My mom, dad, and sister didn’t use substances. I came from a good family, was loved, and had everything I needed. I went to college to play football and was able to get through school with minimal effort. Most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins struggled with substances over the years though. My dad would consistently try to warn me of how bad things could get if I started using drugs because of experiences he had with his siblings. I would listen to him but in my head, I always thought that would never happen to me. I had my first drink of Crown Royal when I was 13 and smoked weed for the first time soon after that. Nothing bad happened like everyone said. I got high, ate Goldfish, and listened to music! My mind went to “This is great; I don’t know why everyone is trying to tell me horror stories of drug use.” Now, 20 years later, I can look back and see that after using that first time I began to consistently seek euphoria. I wanted the feeling of being high, eating Goldfish, and listening to music all the time! Seems logical to someone who struggled with substance use. Something making me feel good equals me doing that something anytime I have the chance.
There were signs of trouble on the horizon with the way I consumed substances within twelve months of first smoking weed. At the age of 14, during my freshmen year, I was suspended from school because of not waking up when my teacher asked. It also didn’t help that I took a handful of Xanax from my older sister’s boyfriend before school started. Never remembered what happened or how it happened. I remember taking them in the morning before school then fast forward to a vague memory of my dad asking me what I took later in the day. Looking back at my past, I could see how people who heard my story wondered how I went from weed to taking Xanax on the way to school.
Looking back, I can see it being a combination of things. Including but not limited to:
Everyone I looked up to who was older used drugs and drank alcohol. That’s the crowd I felt best having around me and who I wanted to fit in with. This allowed me to have access to new drugs to experiment with.
Wanting infinite euphoria. Like the euphoria that people (who don’t struggle with substance use) get when they go out that one night with no concerns about the past or future. One of those carefree nights that produce the joy of being in the moment with people you care about while being buzzed. Who wouldn’t want that all the time?
Fearless – when using I felt comfortable. There was no caution for consequences or the future. I recognized by the age of 14 that another consistent thought I had was “Whatever level you think you’re willing to take it to, I’ll go to the next level.” Whether it was drinking, using substances, racing cars, or fighting.
After my first consequence from using, I completed my suspension and manipulated the situation at school into me being very ill instead of stoned. Let’s be real, no one believed that story. It’s actually quite hard to function on a handful of Xanax for those who haven’t tried it (I don’t recommend you do). Another piece of my story is that it was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I would experience a consequence due to substance use then I would succeed in other areas of my life that I thought made up for my discretions. I would get good grades in school, get promoted at work, and/or play well on the football field. I moved to three separate schools during my high school years. I tried to limit my drug and alcohol use during the football season to the weekends but couldn’t stick to it most of the time. I started experiencing injuries during my sophomore year and that’s when I was introduced to opiates. I had just met my kryptonite but didn’t realize it until years later. After the first time taking them, I knew I was in love with the warm feeling that came with them. I couldn’t consistently get pain pills until it was close to the end of my senior year. Before I left for college I started questioning if I had a problem. I started realizing my sleep was being impacted if I didn’t take pills during the day. I wasn’t getting sick yet so I just brushed it off and told myself I would cut back.
All in all, my senior year went great. I graduated with honors, won a state championship, and was going to college to play football. All boxes are checked off for being a successful young adult. Right before I left for college, I got into a fight that was drug-related. I dislocated my shoulder and arrived at school wearing a sling. I lied and said I had hurt myself during a workout. I went to college in North Carolina and when I got there, I started realizing how uncomfortable I was in my own skin. I spent the age 13-18 coping with my feelings by using in high school. I was afraid of being judged, meeting new people, and passing my classes. I ended up spending most of my time focusing on people from back home and using in my dorm room. I ended up having to have shoulder surgery and found out how easy it was for me to get pain pills. I’d walk down to the team doctor and get a thirty-day prescription. I began running out of pills faster and faster, on top of drinking excessively. I also had a couple of run-ins with local law enforcement in a short span of time. All were related to drug and alcohol use.
I returned to Florida after one semester in North Carolina. I couldn’t wait to be back in the land I knew and to have more access to substances I loved. I got a job working at a business for my dad which turned into a mess over time due to my drug and alcohol use. I also decided to become a drug dealer which I’m terrible at because I end up using all my supplies. Having said that you’ll have to understand that back in 2007, Florida was at its peak of the pain pill epidemic. At the age of 19, I had access to more than a thousand pills a month due to doctor shopping. By the age of twenty, I was using up to sixty pills a day to not become sick. I wasn’t getting high anymore. I had to take pain medicine just to get through the day. I vividly remember hitting my knees asking the universe to make it stop or just wishing I would die so my misery would end.
This was the first time I went to my family and told them I couldn’t stop using pain pills. I didn’t know what to do and I knew that I couldn’t continue the path I was on. We went to see a doctor and I got put on medication that helped me with cravings and wouldn’t allow me to get high if I tried. I bet with hearing my story you think this is where sobriety started, but it didn’t. I switched from one extreme to another. I eventually began to use alcohol and other substances excessively. The crazy part is that I would consider myself sober because I wasn’t “strung out on pain pills.” I convinced myself and others that I just dabbled in other substances but cut out the pain medication, so I was healthier. Everyone I knew who was 21 went to bars and drank. They also would dabble in substances like cocaine, weed, and Xanax. I convinced myself that this was a better way to live and that my life would begin to go well. I got a really good job off a Craigslist ad and began making more money than any of my friends who were working or in school. I began traveling all over the East Coast of the United States going to job sites. I started out as a crew member then worked my way up to a Foreman by the time, I was 22. The company gave me a credit card, a truck, and a crew to manage.
