Treatment, Prison, Advocacy: My Journey To Long-Term Recovery From Addiction

My name is Randy Anderson and I’m a person in long term recovery. What that means to me is I haven’t had to use drugs or alcohol or any mind or mood altering substance since January 9, 2005. Because of my recovery I’m able to be a husband, a son, an uncle, a brother. I’m able to own a home, vote, have a job that I love, go to school, and even pay taxes. Today I’m able to live life on life’s terms and to be present every day in my own life.

My “rock bottom” occurred in 2004 when my home was raided by a DEA drug task force and I was arrested for selling drugs to support a drug habit that had become so enormous and all-consuming, selling drugs was the only option I felt I had left. After spending a short time in jail I was offered a lifesaving procedure for my disease and that procedure was affordable, effective treatment for my substance use disorder.

After taking nearly 10 months to complete a 60-day treatment program and finding a life of recovery, I had to face the consequences for my criminal activity. Nothing could prepare me for what would happen next. On July 6, 2005, I would be sentenced to 87 months in federal prison. As a first-time non-violent drug offender who was now on the path of recovery, I never imagined such a lengthy prison term would be given to me, even though my very expensive private attorney continually warned me that I was looking at a multiple year sentence. Even if I had not yet found recovery, more time in treatment is what I would have needed, not prison. I can’t believe our country incarcerates someone for so long with no consideration for the positive changes made in one’s life. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why me? I didn’t burglarize anyone, I didn’t assault or kill anyone, I didn’t steal from any person or businesses to support my habit and I was even paying my taxes.” On August 17, 2005, the worst day of my life, two of my dear friends drove me to Waseca, Minnesota so I could self-surrendered to federal prison and begin serving my prison term.

I did serve out my time and was eventually released in 2009. I maintained my recovery throughout my incarceration because I truly believed my life would be better without the use of any mind or mood altering substances. Upon release, like many that get out of prison, I was required to be supervised, for me that was to be a period of 48 months. Because I decided long ago to do whatever it takes to get my life back, I did absolutely everything that was required of me and because of that I was released after only 20 months of supervision.

Treatment, Prison, Advocacy: My Journey To Long-Term Recovery From Addiction - by Randy Anderson, #VoicesProject

By this time, I was working full-time as a home improvement sales person. I did that for a few years and then, after becoming unemployed, I decided maybe it was time for a career change. With great trepidation and the GED I earned in federal prison, I enrolled in college at 43 years old, with the encouragement and support of my brilliant wife. I often refer to my first day of college as the second scariest day of my life, with the first being self-surrendering to federal prison. I enrolled in college to become an addiction counselor; something that was a dream of mine since receiving the gift of recovery.

Through the journey of college and becoming an addiction counselor, I found so many causes that I felt compelled to become involved with. One that I’m most proud of is becoming a Steering Committee member for the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition. As a member of that coalition, I had several opportunities to testify in front of a variety of Minnesota legislators and legislative committees to change the drug sentencing guidelines in the state of Minnesota. I truly believe that what had happened to me should never happen to someone else. And partly because of my testimony, Minnesota did in fact change the drug sentencing guidelines and approximately 700 individuals in Minnesota will not go to prison each year.  There are many more details to the drug sentencing reform that I could probably write two more pages, those changes took effect August 1st 2016. Another major achievement that I’m extremely proud of was being ask to sit on the board of directors for the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation (SRHF). Working with SRHF has provided me countless opportunities to tell my story of recovery. I’m also responsible for training and educated individuals, including law enforcement and non-EMS first responders, about the life saving opioid reversal medication Naloxone. I’m also a volunteer for serval organizations including Minnesota Recovery Connection (MRC), Fed Up Coalition, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery and Chemical Health (MARRCH). I did complete college and receive my Associates of Science degree in Addiction counseling and now work as a full-time alcohol and drug counselor at the very same facility where I found recovery nearly 12 years ago.

I never imagined the life I live today would ever be possible. I often ask myself when will I wake up from this dream? Well, the fact is this is no dream – it’s the life that I live and it’s only possible because of my recovery.

I saw the movie “The Equalizer” with Denzel Washington, not too shabby I might add, at the beginning of that movie it displayed a quote which I connected with and will forever hold close to my heart.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” -Mark Twain.

Now I know why…

Today I Live Without The Bondage Of Drugs & Alcohol. I Am Free.

I got drunk for the first time at age 13 at a teenage drinking party in Avalon, NJ.  There was a large punch bowl filled with grain alcohol jungle juice and I was eager to try alcohol, as it was a constant in our household growing up.  I wanted to be cool and fit in – feel a part of.   But it was never the taste that made me chase alcohol; it was the effect – the buzz.  The effect that it produced in me is one that I loved and looked forward to. When I tried cocaine at age 16 for the first time – it was euphoric.  And that combination of alcohol and cocaine together, it was like BAM — I’ve arrived!  Within a few years, I was dating the local cocaine dealer and my usage increased.  My 20s were a bit of a blur and wild, and by 30 I had become a “recreational” weekend cocaine user and daily drinker. I also had a thriving career, so I was considered a high-functioning alcoholic.  I was able to make my weekend drug use and daily drinking work within my lifestyle, as I only hung out with others that drank and used the way I did.  I thought I was your typical party girl and by age 32, I had racked up my first DUI.  I had also moved over 22 times during these years and would keep jobs for 2-3 years until I knew they’d find me out.  I was able to maintain pretty well, but I knew I had a problem, I just didn’t really care.  Alcohol and cocaine were the two things that made me feel normal and happiest.  They were my solution.

