‘Realizing I was gay gave me feelings I was trying to numb. I felt like I was doing something wrong and if people found out, I wouldn’t be loved. I spent 15 years in a downward spiral.’

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“My name is Rion. I was born in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 19, 1986. I spent 15 of those years in the downward spiral of my drug and alcohol addiction. I cannot think of anything in my childhood that was traumatic. There was no abuse. No abandonment issues or anything else I could point to and definitively say, ‘this is why I get high.’ I came from a loving family who always supported me and wanted nothing but the best for me. I had a bunch of kids in the same neighborhood I grew up in, so I always friends around. Things were good for me as a child.

In my younger teenage years, I distinctly remember many instances where all of my friends would be talking about various girls here and there. I remember not having the same attraction and wondering why, but I wasn’t in touch with myself to really know what it was. This was the beginning of my long process of realizing I was gay. I don’t think this caused my drug and alcohol abuse in the beginning, but it did give me a bunch of feelings I was trying to numb. I felt like I was doing something wrong and if people found out, I wouldn’t be loved. That I would be abandoned by my friends. All these horrible things consumed my thoughts.

Teen who hasn't come out yet sits posing on rock outside
Courtesy of Rion

Getting high was certainly a temporary escape from feeling like I had to hide my true self in order to be accepted. By age 15 I was smoking pot regularly and drinking any time I had the opportunity to do so. I loved the way I felt when I was drunk or high. All my worries were gone. I didn’t care about how I looked or if you liked me. All the anxiety I carried with me just seemed to dissolve.

I was not one of these people who kept it together for a long time and finally got to a point where their life is slowly slipping away from their addiction. I started seeing consequences immediately. You name it – I was expelled from schools, DUI, possession of marijuana charges and even truancy charges because one day in my teenage years I just decided school wasn’t for me. The state of South Carolina had different views on the matter. I was completely out of control and my family had no idea what to do. They tried everything from counseling to drug treatment to physiatrists. You name it, they tried it in hopes of getting their son back – but it got a lot worse before it got better.

After high school was over I was out of the house. My alcoholism really took off then because I didn’t have to hide my booze anymore. I signed up for college courses, saying each semester that things would be different, but they never were. By this point I was regularly staying up all night doing cocaine as well which makes it hard to be a good student in your 9:00 a.m. class. Throughout this period of all of the lying, manipulating, and failure, being a disappointment to myself and others was taking its toll on me. I was always one step away from going to jail again for a laundry list of illegal things I was doing every day. I really started to hate myself.

Closeted gay man who turned to drugs and alcohol to cope sits shirtless with body of water in background
Courtesy of Rion

In my early 20s is when things really started to go downhill. I wasn’t able to even maintain the image of having it together. I was known as a drug addict and a drug dealer. I bought and sold drugs because it was a way for me to stay high for free. I had no income and my addiction was costing a lot of money to support. I started to realize a lot of the people I had gone to high school with were now graduating from college. They were starting careers. They were having children and being responsible members of society. I never felt like I had any of that in me. I wouldn’t even to know where to start. They seemed happy, and I was not. We had gotten so far apart because the choices I was making for my life were unhealthy ones and even my closest friends had to start distancing themselves from me because I was destroying myself. I was angry at myself. I was angry at them. I was angry at my family. And I was angry at God for making me this way.

I began using IV drugs around 23. It was like the bottom dropped out. I had no idea I could get so low. I had turned into a monster. Someone I was not raised to be. I would lie, cheat, steal and whatever else I had to do to get my drugs. Heroin ruled my life. I would do anything I could to support my habit. I would steal from my family, friends and businesses. I would pawn or sell anything of value. I stole checks from my family and wrote them to myself. I would go into any wallet or purse left unattended. If it was worth anything, it was gone. I ruined many friendships and relationships that were important to me because I just couldn’t stop. It wasn’t that I didn’t know that what I was doing was wrong, I just had no defense against getting high.

