Success in recovery — What’s your recovery going to look like?
Success in recovery is possible for anyone. These stories show how people from many different backgrounds have recovered.
Elijah refers to himself as a status quo addict, meaning he believed he was managing his drug use as long as things looked good on the outside.
Elijah’s parents divorced when he was five, primarily due to his father’s drug addiction and inability to provide for the family. His father was in and out of his life intermittently through Elijah’s childhood and this created a lot of resentments, while his mother was left to raise the children on her own. With little income, Elijah grew up in rough neighborhoods, which had a big impact on the way he viewed and interacted with the world.
“All my friends, their siblings were in gangs. And I was very impressionable. I wanted to fit in as well. And I tend to take on the identities of those people around me.” His mother eventually remarried and Elijah says this was another difficult period with his new stepfather. “There was no physical abuse, no sexual abuse, but there was a lot of emotional and mental abuse. I feel like I was just living in an environment of fear.”
This continued through his high school years, even after his mother returned from her tour of duty, and soon he was drinking and smoking pot everyday. His grades started slipping, enough that he was kicked off the football team. He was getting suspended from school. In his sophomore year of high school, his mother moved to Colorado Springs with his stepfather. Elijah was supposed to move with her, but after stealing her car one night, she decided she had had enough and told him he needed to go back to his father. Elijah says this was an odd period because he actually started applying himself more at high school while living with his father. “I think I always had this weird resentment towards my mother and like this almost apologist mentality for my dad. It’s almost like there’s this correlation between how well I do with anything when I was with my mom, and then maybe trying a little harder for my dad, maybe looking for some approval from him.” But he was still smoking pot daily and drinking frequently. In his junior year, he fell in love with drama and realized sports wasn’t so important to him anymore. He also realized if he wanted to have anything, like a laptop or a phone or a snowboard, he would have to buy it himself. He ended up working at the same restaurant as his dad and his older sister. “During that junior year I really settled into just working in a restaurant and getting high, which is like basically following my father’s footsteps, you know, and that was all right with me.” Elijah began partying a lot more at this time, lying to his father about his activities. “My dad is weirdly strict for who he is. He’s got that weird addict-like control issue, like his biggest thing was always ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. But it was easy to lie to him, because he was always stoned.”
His senior year he graduated to hard drugs. Elijah says the moment he first tried cocaine, he realized all bets were off at that point. He did manage to graduate from high school and started attending college in Colorado. But he rarely went to classes, and became more and more caught up in drug use and partying. “I was officially on my own, you know? I was finally like, it was just me, I have no one. I wasn’t under my mom’s roof. There was no one who could tell me not to do anything.” Elijah was drinking every day, and began using LSD, ecstasy, and mushrooms. And he fell in love with a girl. Elijah says he was able to justify his behavior, such as partying a little too hard the night before a test, by rationalizing that this is just what college kids do. He also says he was always able to compare himself to other family members, and tell himself that he wasn’t as bad as them. And his family was doing the same things, semi-aware of Elijah’s behavior. “They’d tell themselves, well he’s not as bad as my cousins who are shooting up heroin and meth. So he got caught smoking weed in the dorm and has to do a little community service now. Yeah, maybe he parties a little too hard and is always out with friends when he comes home to visit, but he’s just smoking weed.” Looking back, Elijah says he can see now how he wasn’t like other ‘normal’ college kids, because he always wanted to do more, getting high was his daily focus rather than school, and he was lying to his family a lot about his behavior, trying to make himself look good. He was becoming a status quo addict.
Over summer break he returned to Albuquerque, resuming his restaurant job, and that’s when he tried Oxycodone for the first time. “All my old friends were Oxy addicts by this time. I had done Xanax or whatever and we still would do our get together, do an 8-ball of cocaine, roll on ecstasy for like two nights type thing but they were all opiate addicts. I think that’s when I lost control. I was 19. And it’s like it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, like an alcoholic, what makes the difference is that at some point you lose control. Like you are officially unable to grasp any bit of control on when, why or how you drink or use drugs. Right? Like, so, that was it for me. And it was because of, you know, heartbreak, right. Women problems, you know, another theme in my life.”
His college girlfriend had broken up with him and he responded by staying stoned and drunk all the time. His family started to recognize there was a problem and didn’t want him to go back to school in Colorado. “But I thought there’s a chance I could get back with the girl.”
But when he went back, he did not get the girl. “I think after going on like a drinking bender, a drinking slash MDMA bender, probably doing lots of coke, that was like the first time I legitimately smoked heroin. I’ve never been an IV user. But this one girl from the college brought it over to my friends, and because they were going to do it, and I was just in despair, right? You know, it was like, no way I’m getting the girl back. I had just been drinking a ton, and I was like, yeah, hand that over. Right? Like, let’s get down. Seems completely reasonable, right? This one thing that seemed so scary a long time ago, all of a sudden, it just looked so good. And they were smoking it. I didn’t know you could smoke heroin. I thought you had to shoot it up. It seemed a lot safer that way.”
