The Road Out Of Hell

Over the past week, two people have reached out to me on the topic of addiction. I won’t get into a lot of specifics with that because it’s a different aspect of addiction for each of them and how it’s currently affecting their families.

When people ask me about my past with addiction, more specifically, how I overcame it, there are always a few of places I feel I have to offer with a disclaimer.

My story is my own and what got my life turned around won’t be the same for another

I am still an addict although my addictions are “safer” by comparison

No one changes until they’re ready

The last part is more important than the first two.

I know, throughout the time I’ve had this blog, that I’ve covered a lot about addiction, abuse, rehab, etc. Every time I write about these things, I have to dig deep and re-open some wounds to flesh out details that sometimes I wish didn’t exist. Not because I live in regret, mind you. I don’t regret the things that have happened to me, I do regret the people who I’ve hurt along the way because of those things.

To tell a story in a slightly different way, I’ll start here:

I was raised by two parents who did absolutely everything in their God-given power to give me a good, loving, healthy, supportive life. They were not perfect parents (that doesn’t exist) but there was not a day in my life where I felt unloved or uncared for by my parents.

Nevertheless, traumatic and damaging things have happened to me and I’ve caused my fair share of damage (to myself and others) on my own.

I write these words mid-way through the 4th decade of my life. Much of what I’ve come to understand about my life, has only happened in the last few years. In other words, there was a narrative I crafted along the way that wasn’t always accurate. A narrative which, incorrectly, made me think: You’re like this because of that.

I was wrong.

What I’ve come to discover is that nearly every bad event in my life (save for a few) has been a conscious or unconscious reaction to being sexually abused when I was around the age of 5 or 6.

I did a fantastic job of blocking that event in my mind through most of my adolescence, never telling my parents until I was near the end of high school.

We also moved around a lot. My father was a lifelong Goodyear employee and we were transferred to different states and one different country through all of my childhood. As a result, my parents were often my closest friends, as each move would cause me to uproot, leave friends behind, make new friends and then move again and repeat the process.

One upside was a greater exposure to different cultures, experiences and lifestyles that most people could never appreciate. I’m always fascinated by people who spend the first 18, 25, 35 years of their life in basically the same town. By time I had graduated high school, I had lived in 4 different states (Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio and Texas) and one other country (Brasil).

A downside to all of that moving around was the feeling that I never really “fit in” anywhere. I wasn’t the smartest, I wasn’t the most athletic, and I wasn’t the best looking. I was chronically the new kid until I got settled and then it was back to being the new kid again.

When I came to terms with the whole sexual abuse situation, I was in my junior or senior year of high school and I had my eye on college in a different state (graduating high school in Ohio and looking to go back to Tennessee for college).

College was, for me, much like it is for a lot of young adults; a chance at liberation and starting a new life without being under the roof of my parents. I didn’t really stir up a lot of trouble in college initially, I was too busy with girlfriends and making music that I didn’t really have time to get into mischief.

That all came to a grinding halt in 1996. I went through a rough breakup, was tossed out of band I started because I wasn’t “Christian” enough and that’s where things started to go haywire for me.

In 1996, I was hospitalized 4 times for suicide threats and suicidal ideation. I was misdiagnosed by the doctors who treated me and continued to suffer negative side effects of prescription medications that I never should have been on to begin with.

I should state, for clarity, that some people legitimately need medication as that will provide them their best life. To those individuals: stay the course, trust your doctor unless you believe you are not living an improved life and, if that’s the case, find a doctor you can trust. This make take time, patience and a great degree of trial and error.

After my third hospitalization that year, I started turning to street drugs. I was forced to drop out of college because I couldn’t function on the prescriptions I was given. Some say that weed is a gateway drug and that might not be the case for others, but it was for me.

Couple that with the fact that the “rave” scene was picking up steam in Ohio and it was a perfect storm of events for me: an imbalanced mental state, prescription drugs, street drugs and a plethora of people to mingle with at these parties. I was having a blast (relatively speaking) at 20 years of age (just shy of my 21st birthday).

I call my 20’s the “lost decade” because I would remain addicted to street drugs right up until I turned 30 years old. That wasn’t planned, it’s just the way it happened.

Early on, my drug use compounded so quickly and my tolerance level grew so fast that I had to start dealing drugs to afford my habit. I almost always had a full time job so there was at least a cover for my less than savory behavior outside of work. And, early on, I knew how to separate work from pleasure. I’d go to work clean and sober and engage in all the other behavior after my shifts and on the weekends. Later in the decade, I would be on drugs from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed.

