Authentically Pursuing My Dreams
It has made all the difference to be able to feel like I am actually myself whether I’m on set, whether I’m speaking in front of a crowd, whether I’m DJing, or doing something else, like talking to a random guy at a grocery store. There are no longer these different masks that I have to try on, to decide who I’m going to try to be.
My name is Phillip Andrew. I live in Los Angeles, California. I am a television producer and a speaker. I studied TV and film at Michigan State University, and I knew that I wanted to live in California and work in entertainment. I’m grateful that I get to experience this dream, as it seemed far off when I was struggling with addiction.
Roots of Addiction
I grew up about 10 minutes from downtown Detroit in an incredible family. My dad was a policeman and my mother was on the school board. As I grew up, I had that little bit of anxiety that a lot of kids do. I wanted to fit in but was always wondering whether I was cool enough, funny enough, or smart enough to really hang out with them. I also felt like I needed to wear a mask because of my parents’ roles. I thought I needed to be perfect.
I started drinking at 11 years old. It was one of those moments where that little bit of anxiety I felt kind of disappeared temporarily. There was a day when I was 14 years old when my dad told me my mom had cancer. I felt like I got punched in the stomach when I heard. Long story short, we had a year-long battle for my mother. Unfortunately, she lost the battle a week before my 16th birthday.
I was already a kid who felt like he didn’t fit in all the time, who has to wear a mask, despite doing well in school and playing sports. Now, my mother’s gone, and I’m angry, and I don’t get it and I’m frustrated. The answer that I thought I had was to drink. I thought that I needed to just get over it, as fast as possible. I didn’t really talk about what I was going through, or the pain I felt.
Consequences Led to Healing
My life became more and more consumed by partying, by drinking. It got out of hand in a lot of ways. I got arrested at 18. I got arrested again at 19. I got arrested at 20, all for alcohol-related things. And it could have been a lot worse. I was just really putting my family through a lot. It was just difficult: around this time, any positive things that people would say to me felt fake, as if they only applied to the mask I wore. I thought that If people really knew me, deep down, they wouldn’t feel that way.
I didn’t know that something wrong with alcohol specifically, but I just knew something was wrong and I needed help. However, I didn’t know how to ask for help, so I just continued on with my life. After I got a DWI at 21, the courts mandated that I go to support groups. I could blame them for making me go, but in reality, I needed it so badly. And it changed everything for me.
The Power of Unconditional Love
For my whole life I had felt like I needed to earn love by being perfect. I felt the need to get the grades or do well in sports, or that I needed to behave a certain way to be good.
When I got into recovery, I started meeting people that loved me and they accepted me for where I was. Not because of me, but because it was a decision they made on how they were going to live their lives. It gave me a new understanding of what that meant – what real, unconditional love could really be. In these communities, I started to understand the power of being vulnerable and being open and being authentic, because I got to see people living their lives like that all the time. They were living without masks like what I had used to wear. To be honest, a whole group of strangers taught me how to be myself.
Thriving in Recovery
My perspective is that I’ve got the same amount of time as other people: today. For me, the routine is really important. I get out of bed. I have time where I do my normal prayer, I do my meditation, I do affirmations. I do push-ups and sit-ups in the morning. Once I get into my day, whether I’m coaching clients or whether I’m speaking, or whether I’m getting ready to go to set for TV producing, I always just try to make sure that I’m showing up the best way possible. This the only way I was able to make it to 10 years of sobriety, by taking it day by day.
I think that it’s really important that I’ve made decisions on who I want to be as a person. That is a big part of my daily affirmations, as they remind me of who I am. Gratitude is also helpful for staying grounded and positive; I try to have a list of things for which I’m thankful each day. I look to see the possibilities: how can I grow? What can I learn from a situation, even if it’s a bummer?
I catch myself smiling in my car for no reason, and I love that. I love that my default has become an unintentional smile. It’s such a gift that I’ve been given because my life wasn’t always that way.
Healing and Giving Back in Meaningful Ways
I get the opportunity to travel around and speak with high school and college kids about peer pressure, substance abuse, social media influence, and other topics. I’ve had so many people care for me so much that I want to give back. I believe that every single conversation has the ability to change the world. Each time I talk with someone, there’s the opportunity to show up powerfully for others around me. It’s an honor to be able to impact, even in a very small way, the lives of kids who are in the same place I was: in pain, feeling alone, not sure where to go for help.
It took me a really long time, even in sobriety, to be able to process of all the pain and hurt I had packed away from my mother’s death. But, I finally started doing step work, and I began to learn how to process her passing in a healthier way. I still feel the emotion, but now I don’t lose it because of the gift that I was able to get through sobriety. I learned how to communicate, how to share, how to open up, and how to be vulnerable. Being able to open those painful dark cupboards gave me the joy of the relationship with my mother again. I owe that all to getting sober.
If you’re in a difficult part of recovery or overcoming a different challenge, remember that just because things aren’t going perfectly doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Sometimes it’s just life. But you don’t have to go through the pain alone. You don’t have to turn to drugs, to alcohol, to sex, to other types of things to numb the pain. You can find community, you can let other people into your life, and experience healing and hope.
Take OneStep Forward
You are only one step away from finding help. Take one of these 6 steps towards freedom:
1. Stay present: It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we think too far beyond our present circumstances. Today, focus only on today. Spend ten minutes in silence and solitude, speaking affirmations in your heart over your being. Start with 5 things you love about yourself.
2. Be grateful: Like Phillip, write down 10 things you are thankful for.
3. Find a therapist that is right for you: Not all therapists are the same, and just because you had a negative interaction with one, do not let that prevent you from staying strong and getting the help you need.
4. Visit Alcoholic Anonymous: See if there are any resources that are right for you.
5. Read The Grief Recovery Handbook: A Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Devastating Losses by John W. James and Russell Friedman
6. Find a Support Group: You don’t have to be alone as you process through grief.