At this point, Elijah’s weeks consisted of a constant cycle of drinking and drug use. He started to experience chronic paranoia and one night Elijah was pulled over with a large quantity of MDMA he was about to sell. With a warrant for his arrest for a drunk driving incident that he had forgotten about the year before, Elijah was taken to jail. He recalls calling his mom and for the first time admitting what he had been doing, though he did not admit to the heroin use. He promised his mother this was never going to happen again, he was going to change. Yet the day he got out of jail, he dropped acid. “I needed a substance. I just didn’t want to live in reality.” Even though he was not able to stay clean during his release term before the trial, the charges were eventually dismissed.
He returned to Albuquerque and moved back in with his dad and his sister. Within six months he had two jobs, a car and an apartment. “I was like, I beat it. Like, I changed it. I proved to everyone. I’m going to change this to stay sober for six months. But I didn’t stay sober at all. I was just functioning.” Back with old friends, Elijah started taking oxycodone regularly. He believed he was controlling it because he didn’t do it all the time and could hold off if he needed to save some for the morning. Elijah kept trying to give the appearance to his family that he had it under control now. “If I had to take one or two less drinks, so that I could seem a little less drunk, for my family, I would do that. I always had to make sure that my outside looked right. And I always had to make sure that everyone’s still thought I was getting my shit done.”
But the addiction was escalating. “I remember being really high on oxy and just being like, I want this forever. I want this forever and ever. You know, and the chase began.” Elijah still tried to rationalize his use, telling himself he worked hard to maintain his apartment, financial responsibilities, and his drug use. He didn’t steal or rip people off or commit fraud. He was working seven days a week, double shifts on the weekend. He believed he had it under control. He began buying Suboxone off the streets to ward off withdrawals and be able to function at work.
After awhile though he realized he was miserable. He had no control over his emotions, he was arguing constantly with his family. He also couldn’t get high the way he used to, and couldn’t afford to use as much as he needed. He was completely dependent on drugs to feel normal. He hated the world and realized he needed to change. “I knew this was no way to live.”
But Elijah didn’t know what sobriety meant. His idea of getting off Oxy was to smoke a lot of marijuana, use Suboxone for awhile, and substitute with Xanax. He would do cocaine during the day to give himself energy and Xanax at night. The Xanax use quickly escalated and he became frightened because he knew Xanax withdrawal could be deadly. He lost one of his jobs due to his drug use. With the loss of the job, he suddenly could no longer afford his drug use and began selling clothes just to be able to afford small amounts of drugs. “I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel.” He had started seeing a therapist and finally asked for treatment recommendations. They found a 30 day treatment center and he agreed to go.
“ I just remember telling my mom like, after this, I’m just gonna smoke pot and drink, right? Like this is finally going to be done, I’m just gonna sweat this out. And in my head I’m telling myself I’ve been able to manage that before. So I think like I can do that. Like, that’s manageable.”
He went to treatment and even decided to enter into the Sober Living program after, but he still held onto the idea that he would be able to drink and smoke pot when he got out. The program he was in taught a 12-step recovery program, but Elijah struggled with it. He also feared that if he gave up intoxicants completely, he would lose access to his creative self and would have to give up his dreams of being a comedian, musician and actor. He wound up leaving the Sober Living early because his sister, with whom he shared an apartment, was struggling to pay the rent without him and was angry at him for leaving her to take care of all the bills.
And as soon as he got home he smoked pot. He began drinking and using Xanax again almost immediately. Before long he was in touch with an old dealer. Within a couple months he had hit a bottom again. He couldn’t maintain the appearance that he was managing his life and his drug use. He was passing out at work, and one night had an accident due to his intoxication that he knew when his employer investigated it he would be busted for using and selling drugs while on the clock.
He decided to do a detox again and returned to the Sober Living facility. This time Elijah knew it had to be different. He didn’t have the cushion of the 30 day treatment facility, and so he threw himself into the program, taking all the suggestions, working the 12-steps, going to meetings and signing up for several service positions, such as making coffee and chairing meetings.
He started sharing more honestly in meetings, admitting when he was having cravings, which he didn’t do the first time as he was always trying to project the image that he had things under control. Elijah says he really cared about his recovery this time, and was able to get a glimpse of himself as a productive, sober person. He started acting in some local theater productions. He soon got an apartment and two jobs, one of them giving alcohol and media literacy presentations to high school students. And he got a girlfriend. Elijah admits he was a victim of too quick success.
“I think my growth stopped when I got my girlfriend. I was doing a lot of good stuff. I was still very active in the community, very active in the program. But my growth stopped. I was going to meetings, I was doing service, but I wasn’t working a program of recovery. I kind of like kicked my feet up. The way I see it is I was using, but I was using a person like I would use a drug.”
