Living proof
Addiction does not discriminate. It affects our entire community and all types of people: soccer moms, first responders, teenagers, retirees, professionals of all stripes. One in 10 of our neighbors lives with drug and/or alcohol addiction. It’s not a choice; it’s a disease that changes the brain, and it can happen to anyone.

Odds are you know someone suffering from addiction. But you might not know the personal impacts of the disease. Here are a few stories of the many faces of addiction and recovery in our community.

Living in recovery and giving back

Addiction was rampant on both sides of my family. I saw substances used and abused regularly, and I started using alcohol and marijuana in junior high. By high school, I was using all the recreational drugs: cocaine, ecstasy, the so-called party drugs. Then I got into opiates as a way to get out of pain from the weekend. Once I became dependent on them physically, I couldn’t get out of bed without them. I couldn’t even think straight. At age 21, I moved to heroin. Even then, I didn’t think I was addicted. I wasn’t homeless, didn’t lose my license, was keeping my life together.

A year later, things were falling apart. I couldn’t hold down a job and had to move back in with my mom. I was 90 pounds soaking wet — only then did it become obvious to me that something was wrong. I turned to my family, and we started trying to get help. Private rehab was never an option, and we were having trouble finding treatment.

Then I got pulled over by the police. I had four different substances on me and was arrested — it completely changed my life. I asked for help and entered the Larimer County Adult Drug Court program, which had the structure and resources I needed. I did 18 hours a week of recovery work: medication, groups, 12-Step, individual therapy and Drug Court therapy. My brain and body needed time to heal. It’s just like any physical injury — when you break your leg, it takes more than a few days to fix.

During treatment, you’re healing physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically, all while doing what “normal” people are doing — working, taking care of children, keeping up the house. I still spend 10 or more hours a week doing recovery. But I am very grateful that I’m alive and I get to do that. I graduated from the Drug Court program, and I helped start a nonprofit that directly benefits clients who are in the system like I was — helping people however we can to help them succeed. Being in recovery gives me a chance to show people what’s possible. I volunteer my time and share my story every day. I want people to understand the reality of addiction and not false beliefs, to educate the upcoming generation so change can start to happen and life overall as a community can get better.

An addiction care professional gets personal

On my 18th birthday, I bought a six-pack of beer. As I cracked open the second one, all of a sudden this wash of wonderfulness came over me that I now know was a dopamine rush. My switch was flipped. Right off the bat, I started into heavy drinking. But there weren’t really any consequences. I got a DUI, a little slap on the wrist in college. Then off to medical school I went. I did well — graduating near the top of the class — but alcohol was already starting to take over.

I got into my professional life and started using drinking as a tool to help me sleep after a big shift. Instead of a fun reward, alcohol became a coping mechanism. I was an ER doctor at the time and had taken care of hundreds, if not thousands, of people with addiction by that point. You see the fallout of addiction nowhere more than in the Emergency Department. But even when I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as part of a residency requirement, I didn’t identify with it.

By the time I realized I ought to limit my drinking, my marriage was in shambles. But I was a doctor — who could I ask for help? Shame and guilt and ego all came into play. Even though I knew about the effects of addiction on the brain, I couldn’t internalize it. Finally, my wife left me, and I thought, “That does it.” I went through detox, started going to AA meetings and started feeling better.

Ten months later, I was at a neighborhood party and grabbed a margarita to celebrate my divorce being finalized. Guess where I went after the party? The liquor store. And then there I was, in the loop again, after not drinking for 10 months. I went into a 2 and a half-year relapse that I couldn’t escape — I was stuck around the bottle 24/7, most of the time wishing for death.

I lived like that until my family and friends staged an intervention. Off I went to a residential treatment program, believing it was my last chance at recovery. After 60 days, I realized the treatment wasn’t about not drinking — that was done. If I never picked up a bottle, that wouldn’t happen again. Instead, everything I’d done was about building balance within myself and having the best possible relationships and life I can have.

Ever since then, I’ve never looked back. It’s not bad or good that I have an addiction. It’s just a fact. Instead of “I can’t drink” — I know I can. And I know exactly what will happen if I do. So I can drink, I just don’t want to. If a human being gets their mind set about something they don’t want to do, you can’t make them.

I’m on year six of not drinking now. I experience joy on an all-day, every-day basis. I go to meetings regularly, I have a sponsor and I have a ton of sponsees. I care for patients suffering from addiction for a living. And I cannot believe how lucky I am.

“If I can help one person with my story, I’m in.”

Addiction has been part of my life since the day I was born. Both my parents suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. I went into foster care at age four because we were six kids and two parents living in a station wagon. In high school, I drank beer and wine coolers and partied with my friends. As I got older, I would buy beer on my lunch break and leave it at home; that way I’d be sure it would be there after work. I’d hurry home so I could drink it, and then I’d drink until I passed out. I was productive, but I had an addiction.

Then one night I tried meth. One hit and I was hooked. That was it. Everybody uses the word euphoria to explain how it feels to be using meth. You don’t have common sense, but in your eyes, everything is perfect. You lose your inhibitions; everything seems so fun. Except you’re not in control. You think you are, you tell yourself you are, you tell everybody else you are. But you’re not. Nobody experiencing an addiction thinks for themselves.

Even after I watched my boys getting taken away — watched them being driven off and waving from the back window just like in the movies — I didn’t think I had an addiction until I started treatment through Family Treatment Court. Once the cloud began to lift, I could start to see clearly. Three months in, I realized: wow, I’m changing my life. Treatment is a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

Recovery has changed me as a person. I’m a better dad, fiancée, employee, human being. Everything has completely turned around. I have control now, not pretend control. I make choices and it’s all me. Whatever happens, I can handle it. Things just keep getting better and better because I keep making good choices.

The biggest part of my therapy is that I can help other people. I can contribute a lot to a room full of people by sharing my story. As part of the Larimer County Trauma Team, I help families that have been separated get through the system — I mentor them and watch them graduate. It’s so rewarding, one of the best things in the world.

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