“I’ve been clean since February 1st, 1977. I started to use and in earnest when I was 14. The first two years I didn’t have any problems and it was a lot of fun. In high school you don’t really think it’s a big deal. But then I got to a place where I knew that something was wrong in my life but I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I wouldn’t have even guessed it was the drugs. I just knew something wasn’t right. My best friend and his girlfriend died in the spring of 1976 and I that sent me down the last downward spiral. I ended up in legal trouble and was looking at going to the penitentiary for theft by check for some bad checks I had written to a bar, of course. I quit my job and spent six weeks living in my car, using whatever I could whenever I could. But again, I didn’t understand. I still thought if I stopped using it was all gonna be fine. But I always used again. Eventually I remember just thinking that I would end up in prison for sure because I knew I couldn’t stop. So I ended up going to treatment to prolong the inevitable and as a result end up being in a state hospital for seven months.
“At first though, I really had no intention of not using or living a spiritual life. I just knew I didn’t want to go to prison. That’s one of the reasons that I’m now one of those people who believes it doesn’t matter why someone quits. There’s not a bad reason to quit initially. It’s what you do after that. So I spent seven months in that hospital recovering and I started feeling good. After getting out of treatment, I was told I was going to get off probation pretty soon and I said okay, but it really didn’t matter much too me. I was clean and happy and had a job. Then a few weeks later I got a letter in the mail saying that I had completed my probation. Instantly, I thought I could smoke a couple joints and have a couple vodka sours. I mean the thought came out of nowhere. And at this point, I was working in a treatment center, really committed to helping others and my roommate was even in recovery. Despite all that here comes that thought. “I thought about it for about a week and finally told my roommate about it. As soon as I said it out loud it went away. And all these years later, that’s the last time that I wanted to use. I’ve had passing thoughts you know but that was the last time I really wanted to. From there, I just dove further in. I kept meeting people in recovery and going to meetings and living this life. And I had wanted to be a counselor from the beginning. So I started working in an adolescent program that they were developing at the treatment center I had gone to. I’ve been doing some sort of counseling every since and I just love it. I love my life in recovery and getting to help others get better. We’ll talk about some of that in a minute.
“I truly don’t know what I would do though without this fellowship of people. That’s easily the biggest benefit I’ve experienced. Because life has its challenges. If you stay clean and you live long enough you experience life’s natural problems. I’ve gone through both my parents dying and my only brother dying as well. Typical life stuff that we all go through but it’s still intense pain that it’s hard to walk through. And the fellowship was there for me every time. When my brother passed suddenly, the depression related to the grief was so profound. I kept going to meetings because that’s what you’re supposed to do… but I wasn’t feeling it. I felt depressed and empty. Eventually though, as I kept going, I started to recover and get through that grief process. And I think going through that without my friends in recovery would have truly been unbearable.”
“The families of alcoholics and addicts I work with always want to know how they’re doing and if they’re going to stay sober. It’s hard to impress upon them the point that they may be doing outstanding right now but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be doing well six months from now. The reality is that relapse happens more often than it needs to. I believe that any addict can stop using, lose the desire to use and find a new way to live… no matter what the circumstances are. No matter why they went to treatment in the first place. They can get the same results if they do the work. But I let the families know that they can’t do anything about whether their family member uses again. They are powerless over it. That alcoholic or addict is either going recover or they won’t. They will leave here with a continuing care plan and if they follow it, they’re going to continue to recover. It’s really simple. If they do X, Y, and Z and if they keep doing spiritual work, then they will have an extraordinary life.
“I’ve worked with families who had lost someone to their addiction and that were wracked with guilt and wondering what they could have done differently. And I showed the treatment plan their son was given. I wanted them to know that it was a great discharge plan, but it just wasn’t followed. And that was the truth. I just wanted them to know that they had picked a great treatment center and he had went to the right place. But it can’t work if the person doesn’t follow through with it. And that’s like any other disease. If you’re diagnosed with cancer and you get initial cancer treatment but then you don’t do any follow ups, the cancer will return. Any doctor will tell you that. So addiction is the same thing. You’re diagnosed with a progressive disease and have to commit to treating it and maintaining follow up care.
“When I’m working with a new guy I know it’s going to take a couple weeks for his brain to detox and those cravings to subside. About 80 percent of people who leave against staff advice do so between the second and fourth day or the tenth and fourteenth day. I can’t tell you why. I have no idea why but it’s true. So that’s what I tell them… that after they’ve been here 10 or 14 days they’re going to start coming up with all kinds of reasons to leave. But if you tell them to expect that it helps. And that’s why I like being at places like Brazos that try to get them keep people for at least 90 days. You need that time to heal. I also let them know that at first, recovering is going to be the hardest thing they ever do and that it’s going to include doing things they don’t want to do. I’m ultimately trying to just help them see they have a decision to make. Either they’re going to keep on like they have been, or they’re going to do some work and have a good life. And if they take that second path, they’re going to experience a life and a joy they’ve never known. A friend of mine always says that the 12 Steps are like a Paint By Numbers approach to finding God for boneheads like us. You can paint a beautiful picture with not much skill as long as you just follow instructions.”