Elijah told himself he was a success story, that everything looked really good on the outside so he must be good on the inside. He was keeping up the status quo. He started doubting the 12-step programs and stopped doing service. His girlfriend had mental health issues and he didn’t know how to handle it. With the loss of his service commitments, he lost the accountability to stay sober and decided he could handle drinking again. He convinced himself he was not powerless over his addiction, that he could conquer it on his own. And when the relationship with his girlfriend fell apart, he picked up heroin again.
But by this time Elijah had learned enough in treatment to know he had to do something different. He immediately called a friend in the recovery community and they came and helped him. He called his mother and admitted everything to her and told her he had to come home. “It was that moment that I really conceded to my innermost self that I was an addict.”
He signed up for an intensive outpatient program and threw himself back into 12 step meetings. “I still felt 12 step programs were kind of cults, but I didn’t know how else to to stay clean. I only knew one way: go to meetings, be of service, work the steps. That’s the only thing that ever worked for me. I had the willingness.” He got a new sponsor who helped him understand he truly was powerless over drugs and alcohol, and if he didn’t fully believe that he was just going to keep doing the same things over and over again.
Elijah said he made a shift this time where he really loved his recovery and eventually all he wanted to do was go to meetings, hang out with recovery people, participate in sober events. Nine months in and he’s learning to be patient with himself, recognizing that he’s human and it’s okay to make mistakes. “I definitely think my true nature, when I’m not in my disease, is organized, it is punctual, it’s structured. That is the kind of person I am deep down, where, like, in my disease and in the unhealthy practices that I learned growing up watching people like my dad, I just kind of thought I was a lazy procrastinator, a liar, a cheat.”
He is working again, rebuilding relationships with his family, and contemplating buying his first house. He still has dreams of becoming an actor and a comedian, but is learning to take it slow, build up his daily routines, maintain his program. “One of the biggest aspects of someone who
can achieve or will achieve long term recovery is the ability to see a future for yourself without substances. And anytime I think of my future there’s no substances involved. There’s no drinking, there’s no using. I can see myself doing everything I’ve always wanted to do sober. I can envision that and I can imagine myself being able to stay sober through anything.”
At the age of 36, Lily found herself thinking about suicide. Her husband had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, she suffered from chronic pain due to lupus, and she was addicted to prescription pain pills. Diagnosed with lupus ten years earlier, she was prescribed opiates to manage the pain. Over time, Lily began misusing her prescriptions. “I was prescribed by a pain management doctor. And I went every, let’s say 30 days, which is silly, it was every 20 days and I would go and talk to him about, you know, how I lost my pills or I overtook a couple, so I’m short a couple of days, and it was just pretty much a game of trying to manipulate the system into getting more pills.”
Lily was, as she called herself, a somewhat functioning addict. She worked at a credit union and at LANL. But her work performance suffered due to her addiction. “My life became about you know when I was going to be able to take more pills and timing it… They were really taking over my life. I wasn’t present at all. My mind was always thinking about the pills, thinking about how I’m going to get more and when I did have more, it was always, well I’m going to take all these and then I’ll figure out tomorrow how to get more.”
After her husband’s death, her addiction escalated. She spent a lot of money purchasing pills online or asking family members who had prescriptions to get more for her. She began isolating, hardly leaving her house. “I became really miserable. Like the feeling of just isolation and just resignation were just overwhelming.” When a family member approached her about her drug use, she knew she had to do something. She had two boys who had already lost one parent. She knew she had to get help.
Lily utilized a variety of services for the treatment she needed including medical detox, group, and family therapy, IOP, pain management, and became an active member in Narcotics Anonymous, where she now chairs a meeting and serves as an events coordinator. Of the multiple treatments she received, she says the group therapy was especially powerful. “Knowing that there were other people also with pain and that we were all trying to just figure out how to deal with this, and also how it ties with all the other traumas that we lived through.” Attending NA meetings also contributed to that sense of shared experience and the ability to learn from another addict. “It helped me in not going on the roller coaster of emotions, that knowing that other people felt this way and haven’t died from it or haven’t gone off and used helps a lot. And it helps ground me and makes me, you know, be present. That like, you know, these are feelings, and they’re gonna pass, and I don’t need to go into that roller coaster of ‘Oh my God, I’m feeling like I’m overwhelmed and I can’t do this anymore’, and then I, you know, I reach out to something outside of myself to numb those feelings.”
During both family and grief counseling, Lily recognized that sexual and family trauma she experienced as a child, caused her to disconnect from her body and her feelings and set her up for her addictive behaviors later in life. Lily had spent her life over-achieving as a defense mechanism, a way to outrun her emotional pain rather than addressing and healing them. She views her lupus diagnosis as that emotional pain manifesting physically.
Several years later, Lily is a dynamic voice in the recovery community. Besides her participation in NA, she has worked at a treatment center for adolescents, works with Turning Point now, has gone back to school, and volunteers in her time off. She speaks at high schools with the organization Healing Addiction in our Community, and she raises her two boys.