In November 2003, I was drunk and typing in my journal about how messed up my life was.  I knew I needed help, but I was too scared to ask anyone.  In 2004, at age 37, I received my 2nd DUI in San Diego – a town I had been living in for the past few years – and sitting in that jail cell for 11 hours really made me think that I needed to do something different.  In May 2004, urged by my attorney, I walked into an AA meeting.  I left that meeting and quicker than you can say alcoholic, I went out and drank for a week – during that week I had my moment of clarity.  My first real A-HA moment; I realized that everything bad that had ever happened to me during my life was from drinking and drugging.  I figured I had nothing to lose and that maybe I’d want to give the sobriety thing a try.  So, that’s what I did.  I had heard Hope in that first meeting and I clung onto that Hope and walked into recovery with complete blind faith.  I had no idea what to expect as I knew nothing about sobriety.   I got sober the AA way; 90 meetings in 90 days.  I got a sponsor, I worked the steps and I did what the woman in recovery told me to do.  I didn’t want anyone in my family or corporate life to know what I was doing, so treatment wasn’t an option for me.   I’m grateful I got sober the way I did and I’m so appreciative of the Fellowship where I got sober.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  AA doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s just what worked for me.

I’ve been able to live life today free from the bondage of alcohol and drugs.  I don’t hang out in seedy places, I don’t get DUIs, I don’t wake up in stranger’s beds and I don’t have to wonder what happened the night before and who I pissed off.  I have been able to get married in recovery and share my journey with someone else who gets me and who is also in recovery.  I rescued my constant companion dog, Lucy, and she brings me so much joy.  I have been able to maintain and make new friendships – I get to live and participate in my life today.    The freedom I have today is just amazing and the fact that I get to live my life today without lying, manipulating, cheating and stealing is all just gravy to me.  I am just so happy that I don’t HAVE to drink today.  I am a strong supporter of AA and helping others and being of service.  I am grateful I don’t need a drink to manage my life and that I get to have choices today – healthy choices on who I want to be, not who alcohol and cocaine want me to be.

As Sir Elton John once said in an interview:

“My biggest accomplishment in my life is getting sober, it’s not the Grammy’s, the money, being Knighted or how many records I’ve sold, it’s my sobriety!”

That drunken journal entry turned into a Memoir that I recently launched via Kindle, “Last Call, A Memoir”.  It’s a story of my experience, strength and hope.  My hope is that I can help someone – anyone – that may be able to relate to my life as a “social party girl” and realize that they too have a chance at a better life.   A life where they will be able to wake up in the morning and have dignity, integrity and self-love – because that’s what living a clean and sober life has given me.  I also have a blog where I write weekly about living a life of recovery.

Today I Live Without The Bondage Of Drugs & Alcohol. I Am Free. - by Nancy Carr, #VoicesProject

Nancy Carr is a woman in long-term recovery and author of Last Call blog. Her memoir “Last Call, A Memoir” can be found at Amazon Kindle.

My Generation’s Civil Rights Movement: Advocating For People With Addiction

I had a privileged upbringing and was blessed to have access to plentiful resources and opportunities as a child and young adult. I have always been an overachiever—achievement and validation were my first addictions, and my entire sense of self was built on my accomplishments. Although addiction runs in my family, I drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes and pot all through high school and college—with long stretches of binge drinking mixed in—but it never got out of control. I was always able to “get away with it.”  I was quite proud of the fact that I had never taken hard drugs, and looked down on those who did.

After earning far too much money in my late 20s, I moved to Europe and finally started to explore my sexuality. I started to spend a lot of time in London’s very seductive gay nightclub scene, and my binge drinking got out of control. Instead of cutting down on the drinking, I decided to add stimulants and party drugs into the mix, since they helped to make the party last longer. I very naively thought that “partying” was part of what it meant to be gay, and started to adjust my lifestyle to accommodate going out all the time.

I quit a stable job so that I could work as a consultant with flexible hours, and my “partying” skyrocketed. I went from being a career-minded overachiever to a dilettante and party boy. My finances started to suffer, which finally woke me up to the bad choices I was making and the impact of the drinking and drug use. I pulled myself together and got another job that moved me to Mexico City—far away from London, which I thought was the problem—but despite my best intentions to curtail my drinking and drug use, I quickly found the party crowd and picked up where I had left off in London.

After four years drinking and drugging in Mexico, I recognized that I was out of control and needed to change my lifestyle. I moved back to California, quit partying and started a daily yoga practice. I found a job that I loved and reconnected with old family and friends. I was convinced that I was not an addict because I had succeeded in white knuckling my way through a few years without drugs. That erroneous assumption allowed me to think I could put them down again when I was asked if I “partied.” Enter crystal meth.

Over the next eighteen months, my life became very small and very dark—lots of secrets, lies, broken promises and self-destructive behavior. At the end—after I had spent all of my money, lost my job, become HIV-positive, worried my family sick, alienated my dog, and become a multiple-times-a-day IV drug user—I still thought I was having “fun.”  Or rather, I preferred that very small, predictable life to the seemingly impossible task of getting sober and pulling my life back together. I had no hope of finding a solution, I was too ashamed to ask for help, and was basically in passive suicide mode.

Thank God my family intervened and offered to send me to treatment—I was such a mess that I missed flights to go to rehab for three days in a row. Ultimately, it was my drug dealer who put me on the plane to Los Angeles.

