As a man in long term recovery, I can attest that one of the most unfaltering truths is that addiction does not discriminate. This heartbreaking disease leaves no demographic or socio-economic group immune to the suffering addiction brings. Race, gender, sexual preference, and age cannot predict who will be impacted. Over the years in active recovery, I was taught to share my experience with others in three stages: what it was like; what Happened; and what it is like today. I share my story with you today in the hope someone can identify and feel inspired by the blessing of long-term recovery.
What It Was Like
Life takes its toll on everyone differently. We all have ups and downs. We stay static and then our lives shift. No one is immune to the complex whirlwind of ‘Life on Life’s Terms.’
For me, I was 16 years old when I exhibited full blown alcoholism.
I drank strictly for effect. I used substances to escape myself because I didn’t feel right sized and didn’t feel like I fit it. I used when I was sad to make me happy. I self-medicated to relieve anxiety, to socialize, and for any other reason you could imagine. This became an ingrained tactic I used to get through life.
We all perceive our lives and our situations differently. Mine felt like one that was challenging at best. I didn’t fit into the norm, I had some issues in my home life, and I constantly felt like I never had the tools to live life. Substances turned into the universal tool as it initially had the power to treat any ailment I had.
As life progressed so did my disease. It robbed me of all the things I valued in life. I had never cheated on my partners with another person, but I did cheat on them with alcohol. Alcohol took precedence over any person, commitment, or job I had. I needed substances more than anything, even though I knew there were countless negative effects.
Contrary to what some people may think, I came from a good community in Western Massachusetts. I had the love and support of a variety of people throughout life regardless of my ‘terminal uniqueness.’ I was the prom king and an above average student.
With all that said, in my journey, I was still homeless at age 24. I tried numerous stints of recovery and none lasted long. Seven months was my longest period prior to going back out for another year. In that year I had a job I loved, I had friends, a partner, and my own apartment. As time elapsed, my drinking became an issue. I could no longer keep showing up for work. I couldn’t pay my rent. I couldn’t even put food on the table.
I ended up needing to move into a home with my partner. When I moved in, he knew I drank, but not that I was a drunk. I would drink mouthwash to stop the shakes because having hard alcohol on the breath in the morning wouldn’t be considered ‘normal.’
I found spare change to get alcohol just to maintain. I never stopped at the same liquor store in the same day because ‘no one should know I had a problem.’ I would methodically replace the jar of coins with additional copper pennies to replace the silver coins I was using for booze.
As time went on, my relationship grew toxic. The love turned to abuse. In my drunken efforts to escape an abusive partner, I chose to become homeless. I had already alienated myself from all friends and family due to the false promises I would consistently make.
Living in the woods turned into a viable option because it was close enough to the liquor store to get a drink but secluded enough to not deal with society. I rationalized why living in the woods and sleeping in the grass along a railway was acceptable.
After a few weeks I was covered in poison ivy, mosquito and bug bites, sun burnt, and emaciated. I was void of any desire to live. However, I didn’t have it in me to kill myself either.
What changed you may ask? Honestly, not too much to start. It was a fleeting thought. A final moment while I was day-sleeping in a cemetery. I was drinking a box of wine that I had poured into a ginger-ale bottle to be judged less.
I knew I was void of all hope, but I knew who had it. That was the key. I knew who was able to light the spark of hope back inside me when I didn’t have it, to conjure up myself.
It was the workers in the detox who I trusted and always loved me when I couldn’t love myself. Having been to detox 12 times before, I got to know them well. They never gave up on me. Those ‘earth angels’ that worked in the detox were always able to bring hope back into my life no matter how far down the path I had traveled. Even ‘The Man from the Woods!’
To this day, I am still friends with those people who saved me from a hopeless state of mind.
I have now been in recovery since June 5, 2011. I ask that you try not to judge ‘The Man from the Woods’ as you don’t know where he came from, what happened, and what he might do one day.
The Journey in Treatment:
After this final trip into detox, I took all the suggestions that were given to me by the healthcare providers. They suggested I go for long term treatment, so I did. Over the years I tried medication assisted treatment, clinical stabilization services, transitional supportive services, outpatient counseling, inpatient psych, psych medication, self help groups, homeless shelters and the list goes on ad infinitum.
I learned a few key things from my many attempts at recovery.
- Recovery treatment will be different for everyone.
- You need to at least try the methods you haven’t tried before.