Speaking of recovery, she says, “recovery is the best thing that I could have done for myself and for my family. It’s hard a lot of times, but it’s really worth it. I’m walking through a lot of pain that I was never taught how to walk through. Before my husband passed away, I wasn’t the nicest person. … I have changed my perspective, and how I treat my boys… there’s a lot more kindness to myself and to them. Even though sometimes I don’t feel like I’m making an impact on anybody else’s life, I know I am and I’m doing things that make me happy, which doesn’t revolve around drugs….I’m not going to reach for something to numb these feelings. I’m just gonna walk through it.
Isaac was a rising star of the Ultimate Fighting Championship when opiate addiction cut his career short, left him homeless, separated from his family, and facing prison for crimes he committed to feed his habit. Once 23rd in the world as a UFC mixed martial arts fighter, Isaac says it was the disease of perception that stopped him from seeking treatment until he was arrested and looking at a lengthy prison sentence.
“I never thought about treatment. The UFC is this ‘pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps’ kind of environment. I had made a career out of being one of the toughest people in the sport. I figured I could kick this on my own. But even admitting I needed to get clean was like admitting I wasn’t in control. I was also in denial because I had a career, I had a house and a wife. I thought I was functioning.”
This was not Isaac’s first encounter with drug addiction or treatment. By the time he was 15, he was sent to an adolescent care unit and at 17 faced the choice of detention or treatment after crippling a friend in a drunk driving accident. Isaac chose treatment and for several years after that embraced recovery as an active participant of the AA community. But as his fighting career began to take off, Isaac stopped going to meetings and forgot about the need to maintain recovery on an ongoing basis. He began drinking again, but it was the pain and injury that comes from fighting that reawakened the addicted brain. “Fighting for the UFC, I was held in high esteem. I had fans.” And some of those fans were doctors who prescribed him as much oxycodone as he wanted. Isaac was able to justify his excessive use of opioid painkillers to treat his pain. Eventually, he started snorting the pain pills and spending large amounts of money to buy more. Then he was introduced to heroin and while his rational mind told him this was dangerous territory, his addicted mind recognized it as a cheaper and more effective drug.
So began the spiral that cost him his career, his family, and nearly his life. Isaac was eventually suspended from the UFC. He continued fighting at smaller venues, but the drug use became so severe he gave this up also. He was lying to his wife, telling her he was going to work when in actuality he was robbing and stealing to pay for his drug habit. When he was arrested, Isaac said it was a moment of clarity for him. “At this point, I really did want to get clean. I’d wake up and not want to get high, but couldn’t handle kicking heroin on my own. Now I could stop running. I could quit lying to my wife and family.” Isaac went into a ten-day treatment program but when he got out began using again immediately. His wife kicked him out of the house and he found himself homeless. “At that point, my plan was to live on the street until I was dead.”
But Isaac’s wife reached out to him and insisted he seek treatment again. She gave him a phone number to call, and he made that call. “I don’t know why I said yes. I just did. I was just so beat down, this was my out and I took it.” Isaac’s wife dropped him off at the treatment center with the plan of divorcing him immediately.
Isaac completed a 30-day inpatient program that focused on the 12-step model of AA and NA, and then spent 60 days in a Sober Living facility. During that time he worked with a therapist on grief, loss, and trauma, participated in group therapy, attended 12-step meetings, and did family therapy with his wife. “Learning about how the addicted mind works really helped my wife to understand me better.” Isaac said he began to heal during this process, recognizing that his addiction was something he could treat. Something clicked in him this time that allowed him to take his recovery seriously.
“I really started to see the end for myself. I had been arrested. And I was facing quite a bit of prison time. And that never stopped me. But like, really starting to see deaths, you know, people around me dying of overdoses. And the way I was using was gonna kill me. It’s a weird paradox, there were times of like wishing I wouldn’t wake up the next morning after I went to sleep. And now that I’m sober, seeing how close that actually was to happening and being scared of that.
I’m learning, the more I stick around, the more all the hokey shit that you hear in recovery is kind of coming to make sense, like learning to love myself and I really am learning to love myself and love life again. And so with that happening, it’s scary because I was really close to death. I see how seriously I have to take this disease and my recovery.”
Isaac’s wife did not divorce him, and they are reunited, learning how to live together again. Isaac and his wife both recognized that recovery had to be the main priority as he segued back into life if their marriage was going to survive. Isaac is an active member in his local 12-step community and works closely with a sponsor. His wife attends Al-Anon. Isaac owns and operates a gym and he, with a partner, have opened their doors to other people in recovery in the belief that a physical outlet is an excellent way of dealing with the challenges of recovery, both mental and physical. “I think it’s good to understand that you can push yourself when things are rough. You can push yourself mentally to places where before would have been an excuse to use. It’s not like it’s a recovery center, but we talk a lot about when things get rough in life you don’t just get to give up. You can learn this lesson in the gym so we really stress that around here.”
