Finding the Courage to Recover From Addiction
Anthony decided from a young age that he was going to stay away from substances. With a family history of alcoholism and drug addiction, he wanted to be the “good kid.” He steered clear of experimentation all the way through high school. However, in college he began hanging out with friends who enjoyed going to house parties and binge drinking. One day, Anthony decided to “try it and see what the hype was about.”
“From the very beginning, one drink didn’t do what I expected,” he says. “So I went to the liquor store and bought a bottle and finished it that night; I didn’t have a concept of what a buzz was.” Anthony drank to get room-spinning, fall-down drunk. What started as weekend partying turned into drinking during the week and between classes. Then his girlfriend introduced him to marijuana and he was “really off to the races.” Weed gave him the same desired effect as alcohol, he says, but without all the unwanted side effects.
Fueled by Fear
Over time, Anthony started hanging out in the electronic underground party scene. He took drugs like LSD, ketamine and ecstasy, staying away from cocaine and heroin because those were “addict drugs,” or so he told himself. “I was extremely self-centered and full of fear. I was afraid of working, afraid of responsibility, afraid to have a life I didn’t like…so I partied,” he says. “I tried to stop several times, but couldn’t stay stopped for very long.” Depression, anxiety and paranoia would set in and he needed more drugs and alcohol to help him calm down.
Experimentation led to dependence, and Anthony ended up surrounded by heavy drug users. “It became a scary and dangerous life,” he says, and it went on for years. “I didn’t talk to my family much. I wasn’t present for life. I didn’t have a job, ambitions or dreams except for getting and staying high.” At one point, he had a nervous breakdown and didn’t leave his apartment for months. Anthony moved from San Francisco to Santa Cruz where he lived in motels, out of his car and on friends’ couches so he could spend all of his time and money getting high.
Seeking Rescue in Something Else
“At various points along the way, I was deeply depressed and suicidal,” Anthony recalls. “I was lost, confused and ashamed of myself and my life.” After seeing multiple people he knew die and go to jail, Anthony realized he was “getting nowhere fast” with the circles he ran in.
A friend who had found his way into addiction recovery told Anthony he might have a problem. “I told him I didn’t have a problem, it had been six hours since I used or drank.” A moment of clarity came when his friend pointed out that most people don’t count the hours since their last drink or drug. He reached out to a relative, a Promises alumnus, and said he needed help.
“I had inklings I would need treatment early on, but I was terrified of rehab,” Anthony says. “Asking for help is one of the scariest things because what happens next is a big unknown. I was afraid of giving up the sense of release and calm that came with drugs, and scared that needing help meant I was broken and useless and couldn’t get my life together on my own.”
Finding a Recovery Family
After trying a treatment center in Santa Cruz that wasn’t the right match, he went to a Southern California drug rehab “kicking and screaming the whole way” and then Promises for outpatient treatment and 10 months of sober living. “The people at Promises were kind and gentle and gave me room to be a wild and crazy early recovering addict but still guide me,” Anthony says. “I had an amazing therapist who could hold me in check because I respected her enough to listen.”
“If I wanted resources, they were there,” he adds. “The techs, therapists and group facilitators were all great – they had a solution for every problem I faced. They helped me figure out life after treatment too.”
Most importantly, Promises “was a safe place,” Anthony says. “Early sobriety is so delicate, but I knew it would be protected. I could be vulnerable and ask for help in any situation that came up, and they responded with kindness and compassion.”
The Tools to Deal With Life
Today, Anthony has a sponsor and works a 12-step program. He has a 9 to 5 job and recently got admitted to graduate school–something he has always wanted to do. He has made amends and repaired his relationships with his family. “I love my life today,” he says. “Getting help was the best decision I’ve ever made. Now sobriety is everything to me. It gives me the tools to deal with life – for every issue, there’s a tool, step or action to take instead of a drug.”
“I thought it was so scary, but when I finally admitted I was an addict, I felt relief – like now there’s something I can do about it,” Anthony says. “That’s why it’s the first step.”
Anthony stays connected to Promises through its alumni program. “The community is amazing,” he says. “I haven’t seen that in any other treatment program. Others have alumni events here and there but at Promises people stick around because it’s a family, it’s a tribe. And once you belong to the family you have an amazing toolbox of wisdom at your disposal. I treasure it deeply and am forever grateful for it.”
Of course, some days are still a struggle. “Life isn’t all roses and rainbows,” he notes, “but I’m more satisfied with life than I ever have been. I feel like I’m moving toward my life purpose.” Anthony has a healthy fear and respect for the disease of addiction and works every day to safeguard against relapse. He prays, meditates, calls his sponsor and helps others, sharing the message that “you can find courage you don’t think you have and your life can be so much better than you know now.”
By Meghan Vivo