The problem I noticed was that I had a pocket full of money. Drinking alcohol and dabbling with other substances weren’t giving me the effects of opiates. I was offered a pain pill one day on a job site in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and I accepted before the guy finished his sentence. I took the pill and everything was manageable for a little while. My world didn’t burn down immediately and no consequences happened for several months. I convinced myself that I now know how to use these things successfully. I told that lie to myself throughout my twenties. After a few months, I began to be dependent again. Getting sick without having opiates in my system was brutal. I began to mail pills to job sites I went to so I wouldn’t be sick. I got back with my old crowd where drugs were accessible by the boatload. I began to become unreliable at work. I would leave job sites in the middle of the night when I would run out of drugs. I would go into random parts of the cities I was working in to try to find drugs. I realized the train was coming off the track again. I was scared to ask my family and friends for help again because they thought I was “better.” I decided my job was the issue. My thoughts were, “If you had to travel and work as I did, you would be doing the same things”.
My sister’s boyfriend got me a job working with him where I didn’t have to travel. The best part of the job was that I worked for a large beer company! So, I went through my new hire process with fake urine to pass the drug test and began to start my new career. The problem was on my first day of training on the computer I nodded out due to the number of pills I took. I brushed it off with my supervisor as an adjustment from my last job. They somehow bought it. Things were getting rocky from the start, and I thought I was going to lose my job. At this point, I started using needles to inject my drugs too. I eventually admitted to my dad that I was back on pills again. He was upset but still was able to listen to me. My parents never handed me piles of money to enable me. I was able to figure out ways to purchase my drugs. Whether it was with my paycheck or having to steal things to keep my habit going. My dad convinced me to go back-to-back to my old doctor and I began seeing a therapist. This was my first form of treatment for my issues with substances.
Yet again, this was not the part where I was able to maintain my sobriety. Looking back, I can see how alcohol was the glue that kept my addiction going. I would never give it up. At 24 years old I thought “Everyone my age drinks and goes to bars.” I found out I’m a dual threat when it comes to alcohol and drugs. I drink like I use drugs, full speed! I started believing my own lies again and my rollercoaster started going up. I began to get promoted again at work and started hanging around people who didn’t use pills like I did. I just transitioned to barflies and dabblers of cocaine/weed. I was only able to maintain this for about another year before I became strung out on opiates again. I became unreliable and started stealing money from my accounts at work. My relationships with friends and significant others all began to dwindle yet again. I couldn’t be honest about anything in my life. Long story short, I failed a drug screen. My employer politely asked me to exit their facilities.
What do I do now? The answer is, “Sell drugs until you figure it out.” That lasted a month before I used up all my money and drugs. I ended up moving to another city in Florida to live with my parents so I could return to school because that was my excuse for leaving my job. After a short time and a few favors from people who cared about me, I got a great job. I’m drinking and using daily still. At this point, I’m shooting up heroin, cocaine, and using anything I can get my hands on. I’m stealing from my job in multiple ways and even though I found a new city, I was able to find my people in the drug scene. I went to find a therapist because I knew it was getting out of control again. For some odd reason, I was honest with him and told him I had “tried” to get sober before. I told him “I just can’t do it” and listed all the reasons why. I met with him a handful of times telling him about how much I was using and hoping that a solution would fall into place.
After the fourth or fifth time seeing him, I went on a heavy bender. Multiple days using then showing up at my parents’ house like nothing happened and like I hadn’t been ignoring them for days. My dad had me call my therapist and set up an emergency family meeting. Unbeknownst to me this was an intervention. My mom, dad, and therapist informed me of my years of patterns around substances. They told me what I already knew. They said, “You’re going to die if you don’t figure out how to stop.” I was hesitant to leave because of my job. Somehow, I convinced myself that I was important to my employer. Truth be told I was robbing them blind and disappearing for hours at a time. My therapist told me about these discrepancies in my thinking. They convinced me to go. I got put into a car and drove two and a half hours away to a treatment center.
This is where recovery begins at twenty-seven years old! I got to the facility and after sleeping the first night I woke up and started going to groups. I’m still not convinced that I need to give up alcohol. I could admit to having problems with drugs. I still needed some convincing to give up alcohol. I lied to the staff about what and how much I was using to try to make myself sound/feel better. After the drugs began to wear off I started to see where my decisions and choices had landed me. I began trying to follow some suggestions as best I could in that facility. I was given the option of going into long-term treatment and I told my therapist I was willing for some reason. I started becoming fed up with who I had become and the things that I had done in my life. It was time to let go and see what happened.
I was scared in early sobriety. I didn’t know who I was without drugs and alcohol. How would I celebrate life events? What kind of personality would I have? I had been numb for so long that I didn’t know these basic things about myself anymore. I began to go to therapy and attend support meetings. Finding people who I could trust to talk about my life with was a barrier for me early on. I didn’t trust myself much less anyone else. I got a sponsor and began following suggestions even if I didn’t believe in them. He seemed to be okay with himself and he used and drank like I did. I honestly felt like I had to make this work. I was tired of letting everyone down and not knowing myself. I clearly remember being around 90 days sober and realizing that I couldn’t remember the last time I had thought about drinking or using drugs. When I realized that I wanted it to continue. I kept working with my sponsor and followed his lead.
After finishing my treatment, I began working in the recovery field and I’m now able to help young adults who struggled like I did. I’m lucky to have made it to the other side. There are plenty of us who didn’t get the chance to find recovery because their addiction and/or alcoholism took them too early. I’ve been able to incorporate multiple pathways to recovery in my everyday life now too. It’s only gotten better over time. I’ve gotten married, grown professionally, and been an active family member since October 4, 2015!