Isaac says that the biggest challenge for him right now is dealing with the shame of his relapse, and recognizing that the problems he has are of his own making. To deal with that, Isaac uses the tools he learned in recovery from going to meetings and staying close to people in recovery, talking openly and honestly to his support community, his wife and his sponsor, and prayer. The work he does in his gym is also his way of giving back, developing and maintaining fellowship, and building that sense of purpose he lost while using.
And despite everything he went through, Isaac says he does not regret the relapse. “I never really took it seriously before. I think it was important for me to relapse because there’s always the thought like I might just be too young. Maybe I was just a kid and had to deal with some issues. Maybe, you know, there’s always the I might have just been this, this or this and not an addict and alcoholic. That was important for me to relapse to kind of realize and do all that damage that I did to realize how that’s not true, that I am an alcoholic and an addict through and through and I see that now. I wish I would have gotten it earlier. But for me and my story it was very important to run through all those what I call loopholes of like what my brain would tell me in order to figure out that I really am an alcoholic and addict.”
Thomas, a native of Albuquerque, is a peer support worker at Turning Point Recovery. As a recovering addict, he can work on a closer, more personal level with clients outside individual therapy and IOP sessions, with the ability to relate intimately to the challenges and successes of recovery. Thomas carries a cellphone on him at all times so that he is always available to clients when they are struggling and need support.
But seven years ago, Thomas was sitting alone in his room in an in-patient facility with the thought that no one in the world wanted to hear a word he had to say, and the only possible solution he could come up with to solve the mess of his life was death. He prayed for it. Thomas says it was that night that he found himself at the first step of recovery; hollowed out and alone, he admitted defeat. He asked for help.
It was a long road to that night in the facility. Thomas grew up in the roughest neighborhoods of Albuquerque, and began drinking when he was ten. At eleven he smoked pot for the first time and felt he had found the answer to life, something that immediately created a sense of ease and comfort within him. With the logic of a ten year old boy, Thomas felt he could never compare to his tough, alcoholic construction worker father or his two athletic older brothers. “I was a little guy running around this family of big old dudes that I thought were larger than life. And I think that kind of affected me, I think it kind of puts up in my head, I don’t know how it unfolded, but I just never felt like I’d major up to that as a kid. And I didn’t realize that then, but I know, looking back, I know that it was there. And I kind of became the black sheep and rebelled. And I wouldn’t say that I carried a bunch of weight of insecurity on me back then. But it was a definite, you know, I’m not going to be like these guys. So I’m just going to be a good little bad guy.”
Thomas’ life was marked by that kind of paradox found in many addicts, a remarkable sense of responsibility coupled with remarkably irresponsible and irrational behavior. Thomas fought, smoked, and drank his way through high school and when he was 17 he got his girlfriend pregnant. Thomas finished school, and immediately moved out of his parents home, got a job in the construction industry his father had raised him in, married his girlfriend and began raising a child. But he continued to drink and smoke, often spending his entire paycheck partying. Often Thomas would stay up partying until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and would then drive to his work site so he could be there at 7:00am when work started. “It never occurred to me that I was an addict. You know, never even a thought of it.”This went on for ten years until his wife finally left him. “You know that theory that we stop maturing emotionally when we start using? I think I just stayed, emotionally, a 10 year old even through my 20s…and I think what happened is my wife outgrew me.”
At the age of 27, after trying for four years to become a city firefighter, Thomas was finally accepted into the training program, at the same time his wife left him and his father committed suicide. Thomas responded to these events by throwing himself into the physically rigorous and academic training program and became a firefighter.
“But man, did I ever grieve my dad? I just think I stayed under the influence of something the whole time that I never did. And so, I think I was suicidal. When I was a fireman, you know, I was out in the field and fighting and working at the station, when the bells would go off. You could tell what the call is by the tones if it’s going to be a medical emergency or a fire. So when the fire tones go off, I literally didn’t care. I literally didn’t care. It was like, whatever. I’m going to either go to this and just kick this fire’s ass and be a hero, or I’m going to get killed. It doesn’t matter to me. And I think that in those terms I was suicidal. You know, because I was actually because the grief that tried to sneak in that I held back with the drugs, it had me putting guns on my own head with bullets, in tears and stuff but just never did the act. So it was pretty, pretty heavy.”
Thomas worked for several years as a firefighter, gravitating towards his co-workers that were heavy drinkers. “And then there was the smaller group of guys that we would go by crack and go smoke crack. And then when I got into heroin, I was on my own. There was no other firefighters doing heroin with me.” Thomas continued to do heroin while on the job for another two years before he was caught and had to resign from the force. Having lost his livelihood and his sense of self as a firefighter, he immediately went back to his old neighborhood and immersed himself in criminal activity in order to sustain his drug habit. “Everything escalated then. I’m a heavy, heavy heroin user and I’m doing atrocious things to get it every day.” Thomas was in and out of jail then, his life crashing around him, and still, it never occurred to him to ask for help. “I was miserable. I did not want to be that way for probably the last 15 years of my addiction. But I didn’t know, I thought if I could just stop using these drugs, somehow, some way, if this drug use would stop everything would be fine. And then there would be times that it would stop for a little bit, but I just end up relapsing.”