I spent 54 days at an inpatient rehab in Malibu, where they had a program focused on “stimulant abuse and intimacy disorders.”  I will forever be grateful to that facility—and to my family—for finding a way to quickly get through to me and introduce me to recovery. Over three years have passed since I last used, and although I feel stable sustaining my recovery these days, it took a lot of work to get here.

It wasn’t an easy road. I relapsed twice during my first year, which proved to me that I am indeed an addict. I knew how high the stakes were. After rehab, I spent over six months in sober living and attended outpatient programs. I saw a therapist for over a year and became active in my local peer support community. I began to expand my spiritual life. I had to completely re-learn self-care: sleep, exercise, and nutrition. I re-established strong ties with my family and became part of a “sober posse.” I also took my career into recovery and co-founded a start-up technology company that develops apps for the recovery community. In my free time, I ride with a sober team for the AIDS/Lifecycle Ride and I’ve gotten involved in the recovery advocacy movement.

I have found a passion for recovery advocacy and truly see it as a civil rights issue for our time. I studied government in college, but never found an issue that I was truly passionate about—my parents had the Civil Rights movement, my elder gays had the AIDS epidemic, and I was too far in my disease to participate in Gay Marriage. Advocating for the rights of addicts to receive treatment, increasing the availability of recovery support services, reducing incarceration levels, and eliminating stigma are all things I can wholeheartedly support. I am so grateful that I have found a way to take my experience as an addict and turn it into something useful.  There are so many more of us out there who need help, and I am excited to participate in making recovery more accessible and in reducing the stigma around substance use disorder.

In the end, active alcoholism and drug addiction sucked. That said, I love being an alcoholic/addict in recovery. I have found that it is possible to live a full, happy, authentic life as a sober man. I had to make a lot of changes in order to achieve sustained recovery. It was hard: I made them anyway. In the end, I had to decide that I wanted to save my life. Once I did, it was comforting to discover that there are people and resources out there that are ready and willing to help. And now I am one of them!

Eight Things That Kept Me Sober, Inspired, And Evolving For Eight Years

March 6, 2009. Eight years ago. I finally had enough. I finally decided that the life that I was living was not the one I wanted. So what did I do?

I asked for help. I surrendered. I listened when I didn’t want to. I followed suggestions that I didn’t want to. I showed up when I didn’t want to. I changed almost everything in my life, even though I didn’t want to. I stayed the course even when it got hard, uncomfortable, and exhausting.

I faced self-imposed shame and guilt. I set boundaries. I stopped filling the empty hole inside of me with all things toxic. I stopped running away. I made amends. I faced consequences. I forgave myself and others. I allowed myself to feel every one of the emotions, without judgment or analysis. I was honest with others and myself. I made mistakes. I got hurt, disappointed, betrayed, manipulated, and knocked down.

I stayed the course. I chose to not bury, hide, ignore, and deny. After 25 years of doing it my way, I chose another way. It was hard. But my life before March 6, 2009 was harder.

Over the years, the things that kept me sober have changed. I have evolved and so has my recovery. This is a list of my most current eight. Some may resonate with you now and some might serve you later. Take what you need and leave the rest.

  1. Stay Grounded. Yoga, meditation, and staying connected to my community are the ways I stay grounded today. Some days, I need all three. Some days, it is just one. And by yoga, I mean easy poses: I sit crisscross applesauce with one hand on the ground and one on my heart, for five minutes. I sometimes sit quietly. Sometimes, I repeat the mantra, “Everything, at this very moment, is okay.” It’s not elaborate. It’s not lengthy. It’s doable and simple.
  2. Acknowledge What I Need. This doesn’t mean I always get what I need. More often than not, I don’t. But I acknowledge my needs anyway. This is important for me. When I do this, I feel heard. Sometimes what I need is voiced to a person, written down or just shouted really loudly as I am driving in the car. This has not always been easy. I feel vulnerable when I admit that I need something. But I have found that the alternative—stuffing it down—causes a lot of problems.
  3. Trust the Process. I played competitive golf for many years. When I made a swing change and had to play in a tournament, it was important that I trusted that what I was working on was the correct change. It was important that I didn’t abandon my training before this new skill was mastered. This same process is integral for me today. I do the footwork, make the best decisions I can with the information I have, and then trust the outcome. It may not go as quickly or exactly how I want it, but I continue to trust the process and the path.
  4. Live Open Heartedly. Ahh, vulnerability. It’s not easy. Living with an open heart doesn’t mean I am a doormat. I live open heartedly—with boundaries. I do this mostly because I want to feel all the love in my life. When my heart is open, I feel the love from my family, my sweet little boy, and my friends. I am completely willing to feel hurt and the pain of loss, disappointment, and betrayal in exchange. This has not always been the case. For many years, I lived very shut down and closed off. I am not longer “afraid” of my emotions. I’ve embraced them. They are part of being a human and experiencing my human-ness. And feeling the full range of emotions actually widens and deepens my ability to feel love.
  5. Tell the Truth. The truth always seems simple. We learn this as five-year-olds. But for many years, I didn’t. I didn’t tell myself the truth, or anyone else. I didn’t tell the truth because I was afraid—avoiding pain, heartbreak, consequence, and disappointment. Today, it is a pillar of my recovery. Mostly, I focus on getting the truth straight for myself. When I live in the truth, I’m living in reality rather than fantasy.
  6. Trust My Instincts and My Soul Voice. I denied the little voice for many years, thinking I knew better or that what it told me was wrong. The voice is my connection to something bigger than me. And that something bigger definitely knows better. I have to get quiet to hear that voice. In the past, I would do everything to drown it voice out. I would stuff that voice down with food, booze, shopping, television—whatever worked. Acknowledging my soul voice doesn’t mean I have to do anything. It doesn’t require me to act. I just listen.
  7. God, Buddha, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, The Ocean, Higher Power. I found a connection to something bigger than myself. This used to be a very difficult concept for me; to actually think that something other than me was in charge. Early on in my recovery, a good friend asked me, “Do you believe that I believe?” I replied, “Yes.” She said, “That’s good enough.”
  8. Stay Willing, Open and Teachable. That’s quite a task! I have learned so much over the last eight years. I remain a student in all things. This can be exhilarating and terrifying all at once. But I wouldn’t have what I have, or experienced all that I have, without being willing, open, and teachable. I don’t know everything. I don’t want to. But I do want to be open to new ideas and information that allow my life to grow and blossom, rather than become stagnant and withered.

