‘If I can take care of him, I can take care of me.’ In an odd way, this guinea pig had started changing my life.’: Man finds unlikely inspiration from pet on sobriety journey

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“No one grows up wanting to earn themselves a drinking problem or be known as an alcoholic or an addict. I’d say it’s probably not on most people’s vision boards. In fact, doctors are even shying away from using the term ‘addict’ nowadays. It should be deemed ‘a person with addiction,’ they say, as ‘addict’ comes off as too aggressive or derogatory. Personally, I refer to ‘it’ as my drinking problem. Others may refer to me as otherwise, and that’s okay! When I’m discussing everything and being honest and vulnerable, calling it ‘my drinking problem’ makes me most comfortable and less awkward about it. Other than that, I try not to concern myself with the things I don’t have any control over.

All throughout high school and into my early 20s, I barely drank. I had no interest in it. I was too distracted by the craziness of growing up in my family. My parents, who were never happy with one another and constantly fighting; a sister I was never not feuding with; two very significant deaths (the car accident that killed my Uncle Doug, then the sudden passing of my Grandma) that rocked us; moving months before graduating elementary school to a brand new city, being assaulted in school and then going to court; later on, my parent’s very messy divorce, etc. It wasn’t until, I think, the collective weight of life and everything I had been going through, as well as two very noteworthy young heartbreaks, that I felt given an excuse to uncork all of which I had been bottling up, so to speak, and then start knocking it way the f*ck back.

men playing laser tag
Courtesy of Christopher Gould

Regardless, I am who I am today because of my own choices, good and bad. I have chosen to own it all.

A big thing about sobriety for me is that sobriety itself didn’t solve all my problems or make my life perfect. What it did was give me the ability to face my problems, tackle them head-on, and use smarts to figure out the best possible outcome on as many occasions as I can manage. On March 30th, 2022, I reached ONE YEAR SOBER. It’s probably one of the proudest accomplishments of my life so far. One year ago though, I was in a pretty dark place.

To say I had pretty much given up on life would be putting it lightly. I was drinking myself to sleep every single night. I had been in the psych ward of the hospital twice, both related to suicide attempts, but the first time got me officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety and on medication. My drinking was really bad, but I felt it was the only escape from the really sh**ty circumstances and sh**ty life I had gotten myself into from years and years of putting alcohol first.

I was living in what became a coke house during the pandemic, with people who were doing it so often it started being sold out of our house. It wasn’t that way before I moved in, a couple years before COVID rolled around. But it wasn’t well-behaved either.

I wasn’t in a place to be able to afford to move, nor was anybody really listing places for rent in the middle of a pandemic. I was pretty well stuck. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I also didn’t have the greatest relationship with my family, as I had said some horrible things to them in a drunken fit that caused a rift for a while. And it got really bad at the house. My room was in the basement and these people were partying every single day without any regard at all for me or even the neighbors. They were stomping on the floor above my head, sometimes falling down, they were screaming and shouting all day and all night, regularly dropping and breaking things, blasting music, having sex in the living room, going in and out of the house and slamming the doors, I could go on…it was really bad.

man smiling with sombrero on
Courtesy of Christopher Gould

They brushed me off when I asked for some relief from the noise, they’d laugh when I was tired and upset, and they’d even stomp louder and make extra noise specifically out of spite. They went out of their way to make an already broken person feel a little more shattered when they could. I guarantee you, I’d be diagnosed with a form of PTSD from that nightmare. I’ve never, ever been in a situation like that, where people willingly went out of their way and kept pushing someone on the brink of giving up completely. It was brutal and incredibly lonely.

Oftentimes, if I wasn’t drinking, I wasn’t sleeping. I’d get the shakes like crazy. Mad crazy. Sometimes I couldn’t even properly lift my first pint up to my mouth at the bar because my shakes were so bad. I’d have to use two hands so I wouldn’t spill everywhere, just to get enough liquid down and away from the rim of the glass. That’s why I didn’t go out to bars: there was too much anxiety, so I’d just drink by myself in the basement. And like I said, it got really lonely.

I ended up posting on my social media that I was looking for a pet. I felt I needed some kind of companion in that chaotic house, in my secluded little basement area. There was a response on my Facebook within a couple of hours on the day I posted. It was a friend of mine saying that they were getting rid of a guinea pig, and they could bring it to me with everything included, cage and all. I immediately said yes. We finished discussing things, and they said they were on their way. Within an hour, I had the guinea pig. Funny thing is, he was dropped off as a she. They had known the little piggy as Gigi, not knowing he was actually male. When I discovered this, quite hilariously through a reel on Instagram might I add, I renamed him Chandler.

He and I formed a fast bond, and suddenly it started to spark something in me. ‘If I can take care of him, I can take care of me.’ I had begun a routine with Chandler, getting up early every morning to feed him, cleaning his cage, changing his water, spending time with him…and at the same time, all of this was forcing me to change and start doing things for myself as well. In an odd way, this guinea pig had started changing my life.

man smiling with guinea pig in arm
Courtesy of Christopher Gould

‘If I can take care of him, I can take care of me’ became to me, like I said, the spark that started a fire.  I started seeing that even small changes can accumulate to very big differences. I started feeling pride in seeing that I made those differences happen through my own hard work.

