“I was 15 when I started using.
In a short five-year period, my life spiraled out of control. If my hand was not wrapped around a drink, my mind certainly was. I experienced a lot of consequences. For example, I had over twenty jobs in that timeframe and had become unemployable. I quit sports, I changed my circle of friends more than once, I did not graduate high school. At the age 18 I was arrested around 14 times, and I overdosed which almost cost my life.
I felt hopeless. There was no way out. There was never going to be a way out. One time after drinking and using, I started convulsing in my car. I do not know how long I was there, but it was in a parking lot outside of a coffee shop. A lady, a passerby (I do not know who, but she was my guardian angel that day) called 911 and I was taken to the hospital. The same hospital where my mother was currently employed.
As I lay there in ICU, I could see my mom raging in disappointment and agony as she tried to explain the situation to a colleague of hers. I could see the pain, I could see the frustration, and I could see that she could hardly take it anymore. I could see that she was losing the hope she had for a son she loved. This little boy she used to drive around with singing in the car, acting silly together, the little boy who helped bake cookies for Santa and color Easter eggs for the Easter bunny, the little boy who was supposed to grow up and share in all the world’s possibilities was lying on a hospital bed fighting for his life. These are the things she would say at my funeral.
All the potential lost. Constant thoughts like these orbited my mother’s mind. She would be forever trying to reconcile the little boy who grew up to be a destructive man. It does not make sense. It should not make sense. We are not meant to live in this kind of darkness.
A trauma team had to save my life. I had died. They fought for my life and luckily for me, they won that day. My thinking at the time had many excuses why this happened. I seemed to think I was invincible or like I made a minor mistake with my dose. I still thought I was in control. I did not intend to overdose. But like many who do not get to wake up, today I can see how close I was to my own funeral. I felt alone. I had tried everything to stop. I did not want to put my family through any more pain. But the disease could not care less about what I wanted. It was my master and I was its slave. I feared this was my life going forward.
We live in a time where over 70,000 Americans died from an overdose in 2019. And will continue to climb in 2020. That number is large enough to almost forget that these are people with families. Hurting people with hurting families. I did not fight harder than those who have passed. It is truly by grace that I am still here. What I am not going to do is let the people who are losing their life, die in vain. I recover out loud, so people don’t have to die quietly.
Shortly after my visit to the hospital, I entered residential treatment and met people in long-term recovery. I thought the recovery community was where fun went to die. I despised being sober and could not envision a life without drugs and alcohol. That is the crazy thing about this illness. As my life kept getting darker and smaller, my mind kept telling me that I was going to figure it out and be okay. However, something did catch my attention. These people were like me, but completely different at the same time. They had jobs, families, responsibilities, and they were peacefully happy. I, on the other hand, wanted to crawl out of my skin while sober. I had to find out what happened to them. That was my beginning, my hope. I took a few of their suggestions but was not ready to fully submit to the process.
Finally, the gift of desperation allowed me to fully join this way of life. I was finally able to try something different. As a result of listening and taking suggestions, I get to be a daddy, a husband, a son, a businessman, a volunteer, a mentor, a community leader, an advocate and policy worker, a college graduate, and I am still growing the list.
I have hope. I love my life and recovery is at the center. Since earning my GED, I have gone on to get a master’s degree and recently started on a dissertation. Not bad for a guy who had a .75 GPA in high school. In college, I was voted to serve as student government president. I was honored. It also made me laugh because in high school, the student body voted me to most likely end up on ‘Cops.’ I learned my past does not equal my future. Unlike before, I am walking through whatever life brings me. Thankfully, I am not alone.
I quit smoking in the year 2009 and my father-in-law, Jerry Elkins, was there to show support. He introduced me to long-distance running as a substitute. We would run through the cities of Arkansas and discuss a lot of things. The kind of relationship I had with Jerry, most sons do not have with their father. He was a friend, he was an ally, he was a father both to me and to my wife. He taught me a lot about life, work, and how to be a man.
One day after a run, he started having problems breathing. When we took him for diagnosis, we realized that he had an aggressive kind of lung cancer and he did not have long to live. I knew he would bounce back. I could not accept that Jerry, who took great care of himself, would fall victim to Mesothelioma. It was a turbulent period in my life and even before he was gone, the realization that I was losing a key figure in my life hit me. Jerry was a spiritual giant to me. But I realized that a lot of people were going to depend on me throughout this period. He was leaving and he would be fully entrusting his baby girl (Tara) into my care.
I got to be a shoulder for people to lean on. One day, I visited him at the house. I just felt like I should take a day off work and be there. He was bedridden by this time, he was having serious difficulty breathing, and he was in pain all the time. I happened to be in the other room for a moment when I heard Teresa, my mother-in-law calling for me. I started for the other room and there was Jerry. A frail man wheeling his oxygen tank in my direction. It took a few moments, but we figured out what he wanted. He wanted to go for a drive in his red Miata convertible. I packed him in there, oxygen tank and all, and took him for a drive. We went around the block a few times. I would look over at him and see a little bit of joy despite the massive amount of pain. I was able to do that for him. It was the last time he was out of bed.
When I was getting ready to say goodbye and go back to Little Rock, he grabbed me and he forced out a smile despite his pains. We both looked at each other and began to cry. I lay my head on his chest and he held me. At that moment, we were closer than we had ever been. There was nothing left unsaid between us. Our relationship had been utilized to the fullest. It was intact and full. There was only love for one another in that moment. And the miracle was that I did not want to change how I felt. I wanted to feel everything. It was real.
We did not spend time saying things we should have been saying years earlier. This was because I had stepped up. I am thankful for the process I went through which built me up and helped me discover the dependable man inside me with the principle of self-sacrifice and hard work.
I was not alone during Jerry’s illness. The recovery community carried me through the pain of saying goodbye. I would call a program friend from Nebraska and I would cry the whole time. He was so gentle. My heart was broken. My family’s heart was broken and this man in Nebraska sat with me on the phone and loved me through it. I would visit another recovery friend who would tell me how proud he was that I was present, that I was facing this head on. I would reply that ‘love is not always convenient.’ Jerry taught me that. There are times when I run, and I can feel Jerry in the wind as it hits my face. I miss him dearly. I am grateful I met him.
My newest adventure is dealing hope to the recovery community and beyond. I founded Natural State Recovery Centers to do just that. My goal is to connect people to the many opportunities that exist after active addiction. My vision is to create a recovery center that is synonymous with high-quality treatment and serves as the premier choice for people seeking recovery. We help from crisis to sustainability. I need people to know they do not have to hide in the dark. The war is over and now it is time to help others realize their worth. We are essentially a recovery program built by people in long-term recovery for those seeking recovery. I am grateful to be turning my pain into purpose.
I also co-founded a talk show called the ‘Recovery Clinic’ because of the negative impacts the pandemic has had on the recovery community. The message is that we do recover. We can paint a different picture for the general population. When you think of a person in active alcoholism, they usually are not on skid row drinking out of a paper bag. We are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, career professionals, churchgoers, community leaders, and so on and so forth. We are an active force in the community and are working every day to end the silence.
I learned recovery is more than a clean urinalysis. I am as physically sober as I was over a decade ago. It’s what I do during each 24-hour period that makes the difference. With help, I am creating a life worth living. I am worth the effort. There is an awesome transition that occurs as time passes in sobriety. It becomes less about the substance you are trying not to consume and more about the quality of life that the substance was holding you back from.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christopher S. Dickie of Little Rock, Arkansas. You can follow his journey on Twitter or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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