I am beyond grateful for the past eight years. I don’t want you to think that any of it was easy. It was not. Nothing that I have attained in my life was easily achieved—but it was worth the effort I put in, each and every time.

Eight Things That Kept Me Sober, Inspired, And Evolving For Eight Years - by Jen Yockey, #VoicesProject

Patterns can change. People can change. Neuroscience says that it is so and I am living proof that it is possible. I am a miracle and so are you. So, if you are reading this wondering how the hell are you going to survive the next twenty-four hours, much less eight years, you can do it. Take it one moment at a time. I am not an anomaly: there are over 23 million people doing recovery.

Today, I celebrate. I celebrate family, relationships, lessons learned, and lessons that still await me. I stand with an open heart, willing, and teachable. I am present. I acknowledge that the only thing that is certain is change. So, I am flexible. Long term recovery is built one moment at a time. Living long term recovery out loud begins when we stop doing what doesn’t work and commit to working on what does.

I Built A Life In Recovery One Rebellious Act At A Time

I still remember the first time I ever felt truly free. I was 16, going to the South Florida Fair in my friend Chris’ busted down broham. We were listening to OutKast’s Aquemini and he handed me a blunt. As I smoked, all the worry and concern I had experienced my entire life washed away.

When we stepped out of the car, I remember the lights and whirring sounds of the rides. They created a dreamscape of joy. For the first time in my life I was free. No feeling of constant dread, no concern for inevitable impending doom, no cause for alarm at what others must be thinking about the awkward teenager I had become. My anger and frustration of feeling isolated and alone had been wiped away by a hip-hop album and weed.

That’s the last vivid memory I can recall from back then. All the rest has slipped away into the void of my life. I spent the next 10 years chasing that feeling of joy and hope. Spoiler alert: I never found it.

As time moved on, I found that alcohol, cocaine, and pills provided a more effective escape from the reality I had come to despise. It provided a vehicle for me to contain the rage and hate I had begun to develop regarding not only the person I was, but the world around me. Most of my substance use was justified – in my mind – by my life experience. I was raised on outlaw country songs about cocaine, whiskey, broken hearts, and bloody knuckles. My father was an alcoholic and I had been in psychiatrists’ offices since I was seven. I believed I was just living up to what I was supposed to be.

By 21, I was homeless and stealing booze from the outside tables on the Ave. in downtown Lake Worth. By the end, I found myself drinking hot Steel Reserve behind a dumpster in L-Dub, scrambling to find pills however I had to. It was my last day drinking behind that Lake Worth dumpster. It would prove to be the catalyst for a life worth living. It would catapult me to commit the most shocking act of rebellion I would ever commit: recovery.

I had left my beautiful dumpster home for a halfway house with a leaky pool, a handful of street kids for residents, and a high affinity for a certain blue book and AA meetings. I hated AA and the people in its meetings even more, but as a condition of me not becoming a full-time parking lot camper again, I was forced to try the 12 Steps. I failed. A lot. These guys just kept taking me back in, though. My sponsor James had this strange love for me and just patiently held my hand through the process.

Within two months, I had completed my Steps and felt something I hadn’t felt since ah ha hush that fuss blared in my head. I felt joy. I found freedom, peace, love and hope. I was repairing relationships: the important ones too, not just with my one stripper ex-girlfriend. My life had meaning. I had found a purpose that became an obsession. I had to help as many kids like me as I could. It wasn’t just a requirement to remain free. I loved doing it. Every kid I saw whose fire for life was rekindled like mine made me relive my joy.

My purpose-turned-obsession led me to reconnect with an old mistress: rebellion. I began to work in the treatment industry, and came to find out that not everyone had an addict’s best interest in mind. I believed then (as I still do today) that addicts and substance users are my people. My job is to protect them wherever possible. It’s one of the only things in life I take seriously – that, Boy Meets World, and pro wrestling. I began to identify those I believed would harm my people, and I rebelled.

Through sheer volume of voice and perseverance, I began to develop a reputation in Palm Beach County. I made it very clear where I stood on those who would prey on my people. Eventually, I was asked to join the State Attorney Taskforce, which was intended to end patient brokering in Florida. I shed light on the worst business practices in my field. I went against the tradition of always being polite. I refused to give predators any respect or credence. Why should I? This was a life and death disease. Someone else’s greed could cost an addict his life.

