The stigma must change in order to save lives and this is why I have chosen to be open about my past and the fact that I am in recovery.

My name is Thomas Goris, and I am in long-term recovery.  By that I mean I have not used alcohol or drugs since December 21st, 2013.  As a result, my life has drastically changed for the better, and I’m becoming the man I’ve always dreamed I could be, but never thought possible until I entered recovery.

Recovery was never possible until I was ready and willing to have a spiritual solution to life’s problems. Before this, alcohol and drugs were the solution to my problems. They worked miracles with keeping me sane while driving me insane all at the same time.  What I failed to realize was that I was the problem, not the drugs.  I was not capable of accepting myself for who I am. I was beyond uncomfortable in my own skin.  As a result, I was my own worst enemy, and if I was going to recover I needed to change my solution.

I wasn’t capable or willing to accept life on life’s terms, and I became my own worst enemy. The feelings inside me from my environment always got the better of me no matter how I denied it, justified it, or embraced it.  My innate coping skills combined with an education to handle situations were never a solution to my feelings.   From an early age I was successful in sports.  As a result, I developed strong feelings of grandiosity coupled with an inability to be humble.  Shortly after came the stinking thinking, and king baby stages as I grew into my teenage years.  I knew what I wanted when I wanted it, and if I was told no I acted out or shut down because I thought I was a special king in my world.  I would obsess over little issues and I would white knuckle it on major ones.  Anger was the first feeling that I could not cope with.  If I fought the anger, I shut down.  If I embraced it, I acted out.  Whether I fought the anger or embraced it I still couldn’t be at peace.

I wasn’t capable or willing to accept life on life’s terms, and I became my own worst enemy.

As a result of my anger, hatred began to consume my every thought.  The alcohol first calmed my anger and hatred, which lead me to consume more.  As I drank more, the calming feeling dissipated, and the monster inside me started to poke its head out.  I lashed out in violent outbursts without ever taking into consideration the consequences of my actions.  I was so angry and blinded by the rage that being arrested at 15 and 17 years old didn’t faze me.

I almost lost my life due to my use multiple times while I was in my mid-twenties.  These were the only times I ever felt desperate enough to consider looking for help.  Looking back I really didn’t want to die, but I did want to continue using drugs as they were the solution that “worked.”   I asked to be saved by God because I felt seconds away from death, but suffered from an immense internal conflict.  I still wanted to numb my feelings with using, but if my life ended the drugs would stop too.

The disease of addiction is so powerful that after I asked God to save me I was using again in a matter of minutes.  Having stopped only to ask for my life to be saved, and repeating this horrific scene until the fear of death became greater than my fear of not using.  If this disease wasn’t so cunning I would have stopped that night.  It is so cunning, that I came up with the great plan to put down the cocaine, and give opiates a try.

Opiates replaced all of the bad feelings and paranoia from the cocaine.  As a result, I fell in love immediately.  Opiates became my new solution.  I felt as if I had arrived and found the answer to all of life’s problems.  However, this feeling didn’t last long, and I began chasing it.  The chase became a problem and that problem became a way of life.  I needed to use just to be able to function and get through the day.  The positive and settling feelings that accompanied my early use were replaced by feelings of resentment, fear, shame, anxiety, confusion, sadness, and an overall need to survive.  As a result, dishonesty, lying, cheating, and stealing became my daily coping skills.  My ego and pride drove me to deny, justify, and embrace my use while the stigma of addiction helped dig my hole deeper.   I lived to use and used to live.

As a result of my addiction, the consequences began to make life unbearable and the feeling of hopelessness outshined all positive aspects of my life.  I became sick and tired of being reliant on the only solution which had worked for 15 years.  Finally, I was on my knees willing to make a change and honestly asked for help with an open mind and a willingness to do whatever it took to save my life.

Finally, I was on my knees willing to make a change and honestly asked for help with an open mind and a willingness to do whatever it took to save my life.

After countless failed attempts of getting clean “on my own,” I knew that I only had one option.  I had to check myself into an in-patient rehab facility thousands of miles from where I lived to create distance from all of the people, places and things in my past.  The time away from the drugs allowed me to accept who I was and opened a window for a spiritual awakening that would change my life forever.

Being in recovery today shows me that my past is my greatest asset; an asset I’m not willing to lose.  Recovery has brought me back from the depths of hell and shined a new light on my life.  That life today is filled with gratitude, love, happiness, honesty, willingness, acceptance, courage, wisdom, open-mindedness, and humility.

Accepting who I am and everything that happened was my first step.  I’ve been able to set aside everything I thought I knew about myself and this disease.  As a result, recovery provides me with an open mind and new experiences every day.  This has given me the ability to take action, and change the man I was into the man I’ve always wanted to be.  The benefits and opportunities in recovery are endless.

When I reflect on the past and try and figure out some of the reasons why it took me so long to be willing to ask for help, I often come to the conclusion that the negative stigma surrounding addiction was a major factor.  All I knew was what my environment taught me.  I was taught to look down on people who suffered from addiction.  The “Just Say No” and “This Is Your Brain On Drugs” campaigns taught me that “drugs were bad” and that all people that did drugs were “bad” people.  What society was NOT teaching people was that those who suffer from addiction don’t have a choice. The ability to “Just Say No” is not in my DNA.  I was born with this disease and I never chose to become addicted to drugs.  If I knew then what I know now, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me 15 years to accept myself for who I am, and ask for help while struggling to stay alive with my disease.

The stigma must change in order to save lives and this is why I have chosen to be open about my past and the fact that I am in recovery.  People in recovery have strength in their stories having suffered the consequences and lived through the depths of addiction. Just like the men and women with HIV/AIDS did years ago.  Facing a powerfully negative stigma, they stood up and fought for their rights, having support from family, friends, and human rights activists.  As a result they began to make headway and eventually, billions of dollars were raised and millions of lives were saved.  During the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic a slogan was created to raise awareness and combat the stigma.  SILENCE=DEATH.  In the world of addiction, the same slogan applies.

I tell my story today because my silence will contribute to the negative stigma of addiction resulting in more deaths due to addiction.  I tell my story because the epidemic is only getting worse by the day, and if I choose to remain silent I’m not helping the human race see the truth about addiction.