The Power of Unconditional Love
The unconditional love of a child, my nephew, helped me experience connection in a way I never had before. It brought breakthrough after years living in the cycles of deep addiction, and then experiencing periods of sobriety that never seemed to stick. I did not think that experiencing hope or love again was possible after years of alcoholism and drug addiction, and wasting away my potential as a a football player. Even when I found career success in oil and gas – while still in addiction – it left me broken and empty. But, the simple act of spending time with my nephew, when I was sober and allowed to be with family again, introduced me to a love deeper than what I had known. He didn’t see me through the lens of my past or judge me for what I had done. He just wanted to be with me. Seeing love in human form made real what I had been hearing about and pursuing on my journey towards deeper connection and faith. I felt fully alive and free as I realized that I was no longer disqualified from love. The things that I had to sought to qualify myself with before never actually could.
I live a life of passion now, and I am honored to serve others in different avenues of my life. I left my job in the oil and gas industry, despite the success I had pre- and post-sobriety, to pursue a passion to see people experience deeper freedom and healing in life. I have a heart to serve those who are broken or tormented walk in wholeness beyond what they may think possible, because I’ve experienced so much more than I thought possible. Through this journey, I have discovered deep friendships and a greater passion for my own wellness. I love working out and taking care of my body because I value myself. The foundation of my life is now unconditional love, which I experience through family, community, and my connection with God.
A Shift I Didn’t Think Possible
For years before this discovery, I was miserable. It felt like I was still looking for something, even during stages of sobriety in my recovery or seemingly healthier times in my youth. No matter how well I performed as a star high school football player, or how high I climbed at the oil and gas company at which I worked, or how much recovery work I could do, I still felt empty.
Growing up, I felt like the black sheep, even though I probably didn’t look like it because I was good at sports and popular. I adopted the practices of those around me — the clothes I wore, the attitudes I saw, the sports I played — because I desperately wanted to be love and accepted. I thought I needed to assimilate to find freedom, but it left me more empty because I felt like a fraud even when I succeeded. Drugs and alcohol became a way to soothe the pressure and pain of constantly needing to perform in high school. I was papering over some of the trauma I experienced as a child that no one knew about, because I came from a loving, stable family.
I got DWIs in college and first went to inpatient treatment when I was 23. After multiple rounds of rehab, I found sobriety, after which I’ve never gone back to heroin or opiates. I even started working in addiction treatment after a couple rounds of rehab. But the unaddressed pain and trauma under the surface eventually brought me back into addictions to cocaine and alcohol, which I used to the point of blackout every day. I would get high or go to sleep hoping not to wake up again. And this lifestyle persisted for years: drinking constantly to numb the pain, and then cocaine or uppers to make it through the day. I’d wake up in random places after frequent bar fights, and there were many times where I easily could have died.
Rediscovering My Heart
The persona that I felt I had to embrace throughout my life did not allow me to fully connect to my heart. I remember interacting with a homeless person for the first time at the age of six, and weeping because I could not imagine that someone could be alone, without a family, or a home. Childhood was hard for me because I could feel the pain of others, and I would befriend those who were the outsiders or different than the rest. But I did not know how to connect to this sensitivity, this love in my heart, and still play the role I was expected to play on the gridiron, in the fraternity, or later on in the oil and gas industry. The very attributes that brought praise and advancement in these worlds did not seem to permit space for me to be myself.
When I was in my final round of treatment, I began to have experiences that re-awoke love and changed my understanding of myself. A counselor introduced me to books by Brene Brown. Her writing helped me recognize the shame that I had carried all my life, and gave me courage to share my full story with others. I grew up in a home that was culturally Christian, but I didn’t ever really understand what it was all about. I didn’t think God would want anything to do with me after what I had done and the pain I had caused during my decade-plus of addiction. Through Brene’s books, experiences in treatment, and the family connection I experienced with my nephew and others, it felt like God was introducing Himself to me outside of a religious context. His true nature of unconditional love and passion for connection, enabled by the price He paid, not based on my works. I began to see myself as a new creation, and that I was never meant to be an alcoholic. It felt like I was returning to a childlike form, starting fresh and new, able to reflect the nature and original intent of God.
Love Is Contagious
Months later, I found myself in a church and began having even deeper spiritual experiences than before. It is in that deep connection to God’s love that I find joy and strength to see and fight for the beauty of the broken. Love is contagious. Connection is contagious. There are times when I’ll stand there and wonder how I am allowed to live this life, to be able to share the simple beauty of love in small and big ways. I can’t believe I get to experience peace after everything I’ve been through, especially after what felt like 15 – 20 years of torment. Gratitude and thankfulness are my foundation each day. I’m so thankful for the love that has been extended to me.