My dad is 32 years sober, but as a kid I didn’t understand that he had a problem. He would wait until my brother and I were asleep before he’d go out and drink. So eventually when he came to us and said, “I’m an alcoholic, and your mom and I are separating,” I was just like, “What the hell are you talking about?!” I’d never even seen him open a beer.
I was pretty un-cool as a teenager in rural Pennsylvania, and my access to drugs and alcohol was pretty limited. It wasn’t until college that I took my first hit of weed, and that was it—from then on I’d do literally anything anybody put in front of me. Mushrooms, LSD, cocaine, pills…I never tried heroin but that’s just because nobody I knew did it. I got my college girlfriend pregnant, dropped out, and got into the car sales business. I was selling Volkswagens and Porsches and I really liked it—it was better money than I’d ever made. That was when my substance use really took off, because I finally had money to spend. I’d use pot and alcohol and some LSD. I would roll in to work late and hide in my office until 11:45. Then I’d get lunch and go back to hide for another couple of hours. Everything upset me, and my reactions were totally inappropriate. My behavior was really bad, but I still sold cars so nobody fired me. Finally after I passed out on a bar one night and slept through work, I decided to go to my first AA meeting. But I thought that was it—I’d go to the meetings but not do any of the follow-up stuff.
My girlfriend and I had split, and I moved to Virginia in 1999. That’s where I met and married my wife. She was also a salesperson, and we both made a lot of money. We had toys, real estate, cars. We focused on anything but working on ourselves. Fast-forward to me being almost 40, and my wife and I had moved into this ridiculous house in northern Virginia with a crazy mortgage. We wanted that “bigger and better” lifestyle. Two weeks after we settled there I got fired for embezzling from my employer, and we lost the house.
Then my wife got into a motorcycle accident and broke her collarbone. They prescribed her a muscle relaxant, and I took a couple and got high right away. After a month of using her prescription I was ordering them online from Canadian pharmacies, slamming seven to 10 pills a day—that went on for about five years. I wasn’t admitting to myself that I was doing drugs, because it was “just a prescription.” In my mind, I was “sober.” It had been ten years since I’d had a drink or done “real drugs,” so I figured I probably wasn’t even an addict anymore. I had a glass of wine and that felt fine, and a week later I got absolutely shitfaced.
A couple of months later I started smoking marijuana again. My wife got wind of that and was afraid of losing her job, so I did some research and started buying synthetic (legal) marijuana. I could order whatever I wanted, a batch of chemicals and poison. They’d send it in the mail and I’d smoke it. I didn’t end up in the hospital and I didn’t get arrested, so I thought, “Great!” and asked for something stronger. That went on for a year and a half. By the end I was stoned literally 24 hours a day, getting high every half hour around the clock. I couldn’t sleep for more than 45 minutes because I had to get back up and smoke.
During this time my wife got pregnant, and I thought, “OK, as soon as my son comes I’m going to stop all this.” But I was getting high on the hospital roof when my wife started delivering. I just could not stop. I was irritable and paranoid, my heart would race, I couldn’t drive a car and I was never sober. I was never, ever not stoned. One day, after 48 hours not sleeping, I sat down with my wife and said, “Look, I’m obviously addicted, I need help.” I don’t really remember the next two or three days, but I know I went to the ER because my heart rate was out of control. They gave me some pills to calm me down and I took them all at once. A nurse actually thought it was a suicide attempt, but I was like, “No, the pill bottle said ‘Take as needed’ and I needed ALL of them!” I was a complete mess.
My doctor’s office is on North Glebe in Arlington, VA, in the same building as the Phoenix Program. My doctor sent me downstairs and they took one look at me and admitted me to treatment. I was barely able to comprehend the severity of my physical and emotional condition. At that point I had been drinking and abusing both prescription and illegal drugs for over six years. My life was in shambles and my son was just over two months old. I was truly devoid of hope.
So I began my journey at Phoenix House. The environment was very unfamiliar to me, but everyone did their best to help me feel comfortable. The schedule and the persistence of the staff challenged me to move outside of my comfort zone so that I could begin to accept change. The medical team took excellent care of me and each day I began to feel a little more physically well. But I was still an emotional wreck, so the counselors kept urging me to participate in my therapy and gave me some simple tools to battle the anxiety and the seemingly constant urge to get high. They also worked with my family during weekend visitations. I was able to transition to the outpatient program with a feeling of accomplishment.
In outpatient the real work began. In order to make progress, I was going to have to focus on myself and my problems. I was unbelievably anxious and fearful. Thankfully, my situation was not at all unique and the counselors began walking me through a proven course of therapy. I learned more about my disease in that month than I did in the previous decades combined. The personalization and compassion I encountered were amazing and inspiring. I became aware that recovery was possible and that my life could be more rich and meaningful than I had ever imagined. I followed the program suggestions and began to meditate daily. As the sessions progressed I felt my anxiety decrease and I was able to concentrate on daily living without the use of drugs and alcohol. I graduated and was moved to the evening classes for continued education.
This week, I celebrate one year sober. I’m a stay-at-home dad for my one-year-old son, and I’m in touch with my 23-year-old son as well. My wife and I never separated; we worked together through the whole thing and after ten years, our relationship has never been better—she is able to trust me like never before. The transformation in recovery is really nothing short of a miracle. I have a sponsor, a home group, and I attend six meetings a week. They help keep me focused and have provided me with an incredible network of true friends. I volunteer at Phoenix House, to keep the first days of my recovery fresh in my mind. I’m able to participate in my life in ways I didn’t think we’re possible. Sure, not every day is sunshine and roses. Life still happens, but I now have the tools and the support to handle it with dignity. I am no longer baffled by small problems. I am beginning to be comfortable in my own skin.
The best moment of my recovery was also the worst day of my life. My wife had just left for a work trip and my son and I were going to be alone for a week; he was nine months old. It was the coldest day of the year, and we had the fireplace on. I was reading on the couch and my baby just walked over, put his hands on the fireplace glass, and started screaming in pain. I looked at his hand and it was pale white and blowing up like a balloon. I leapt into rescue mode, got him into an ambulance, and to the children’s hospital for surgery. Through all of it I was there, sober, with him 100%. I was able to react quickly and know that everything I did was the right thing to do. There’s no way I could have done any of that if I was using. It was my finest moment, not just in sobriety but in the 44 years I’ve been on earth.
If you or a loved one needs help for a substance abuse issue, Phoenix House is here for you. Email us or call today at 1 888 671 9392.