- All healthcare providers are NOT created equally – Find trusted partners.
- Sometimes the best thing you can do is plant a seed and hope it grows.
What It’s Like Today?
Since working diligently at my own recovery, I have mended relationships that were once strained. I have a fruitful and loving relationship with my mother. I show up when I say I will be somewhere and admit when I am wrong.
I learned many tools to live a health life that include: self care, emotional management, fellowship, empathy, compassion, understanding, and many others.
Some of the self-care things that work for me are trying new things like escape rooms, painting classes, cooking, sky diving, glass blowing, etc. I get out and increase my fitness levels. I’ve pushed myself to compete in multiple obstacle course races that build on teamwork and comradery. I’ve developed strong fellowships through kickball and volleyball leagues.
In addition to my personal life, I have developed my professional one as well. After working my way through a full continuum of care, I knew I wanted to help others. I also discovered that many people wanted to help but that not all treatment providers cared for people in the same manner.
Education is key. Many programs have under-educated staff delivering care who don’t understand the nuances of addiction. You must educate your staff if you’re going to put them in the field to help others. That doesn’t mean everyone needs a college degree, but it does mean leadership needs to provide guidance and consistent trainings to develop skillsets.
I went to school to gain a certificate in addiction counseling, sat for the national boards to become a certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor, and went onward to work on a Bachelors of Science in Human Service. I since participate in many conferences and certificate programs to build my skills. I’ve been granted a few full scholarships to summer sessions of addiction professional development programs. I took the tri-fold approach to the world of recovery: education, experience, and professional development. It’s the multifaced approach that I believe delivers the best results.
Becoming a Warrior for Hope:
I worked in the addiction continuum with adolescents and adults prior to coming to CleanSlate. I worked with children, inmates, healthcare providers, government relations, and families. I joined the CleanSlate team as their Center Manager of the flagship center which then developed into the training center as we grew our national footprint.
We served over 800 patients on a monthly basis and taught the new staff about our methods, our tact, and our passion. One of the things that attracted me to CleanSlate was that every patient and every staff has a voice. We built a program around what works medically as well as what works best for patients and staff.
Ask any staff member and you’ll hear a connection to them and the cause. They all know someone who has been affected by the disease of addiction and know how they would want their family to be treated. We treat our patient with the same dignity and respect we would treat our own loved ones. We have rules and guidelines, but we enforce them with empathy and compassion.
I joined the National Expansion Team after a year with the company. I saw the expansion happening in two other states and saw an opportunity for my experience to be used to connect with new communities. I offered a plan and was welcomed onto the Expansion Team where we have since increased access by opening 50+ new centers since opening in 2009. We have a national footprint that reaches MA, CT, PA, DC, IN, WI, AZ, TX, FL, OH, KY, TN, and we are fostering relationships in many other states that will be coming online soon.
Building Safe Spaces:
Every Warrior on our team build hope in their own ways. For me, I seek to break down biases and ensure we are meeting the community where they are. One of the communities I strongly advocate for is the LGBTQ+ community. Whether you are gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, positive, undetectable, or otherwise identified; I aim to ensure everyone is treated and advocated for appropriately.
I seek to educate our community and our staff on the nuances that make people feel comfortable. I also find those pathways so we can ensure people feel safe but can also be reached. Its important to ask people how they feel and what they need. We offer that at CleanSlate.
One of the other things I push outward to our communities is education. I educate about addiction and how communities can be more involved. I train people nationally on how to respond to opioid overdoses via nasal naloxone and also how to engage your loved ones with various treatment options.
The reason addiction doesn’t discriminate within our community is because it targets humans at our core: the brain. Whether its alcohol or some of the common discussed addictive opioids, such as fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone; we can all become addicted.
In essence, addiction is a disease of brain; effecting the reward sensors, motivation and memory. Within the past few years, overdose has become the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, ahead of deaths from motor vehicle accidents and firearms.
The scope of addiction is national, but the impact is local. It threatens the fabric of our communities and families – brothers, sisters, life partners, friends, and colleagues.
Patient treatment programs must focus on giving patients the dignity, compassion and respect they deserve, no matter their age, gender, race, or sexual preference. We at CleanSlate teach communities that because we understand the journey of recovery. Many of us are in recovery, have loved ones in active addiction, active recovery, and/or have been clinically trained to help those in need.
We are here to help!