WakeUp Carolina is sharing a six-part weekly series, “Turning A Mess Into A Message,” guest authored by Keegan. He has decided to publicly share how a tragic incident led to his recovery in order to hopefully provide someone hope that there is another way to live. Keegan describes himself as “uniquely qualified to be able to help someone else who is struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction.” After a 10-year downward spiral with plenty of things that “should have made him consider getting help” and a lot of “denial with nothing ever being his fault,” he landed in the Georgia Department of Corrections with a vehicular homicide charge. In this article, Keegan reflects on his past with substance misuse, particularly lying to himself about what was happening in his life was okay and that he was able to manage the earlier negative consequences. “It baffles me how I could be so far in denial,” but he did manage to keep a 4.0 GPA to deflect the seriousness of his situation.

August 17, 2022

If you would have told me back in my early teens that at 27 years old I would openly admit that I am a drug addict and alcoholic, I would have looked at you like you were crazy and told you to “Have a nice day,” in not such a polite way. However, now at 27 years old, I can openly admit that I AM a drug addict and alcoholic and I am grateful that I am because it allows me to be uniquely qualified to be able to help someone else who is struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Growing up, I never once in a million years thought my life would end up on the dark path that it did. As an early adolescent and teenager, all I saw was success on the horizon, and didn’t think much of my drinking and drug habit. I had and still have a wonderful family who supports me, and I had endless opportunities laid out before me. I never needed (wants vs. needs was a lesson I learned much later on in life) but, I WANTED much more than I needed or had which was one of my greatest defects of character. I always felt that I needed something to fill a void that I felt inside of me. How did I fill that void you may ask? With drugs and alcohol of course, which led me on a 10-year downward spiral that led me to my current incarceration in the Georgia Department of Corrections which ultimately saved my life.

Early on when I first started drinking and using (around the age of 13), I finally felt like I belonged. For a long time growing up there were always feelings of being on the outside looking in and being in a room full of people, but still being alone. All of those feelings faded away when I got high or buzzed on alcohol. However, the negative consequences of using and drinking started very quickly after my first use of marijuana. I think it was the second or third time that I smoked marijuana and I was arrested for my first time, possession of marijuana, at the age of 13. This would be my first real consequence which would start the vicious cycle and downward spiral that lasted over 10 years.

There were plenty of things throughout my addiction that happened that should have been enough for any “normal” person to look at and be like “Okay I need to stop.” or “I need to get some help”, but for me, they were things that made me swear I would never do that again, but somehow I would find myself right back in the same spot or worse. One thing that I can say about my addiction is that it was full of empty promises to myself and others. I would draw “Lines in the sand” so to speak, where I would say “I will never do x, y, or z” then x, y, or z would happen, and I would just continue to push that line further and further. Kind of like dipping your toes into some water to see how cold it is and deciding if it feels fine and jumping right in! What’s really crazy to me now looking back at my years of using and drinking is the delusion and denial I had where I could tell myself what was going on in my life was okay and that I was able to manage what was going on including the negative consequences in my life.

There was always something I could point at and be like “See my use isn’t that bad if I’m able to do that.” For example, having a certain job, (which usually did not last long), or being able to get good grades in school. Toward the end of my addiction, I was attending Georgia Southern University and I was able to maintain a 4.0 GPA while extremely deep in my active addiction which allowed me to fool myself and tell myself everything wasn’t as bad as it seemed. Now, after being sober for quite some time, I often look back over my life or will think about a certain memory and question the insanity and chaos that was my life in addiction. It baffles me how I could be so far in denial, however, I am sure there are plenty of people out there who can relate.

Personally, I think one of the biggest things I was lacking in my life during my addiction was accountability and the ability to take responsibility for my actions. No matter what happened, it was never my fault. I was always the victim or an innocent bystander. In my teenage years when I would get in trouble my dad’s infamous words were, “Well why did you do it?” my answer was always “I don’t know”. For me, it was extremely hard to take ownership of my actions. It was impossible for me to swallow my pride and acknowledge that I did something wrong. Today in my life it is exactly the opposite. I own every aspect of my life especially when something happens that is negative or if I do something wrong. I know for me in my recovery it is crucial to admit when I am wrong and to make amends to people whenever necessary if I offend or hurt someone. Personal freedom for me comes from completely keeping my side of the street clean and acknowledging whenever I have done something wrong, which is the complete opposite of my old behavior. It took me a lot to learn the importance of being held accountable and taking responsibility for my actions because for a long time during my addiction I was unable to see how my using and drinking affected anyone other than myself. I was unable to identify the pain I put my family and friends through as well as other people I didn’t even know.

