Health Alert: 100 overdoses in Berks over the weekend. Click here for more details.
In my experience, my active alcoholism was much more than a disease or substance use disorder. It was a full-blown way of life. EVERYTHING, from the moment I awoke in the morning to how and when I brushed my teeth, was dictated by my alcoholism. You see, I may not have drank every day or drank to oblivion each time I did drink, but what I did have was other-worldly (completely irrational, delusional, “insane”) thoughts about alcohol. Alcoholism was my moral compass, where everything and everyone that I pulverized was done so with the idea that alcohol was more important than anything else. Getting drunk and achieving that effect was more important than my employability and my relationships with friends and family. Growing up, I experienced the loss of my father at the age of 14, very suddenly, when he had a heart attack. This loss set the ball in motion for self-centered fear. I was afraid of being hurt again in such a manner, so I would isolate and keep people away, but close enough to obtain things I needed. Fear ran my life until alcohol did. Adding alcohol to my psyche at that particular time was like pouring gasoline on the fire, where my fears and insecurities became even more acute. So why did I keep going back to alcohol? Alcohol deluded me into believing that it freed me from worry and insecurity and provided me with fellowship with others. Honestly, I did have some good times early on; however, I crossed the line from social drinker to problem drinker very quickly, if not after the first night I drank. See, when I drank the first time, it was like discovering oxygen. No longer was I a square peg being pounded into the round hole. I felt like I was a part of something and no longer terminally unique from my fellows. Alcohol was the solution to my life of fear and hurt.
Unfortunately, the good feeling that alcohol gave me did an about-face and knocked me out on more than one occasion. I became involved in the criminal justice system due to drinking and my alcoholism told me that I had a drinking and driving problem, not a drinking problem. Alcoholism progressed to the breaking point on September 28th, 2010. That evening, I was arrested for my 2nd DUI. That night, after I had made a phone call home to be picked up from the hospital where I was administered a blood test, the words “I think I need to go to AA” were uttered. Where these words came from, I do not know. But some part of me knew that the game was over.
I have been blessed to have a supportive family throughout my active alcoholism and recovery. My step-dad drove me to my first meeting on October 5th, 2010 and it was here, where I met other people who drank like I did, thought about alcohol like I did, and felt about the world like I did. However, they had something that I was missing – a solution to living life without drinking. I would love to say that I jumped in the “recovery lake” all the way from the start, but that would not be the truth. While I have not had a drink since September 28th, 2010, I did not begin participating in a program of recovery until August of 2011. In the period of time between September 2010 and August 2011, I was grazing the surface of the “recovery lake” with my big toe by attending 12-step meetings, participating in court-mandated treatment, and completing a halfway house program tailored specifically for 2nd time DUI offenders in Berks County. I was also working at a residential treatment center for behaviorally challenged youth, as well as rehabbing a blown out ACL suffered on the job.
What happened in August of 2011? I surrendered my driver’s license to the Commonwealth of PA and surrendered my job to my employer due to my inability to drive. I was at a crossroad in my life and my scorecard read zero. I remember the people at 12-step meetings who thought and drank like I did, but ALSO had time and purpose in their life, say things like “meeting makers make it,” “this is a program of action,” “it works WHEN you work it,” etc. So I went to the same meeting I went to back on October 5th, 2010 on August 2 and reached out for help. I got connected with a sponsor who marched me through the 12-steps – which are still my moral compass to this day – and attended meetings every day for the next several months.
I also made the decision to go back to grad school to earn my MSW. This program was tailored in such a way where the initial classes were ripe with introspection and challenging of self. Coupled with the 12-step work being done with my sponsor and being guided through these classes by a great faculty, I began to understand more about myself, my biases, my family history, and perhaps most importantly, the power of people as agents of change. Slowly, but surely, I began to put the pieces of the puzzle together and learn about why my life, which was guided by fear and insecurity, had transpired the way it had, especially when alcohol was poured all over it (in some cases, very literally poured all over it!) I learned about the power of connection between one recovering person and another; where sharing experiences, strength, and hope with each other provide example and inspiration to continue “one day at a time.”
I sit here today full of gratitude for the people I have met along the way, from my supportive parents, my sponsor and friends in recovery, the Social Work Department and my classmates at KU, and my employers since finding recovery. Today, I have a monthly car payment, I have monthly student loan payments, there is the possibility of becoming a home-owner at some point this year, I pay taxes, and I am involved in my community. I am also blessed to be employed with a great organization that is a local leader in changing the public perception and negative stigma of addiction to promoting recovery as a way of life.
Just like how alcoholism used to be a way of life for me, my new way of life is one based on recovery. No longer am I a taker, looking for what I can get from situations, I am now looking at ways in which I can contribute. No longer do I isolate, I surround myself with like-minded people and travel together to places where a presence of recovery can be useful. I am now a proud social worker who understands, firsthand, the value of investing in our friends, neighbors, and communities. While the gifts of sobriety are bountiful, one of the greatest gifts is the fact that I am no longer afraid and am secure in my own skin. I can now look myself in the eye and be cool with the man staring back at me in the mirror.
So if you are new to recovery, please stay with us. There are many pathways to finding the life of purpose and usefulness in recovery. Read some of the stories posted here. Attend one of the dozens upon dozens of local 12-step meetings in the area. Or if you wish, there are other secular and faith-based recovery fellowships available to try, as well. If you are a loved one of someone who has yet to find recovery, do not lose hope. There are also fellowships available for you who can assist you in your own personal recovery journey, too. Don’t quit before the miracle happens!