Thomas says it was the decision of his two children, who were adults by then with their own families, that he could no longer be a part of their lives. “It wasn’t an intervention. It was a decision. It was very real.” Throughout his adult life, Thomas had a close relationship with his children and was proud of his role as father and grandfather. But he couldn’t see how he could change a lifetime of drug use, a lifetime of identifying as this “good little bad guy.” It was the only way he knew how to interact with the world.
When his daughter left that night, after telling him he was excised from their lives, he sat in the same spot all night long, stunned and paralyzed. In the morning, he took off driving not knowing where he was going. Crying he found himself at his daughter’s work and he asked for help. As he puts it, it was a profound surrender. A few days later he was in a residential treatment center. Thomas credits that night in the residential center when all he could imagine was death as being the moment that brought him back to life. “I had a spiritual experience in rehab and I haven’t used since.” In his typical fashion, Thomas threw himself into the work of his recovery.
Seven clean and sober years later, Thomas is a peer support worker and going to college for the first time to be a clinician in the field of recovery. “I’m doing something I love doing now. I have my relationships with my kids and my grandkids. Man, they’re not even gonna believe the stories they hear about me. They don’t know anything about, they’ve never seen that. Recovery has given me back family, goals, purpose, reasonable happiness.”
Unlike the rest of our friends in recovery, Emily is a fiction, but her story is common and is very much the story of how addiction begins. Emily does not see that she has a problem with substance use right now, and therefore unlikely to seek treatment, or even take an assessment quiz.
Emily is currently in college and works part time as an intern in a law firm. She is a typical college student, maintaining her grades and work responsibilities, and likes to have fun on the weekends. She tries to reserve her drinking to the weekends because she’s learned she has trouble functioning the next day if she drinks during the week. She did this a few times early in her college career and found she was typically too hungover to go to class or work the next day and would make excuses that she was too sick to go in. But she enjoys drinking with friends and gives herself Sundays to recover from her weekly partying. This is college life, she tells herself, and feels there is nothing unusual about her behavior. Though a few times she has blacked out and woken up in a stranger’s apartment.
When Emily was still a teenager she was sexually assaulted which led to a year of depression, anxiety, and suicidal feelings. She dealt with this by self-medicating, drinking heavily and using pills she found in her parent’s medicine cabinets. When her parents realized what was going on, they helped her get treatment and she started seeing a therapist. Emily eventually recovered from this period and started showing interest in school and activities again. She graduated from high school with honors and was accepted into a good school.
College was intimidating for her at first, but she eventually found a group of friends and learned to navigate the campus. She applied for the internship and was readily accepted. Though she hadn’t drunk alcohol in awhile, it became easy to slip back into it with her friends. Emily did not like to talk about what had happened to her when she was young, and believed her drinking now was controlled and normal.
Occasionally she still experiences anxiety and feelings of panic, especially if she has a big project or exam due. She usually handles this by taking a Xanax from her roommates prescription. She does not go to therapy anymore and is resistant because she’s trying to project a new self at college and believes she has left her past far behind her. She’s afraid if people found out she went to therapy they would think something was wrong with her, especially at the law firm where she hopes to work as a junior attorney when she graduates. As she gets closer to graduation though, she’s finding it more difficult to concentrate and complete her papers on time. She feels more and more restless and irritable, feelings she believes are due to the pressure she is under to complete her degree and assumes this is just how it is. She spends more time planning her weekends with friends, and finds she’s looking forward to “cutting loose” more and more each week.
Emily scores relatively low on the assessment test and doesn’t believe she has a problem with drugs and alcohol. But there are some indicators at this point that she could benefit from addressing her drinking habits now before it starts to escalate when she enters a high stress work position. Though relatively controlled, she still uses alcohol and pills to deal with overwhelming emotions and her weekends are dedicated to drinking, being the primary focus of any fun she has planned with friends. She occasionally does things she regrets after partying with friends. There are signs of compulsive thinking as she finds herself more and more impatient for the weekends. She still has underlying trauma that haunts her but she refuses to talk about it anymore with anyone, preferring to utilize someone else’s prescription to calm her anxiety. She doesn’t do that very often, she tells herself, justifying her behavior. But the act of justifying and making those kinds of excuses should be a warning sign to Emily that she may be in the early stages of addiction. There is no need for Emily to let these developing patterns progress, and through the benefits of treatment could learn more effective ways of dealing with her anxiety and stress before she finds herself, years later, using drugs and alcohol as the only means to dealing with life.
More successes and stories
“After a three-week alcohol binge, with the help of a friend, I surrendered and went to the Presbyterian ER. I was treated by a doctor who recommended and contacted Turning Point Detox for me. This was Sunday and by Monday I arrived for my intake appointment. I was awfully shaky but determined to go through with it.