I tried various treatments such as methadone and suboxone but I always went back to the heroin. I also started using methamphetamine somewhere along the line. I don’t say I was homeless because I was not sleeping under a bridge, but I was always sleeping on someone’s couch or in their bed crashing. I would get into sexual relationships with people who could take care of me because I was unable to take care of myself. I feel like I have always had some depression and bipolar disorder, but the meth really brought my psychiatric state to an all-time low. I was constantly in and out of detox, psych wards, and treatment centers. I could not escape it. Meth is not only horrible to your body, but even worse are the things it will do to your mind. I would have extended periods of IV meth use with no sleep. This combination made me lose total grasp of reality. I would be convinced I was being followed by people and move from one hiding place to another for days at a time. I would constantly see things that weren’t there (and trust me, they were never any puppies or anything happy like that). It was always something that left me in fear or anxiety. These sprees landed me in psychiatric hospitals on a few occasions.

I knew I would die like that. I had no hope of anything ever being ok. I wanted so desperately to be normal. I hated drugs, but I also couldn’t be away from them. If I was in jail and didn’t have them I would constantly think about suicide. I did not know there was another option. In a final effort I agreed to go to Willingway Hospital in Statesboro, Georgia. There, for the first time, I made the decision that I was going to try a program of recovery, but I didn’t believe it would work for me. I met people that I believe to this day were put in my life exactly when I was beaten down enough to listen a little. At Willingway, I met John Williamson who was the counselor who was instrumental in saving my life. All of the staff there cares about the patients and are all in recovery as well, so I felt as though I had someone who at least knew what I was talking about and going through. He had lived it. He understood me. Willingway is where I was introduced to the 12 step program that has saved my life. I owe everything I have to these men and women who have taught me everything I know about how to live.

Recovered alcoholic stands smiling in blue t-shirt and jeans
Courtesy of Rion

My sobriety date is October 5, 2013. I have a little over 5 years away from drugs and alcohol. My family has stuck by my side the whole time. My mother Sherilyn and father Michael are the most loving and supportive parents I could possibly ask for and I have been living my life in a way that shows them that I don’t ever want to be that person again. Celebrating my 5 years of sobriety has by far been my biggest accomplishment in life. Living a life with purpose can be achieved one day at a time. I know that now.

Recovered alcoholic stands smiling with mother and father
Courtesy of Rion

It is a struggle on a daily basis to maintain my sobriety and a fit mental and spiritual condition. I suffer from depression and have bipolar swings that still cause serious issues in my life. But today I have the support network and the friends and family to help me get through whatever is in front of me. There hasn’t been anything in front of me that doing dope is going to fix. I sponsor others in their 12-step work to try to give back the love and support that has been so freely given to me. Any time I have a chance to give back, I do it.

Recovered alcoholic who sponsors others on their journey stand smiling in jersey that says, "HYDE"
Courtesy of Rion

Since getting sober I have been to school and gotten an education in welding. I also did a 3-year apprenticeship under a blacksmith in New Orleans to further my understanding of art, historic restoration and metal fabrication. In the last several months I have started my own company so that I can continue to learn and take my career to the next level. I get to design furniture, design fences, restore ironwork, and fabricate all of these things by hand. It is my passion to give these things new life, much like I did for myself.

Recovered alcoholic stands over table and item he welded
Courtesy of Rion

I can honestly say I’m excited about my future. I’m also scared, but it’s a healthy fear. I have come so far and I see others that either decide to go back to that life, or haven’t made it out of their addictions alive. The disease of addiction is cunning. Some of the most amazing and talented people I have ever met are not around anymore because they could not stop using. I pray I will remain willing to take care of myself and to help others in any way I can.”

Recovered alcoholic stands beside open trunk filled with surfboards
Courtesy of Rion

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rion, 32, of New Orleans, Louisiana. Have you overcome your addictions? We’d love to hear your journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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