No one is guaranteed a second chance at life, let alone three or four chances, but miraculously, I was. I could very easily be dead or permanently incarcerated due to my past.
Today, I am happy where I am in life and incredibly grateful for my program of recovery. It’s given me a new purpose and hope for the future, and allowed me to live a rich and productive life. To date, I have spoken to over 40,000 youth and adults on suicide prevention and substance use prevention and recovery at schools, churches, treatment centers, prisons and community organizations. Outside of this work, I enjoy spending time with my daughter, family and friends. I coach youth sports and love the Minnesota Vikings. My life is good. I am moving forwards, not backwards. And that is success.
The Roots of Addiction
Growing up, I struggled in school. My low grades meant that my teachers told me that I would not succeed, and others often made fun of me. It was easy to believe them, and for many years I did, until one day I decided to prove them wrong. I was going to go to college and make something of my life.
I was 11 years old when I was first introduced to alcohol, and began to use it to deal with the pain. In college, I was drunk ninety percent of the time. Periodically I would sober up. I even joined the US Army National Guard thinking that boot camp would ‘cure’ me. Obviously, it didn’t, and it wasn’t long before I started drinking again and got my first DWI. That scared me into trying to quit for the first time and I sought help.
However, the community that I first connected with rubbed me the wrong way, so I decided to recover on my own. Pursuing absolute abstinence helped me complete my degree and enabled me to survive the same genetic heart condition that had killed my father when I was seventeen. I was sober for the next ten years, and became a husband and father.
Though I was sober on the outside, the issue of alcoholism remained present under the surface. I argued with myself, believing I would never abuse alcohol. But when it broke out, it did in a major way. My first drink back became 24 beers. Thus began the worst year of my life. Eventually I checked into an inpatient treatment facility for help.
Through this process, my marriage began to suffer. After treatment, it felt like choices that my wife was making undermined my recovery process, although she very much wanted me to be sober. There were barriers present to me attending meetings and finding recovery community. I began drinking again, partially due to some of the situation at home, and I got kicked out.
Everything went downhill from there. At age 34, I had my first heart attack due to drinking, but even that didn’t help me sustain sobriety. I was arrested for my third DWI with an alcohol level 4 times above the legal limit with my daughter in the back seat. I had reached my lowest point. I was without hope, and if I didn’t change, I knew would intentionally or unintentionally kill someone or myself.
Discovering Unexpected, Healthy Community
I had been to numerous programs at this point and still didn’t feel confident in support groups. However, now I would be closely monitored by probation. This made me hate meetings more than I already did, and I avoided them and tried to stay sober on my own. Eventually, I got caught not going and in the process ended up in jail yet again, even though I was sober.
It felt ludicrous. Why would I have to go to jail for not going to meetings if I wasn’t drinking? What I didn’t expect to discover was that jail was exactly what I needed. I came to realize that I needed to find a recovery community that I liked and would commit to.
One evening I finally attended a meeting I liked. There were a couple of guys that I really related to. Plus, they were funny and went out to eat after every meeting. In the beginning, I honestly didn’t care about the content of the meetings. I simply went for the friendship. And as my relationships began to grow, I attended other meetings. Slowly, step by step, I began to believe that I still had a hope and a future, and that my life still had purpose.
The Wisdom of Recovery
During my early experience with support groups I was pretty arrogant. But I discovered that my addiction is no better or different than anyone else’s situation. What changed? My new recovery community embraced me where I was at. Their stories and lives enhanced my wisdom and taught me gratitude for what I have right now. Their friendships helped me discover that recovery is more than just meetings and/or abstaining; it’s a process of living a life to its fullest.
There is nothing I can do about my past. I may not have everything I want right now or everything I used to have, but I am making progress, and that is something to celebrate.
I still have my whole life ahead of me, I don’t have to do it alone, and if I practice everything I have learned, I’ll be okay. I have a network of people in recovery and a recovery program, and that makes all the difference in the world.