My initial experience arriving at detox was total comfort and amazement. [A specialist] walked me through the intake and the entire detox process. The staff showed me such compassion and care. They were able to not only attend to my medical needs, but I was also able to eat raw vegan. After a four day stay, I decided to attend IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program). I feel like this program has given me another chance at my life and a chance to regain my integrity. Without the kindness and generosity of each staff member, this incredible opportunity would have been lost.
Currently, halfway through IOP, I’m dedicated to my sobriety and looking forward to attending weekly Aftercare. I will also continue wholeheartedly with the 12-step fellowship in the community.
Thank you, Turning Point Recovery Center, from the bottom of my heart!!”
Detoxing from Heroin
“As a young heroin addict in my twenties – I never saw myself quitting drugs. I really never saw a future for myself at all. I thought I’d die young. Thankfully, through a beautiful series of events, including amazing people who pointed me in the right direction of TPRC, I made a change.
I called TRPC and spoke to the detox center multiple times before I finally made the solid decision to change my life. I went through the 7- day detox program with the help of really caring nonjudgmental, people. Detoxing was not easy, but once I committed, there was no turning back. I made it through, not only because I wanted it, but because when I checked in every day, the detox staff made me feel safe and comfortable, encouraging me the whole time through my detox.
After detox, I joined the IOP at Focused Recovery, where I was welcomed with a smile by the staff. They showed me around the office and told me how the program works. I’ve been in this program for almost 3 months and honestly, I really look forward to coming in each time. My first day I was nervous, but the group is just like a little family, and I felt so safe when I heard people in the group being so honest and raw, it made me feel like I could tell my story without shame or receiving judgment. We keep each other accountable and support each other without a second thought.
Everyone in the group is here for the same reason connecting us on a different level. The entire staff is here to support me and have shown me nothing but support through my entire recovery. I’m indebted and so grateful for what this program, the whole staff, the owner, and my fellow group members have done for my life.
Thank you all for helping me change my life.”
Another report from the Detox house.
“When I arrived at Turning Point Detox Facility, I was tired, sad, scared, angry, hungover, and shaky. When I was dropped off, I began to get extremely anxious. We were escorted by a kind and lovely women who worked there. She assured me that they would make me as comfortable as possible. The staff began to run tests and I had to fill out some paperwork about myself. Soon after I arrived, they gave me a little orientation and gave me some medicine to help with my withdrawals and anxiety. I remember another patient that was there who got me to eat something and talked to me for a while.
There was always a nurse or trained staff who was close by to aid me if needed. The first night wasn’t as bad as I thought. The staff kept me so comfortable and made sure I had everything I needed. I slept through the night and woke up feeling dazed but good at the same time. There were a handful of nurses and other staff popping in and out throughout the whole day. They were all so different in a good way. Most of them had been in treatment centers before and understood what the patients were going through. They were full of energy and happiness and they seemed to love what they were doing for us.
Every day I got better and better. I felt like I was in a timeshare on vacation somewhere. I would get up early in the morning and do my daily assignments, read and do a light workout. They would let me have free range of the kitchen and all its delicious ingredients. I love to cook so that made me very happy. If you made them a list of things you liked, they would go pick it up for you. They always made sure that we ate well, slept comfortably and felt at home. I had a great experience while I was at Turning Point.
I left there feeling good and full of gratitude. I met so many wonderful people while I was there. From all of the Turning Point staff, the patients, some of whom I have kept fantastic relationships with like the Doctor.
Now I am attending the IOP program for 10 weeks. I have been doing well and I feel very good about my recovery. My counselor is a great therapist who really gets to the bottom of my addiction and helps me deal with all the emotions and feelings that have been plaguing my mind. He is very passionate about what he teaches and redefines the words “TOUGH LOVE”. And to be honest with you, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Every day I look forward to going to the group. I want to succeed and become serene and happy and I’m on the right path!
I would just like to thank everyone at Turning Point Recovery Center for all that you have done for me throughout this difficult time in my life. I appreciate all of your hard work and dedication to my addiction and my wellness and all the other people you have helped along the way.”
They had tried everything, now they have recovery.
How I Was
I was a mess when I walked through the doors of Turning Point Recovery Center one year ago. My life had taken me to a place where I no longer recognized myself let alone what my purpose was any longer. I was a 46-year-old wife, mother of three, and an RN who worked full-time for a thriving practice here in Albuquerque. I was on my third marriage and had enough drama in my life to be on a weekly daytime soap opera. I was exhausted and found myself inside a bottle by the end of every night. My husband had, as he put it, “a truckload of resentment”, and I found myself no longer able to meet the daily demands of my life. I was constantly tardy to work or I would call in sick. I had reached the end of the excuses and I was going to lose my career that had taken the last 20 years to attain. Most of my children were grown and moved out which left my youngest son 16, and my 20-year-old step-son.
I faced the realization that I could not do this any longer. Everything I had tried failed and I was completely out of ideas. I was terrified and absolutely could not imagine how I was going to live without using alcohol to cope. I felt completely alone like there was no hope of ever being understood let alone accepted. I was so disappointed angry and bitter about life as I had come to know it.
