Hey everybody, I’m Dean Stephens with WakeUp Carolina. I wanted to share a little bit about my past, my background. Not so much how I became part of WakeUp Carolina, but my experience with alcohol and drugs. I’ve been clean and sober now since August 21, 1992. Almost 32 years. I grew up in an alcoholic family. I’ve got a mother who’s an alcohol and drug counselor. So I know quite a bit about the disease and I know quite a bit about substance use and misuse. What we hope to do is to be able to shed a little bit of light and have a conversation about it with WakeUp Carolina. I’m so proud to be a part of this organization and to let people know that you don’t have to go through it alone and that there is hope. There’s hope out there.

The Experimentation Phase: The Vibe of My Tribe

The initiation phase… it’s a really interesting question, you know, how I first encountered drugs and alcohol. I think it would be for me, it was through school, through high school, it was in a work environment – in one of my first jobs there was alcohol and drugs present. It always seemed to be around me. And, why did I try it the first time? Peer pressure. I would say there was no pressure but my peers were certainly doing it. And, people older than me. So it became, I think, just an opportunity to try it. And that’s how it started. And that’s part of my story – is that it was a lot of fun. Until it wasn’t. But that first initiation and the influence was just about the vibe in my tribe.

The Early Phase: Didn’t Know What Danger Was

My early experience with alcohol and drugs, probably more so alcohol early on, but it was around certain friend groups whether it was after school on the weekends or a group of friends that I hung out with, who I worked with. And some of them were older certainly than us, you know, a 15-year-old kid, but alcohol played a major part in what we did and how we did things. That was kind of the social context, but as I look back at it, the times and the places that we did it were just so inappropriate and dangerous. But I think that’s part of being a 15, 16-year-old kid and being intoxicated – is that you didn’t really know what danger was. Early stage-wise, it was with a group of friends in high school and it was fun until it wasn’t.

Misuse & Dependency: The Catch-22

We start talking about regular use and at what point drugs and alcohol become more regular or habitual… I would say that even in high school, it was commonplace. Then when I went to college and was surrounded by people who also had the same kind of interests as I did in drinking and drugging. It became habitual and it became something that we did all the time. The catch-22 is that you don’t really see it or realize it or understand it or feel it. I think until, you know, the consequences start rearing their ugly head. And so my regular use, I would say certainly started in college without question.

The Impact: It Changed Me, My Behavior, My Moods, My Daily Life

The impact that alcohol and drugs had on my life, early on as I was going through college, became a time where everybody said, “You know, the only time I ever really got high was with Dean.” And you start hearing that and then things start to click a little bit. My friend group was a group that partied and liked to party and there really wasn’t a bad time to party. And so obviously that changes. That changed me, my behavior, my moods changed, and my daily life changed. You know, I probably became – actually, no probabilities – I became reckless and I was dangerous. It is an absolute miracle that I’m sitting here talking to you today because there were many days that I probably should not have survived my alcohol and drug use and then the actions that led after that.

Challenges & Struggles: I Told Myself A Million Times

Challenges and struggles. I don’t know if I can keep this under 60 seconds or not, but you know that the challenges and struggles were… were very real and I can spell them out quite quickly that my alcohol and drug use impacted my education. It took me six and a half years to graduate college with one degree, not two. Most people have two when they go six and a half years. I was able to get my first job after six and a half years of college. The very first weekend that I was a sports anchor at a TV station, I was driving back to Austin to go see friends and I was pulled over in the middle of the night in a small little town and there was a state warrant out for my arrest. So that very first weekend when I should have been celebrating my very first job, I actually spent that weekend in jail. And then two years later, the same thing. Working in West Texas in the town I got pulled over in the morning, and there was a warrant out for my arrest in the state and, I went to jail for a second time. Being kicked out of college, on probation for a semester, taking six and a half years to get out of college, and going to jail twice – those were significant moments that didn’t seem to faze me at all. But I without question knew that I had a problem and because I told myself a million times I was going to stop, a million times I was going to clean up my act, a million times, all these different things and – it never changed, not one time, but the insanity continued and the insanity continued to swirl. It took a long time for me to finally wake up and figure out that the path I was on was going to lead to a very early death.

