my story to reflect the potential for change that every person suffering from addiction has; that my story of hope can become their reality; that they too have what it takes to become somebody just like me. Today I carry no shame, but I do possess an important message because society needs desperately to hear about the amazing wonders of recovery. I am thankful to be given this platform by IANA to do that.
So for all those out there who may be overly critical of those with addiction, please take a step back, learn from my story, and become a part of the solution. For those families who have come out on the other side of this nightmare keep spreading your incredible messages of optimism. For those who have recovered from a hopeless state of mind share your recovery out loud. For those who still suffer there is a way out, and you can be loved. May we all remember always to turn to our Creator, for all the strength we need, to contribute to making a difference!