I went through the 10-week intensive outpatient program at Turning Point. I began to hear that I could exist in life as a sober person. I began to learn how to identify the things that had been torturing me and give them a name. These were my fears, my expectations, my shame, and my absolute belief that I was just somehow different than others. I found out that I would be safe while doing this; not judged or shunned but welcomed and encouraged. I was told if I was in enough pain to put it all out there and I would be able to leave it and walk away from a different person. I learned that, while I may not always like what I heard, I could use this information and the tools gained to begin a new life and a new way of thinking to help with life. It was a learning process. I also heard that this new process would do nothing but help me how to figure out a solution for my insanity and I wanted that! I was not alone. When I would share, someone else in the group would know exactly what I was talking about. I soon found out that the only real repercussion from this program was going to be growth. If I wanted it, but I had to want it. The program will educate you and give you choices. It will give you an option to not going it alone.
How I Am Now
This growth process was one of the most difficult things that I have ever done but also the most personally rewarding. I found there was much I would need to change. I had to learn to let go of fighting change, to admit what I feared, and to accept that I did not have control of much at all. I will always have these resources, I just have to remain willing to ask. In my past, the change was usually equal to a lot of negatives. Now change is my daily challenge. My choice is how I get to deal with it, alone or with my higher power. I no longer have to be perfect or do this program perfectly, I just have to do it every day to the best of my ability. What will take me out or kill me is not using this program, and all the tools and resources that I have learned to the fullest. If I don’t make that choice daily then eventually I will drink again. That is not a fear for me, it is the truth. My life now is GREAT! All the relationships in my life are richer. The way I now respond to each and every one of these relationships individually is very different but it no longer dismantles me. With each interaction, I am able to remain at peace. What do you have to lose? If you’re anything like me 10 weeks didn’t even scratch the surface of all the time I spent absolutely miserable. You will never be the same!!
The Recovery of Joe
“I’m Joe and I’m an alcoholic.” Never thought I would say that in front of a group of people, but I do. I grew up pretty much a normal kid. I came from a middle class working family with no abuse or anything like that. Everybody in the family was a normal drinker that I knew of. In high school, I did the normal teenage parties every now and then on the weekends. College was the same, classes during the week and partying on the weekends, but nothing abusive. I married my wife when I was 29 and we had our son at 35. We had our daughter when I was 37. Until our kids started first grade I worked second shift. Since I couldn’t drink before work and I was still only drinking on the weekends, my career was on the rise and I was promoted and moved to first shift. My alcohol consumption increased over the next few years, but I considered it as moderate. I was then promoted to management and my consumption started to increase even more. I started to isolate and drink in the garage after work. I can’t really pinpoint what increased my alcohol consumption, maybe it was just the stress of life creeping up on me. My drinking started to affect my relationship with my family. It was suggested by a family counselor that I seek an evaluation for my supposedly drinking problem. Turning Point Recovery Center was recommended and I went for an assessment. It was determined that I was an alcoholic and should attend the IOP program. Of course, I declined. I have always pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, this was a problem I could solve myself. About a year went by and my drinking was getting out of control. I started to see a therapist that specialized in addictive behavior and attended a weekly group session. It turned out not to be enough. There was no accountability and I was just punching a ticket to get away with drinking. Although my drinking didn’t get me in trouble with the law or at work, the relationship with my family was deteriorating, especially with my 10-year-old daughter. She became afraid to go anywhere in the truck with me. She also started seeing a therapist for OCD (over compulsive disorder) because of my drinking. The time had come for me to surrender and seek real help.
I made an appointment with Turning Point and entered the IOP program. It was tough at first, there was a lot of fear and anger. After all, I considered alcohol my best friend and he was always there when I needed him. I didn’t want to give him up and he wasn’t going away without a fight. At first, I thought the 10 weeks of IOP were going to be an eternity, but it actually wasn’t that bad. I was surrounded by people in the same situation as me that understood, and together we helped each other cope with our addiction. For once there was hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. The tools that were given to us, plus the accountability and one on one counseling sessions, were the key to my success in my opinion. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease. Our loved ones like to think of us as cured or fixed. I think we are in remission. I constantly remind myself that I am indeed an alcoholic and that the enemy is still within, lurking, waiting for me to let my guard down. I pray every day to my higher power to keep the enemy at bay. Another important part of my recovery has been the After Care Program. It has helped me immensely to maintain my sobriety. I like to think of After Care as a group of “addiction alumni” that come together once a week to support each other in defeating the enemy. I have been in remission for 14 months now, and my new life is awesome. My daughter is over her OCD and the family problems are on the mend. The other day I was backing out of the driveway and my daughter stopped me and jumped in the front seat and asked: “where are we going Dad?” At that moment I realized who my real best friend is. I can honestly say that Turning Point Recovery Center saved my life. Thank you!
I’m Joe and I’m an alcoholic, and I choose not to drink!!!