Today’s Sober Story comes from Andy, a 37-year-old living in Medellin, Colombia (although he has spent most of his life in southern California.)
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Andy: I’m proud to say I have been clean and sober for 9 years now. However, I believe that my actual alcohol and drug recovery, my desire to conquer (or at least control) my addictions and my demons, really began way before the first day of those 9 years or so.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months or years of your drinking before you gave up?
Andy: I guess the most overriding feeling was a sense of invincibility when I was drinking or using or both, and a profound sense of fear and mortality when I wasn’t. I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop.
Mrs D: So what led you to finally stop?
Andy: They say that addicts all have their rock bottom, a single event or happening that makes them realise it’s either find a new way of living (just plain existing will do) or a sad and lonely death. Mine was this. At the age of 22, I was arrested and convicted of drug charges and I spent two years in jail. Hand on heart, I never, ever want to see the inside of a 10 by 8 again. Or go through the agony of alcohol and drug detox (unmedicated) either stuck in one of these awful boxes. While locked up, I was introduced to both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. At first, I only went to meetings to escape the boredom of the cell.
Mrs D: You were in denial?
Andy: At first, I wasn’t ready to admit that I had a problem. That was everyone else’s issue, their problem. My self-induced mental isolation from the world around me, especially those that loved me, meant I was a really stubborn son-of-a-gun. No, I didn’t have a problem. Those weeks of early morning meetings finally taught me a lot of things, but the most important was this: Problem? I was the problem! The way I reacted to absolutely everything around me, fueled by alcohol and drugs, gave me no chance of ever accepting any help for the real and root causes of my addiction to both alcohol and drugs. The moment I understood that was, for me, the moment my recovery began.
Mrs D: How did it go after that? What did you find most difficult?
Andy: I knew that I had to get out of jail for my physical addiction recovery to truly start. Once that happened, the most difficult thing was removing those negative thoughts in my head and disassociating myself from old friends and old habits. It’s not easy to tell the people that were your “friends” that you can’t hang out anymore. And to trade bad habits with healthy ones, like reading, writing, studying, and working.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from people around you?
Andy: Everyone that really cared for me demonstrated from the first day that they would support me and would be there if I needed them, my mother especially. That is not to say I didn’t notice the odd glance between some of them, the look of “Do you really think he’ll do this?” I don’t blame them. In those early days, it was a question I constantly asked myself.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Andy: Yes, and I’m not ashamed to say that. As an actively using addict, the only way to deal with stress and anger is to consume more. So early in my recovery, I gave in and relapsed. Let me tell you this: Relapsing was an awful experience. I had never felt so much guilt and remorse in my life. However, it put me into rehab, in a place where I could receive professional medical care, both mentally and physically, while I went through alcohol and drug detox. I was there for nearly 6 months, and the help and education I got there has stood me and my recovery in great stead ever since. Now, I look upon those weak times as essential to the much stronger and more focused person I am today.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally and physically?
Andy: A long, long time, particularly in respect of my emotional and overall mental health. I’d always been pretty fit (basketball was and still is my sporting passion), so I was better able than most to deal with the physical side. What went on in my head in those early days was every emotion you could think of. Doubled. When I felt overloaded, I would just breathe and tell myself to simply survive today. After a few months, it got easier. After a few clean and sober years, I am at peace with it all.
Mrs D: Was it hard getting used to socialising sober?
Andy: Yes, that was tough. I have learnt one thing though, from what my friends tell me now. I’m a lot more fun to be around clean and sober. They laugh more and so do I.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Andy: A few things. The most important I think though is this: I’m a much better and a much kinder person than I ever thought I was when I was drinking or using. Sobriety has shown me that I’m a person that I actually like. Fact.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Andy: Before I could truly understand that, how different my life had become, I was just in plain awe of actually having one that I wanted to live. So I guess that best answer would be to say… fundamentally. My life changed fundamentally. It had to.
Mrs D: That’s powerful. Can you pinpoint any main benefits that have emerged for you from getting sober?
Andy: Mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Put simply, my health. Secondly, focus. I now run a very successful digital marketing agency here in the city of my birth (my parents moved us to California back in Medellin’s dark days of murders, drug cartels and daily violence). I employ people that have become friends, and together we work hard for the benefit of all of us, and for those less fortunate in our community too.
Mrs D: That’s so awesome. Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Andy: Hindsight. A curse for an addict. In retrospect, I believe my recovery would may have been easier for me had I walked straight out the jail and straight into the rehab. Do not pass a bar, do not see family or friends. Go straight to rehab. However, my addiction recovery teaches me the same lesson every day. What’s done is done, and what’s gone is gone. So, just take a step forward, and leave it behind you.
Mrs D: Any advice or tips for those who are just starting on this journey?
Andy: Well, apart from the advice I’ve tried to include in my previous answers, the most important help I believe I can offer is this… As functioning addicts, we show great determination in continuing our addictions on a daily basis. This could be holding down a job to continue getting our income, and this could also be stealing from others to continue getting our income. Both come down to the same thing. The ability to get the next drink, the next joint, the next hit. That’s it, and that’s all it is. All you need to do is to harness that sheer determination, that desire into something else. In our case, it’s this. Alcohol detox. Drug detox. Or both if you need it, like me.
You are stronger than you think.
You are a better person than you think.
And it’s all waiting for you. Yes, you.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
Andy: AA and NA programs teach us to accept what we have done, and to apologize to those we have hurt. My apology to my mother was, and is, a deeply personal thing. Not for sharing on the great and wonderful World Wide Web.
Of that apology, I will say this though. Her eyes never left mine as I stuttered and stumbled through what I needed to say to her. And they were full of love.
Thanks for reading.