Let Me Preface
Let me preface this with a simple statement: the life that I live today was worth the torment of every grueling challenge and experience I have ever had to face.
I grew up in a home where no one knew how to express love for one another. My father, an abusive alcoholic, was ever-absent. When he was present, which was seldom, he was vicious. Pair the previous with a mother who harbored a variety of mental disorders, then add in a brother who rarely spoke at all. You've got a regular Brady Bunch on your hands.
My parents split when I was around three or four years old. We bounced from one city to the next, riding waves of eviction notices and bankruptcy, as my mother went from one toxic relationship to the next. This period instilled a lot of the ideals that contributed to how my adolescent and early adult life transpired. Among these were, to name a couple, nothing in life is a permanent fixture, so don’t get attached to anything, and love doesn’t actually triumph, no matter how many movies, cheesy teachers, or counselors tell me so. Remember these ideas; they play a major part in my self-destruction.
Fast forward a few years and you'll find my family settled into a small town in the east where things haven't shaped up much. My mother was in a relationship with an alcoholic equally as abusive as my father was. This man also turned out to be kin to another man who, at the time, was sexually abusing my brother. I bore witness to the abuse for somewhere north of two years; more on that in a separate submission. Somewhere amidst all of this, I slammed my instinctual 'fuck it' button and ran. I spent every breathing moment outside of my house, bouncing around friends’ couches, and lying to their parents about why I didn't want to go home. At twelve years old, I yearned for alienation from my family...like I could just push them away and everything would be okay.
During this time I developed a fondness for moonshine, whatever liquor I could find in people’s houses, and a few natural herbs, if you will. This continued for a couple years until around age fifteen. My mother decided she wanted to become an all-powerful, authoritarian figure in the household, monitoring and controlling every aspect of my existence. This spiraled into an emotionally abusive cycle my therapist refers to as ‘surrogate spousing.’ My resentment toward my family grew exponentially, particularly with my mother. My drinking assumed an even more substantial role in my life, and my curiosity for drugs grew with it. From age fifteen on, I would venture to say I did not draw a sober breath until my first trip to a rehabilitation facility some six years later.
Though the deck was stacked against me at home and I had an ever-growing internal need for stronger substances, I somehow managed to do alright in my school work throughout high school. I was frequently absent or in trouble, but a phenomenal test taker — proven by my drunken 2080 on the SAT (editor’s note: the average score around this time was 1400). This landed me acceptance into college, as well as a great job at the local hospital, and things seemed to be on the up and up.
Seemed being the operative word. The substantial abuse of drugs was going to catch up to me. About half a semester into college, I was no longer able to maintain both sides of my life. The side that just wanted to party and escape from everything (emotions especially) won out. I dropped out during my second semester, left the job I was working at the hospital, and began a more concentrated path of destruction.I got heavily involved in the trafficking of prescription drugs and developed an insatiable taste for crack cocaine. Things were fun at first. I was making more cash than I could spend and I assumed this is what life would be like forever.
However, as you can probably guess, things got worse. At nineteen, I overdosed for the first time and I was hospitalized with stomach ulcers and a heart attack. I left the hospital and immediately resumed my position of drinking and drugging constantly. With the passing of my grandfather that year, I spiraled into IV drug use and lost any identity of myself I’d established. I spent the next two years watching friends back out of my life, lost all connection with my family, and performed some heinous things that I never thought possible. I’d overdose eight to nine more times, holding absolutely no value for my life at all. When there wasn’t an actual overdose, I would fall out and just lose consciousness. To say I’m blessed to be alive is a serious understatement.
I fluctuated in and out of homelessness, a drug dealer lit my house on fire, and I had several run-ins with the law. Those are just some of the many external consequences I endured. These all pale in comparison to the complete, utter despair and internal death I dealt with on a daily basis. It was numb, stifling loneliness.
Things finally broke when I was 21, almost 22. It was winter. While out on bail from a previous legal encounter, I wrapped my car around a telephone pole late one night and fled the scene. The police went looking for me the next morning at mom’s house, where I was not. She brought them to the place I was crashing and they served me papers. I hadn’t really spoken to my mom in about a year except when I needed to beg for money. That morning she asked if she could come inside. Looking me in the eyes, the only thing she said was posed as a question.
“Would you please just go ahead and die so that our family can have peace?”
Wow. That one hit me right in the heart. I spent that night using whatever drugs I could scrounge up and the next morning, to what I can now attribute to God acting for me, I felt compelled to ask my mother for help. I’d dropped from 200+ pounds to 125, had holes in my molars from the drug use, and my arms were covered in bruises and cysts from prolonged IV drug use. I wouldn’t recognize that kid if I saw him on the street today.
Thus began my trips to rehabilitation facilities, outpatient centers, halfway houses, relapses, and geographical changes trying to sober up. I did all this without really taking a hard look at the traumas of my past and the hatred I had towards myself. Finally, I landed in a treatment facility down south where they were well-equipped to deal with my past and lack of self-love and self-care. They showed me that no matter what I went through, no matter the horrid things I had done and pain I had put people through, that I still had inherent worth just for being a human being.
What a thought! This was drilled into me by my therapist and center staff, over and over again, despite my fighting and ego’s desire to hold onto these old belief systems that I thought had kept me alive for so long. These people, who loved me unconditionally just for the sole reason that I was alive and breathing, were attempting to convince me that the one thing I thought was guiding me and keeping me safe was actually trying to kill me. I learned what it actually meant to be an alcoholic of the hopeless variety, and I began to build a foundation, one spiritual in nature, that I could rely on to successfully recover from this hopeless state I had been living in. I slowly learned how to love myself and how to love others.
I began to see what they saw: that every single one of us, no matter what we’ve been through or what we’ve done, have the same inherent value. I began to develop a relationship with a power greater than myself, to which I now refer to as God. It is the constant maintenance and exploration of this relationship that keeps me sober today. As I round the corner of my first year of continued sobriety, I often reflect on what it’s taken to get here and how far I really have come in the development of my ‘emotional sobriety.’ The drugs and alcohol were just a symbol — a vessel which I used to escape from feeling anything at all.
Today I live a beautiful life filled with meaningful connection, both new and old, and a renewed sense of purpose driven towards helping those still suffering. I work extensively with other alcoholics and sober homes to ensure that help is there when people are ready to accept it. I am responsible, reliable, and so full of gratitude for my life and the way it’s unfolded. I would not change a thing. Everything I have endured has led me to where I am today and helped me to establish a trusting and powerful relationship with God, as I understand God.
If there is anything I can leave with whoever reads this submission, it would be a simple statement: I love you, unconditionally.
No matter what you are going through, no matter the traumas and experiences you’ve endured, you are worthy of love always. That hole you feel in your chest, that yearning for connection with someone, it can be filled; but first, you must get to know yourself and identify your suffering. The road forward is not an easy one, and there will be certain trials and low points ahead. But I promise you, it is worth it.
You are worth it.
A Recovered Alcoholic