The Turning Point: He Was A Bad Guy

The turning point in my life as it related to alcohol and drugs was Friday morning, August 21, 1992. I was working here in Charleston at a TV station and I woke up that morning and I looked in the mirror and I did not know the person looking back at me. What I did know about that person is, I didn’t like him. He was a bad guy. And he was a thief and a cheat and a master manipulator. He was not a good dude. And that dude was me. It was that moment when I knew that it was time to make a change. While I didn’t lose a house, and I didn’t somehow kill anybody, and I didn’t lose material things, what I lost was me and I really wanted to be that kid that I was before I started using and abusing alcohol and drugs. And that was on a Friday and that was the last day that I picked up a drink or a drug.

Pathway To Recovery: There Were Three Choices

After waking up that Friday morning and realizing that enough was enough, I was able to find a group full of people just like me and a 12-step group. There were things that I learned in that very first meeting that resonated with me and I’ll never forget – that there were three choices. There were jails, institutions, or death. And I’d already been to jail twice. I had been to a family week for a family member at rehab, and that did not look fun. And I knew that I was too young to die, and I didn’t want to die. So that fourth choice was to commit to recovery. And that was in the very first group and I listened and I heard and I remember to this day. The other thing that I’ll never forget is understanding that there are various ways to various pathways to recovery. And I, and my support that a hundred percent is that for me, needed to turn this over to something greater than me. And that was in higher power. Higher powers can come in a lot of different shapes and forms. But I knew the narcissist in me and the person addicted to alcohol and drugs who thought he was the bigger, better, smartest guy in the room was no longer the case because he couldn’t stop on his own. It was very simple to just simply say a prayer, to ask for help, to stay away from a drink or drug this day. And sometimes that happened once in the morning. Sometimes it had to be said four or five times a day and to ask for that obsession to be relieved. And then at the end of the night if you get through 24 hours without a drink or drug, you simply put your head in your pillow and you say, thank you. That’s helped me through a lot. Those are the first two things I remember from that very first meeting I went to.

Recovery: The Only Constant Is The People Who Surround You

My current status is on this day, I’ve not had a drink or a drug since since August 21, 1992. And you know, the interesting part about this journey is that – not in my wildest dreams, would I ever thought that I would have what I have today. And that’s not about material things. That’s about relationships. That’s about a wife. It’s about three kids. It’s about the community. It’s about the ability to listen and have empathy for people. And I’ve not lived a perfect life, not even close. But what I do know is that my worst day in recovery is better than my best day using and abusing alcohol and drugs. I stay in close contact with people who share the same mission and vision that I do and the desire to lead a clean and sober life. I am centered on being able to give back what was freely given to me because it was. And I understand today that not every day is going to be a great day and I’ve been through some really tough times in sobriety, but the one thing that remains constant are the people who surround you and help you and walk you through those troubled times. Because in the past, I would have turned to alcohol and drugs to numb those feelings and to not remember and to forget. And for that, I’m grateful. And will forever be grateful.

Message from WakeUp: There’s Help Out There

The funny thing about advice is as you get, as I get older, those who really want it will ask you for it. I often say now the older I get, the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t really know anything at all. But what I know about recovery and my journey with alcohol and drugs is it certainly changed my life, and for the better, I think, even though those times were really difficult. But, I think the most important thing is if you:
  • know that you struggle,
  • know that you can’t stop on your own
  • failed to step on your own before
  • know that there’s been more bad than good in your life because of alcohol and drugs
  • know that your choices are such that they lead to poor outcomes
  • know and you want help, it’s always here.
And it’s a very simple process. Once you get to that point, just to be able to say, “Hey, I need some help” because there’s help out there. I think that that’s the thing that I love most about WakeUp Carolina is that we are here to let people know that they don’t have to walk alone. Whether you are struggling with alcohol or drugs, whether you have a loved one who is struggling with alcohol or drugs. Or if you’ve lost a loved one, because of alcohol and drugs, is that you don’t have to walk this walk alone. And that’s why we’re here. My hope and prayer for you today is that if you are in a place of crisis, or you need just someone to ask a question, or someone to talk to you, reach out because we are here. We will always be here for you.
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