There’s an adage that goes something like this: No one makes a significant change in their life until they’re tired of their own bullshit. That, in a nutshell, is as succinct as you can make it. I spent 10 years as an addict because I convinced myself that life was better under the influence than otherwise. I didn’t care who I hurt, how I hurt them or what collateral damage was in the way. All I cared about was numbing the pain and staying numb.

I quit drugs for a handful of reasons but the primary one being that my drug use and the money I was spending on drugs was causing me to skip out on paying my bills. I made enough money to pay them, but drugs were the priority. This came to a standstill when one of those bills was my mortgage payment on a house that my father co-signed on. That delinquent payment affected his credit record and when we discovered that reality, I knew things had gone too far.

I had also reached a point where most of my drug use was in isolation. I wasn’t doing drugs with friends as much and, at least for me, getting fucked up by myself was no longer enjoyable. I got tired of my own bullshit.

This year will mark 15 years clean. I still drink alcohol but I have a vastly different relationship with alcohol than I did with drugs. For some reason, on a chemical level, I could have massive amounts of drugs in me and still feel “in control”, save for a handful of extenuating circumstances. Alcohol is a wholly different monster. I don’t like the feeling of being drunk so I don’t drink for that feeling. I drink to have some bonding time with my wife in the evening and I rarely over do it. Come to think of it, in the 11 years Marissa and I have been together, I think she’s only seen me drunk less than 5 times. I’ve come to realize I’m too much of a control freak to do that…

The downside to writing about these things is that people turn to me for a solution and I don’t have it. I really wish I did. I wish I had that “one thing” that I could say that could flip a switch and get people to make a complete 180 in their lives.

It’s at this point that I need to repeat the phrase I said at the beginning: No one changes until they’re ready (and some people never change and that becomes fatal).

I’ll also add this, and not for dramatic flair, every great and important thing in my life has come at the cost of immense suffering. My business was built out of the loss of my job, the dissolution of my marriage (to Jackson’s mom), and the death of my Grandfather and Uncle on my mother’s side. Great suffering and loss had to occur for me to open my doors and that’s not an easy place to build a foundation from.

My life has been a series of struggles and suffering at nearly every decade’s turn. I’ve bled for this life, I’ve cried for this life, I’ve nearly died over half a dozen times for this life.

And every day that I wake up, I have to remind myself: You are a lucky son of a bitch. Don’t fuck this up.

Not every bad thing that happens to us has to remain in the forefront of our minds. The bad that’s happened that I had no choice in has shaped who I’ve become. Whether I like it or not, it’s informed a great deal of my life’s decisions.

It’s difficult sometimes being in the position I am with this business: as a coach, a mentor, and inspiration (of sorts) to a variety of different people. It’s easy to feel like a fraud because my life has had such spectacular failures to bounce back from.

However, I guess that’s the whole point, right? You have to bounce back. You can’t stay down.

To those who read my work, and digest my podcast and who know someone who is struggling with addiction or struggling with their health I’ll say these things I think (I hope) I’ve earned the authority to say:

Get a therapist who you trust. Maybe you need medication, maybe you don’t, but at the very least, get someone to talk to who can break you out of your head. Sometimes, your head is a dangerous place to stay until you learn how to live there. It would take me (and my family) seven months, four therapists and around fifteen different medications to get anywhere near close to a solution for me.

You’ll need tremendous support. I am where I am today because my father (before he passed), my mother and my wife at different periods of my life have sacrificed a great deal of time, effort and energy to keep me on a given path, a safer path, a healthier path. I would not be alive today without them.

Suffering is unavoidable. I said it before and I’ll say it again, albeit differently: You will have to suffer to a significant degree to have the life you want: emotionally, physically, mentally. Prepare for that. I don’t believe you can have the life you want or deserve without it. It stands to reason, the severity of suffering is different for every individual.

You have to do the work. Beyond the traumatic things in my life that have happened outside of my power, it has been 100% my responsibility to change who I am and how I react to the world around me. I am not a victim, I am a survivor and no one can take that from me. All the good that I want to come from this world and this life has to be initiated, nurtured and maintained by me. It helps to have a support system that can lift me when I need it but I still have to do the work.

I have a very good life and I am extremely fortunate to wake up to it every day. I am not sure how I’m alive to be here and write these words but I am.

If you are struggling to find some light at the end of the tunnel, please get help. The world needs you.

If you know someone who is struggling to find that light, be the light.

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