I also joined a county heroin taskforce. This group had been created to find solutions to the epidemic plaguing my area. I had begun to develop some extreme ideas on how to help people using a by-any-means-necessary approach. I turned to some friends to start a nonprofit to help with this work, and Robert Riley, Chad Sabora, and I started Rebel Recovery. Aptly named.

We worked to fill needs in the community the government wouldn’t. Underground syringe exchange, Naloxone distribution, education, and legislative action. In South Florida, we were the first group to bring Naloxone into the private treatment industry. Rebel Recovery Florida began peer recovery support services program for overdose victims in hospitals, partnering with the sheriff’s office, fire and rescue, healthcare district, a major hospital, and public treatment providers. Rebel Recovery offers services to any individual with a substance abuse issue. In South Florida, active addicts are second class if they don’t want to get clean. I reject that idea. I’m willing to fight to be sure everyone who needs help has access to it.

Almost eight years later, I’ve stopped recognizing who I used to be. I rekindled a relationship that I had long believed lost with a woman named Allegra. Spoiler alert: she married me. (Sucker.) I began a relationship built on honesty, love, and devotion. She became fuel for my fire for life and provides me with a love I can’t honestly say I ever believed I deserved. She is my absolute heart.

I Built A Life In Recovery One Rebellious Act At A Time - by Justin Kunzelman, #VoicesProject

We went on to combine our magical love forces to produce a small human, who I’m convinced is a half wolf hybrid. I’m a daddy. Our son is named Kaleo Lawless. Everything I’ve ever done in life is small and inconsequential to the fact that I can show up for my son and wife. They never question where I’m at or if I’m coming home. They have yet to bail me out of jail, or pick me up from a baker act. I have never “lost” our rent money, or stolen precious moments of time from them. Now, instead of a hot can of malt liquor behind dumpster, my world is full of love. My world is my family.

I found my freedom. Through rebellion, love, passion, advocacy, and a little bit of stubbornness. I found the joy and purpose I had searched so long for. I am free: I am recovered. When your chance comes, do what I did. Rebel. With everything you have: rebel.

There’s Always Hope: My Story Is Living Proof

My name is Steph and I’m an addict. That’s how I introduce myself these days at 12-step meetings. It’s part of who I am, but let’s start with how I got here.

I was born and raised in Elmwood Park, N.J., a small town near New York City. I have two younger brothers, and out of our entire family, I’m the only addict.

My parents are awesome people, who wound up not being right for each other. When I was in fifth grade, they separated and soon divorced. My mom found someone else, and for years I hated her for it. But today, thanks to the “steps,” I understand my parents didn’t belong together, and it’s okay, they still love me.

Throughout my teenage years I drank alcohol and smoked weed the same way everyone else did, but looking back it was always to the limit. I’d get as messed up as possible during high school parties which led to encounters I didn’t want to happen. I don’t remember many details about the things that happened to me, but thanks to years of therapy I now know I was sexually assaulted. For a few years in high school I acted out sexually with guys, but soon realized I was only attracted to women.

Am I gay because of what happened to me? No, I don’t think so. I’ve always been attracted to women for as long as I can remember.

After I graduated high school, I didn’t attend college right away. One night I was with a few friends and I met a girl I was seriously into. Everyone was doing lines of cocaine and I think I wanted to impress her, so I did a line and that was it.

I’d crossed a line, that for me, I’d never be able to uncross.

For the next six months, I wound up doing coke daily, living in a girl’s apartment, and figuring out how to survive as a drug addict. This included learning how to commit check fraud using ATMs, what items to steal that were worth the most money, how to panhandle, and a lot more that I’m not proud of doing. I stole from my parents and wound up in crazy situations with Harlem gang members and numerous run-ins with police.

Moving things along, I finally had enough and went back home. I stopped doing drugs for a short period. My life seemed to be getting better, but then I met a group of people who loved to party and “enjoyed life.” This was about 2006, and for the next year, I partied. Until the party ended in a way I never thought would happen.

I became really good friends with a girl, and we had an immediate connection. Many times I describe our friendship as two really bad storms colliding. I tried many drugs during this time, including opiates, a decision that would take me places I never thought possible.

In the summer of 2007, my family went on vacation and I decided to throw a party. That night my friend and I did a bunch of different drugs. We eventually fell asleep, but the next day I was the only one to wake up. She overdosed on a combination of drugs and just died right in her sleep.

My life can be broken down into the time before she died and the time after. I made it to rehab after she died, I only lasted five days because I wasn’t ready to hear anything. I was grieving and didn’t want to hear about my “drug problem.”

Six months after her death, I began partying again. One night I was with my best friend, and we ran out of painkillers. We bumped into friends who had heroin, and that was it. I was in love and started my descent into heroin addiction.

I started doing heroin every day and wound up getting arrested on the year anniversary of my friend’s death, which is when I finally reached out for help on my own terms. I called my dad from jail and told him I was addicted to heroin and I needed help. Two days later I was in rehab in Florida.

I got a lot from that rehab and was able to deal with the trauma, guilt, and resentments I had. Soon after treatment, I moved into a sober living and started going to NA meetings daily. But, of course, I met a girl at my sober living home and we fell in love in a week. Gotta love early-recovery relationships.

About nine months into my recovery, I found out I had Lyme Disease, which creates severe joint muscle and nerve pain. So, I began taking Oxycontin again, and for a period I was okay. But once my girlfriend left, I wasn’t okay anymore.

I moved back to New Jersey and for the next two years, I went back and forth from Jersey to Florida, rehab after rehab, after I began using heroin intravenously. That was a whole other addiction that I never planned on having.

