Recovery, Discovery, and Design: Doug’s Story

Doug discovered new forms of community and tools to support pursuit of his passion for design through recovery, after an unexpected DUI. The language of design helps him think through and appreciate the growth process in life, and build connection with the world around him.

Dreams of Design

Design comes alive to me every day, all the time. There’s something about the process, and seeing a design come to life, that helps me connect to myself and the world around me. It reminds me of the value I have, and what I can bring to the world as my authentic self. Today, I’m a designer living in New York City, pursuing my passions for community and design. I have an amazing wife, Stephanie, who challenges, encourages, and believes in me. But it wasn’t always like this. I didn’t even know this was possible when I started recovery after a DUI in high school. 

Authenticity, or being real, isn’t something I started out life knowing how to do. I didn’t know how to deal with feelings or have meaningful relationships. And I didn’t know that I could achieve my dreams and go after the things that I had a passion for. It was only through the process of rediscovering myself through recovery that I found so much more in life.


Doug looks down as he talks about how he used to drink alcohol and use drugs in order to numb the pain and fit in

Numbing to Fit In

I started drinking when I was young. I grew up in a small town in Washington state, the youngest of three siblings and the only boy in my family. At school, I felt like a black sheep. Getting drunk and high became a normal part of life as I tried to feel like I could fit in. I thought that drinking and drugs was the way to have fun and to be cool. It also helped me not to have to think about the future, or to have to make decisions. Being numb felt better, because I didn’t know how to deal with pain or emotions when they came up. So I drank a lot and thought I had a lot of friends. But, I struggled to experience true joy or excitement. 

Truth and Community

In that place, things suddenly got real. The “friends” I thought I had weren’t there when I got a DUI and ended up in jail. A court mandated that I do a treatment program, and it felt like I was starting over.  I started going to support groups for people in recovery, and through these meetings I found a new community. There were people who took an interest in me, who saw the value in me, and who told me the truth about where my life was going. For the first time, I felt that I could be totally myself and be accepted and loved. A couple of key people helped walk me through the challenging early parts of recovery after my DUI, and I was able to let people into the aspects of my life that were imperfect and messy.  I was able to look someone in the eye when I was having a bad day and know that they cared about me. Having someone lift me up with encouragement, even when the bad was visible, was life-changing. I began to discover that my value was not dependent on my perfection. 

Related: Photography Brings a New Perspective: Casey’s Story

Why Not Me?

Around this time, I ran into a guy I knew who was studying to be an architect.  My dad had wanted to be one but never finished school. As a kid, I would play with his tools. I had always loved design but had been told by friends that it would be too hard to get a degree like that.  But, when I saw this guy, I felt a rush of jealousy. I began to wonder why and put into practice what I had learned in recovery, to examine my emotions. I started wondering, “Why not me?”  “What do I really want and what’s stopping me from going for it?”

I made the decision to move to Seattle so that I could study architecture and design.  Because I’d gotten such terrible grades in the past, it took a few years of community college to get into a university. It wasn’t easy, and eventually involved changing programs and schools to complete my degree. During that time, there were people around me who would remind me of the value of my dreams and goals, especially when things got rough. They invested time into my life, especially during difficult seasons, and inspired me by pursuing their own passions.  I completed my degree, mostly thanks to the encouragement of friends.  And now, today, I’m a designer for an amazing firm.  


Doug works as a designer at his desk after recovering through support groups from substance use after a DUI.

Inspired About the Future

What I lacked when I was younger was a community in which I had connection. Today, I feel connected in real, genuine ways.  I’ve learned to build good friendships based on honesty, and how to take stock of my life on a daily basis. Through my relationship with my wife, I’ve learned more about sharing my heart. It’s important to me to let the people I care about know that I love them.  I feel alive when I get to help others and listen to their stories. I’ve learned to see others not as objects but as people worthy of love. And where life before seemed bleak and hopeless, I look at the future now as something I can shape.  When I consider how much better life is now than before, it makes me realize it can be even better tomorrow.

Design continues to be a primary passion. It makes me happy in a really deep way. There’s something about design that resembles the process of life. I’ll have an idea and jot it down on paper.  Many times, I’ll come back to it and appreciate it in a new way, or realize it doesn’t work how I thought it would. A design often needs to be revised or reshaped. The constant shifting of perspectives helps in seeing things from other viewpoints, and creates opportunity for improvement. There’s a bit of magic in the growth, in both design and in life. It’s all about moving forward and taking another step.

Dough talks about his passion for design and his recovery process from alcohol dependence.


Take OneStep Forward

You are only one step away from finding help. Take one of these steps towards freedom:

1. Find your “yes.” Like Doug, you might discover your passion through finding what you’re “jealous” for. Is there someone you look up to who is pursuing a passion, career, or hobby that you would aspire to? Are there childhood dreams that make your heart come alive? These questions might reveal clues helpful in discovering your “yes,” and how you can pursue it. 

2. Find your community. It only took a couple of key people to impact Doug’s life. Sit down and write a few names that come to mind of people who support you and believe in you. Can’t think of any? Join a support group or other community-based organization, and see what relationships develop. 


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