My life before substances was honestly great. I was raised in a supportive and loving upper-middle class family by my mother and step-father in Princeton, WV. I didn’t experience any childhood trauma nor was I abused. We were constantly going on family outings to visit family at the lake, camping, or at our beach house in NC. I was always adventurous and not afraid of taking risks. I had a very active life spent mostly outside. I was a thrill seeker for sure and still am to this day. My mother was very big on my education and music rehearsals and as such I had a rather rigorous study/practice schedule. No less than one hour a day every day of homework, reading, and practice, even on weekends and during summers. As a result, I graduated high school early at sixteen with honors in music. The downside to that was I wasn’t allowed to go to college until I was eighteen. So for two years, I was in a bit of a limbo state where I traveled a lot throughout the country. My parents were able to pay for my college and agreed to do so as long as I made good grades. If I did poorly they told me that I would have to pay for it myself to graduate college. Well, I got put on academic probation my first semester because I had a little too much college “spirit” and they kept to their word. I did graduate with a B.A. in Psychology though. After that, I spent the next 14 years working on the ocean in one capacity or another. I married my college sweetheart and we made it 13 years before finally divorcing. I left my career on the water to be with my stepfather in his last days of a terminal illness and worked as a restaurant manager for the next five years.
What did the road look like that led you to become dependent on substances?
Alcohol and drugs were a part of my life pretty much from the start. Although my parents were successful in their fields, they drank and used pot and cocaine recreationally. They never encouraged me to use or try any but always made it clear if I did to tell them and to do it at home where I would be safe. I had my first drink when I was eleven fishing off of my grandparents’ dock with my grandfather. I remember that I actually liked it. It was sips here and there until I got truly drunk for the first time on a family camping trip. I loved it, and my life changed from that point on. I was constantly seeking out people who liked to party and places to do it. Because of my musical ability, I started playing in bars at the age of fifteen. To me, this was great, a place full of people who like to party. When I got to college I was surrounded by the same. Working on the water I found the same people. When I started captaining charter boats in a popular vacation spot, I found the same. It wasn’t that I was magically finding these people. I was placing myself in areas where partying was socially acceptable and was not able to see the only common denominator in my so-called party life was me. With each passing year, my drinking got progressively worse. The amount I would have to consume to get the same effect grew exponentially, and I in turn became proud of my ability to out-drink people. This eventually led to me having to take a couple of “hair of the dog” shots in the morning to get going. It was at this point that things started to get bad. My job life wasn’t affected until I started managing restaurants. They are also full of spirited people, no real shocker how I wound up there looking back on it. I was fired for drinking from three different restaurants. After the third, my drinking became devastating. I never got in any legal trouble as a result of my drinking. Dumb luck I guess. The physical tolls however were many. My drinking grew to the point where I was drinking all day every day just to stay well. I wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything but drink. I would only eat once or twice a week and when I did it was nothing healthy or substantial. My alcohol dependence did not come quickly. It developed slowly with a couple of decades of diligent practice. I did however exhibit alcoholic behavior most of my life. Selfish, self-centered, full of fear, totally inconsiderate of other people, completely myopic when it came to points of view, and unwilling to change because I thought there was nothing wrong with me. I can trace these behaviors back to my early childhood. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to see these things.
How long did you battle using?
My actual battle lasted about five years. I was drinking a lot and often most of my life before that but it hadn’t created enough pain to be considered a battle. For about five years I drank from the time I opened my eyes until I couldn’t hold them open anymore. I knew I had a problem, I just didn’t care enough about myself or other people to try to fix it yet. When I did decide to try to get better I was convinced that my problem was strictly due to a physical addiction. I was convinced that if I could get the chemicals out of my system I would have the addiction beat. That paired with my psychology degree was surely enough for me to fix myself. With that thinking set I went to my first detox facility. I spent seven days there and left feeling rejuvenated. I made it for about two months before I had that first drink while eating dinner with my new girlfriend. My wife and I divorced a few years before this, drinking was an important part in her decision to divorce. I had two drinks that night. A few days later I had a few drinks with dinner. My drinking snowballed from there to where I was back drinking more than I was when I went to detox. So I decided I would try it again. The result was just the same, only I was drunk within about a week. Just like the last time I was drinking more than I was before. I tried a third time with the same result. I couldn’t fix myself. Finally, I had spent about nine months drinking one to two half gallons of whiskey daily when my body finally started to quit. I found my way to the ER in Bristol, TN where I was living at the time, and was afraid I was dying. Turns out I was. I was about fifty pounds underweight, my girlfriend had to help me get from place to place in our apartment. Bed to couch, couch to bathroom, in and out of showers, etc. I no longer had the physical strength to do day-to-day things. The ER admitted me almost immediately to the hospital where I spent the next eleven days in CCU. I was suffering from multiple organ failure. I had succeeded in pickling myself.
What led you to Recovery Point?
While I was in the hospital and started to regain some sort of logical thought, I knew I needed help. I knew that I needed a different kind of help other than detox. I needed a long-term rehab. I began calling facilities near me in TN. With every call, I was given the same news. It was going to be six to nine months before I could get a bed. I knew that I would be dead in three months if I were to return home and be left to my own devices. I started reaching out to family members asking for help. All of them refused except for my little brother. He knew of Recovery Point through his work and was able to get me a bed at the center in Bluefield the next day. Little did he know he just saved my life. I arrived here physically, mentally, and emotionally broken. I was met by people who were happy, lighthearted, and concerned about my well-being. I immediately thought there was something wrong with them all. After being here for a while I learned there is nothing wrong with them, that isn’t wrong with me. They were just sober. We were all suffering from a common peril. This program has not been easy by any means, but it has given me more than I can even begin to describe in a short maner. I’ll just say that all of the promises that you read about while going through the program do come true as long as you don’t try to force them or seek them out. Trust and faith will place them directly in your path if you allow it.
When will you graduate and what goals do you have for your future?
I just graduated from the program at the beginning of this month. It took me a little over a year and I wouldn’t change a single thing about my program. My goal for the future is to work in recovery. I have had a degree in psychology and haven’t used it once since I received it. I am currently working for the center here in Bluefield through an Empowered Employment grant as a program monitor. I have taken the DHHR PRSS class and test and want to get state certification when I become eligible. I would like to continue from there working as a therapist in recovery. It is true that to keep this precious gift, we have to give it away, and that is what my intentions are should my higher power see fit that I do so.
What gives you hope and the drive to keep moving forward in your recovery journey?
One of the biggest sources of hope for me today is change. The change you see in people coming through recovery. To see the look of hopelessness leave someone and be replaced by happiness. To see confusion be replaced with faith. To see fears replaced with confidence. To see people who were once sullen and downtrodden become happy for no particular reason. To feel my faith restored. My faith in my higher power, faith in my fellow man, and faith in myself have been restored. That gives me hope. If that can change what else is in store for me? This is the question that drives me to seek growth in my recovery. The unknown drives me to grow. Where I was once afraid of the unknown, I am now grateful for it because it is the unknown that gives us all of life’s little surprises. My journey to get to Recovery Point was a long arduous one and my journey through recovery will be a long one as well. Graduation from this program is not the completion of my recovery. It is merely the initiation into the beginning.