On the night of March 30th, 2021, I randomly didn’t buy beer. I got some mediocre sushi and some snacks from the grocery store and just hung out with Chandler. I played video games and finally fell asleep watching a movie. I woke up for the first time in a while without a hangover, feeling somewhat fresh, with no shame, guilt, or regret, and there were no worries about ‘what the f*ck happened last night?’ or a mess to clean up, but most importantly…I liked this feeling, these feelings. I liked genuinely feeling good, feeling happy about a choice I made. This felt like a victory worth celebrating, even if it were only one day.

But, that’s what it’s taken. One day at a time. One beautiful f*cking day at a time. Some of them are long, and some of them are bad.  But, bad days are allowed. And bad days are the ones that make fighting to get to the good ones so worth it. I’m a stronger person because I overcame some really sh**ty days, and I can stand before you now and tell you that with a smile. And I live for encouraging others to do the same. Because it’s so very possible. One day at a time.

By June 1st, I moved out of the coke house, still sober. I started setting crazy goals for myself. I taught myself how to backflip on a trampoline (at 35 years old!). I ran my first official 5k run and placed 3rd for my age group. I read a book (Fight Club) in a day. I painted a painting I’ve wanted to do for years. I got jacked up and in the best shape of my life for my 36th birthday. I completed 100 days of no pop/soda. I went to AA (not for me, personally) and got a chip. I got my first phone plan in over 10 years. I’ve had OVER HALF A MILLION views on my Instagram account since last summer AND went viral twice. After years of having no ID from having my wallet stolen, I finally received my first piece of government photo ID in the mail recently, and it just keeps getting better!

Man holding up race medals and smiling
Courtesy of Christopher Gould

Chandler and I recently exceeded a whopping and wonderful 500 DAYS together, AND I’ve just moved into a gorgeous little lakeview apartment in downtown Burlington only a couple of weeks ago, where I get to watch the absolutely breathtaking sunrises every morning!  (And I get to do that because I’m never practically comatose from alcohol at that time or just drifting into a blackout! I’m a morning person now!)

At a point, I had to start believing that I was capable of more. When I did, magic started happening, actual magic. It’s absolutely crazy what the power of positivity can do. When you hear ‘change your mindset, change your life,’ it is not a lie, it’s a recipe for success.  I stopped asking myself ‘What if?’ and started saying ‘Why the f*ck not?’ instead. And for the first time in over 10 years, I was feeling full-fledged, genuine happiness, not the liquid version, from a recyclable container.

People started to tell me I looked different, sometimes that I was glowing even. I probably did look different though! The bloating and redness in my face went away, (like I said) I had gotten pretty darn fit, my skin was clearer, my eyes were way brighter and wider, I was standing taller (or just straighter), I was smiling all the time, I had some bounce and pep to my step, etc.

In fact, I also just take more pride in myself and my appearance now. I shave my face more often and shave my head too, so I’m constantly trimmed, neat and tidy, and there’s no more long, moppy hair. I even pluck my damn unibrow! I fold my clothes right out of the laundry or hang them up in the closet, so they don’t get wrinkly. And I make sure to start every day with a shower, even if I had one when I got home from work the night before. (And I don’t forget to brush my teeth!) I think my mental equation for it is…if I look like I’ve got my sh*t together, I feel like I’ve got my sh*t together. So, it works…or at least that’s how it’s justified in my head.

A group of men sitting on steps smiling
Courtesy of Christopher Gould

I’ve continued to keep setting goals for myself and constantly keep reaching to be the best version of me, and I’ve shared this entire sobriety journey on my @strongvoice account on Instagram. In doing so, I’ve connected with the ever-gracious sober community, which has been an amazing help in my recovery and my growth as a person.  The awesome and actual authentic connections I’ve made with some of these people are friendships I truly hold dear, and I actually can’t wait to go visit and meet some of them.

Instagram has also been a way to spread the power of positivity, show that I’m proof that change is possible when you’re willing to fight for it, and a great platform to provide as many smiles and as much laughter and help to others as I can each day to keep putting good out into the universe.

I once heard the saying ‘a rising tide raises all ships,’ and I’d much rather lift people up when I can than ever bring anyone down, because like I said earlier, sobriety didn’t solve all my problems, but it gave me the ability to start being happy and share that happiness, to lift people up other than just myself, to completely turn my life around and help others see they can too, to keep achieving some really cool goals by having the right attitude about it, and to continue sharing in all that amazing laughter and smiles and good stuff for the universe…because that’s how beautiful sobriety is.

If being an addict, sorry…a ‘person with addiction,’ or an alcoholic, or someone with a drinking problem was me constantly giving up everything for just one thing…my sobriety and recovery has been giving up that one thing and getting absolutely EVERYTHING! And that…that is what this is all about.

On March 30th, 2022, I reached ONE YEAR SOBER with a list of pretty impressive accolades under my belt that make me feel like a f*ckin’ superhero! Just the other day, May the 4th, I hit 400 DAYS!  May 30th will be 14 MONTHS! I will keep celebrating all my little victories, because I deserve to, because I worked really, really hard for this.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds.  It’s comforting knowing that with the power of positivity, my sobriety, and a huge, wonderful, and magical belief in myself…that anything is possible.

Here’s to lifting ourselves up and lifting each other even higher.

To infinity and beyond!”

man smiling and making a heart with his hands
Courtesy of Christopher Gould

This story was submitted to Love What Matters  by Christopher Gould of Ontario, Canada. You can follow his journey on  Instagram. 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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