Do You Want to be Happy?
I was born into a family where drugs and alcohol were common things. Don’t get me wrong, my parents were not getting high right in front of me, but over time it was fairly easy to figure out what was going on. This is also the reason that I grew up in the meeting rooms of AA. I have always found it ironic that my childhood was spent listening to the woeful tales of other addicts and despite this, I still was destined to spin my own.
I set my world on fire at a young age. Drinking, getting high, and having late-night adventures terrorizing the city streets were part of daily life for a long time. How I never got expelled from school is anyone’s guess. Especially considering that I had an ambulance called on me midday during class because of an overdose. However, my brush with death in front of the entire school did not deter me from continuing to self-destruct. It only added to my over-the-top ego and made me think I was invincible. My mother decided that she no longer wanted to be on this earth a short time later and that is when things went from bad to worse. No longer was I just a teenage rebel looking for thrills: I was running. Running from the pain, running from uncertainty, and mostly running from myself.
Heroin, painkillers, alcohol, and anything I could get my hands on soon became the guiding force in my life. Every decision was made based on whether or not it would interfere with my drug habit. I started using a needle and things got worse. The next ten years were a nightmarish blur of violence, crime, and loss. There were some close calls, countless nights in jail, and the overdoses of people close to me that I was now trying to forget with as many chemicals as possible. Over the years I graduated from petty crimes to felonies and soon found myself on the run, living on the streets of Albuquerque, NM. At this point, everyone in my life that had any sense wanted nothing to do with me. I felt hopeless, lost, and constantly looking over my shoulder. A reasonable person could see that I had hit rock bottom and that I needed to get help, to make a change in my life, but a reasonable person I was not.
However, The State of New Mexico made that decision for me after I got caught stealing a candy bar. The candy bar was just the match to tinder. I was on the run for multiple felonies and my past had finally caught up with me. I quickly learned that I was destined to spend the next few years locked inside a box wearing an orange jumpsuit. While the experience was not something I would recommend as a good time, it was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I had no choice, sitting there alone, to face the demons I had been trying to ignore for so many years.
Luckily, I soon found myself in the company of a few other men who were trying to turn things around and live a better life. I’m not sure this is the typical experience for someone when they get locked up and I am eternally grateful that it was for me. In the beginning, I wanted nothing to do with “recovery.” It never worked for my mother, in fact, the way I saw it, this is what made things worse for her. There was a heart filled with resentment inside of me and I couldn’t let it go. Aside from that, recovery sounded lame and cheesy. I thought it was for weak people.
This all changed with one question.
Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be happy?
I had to decide, did I want to go on to the grave? To continue down this miserable path out of spite and resentment for the things that had happened? Or did I want to try something new, to sit down and listen for once in my life?
Up until this point, I thought I had everything figured out. Still, somewhere deep inside I knew that this was not what life was supposed to be and that things could get better. So in that concrete cell, with the metal toilet and scratched-up sink, I made a choice. I wanted to be happy.
I was finally ready to listen and accept help. I did all the cheesy recovery stuff that I was told to do. The funny part: it worked.
Things are different today, and I’m happy. By no means am I a perfect person, and life still has its ups and downs, but I can deal with them as they come. I have healthy relationships with the people around me, and I know I can count on them when things get rough. Currently, I am a Certified Peer Support Worker who is on his way to a Master’s degree. I’m working for change and growth, not only in my own life but for anyone who is struggling with addiction. The best part is, I am ok with just being myself. That is the great gift of recovery, available to anyone who dares venture into the unknown in search of a better life.
Life has Changed for the Better
My life has been full of many challenges, but my most significant accomplishment has been conquering my struggle with alcoholism. I spent a decade of my life battling this disease, spending time in rehabs and occasionally putting together periods of sobriety. Staying sober was something I could not do consistently until I finally hit my bottom. On September 24, 2007, I walked into an AA meeting, put my hand up as “a newcomer” and said, “my name is Mark, and I am an alcoholic.” Since that day I have not taken a drink.
My life has changed for the better in every aspect possible. This transformation is not something that happened overnight nor is it something that happened effortlessly. It has been a process that takes time and hard work. A quote that sticks in my mind from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is, “Faith without works is dead,” (taken from James 2:14-26). I live a life today not only of faith but also of action. I routinely attend meetings and use my experience to help newcomers, as people were there to help me.
I struggled with alcoholism beginning in my late teens during high school. I was fortunate
enough to be accepted to a number of top colleges throughout the country, choosing to attend Tulane University in New Orleans. I spent nearly 4 years in New Orleans, but as a “non-functioning” alcoholic I was unable to achieve any sort of academic success. I left Tulane with a 1.7 GPA and barely a year’s worth of transferable credits. Although my academic career at Tulane was a failure driven by my alcoholism, I left with dozens of lifelong friends from the fraternity that supported me in seeking treatment for my alcoholism and have supported me through my journey of recovery.
After leaving Tulane, I went to my first treatment center in Tucson, Arizona. Over the next several years, I attended several different colleges and multiple treatment centers. During these years, I wasn’t able to find long-term sobriety or success in my personal, academic, or professional life. Finally in 2007, after years of struggling, I was able to turn my life around. I got a sobriety date that I’ve kept through now, staying sober one day at a time. I re-enrolled in college at Chapman University, where I was accepted on probationary status. While at Chapman, I was able to flourish academically and more than doubled my GPA from my early Tulane days.
Aside from my sobriety, earning my Bachelor’s degree at that time was the biggest accomplishment of my life. I had struggled for years during what felt like a never-ending college journey, but finally achieved what I deemed success. This was not something I could’ve accomplished by myself. It took the support of the AA recovery community, my friends, my belief and faith in a higher power, whom I choose to call God, and most importantly the love and support of my family that never gave up on me. During my drinking and using, I put my parents through hell. Their love and support never wavered, and I am the person I am today because of them.
Every person that recovers from the disease of addiction then goes on to positively impact and elevate others struggling with addiction and help them with their journey in recovery. This ripple effect makes such an impact on family, friends, community, and beyond. I am truly blessed and grateful for the life I have today, the people I get to work with, and the impact we are able to make on so many lives.
From Fun to Self-Medicating
I have been to over 20 treatment centers; I stopped counting after 15. I had a successful career in marketing and landed my dream job with the NFL. However, my marriage was toxic and my relationship with substances turned from fun to self-medicating.
I didn’t want to be present in my life. It started with alcohol and within a few years I found myself in Kensington using fentanyl. Finally, I refused to go back to treatment and started studying what I did to my brain. I started researching dopamine and how to increase that naturally.
I now advocate for change. For years I thought I was broken, when in fact I was a product of a broken system and I am determined to fix that system.
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