Seeing people come to life is one of my biggest passions. I love seeing people question things, dig deeper, and find love, connection, and meaning. Discovering adventure in life keeps me filled with hope. There’s adventure and purpose in every day, whether I’m up on the slopes snowboarding, or working my job at Red Robin (a restaurant). Because there’s opportunity for connection, for authenticity, for meaning everywhere.
I didn’t know that living from a place of authentic connection and joy was possible when I was in addiction. I carried a lot pain from my past, and guilt and shame from how others close to me had lost their life taking part in stuff I was doing.
I grew up in Yakima, a city of about 100,000 in the middle of Washington state. Neither my dad nor my stepmom used drugs or alcohol much when I was a young boy, but there was plenty of addiction throughout my family history. Childhood growing up held a lot of fun. We loved animals, so we had five cats. Our family took vacations and loved to go on adventures.
As a kid, I loved sports and played baseball, football, and soccer. My dad worked at a local ski hill, so I grew up on the slopes. I pushed myself to be the best in everything, so I also got honors and did well in school. Even though I was well-known, and well-liked, throughout my school, I also felt awkward, and alone. I was very friendly, and hung out with everyone — jocks, nerds, stoner kids. But I didn’t have a close circle, and I always was looking for more connection. I was codependent; I always had to have a friend to do something with. I wanted deeper connection but didn’t know how to find it.
Even though I hated drugs because of what they had done to my extended family members, when I was 10 or 11, I began to experiment with substances. I have close family members who have struggled with addiction, and some of the pain of seeing them struggle may have influenced my desire to feel better. Things accelerated when I was 14. I tried to help a friend who was addicted to cocaine, but I ended up just starting to use myself.
After three years of an intense party lifestyle, where it was about using and hooking up as much as possible, I realized that it had a hold of me. When I realized I was stuck, I started crossing more lines. I dropped out of high school, and moved out of my house. Our group of friends was close knit, and we were always doing sketchy things to help us score our next hit — stealing money, robbing each other, and more. Our frequency of using and the drugs we did changed together. I did a stint in treatment when I was 17, and stayed sober for about two months, but I couldn’t stay sober.
By 19 I was an IV (intravenous) heroin user. The community and lifestyle felt almost as addicting as the drugs. I spent a three more years pretty strung out. I felt like I was living in a shell of myself, that I had lost who I was. It was a fight to believe that I had a shred of goodness, of humanity, left in me. Life seemed to have no meaning. I would wake up wishing that I wouldn’t wake up. I heard the thought — the lie — that “it would be better if I wasn’t here.” There was so much shame and so much darkness.
Things began to change when a close friend of mine overdosed. We worked together, and he would pick me up, and we would get loaded before going to work. One morning, I forgot to tell him that I had gotten a way stronger batch, and he used and overdosed while I was in the shower. It was too late. I felt devastated by guilt.
I returned to treatment, and got clean again. Afterward, I realized I had to get involved in a completely new community. I had to separate myself from everything that reminded me of the past — letting go of the old life, and then moving forward. The old life was hard to leave behind because it was all I knew. The town, the friends, held comfort and safety. But I moved to another town in our state, and dove into support groups and 12 step programs.
Around that time, I took a job working at a summer camp for youth. They would hold programs and events at which attendees would share some of their stories. They were times of healing, hope, and inspiration. One of the campers, who was only fourteen, shared her story with the group of how she had been molested. But she shared with such hope, and joy, and love that didn’t fit with her story. Hearing how she found the grace to process through the pain and forgive the man who had abused her broke something in me. I realized whatever she had, I could have too, because she had been through something worse than me and still found joy. I thought I had gone through the worst, I thought I had done it all, that there was no way I could forgive myself, be trusted, but then I realized it was possible. I began to believe it could be possible, and in that moment joy and hope started to tingle in and through me. At that camp, I unexpectedly had the opportunity to share my own story. Doing so helped me let go of the death of my close friend, for whom I felt somewhat responsible. I had never allowed it to come to the surface before. I knew a tidal wave of emotion was behind the barrier, but sharing it released something for me.
After this experience, a lot of growth sparked in me. Things began to change. I met the woman who would become my wife. I began to work with youth and others, seeking to bring change and hope. My wife and I are incredibly close.
But there were parts that were still a process. I was unable, or unwilling, to deal with the some of the depths of the grief and brokenness in my heart. In this role of helping people publicly, I started to secretly take anti-anxiety medications again, some of which were prescribed. Then I started sneaking opiates. About two years after the summer camp experience — three years ago — I had to share with my wife that I was using.
Telling her was one of the most difficult experiences in life. But that honesty unlocked the opportunity for being truly authentic with her, and getting the help I needed. The experience of going back to treatment was a wake-up call for me that spurred a pursuit of deeper authenticity and connection in life. I saw, in the lives of some of those around me, where I could return to, and what my choices could cost me. The experience motivated a passion to appreciate and find value in myself and others each day. I learned how it can be possible to appear good on the outside, but have an issue lurking under the surface. I realized that I needed to be really intentional about inviting people into my process.
Today, I experience more joy, more meaning, more freedom than I have ever known. I continue to engage in the process of growth. My coworkers ask me where my passion and drive come from — because I do quite well with tips. And I think it comes from this daily choice to be grateful, and to recognize the value of myself and others. Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to help them feel valued, not from a place of pressure, but from a place of love.
Shame tried to sweep me away, and it’s that thing that tries to confuse each of us. Every person is born with value, and identity, and shame tries to steal it by telling us that we are not enough. Things don’t have to be going perfectly, or even well, for us to find joy, and opportunities for fun in the little things. I’ve learned to process, and actually feel things. I don’t deny the negative experiences, or the heavy thoughts that come, but I recognize now that I don’t have to sit with them — and that’s a process.
Snowboarding is a euphoric experience for me. I don’t enjoy sitting. I find connection in the peaceful rush of snowboarding. It’s something that you can always progress with. I like pushing myself to do the next thing. And I love my wife and my family. My family has a huge part of my heart. I see redemption in my life when I’m around my family, because the faces that once feared that I wouldn’t make it.
Even in our most broken times, Love still wants to meet us. I was strung out, and I was so broken. I remember waking up and weeping, throughout my process, and being met by Love I couldn’t deserve and couldn’t explain.