Once I began shooting dope, I started to do things I never thought I would do. I sold family jewelry. I slept with men for drugs and money. I was homeless, and some nights I’d sleep outside. My best friend was shot and killed over a drug deal during that period. I was so lost and had no hope.

In December, 2011 I was arrested two days before Christmas and my family finally had enough. I wasn’t allowed to attend the family Christmas festivities. In that moment, I never felt more alone in my entire life. That was the spiritual bottom I needed to lead me to seek help again.

Finally, April 16, 2012, I decided to give the steps a real shot after reading the Big Book for the first time. I never actually worked the steps fully, but this time, through AA, I did. My life has forever changed.

I made the decision to use medication-assisted therapy by taking Suboxone to manage both cravings and the severe chronic pain from Lyme Disease. I’m glad I made it. There are a good amount of people who say I’m not sober because of that. However, thanks to the amazing sponsor I had, she explained my sobriety was just that, mine. That’s what worked for me and my circumstances.

Now, I found a career that I not only love, but I get to make a difference in other people’s lives experiencing similar struggles. I even get to work for my dream company today.

For a few years, people said I was a lost cause. At one point, I believed them. I’ve been to the depths of hell and back and can assure you that none of us are lost causes. We all have a fighting chance. I know recovery is possible, so don’t give up hope.

Love From My Brothers & Family Led Me To Long-Term Recovery

I recently celebrated my 10th year in long-term recovery (April 8, 2017). In hitting milestones, its normal to reflect back on moments of the journey. I think back to July 2005.

A dark room. Table, desk, chairs. I’m with a staff psychiatrist of the Green Oaks Psychiatric Hospital in Dallas, Texas. My brothers, Mark and Jeff, are sitting at the table across from me. I have a vague recollection of my younger brother rousing me from my bed. My .45 automatic lying on my nightstand. I had become so disgusted and horrified with the “monster” I saw in my reflection that I had lost the desire to live.  In my mind, I would be doing the world and my family a favor by relieving them of my existence. The fog and darkness of suicidal thoughts.

Sitting in that room, the residuals of cocaine, Xanax, and Jack Daniels are still coursing through my veins. Questions from the attending psychiatrist pierce my fog and anger like tracer rounds. “What drugs have you taken? How are you feeling? Do you want to hurt yourself? “

In the back of my mind, what’s left of the lawyer takes over. I know that my family can’t commit me, but he can. Proceed with caution. I don’t mention that I had been “practicing” sticking the barrel of the gun in my mouth and dry-firing the gun.

Ripped back to reality. Voices in the room. The doctor is talking to me again. When was the last time I used cocaine? I’m pretty sure it has been recently, since it was all over the room when my brothers showed up. I had become the consummate liar in hiding the obvious cocaine habit and drinking problem from my family.

More questions. Do I think I need help? Will I go to rehab? Sure, whatever will get me out of here? I lash out again. They have no right to do this. I yell across the table. “You have no right to control my life!  I am an adult!  Mind your own business!”  They quietly let me rant.

Blaming them for the darkness is so much easier than seeing the light. The doctor is asking calm, focused questions, to ascertain whether I am a danger to myself. At times I am calm in my answers. At times I am crying, angry at him, then at my brothers. Quit asking the same questions! I know your game! Quit treating me like an idiot!

An hour has passed. The room is getting brighter. The love and calm of my brothers soothes me. Quiets me, softens my edges. It’s always been there, but I wasn’t present enough to sense it. I was thinking only of myself: My next high. My next drink. Without the drugs, what am I going to see in the mirror each morning? The thought terrifies me. My brothers calm me, and I begin to focus on my love for my family. Arms are around me. Holding me. I begin to feel the love penetrating my shell. They are not the enemy. Should I go to rehab? What about twelve-step? I’m still on the defensive, but at least for the moment I can listen.

Sitting in that room during my first of two trips to a psychiatric facility seems so long ago. I was not ready for recovery. I didn’t want it. I would not go into long term recovery for cocaine and alcohol until April 8th 2007 but that was one of the pivotal moments in at least bringing my family into the picture and subconsciously opening me up the possibility or sobriety. It would take another trip back to the same facility to finally bring me to the point of taking those first steps which for me were twelve step and private psychiatric therapy and anti-depressant medication. All equally important in my recovery. In moving through long term recovery, I have learned many lessons.

I have learned that recovery does not mean absence of grief and pain. It means dealing with them on their own terms without running away from my feelings.

Love From My Brothers & Family Led Me To Long-Term Recovery - by Brian Cuban, #Voices Project

I’ve learned that recovery is multifaceted. I had to deal with where I was which meant getting sober but just as importantly, I had to deal with how I got there. For me this meant allowing myself to be vulnerable and tear back all the layers of my life to childhood. To tell a little boy that he was loved and it is ok to love himself.

I have learned that neither addiction nor my other mental health issues are anything to be ashamed of as I believed they were for so many years.

I have learned that it is important to share my journey with others so they know that recovery is possible even if there are relapses. It’s about resilience. It’s about picking myself up and stepping forward again.

I have learned that I am enough. So are you.

Brian Cuban is an attorney, author and recovery advocate. His second book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption is already an Amazon #1 Best Seller in pre-order.

Tell Us About Andrew

Andrew Was More Than Just An Addict

How do we remember someone as special as Andrew? 99 percent of the time, the first thing people mention, is his incredible intellect. From the very beginning, Andrew was extremely bright. He was accepted into the Gifted Program in first grade. He always excelled in school and graduated from college in only three years. He soaked up knowledge, and he loved to learn. Many of his friends have said “He was the smartest guy I ever met.”