However, on April 7th of 2019, that all tragically changed. On the morning of April 7th, I was involved in a car accident while under the influence that tragically took the life of an innocent person. All of the delusion and denial that everything was alright and that I was only affecting myself was smashed. I was arrested for vehicular homicide and taken to jail. I was absolutely devastated. Words cannot even begin to describe the amount of emotional pain I experienced. Coming too from a blackout, waking up in jail, and finding out that I killed someone as a result of my drinking. I contemplated suicide, but I had what I believe to be divine intervention from my higher power which I chose to call God. I hit my knees for the first time since I was a child and prayed the first honest and broken prayer asking for God to help me. It took me a long time to be able to think of myself as anything other than a monster. I had always heard stories about people killing someone while drunk or high, but it was always one of those “that will never happen to me” things. The pain of knowing what my addiction caused to an innocent person and their family is indescribable.  During the early days of waiting in jail, not knowing what was going to happen was so hard. I am extremely grateful that the judge in the case gave me an opportunity to go to treatment. During that time I was able to work on myself and learn a lot about recovery (through AA and the 12 steps). I was able to start learning what it meant to actually take ownership of my actions and start to make amends for things I had done. The early days were not easy. I didn’t trust anyone and I absolutely hated myself and the person I was. I couldn’t talk in any of the groups or meetings without breaking down and crying. It took me close to a year to be able to look at myself in the mirror and be okay with the person I saw.

After about 8-9 weeks of inpatient treatment, I was given the opportunity to go to long-term treatment where I was able to actually apply all of the stuff I learned while in inpatient treatment. I quickly found an AA sponsor and dove into working on my recovery through the support of the other men around me, and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I know AA isn’t for everyone, I am only sharing my experiences and what worked for me. The freedom I was able to experience from talking with other men about my past and the things that have happened was incredible. It is absolutely true that when you shine a light on the darkest parts of your life things begin to get a little brighter slowly but surely.

One of the things that I struggled with a lot during my early days of recovery was wanting all of the pain to go away immediately, however, that was not the case. It took me a long time to forgive myself for my past and what happened and there are still days today where that is difficult for me. The difference today is I know who I am and where my heart is and I know that if there was any possibility, I would go back and change what happened to that innocent person.

I am not going to lie to anyone, treatment was tough. Having other people basically tell you all of your faults, and what you need to work on is difficult, especially for a prideful person like myself. There is something extremely special about other men rallying around one another to achieve a common purpose which is sobriety. Over the course of my treatment, there was an extreme sense of impending doom because I still had to go to court and be sentenced for the vehicular homicide charge. The hardest part was knowing and accepting that I was going to have to go to prison, but not having any idea for how long. There were days that were extremely difficult but one of the fundamentals of recovery is to stay sober “One day at a time.” That was something I had to keep in the front of my mind on a daily basis and apply to my situation while waiting for court. A mentor of mine in recovery would always ask me a simple question that would make all the difference. That question was “Where are your feet?” This simple question would bring me back into the moment and stop me from future tripping over what was going to happen.

During the period of waiting for court, I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to work and help others in recovery at the sober living I went through. I have developed a passion for helping others and giving back whenever possible because I took so much from others during my active addiction. Being able to help numerous men get the spiritual freedom I have experienced through recovery is a gift I will never be able to describe. I pray daily that through my example of recovery, I may help someone and save someone’s life and family from having to go through the pain I put my victim’s family through. If I am able to touch just one person’s life in a way that can help them the way I was helped by numerous people I will be grateful.

After almost 3 years of being sober, I was finally sentenced to serve 7 years in the Georgia Department of Corrections. Court was extremely difficult, having to relive what happened when I cannot even vaguely recall the night of the accident was extremely painful. However, I was able to get some closure and make a statement about how I felt and the guilt, regret, and remorse I feel on a daily basis that will be with me for the rest of my life.

Today as I write this, I am sitting in a GED classroom in one of the worst prisons in Georgia, but I am spiritually free. I never thought I could be as content and okay with such a negative and tragic situation as I am today. Early on when my journey in recovery started, I had no hope that anything good could come out of such a negative situation, but today it is the complete opposite. One of the counselors at the inpatient facility I went through used to tell me “One day you are going to turn your mess into your message.” and I believe that is exactly what I am on a journey doing. I have found that all the experiences I have had no matter how difficult or tragic have made me uniquely qualified to help another alcoholic and drug addict. Today I have plans for my future and have dedicated my life to giving back and helping others as much as possible. I plan to continue working in the recovery field upon my release from prison and would like to speak publicly about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. It is amazing how much my life has changed and how much hope I have for the future today. I pray that my testimony can give someone hope that there is another way. You do not have to live in pain and there are plenty of people willing to help because without them I would not be the person I am today.

I am truly free today from the inside of a prison. What an amazing feeling.


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