I don’t know this if this is true or not, but I once heard that Thomas Edison used hundreds of different materials for light bulb filaments before stumbling across tungsten. I had heard that he even tried horsehair. In the story, Edison was asked if he ever regretted having spent so much time trying to find the one thing that worked and he responded by explaining he certainly did not, that now he knew hundreds of things that could never work as filaments.
Finding sobriety was like this for me. Only it didn’t go that smoothly. I tried lots of things that didn’t work, geographic cures, the “marijuana maintenance program,” only using at home, and only using when I went out. I tried only keeping cash on hand, and when that didn’t work, I tried only keeping my money in a bank. That didn’t work either, damn debit cards. They get you every time.
Eventually, I just gave up. I didn’t surrender. Unfortunately, this is not THAT story. I stopped trying to quit. I resigned myself to accepting that this was going to be who I was for the rest of my life. I honestly believed (and to me this truly is the insanity of the disease) that I was only hurting myself.
On November 1st, 2003, I was leaving a bar.
I’ll spare you the details.
The van I was driving struck nine people altogether. Six of them got killed. It was entirely my fault. It has been a long time since that night and somehow it still crushes me to say.
Oh, those poor people.
Their poor families.
I was placed on suicide watch in the local county jail. I was in an impossibly dark place. I’m still not sure how I made it through that. Honestly, looking back, which I still do a lot, I think it was that other people held me up. Carried me.
I spent my thirties in prison. They could have locked me up for the rest of my life; there was simply nothing that I could say. There still isn’t.
I committed myself to abstinence, not a recovery program, that would come later, but I made a promise to myself that I would do this experiment called sobriety before I finally killed myself. My plan, I would do everything everyone said would work to the very best of my abilities, and when this didn’t work, I would finally give myself permission to take my life.
So much has happened. So much has happened.
I became a runner while I was locked up. I had just quit smoking cigarettes, and I started wondering if maybe I had always been a runner and I just didn’t know it. So one day I went out to the yard and did a lap around the fence. The initial experience was horrible. The next day I tried it again, then the day after that, and then the running started turning into miles, and my runs started filling up the hours. I would close my eyes on the long straightaways and imagine that I was running…anywhere! I ran through Paris sometimes, and New York City, I ran the steps of the Parthenon, and along the canals of Venice.
With the help of Kara, the person who I am now madly in love with and luckily married to, we arranged to have a fund-raiser from prison for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We did so without the prison’s knowledge at the time (they found out later and almost threw me in “the hole” for it) and within just a few short months we raised over 5,000 dollars from friends and family outside in a one-man prison marathon.
I was released on January 11th, 2012. On January 14th of that same year, I ran the Charleston marathon. I didn’t come anywhere near finishing first, but I promise that I was the happiest person running the race that day.
A few days later I was in school full-time working on getting my Bachelors degree in Health Science with a concentration in Chemical Dependency Counseling, which is the field that I work in today.
I am passionate about recovery. My story is extreme, but honestly, I haven’t heard anyone’s story yet whose wasn’t. There was a time in my early recovery when I simply did not think that I could live and be this person. All of that has changed now, though. I have a beautiful wife, a home that I love to come back to, and a daughter, Story, who everyday reminds me of how great it can be just to breathe, just to exhale good clean air. She and my wife are my smiles, my laughter.
My job as an addiction therapist is fantastic. I work with great people, both patients, and counselors.
One thing that I have come to believe is that recovery is heroic. It is just the greatest honor to be able to be a part of someone else’s recovery from addiction. People in recovery do the most astounding thing. Imagine if someone came up to you and said, “Hey, starting Monday we’re going to need you to stop hanging out with all of your friends. Also, those old familiar places that you feel so comfortable at, yeah, we’re going to need you to stop going there too. Also, we need you to get honest, and I’m talking about a depth of honesty you’ve never known before. We are going to need you to confess everything you’ve ever done, and continue to do so on a daily basis from now on; that’s going be crucial. Oh and humility, we’re going need to see that from you a lot. From now on everyone is the best teacher you have ever had.” Even if you weren’t in recovery that would be a daunting task, but then add you have to give up the only things that are providing even a modicum of comfort and…well, recovery is heroic. It is a great honor to be invited to be a part of that with someone.
Here it is almost thirteen years later. I’m out of prison. There were a few times I thought that probably would never happen, sometimes for legal consequences, and sometimes because prisons are dangerous. I’m not just married, but I happen to be head-over-heels in love with my wife too! I have an incredible, funny and gifted daughter. I’ve finished my degree. And if I want to have a peanut butter sandwich, all I have to do is walk over to the kitchen and make one (I promise you I can turn a peanut butter sandwich into a spiritual experience).
Sometimes I pause and remember that man sobbing on the jailhouse floor. I think of where I’ve been, what I’ve been through and where I’m standing now. I pause and reflect on all of the people who’ve held me up to this point. And then I feel as if I just might explode into light!