But being intellectual didn’t dry him up. He loved to laugh. He had a razor-sharp, witty sense of humor. He was extremely funny, sometimes self-effacing. He’d share his laughter with others. Andrew was also a good listener and a loyal friend. He was an obedient child, rarely getting into any type of trouble. He also loved music and played guitar. A college friend of his told me that he always saw Andrew on campus, barefoot and carrying his guitar wherever he went.

And he liked other people, too. His incredible listening skills often resulted in deep, sometimes heated conversations. In spite of his love of debate, Andrew was very polite and likable immediately. Andrew came across as confident: about his opinions, views of the world, and his goals in life. He inspired so many people during his short life. He was well loved by co-workers and was a role-model for new employees. His new position in Las Vegas held such promise. His employer said they had so many plans for Andrew’s future. She also said he always volunteered for extra projects, never complained, and would have given the shirt off his back to someone in need.

He was just a very sweet young man with the world at his fingertips – or so it seemed.

Tell Us About Andrew - by Margie Borth, #VoicesProject

Andrew’s Struggle with Addiction

Andrew began experimenting with drugs in high school, but his addiction really woke up in college in 2009. He was abusing Oxycontin. He was in Florida during the Pill Mills, and Oxy was cheap and readily available. Oxy made people, life, and college tolerable for him. Andrew often expressed frustration with trying to find people on his intellectual level, and Oxy dulled his thinking and his senses, made him more like everyone else. Andrew tried all drugs, but Oxy was the one that hooked him. He never saw it that way, of course. He always thought he was in control. Even when he was forced to switch to heroin in 2014, he told an old friend, “Heroin is not so bad, it’s just like Oxy.”

He took a job promotion in August 2014 that would move him to Las Vegas, hoping to leave heroin behind. He told me, “Mom, I never planned to do heroin here. I planned to quit, but I realized I was an addict when I got to Las Vegas and still had to have it.” Even at the end, when his life really began to unravel, he still thought he had the upper hand with this drug. He refused long term treatment. His plan was to get through detox and then go back to work. I spend the last six days of his life with him. He’d been clean for 19 days. He told me what I wanted to hear: “I don’t want to do heroin again, Mom.”

But the fact was he struggled so much. He was so sad and ashamed of what his life had become. On the surface, he was a very successful corporate executive who had everything. In reality, he was a struggling addict who lived for Oxycontin and ultimately heroin. He didn’t want anyone to know. So, on a Monday afternoon, November 10, 2014, he told me he wanted to attend an AA meeting down the street. I was so excited and happy he was making progress. I dropped him off.

One hour later, he did not respond to my texts or phone calls. (I was concerned: remember, Andrew was very obedient). I knew in my heart what had happened. An hour and 45 minutes after I dropped him off, the hospital called.

He was found in the bathroom at Petsmart, just down the street. It was too late to save him. He died alone.

The Smile That Stays In My Heart

Andrew loved music. It was an outlet for him. He told me the only thing in the world he wanted was the acoustic guitar he’d pawned. I did get the guitar back. I’m planning to restore it in Andrew’s honor. He had so much potential, so much love to give. He hoped to adopt a retired greyhound someday. He loved intellectual humor of all kinds, too. He loved Seattle and the West Coast. It made him happy to be there. Unfortunately, Andrew never grew into the person that he was meant to be because of the drugs. Two months before he died, he reverted back to his Boy Scout days and went camping alone. He was so proud of the campfire he built with just kindling and matches. It was such a small thing. In a way, it was all he had left that he felt he could be proud of.

Tell Us About Andrew - by Margie Borth, #VoicesProject

What do you miss most about Andrew?

I simply miss my son! He was my only boy, my youngest. Even though we lived in different cities, he was always there in my life. Near or far, he was always with me. Sometimes, he distanced himself from me, due to the drugs. But I always knew a phone call would come at some point and also a visit.

I never thought it would end this way. I had hopes of grandchildren because he talked of becoming a father. He said he wanted to meet someone educated, maybe a doctor. What I miss most is what could have been. He said he wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest eventually. When I relocated to Portland, Oregon, I thought he would eventually join us. Now that will never be.

I miss his open mindedness and intellect. His willingness to try new foods, adventures, new places. I miss his humor. I miss him lovingly calling me the “Food Nazi.” I miss every phone call that ended in I love you. He was an addict, and he was my son. Now there is just an enormous void in my life without him. There was nobody else like Andrew, and there will never be anyone like him again.

Dreams Incorporated (Or How Poets Discuss Recovery)

My Story
isn’t going to come out in one continuous line.
It will not clean itself up or try to contort itself in to a shape
that easily resembles success or moral.  I have not reached success.
I’ve reached right now. My reach still extends.  I achieve balance
by anchoring myself to the past while grasping for the future.

My name is Joseph Green. I will provide chapters
for my attempt at storytelling how this shipwreck once again found dry land.
Warning!!!
Hindsight is not 20/20 when blurred between lines
of cocaine and the haze of whiskey.

Chapter 62- The past seven days (all the things that I am)

Today I incorporated my dream.  After walking into a financial services institution, paying a substantial sum of money, I received a piece of paper with the words “LMSvoice LLC.” The letters had a weight to them the CPA couldn’t quite grasp.  He said he’d seen people get emotional upon starting a new business but tears were rare.  My son was sitting in the other room watching Dinotraux.  My new accountant had no idea how many miracles where happening simultaneously.

