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Mike - My road to recovery

How long have you been in recovery from drugs and alcohol?

I’ve been in active recovery since January 11th, 2016.  That was my second day in jail, after I turned myself in. And, the first full day I didn’t stick a pill up my nose or in my mouth in 10 plus years.  I woke up that day and knew the ride was over, I could finally get off of that train.  I knew I would be in jail for a while and that the toxic marriage I was in had to come to an end because me and my former wife were using together. We were just feeding off each other in active addiction.  The last 4 to 5 years, leading up to my jail sentence, I was just getting high to get by – survive.  It definitely wasn’t “fun” anymore. It was like a nightmare, except every day I woke up, the nightmare didn’t seem to end.  Getting clean is what finally ended the nightmare.

What helps you stay clean and sober? 

One of the main things that keeps me sober is knowing that if I use opioids again, I will be violating my probation, which means going back to jail for a very long time. The first time I went to jail, on drug related charges, I missed out on 9-months of my son’s life.  Not seeing my son and not being with him every day was hard enough; I try my best on a daily basis to ensure that I will not disappear from his life again due to my addiction. For people who have never struggled with addiction, I know the solution seems too simple, “Stop using drugs!” However, it is much more complex than that – addiction consumes you, takes over your life and jeopardizes everyone and everything you love. Believe me, there are some days when I would just want to use and say, “F*** it.”, but I know that would be like opening Pandora’s box and losing everything all over again. And today, I am a different person.

I have learned skills to help me maintain my sobriety. I have stopped associating with people who are using or even talk about that life. In the beginning it was difficult to build a new life of sober supports. I had to end relationships with people I called “friends” as well as my marriage. Earlier in my recovery, I kept my circle very small and spent time with people who were clean and sober because I didn’t trust myself to hang out with people who did otherwise – the temptation was too strong. My addiction would play tricks on me and say things like, “You can use just this one time and be fine.” I knew that as an addict, using and being fine was not an option.  So, I continue to work on my recovery every day by surrounding myself with people who lift me up, rather than bring me down.

What have you learned about yourself over the past 5+ years?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t have to use to feel confident. When I first started using, I noticed that it made me feel capable, competent, social, and worthy. Getting clean and sober has taught me that I am a good person who is worth it. It took going through hell, in active addiction, for me to realize that I don’t need to use in order to be loved or liked by myself and others. Today, I look in the mirror and like the person staring back at me. Given what it took to get me to this place, it is a testament to my strength and not a reflection of my weaknesses.

What advice or message do you have for people who are currently struggling with alcohol or substance abuse issues?

The biggest piece of advice I could give would be to not feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help.  Don’t be afraid to tell somebody you’re struggling. I know how hard it is to admit it to yourself, let alone someone else. You get sucked into the world of active addiction, like a dust particle being sucked up in a vacuum. You feel like there is no escape, no way out. You are fearful that you have forgotten or don’t know how to live as a “normal” person.  I’m here to tell you that these feelings are all normal and expected. But, I am also here to tell you that, you can do it.  I did it and I never believed it was possible – have hope.   

How do you feel about the person you are today compared to the person you were in active addiction?

I absolutely hated the person I was in active addiction. I was a liar, a thief, a loser. I was a stranger. I was everything I detested most in this world.  I used to carry a lot of shame and guilt when I was living that life. And, when I first got clean, feelings of guilt, shame and disappointment in myself were so intense; it was palpable.  The hardest, yet most important thing I had to do was – forgive myself. Even today, I don’t think I have completely forgiven myself, but I am working on it. Today, I focus on the present and living every day with intention and purpose.

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"Today, I focus on the present and living every day with intention and purpose"
Mike