Chapter 7- Thank you so much Nancy Reagan (I’m sure your heart was in the right place)

As is true for many addicts, I come from a family of fine folk that have struggled heavy with the DNA effortless passed down through the generations.  I understand that now.  I now look at father like someone would look at person who had once been stricken with cancer.  He is a survivor. All you need do is Google “alcohol related deaths” to know how much truth that last statement holds.  Unfortunately, for the people like myself that were unlucky enough to be raised in a time where addiction was criminalized.  Not only was there a war in the streets but in churches, work places, and schools.  I was taught at a young age to see drugs and people who chose to use them as weak, selfish, and evil.  By the time I reached high school I was fully indoctrinated.  I quickly became the president of my school’s version of the “Just Say No” club.

When I found out my father was an alcoholic, it was already too late.  I hated him and I didn’t even know why.  I ran from what I thought then was a weak and selfish man.  I ran so fast I never got to witness the beginning of his recovery.  Never got to learn how to avoid or one day overcome this disease that was quietly waiting in the wings for me to high off my own ego and discontent.  I ran into a full-blown cocaine addiction. I also drank too much.  Didn’t really figure that out until after I quit the coke.  Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt, especially if it’s filled with Jack Daniels.

Chapter 28- Dear John (Talk Ugly)

Three years of cocaine abuse, and drinking my sanity away, in upstate New York ended in total retreat.  I cannot clearly recall the details of the damage.  I know I broke things.  Mistreated hearts, forsaken friends, and pissed on generosities. After a year of being back in DC, back in my parent’s home, I received a phone call.  The voice on the other end side “John is dead.”  You know John.  There have thousands. Brilliant souls abandoned first by an ill equipped and criminally indifferent society and then ultimately abandoned by themselves. I loved John as many did, many more than me.  His death was the first of its kind that I had been this close to.  To this day, when I perform the poem I rescued from the wreckage, that was the end of his life, I feel aftershocks from that original earth quake.  I am thrown back into that place.

I am regretting all the things I never said,
I am sobbing on the phone,
screaming into the mirror,
shattering my knuckles into the brick wall,
and I am doing cocaine with the surviving members of our crew
30 mins after the funeral.

Chapter 63- Fight Club is my favorite movie (I am the all singing, all dancing crap of the universe)

Which is to say, that even with all I’ve accomplished in the wake of tragedy and the light of sobriety, I am only as good/saved/recovered as the promises I keep to myself. I fight to keep this happiness, one day at a time.

Most people don’t believe me when I say I don’t remember the last day I did cocaine, and I don’t care if they do. It has been years. The truth is, that it will never be far enough into the past to bring back what I’ve lost or change those I wronged.

The whole story will be told in future chapters, for now just know…

Today I am a father, educator, motivational speaker, business owner, poet, mentor, devoted son, loyal friend, faithful servant to the higher power that flows through us all, and luckiest man alive because I am in long term recovery and get to use my story every day to help people make the world a better place.

For the record, I do not believe in run-on sentences.  Run, Sentence, run!

I Am Open About My Life In Recovery. I Will Not Be Silenced, Shamed, Or Invisible.

I am open about my life in recovery. I will not be silenced, shamed, or invisible: I have a disease. And I battled my addiction alone for years. I didn’t have role models, doctors, friends, or colleagues who showed me how they had struggled with addiction and succeeded to find paths back to wellness. I would like to believe if I’d had models of open recovery when I was struggling, perhaps I would have found help sooner. This is one of the reasons I am open today.

But recovery has been a journey. And I understand now that it’s one worth sharing.

I started drinking and smoking as a teenager, after my brother died suddenly. That didn’t make me a burnout, party-girl, druggie, addict, alcoholic, or stoner. I was just me, seeking some relief, some connection.

Soon after he died, my parents divorced, my other sibling left for boarding school and my father moved out of the country.

“You are a survivor.” I was told. “You’ll be fine,” they reassured me. I internalized the losses and came to believe that all their departures – the death, divorce, moving away – surely meant I was not worth anyone sticking around. Grief and aching emptiness became the weight that slowly dragged me down.

I discovered drinking and drugging buoyed me up – at least temporarily. And while I spent a great deal of my teenage years partying, I rationalized it with good grades, team sports, and leadership positions. These things were proof (at least to the outside world), that my life was on track and I was doing just fine.

In college, I learned that most people who drink don’t end up in a blackout. I had assumed that was part of the neutralizing effect we were all seeking, from the first sip. When I was drinking, I had a hunch that I might have a different relationship with substances than some of my peers – but using was a social norm and I fit right in.

My favorite “cocktail” at the time was alcohol, drugs, and men. I couldn’t imagine one without the other or a night without any. But then I fell in love. She was the girl next door. I bathed in her warmth and caring and hoped that exploring our sexual attraction was next. Truth was, I didn’t know how not to sexualize intimacy, and she was straight and had a boyfriend. While I ached for more contact with her, I slept with guys and drank too much to make it seem like my needs were met.

Later in college, I had the opportunity to study abroad. The turmoil of the region and the seemingly aggressive nature of the people over there were oddly compelling to me. For the first time, I felt like the world’s tensions and my internal discord were aligned. No need to cover anything up. I fit in. Yet the using continued. It was just what we all did.

By senior year, back to New York, the dull ache of loneliness resumed. Drinking escalated and periodic fantasies of suicide became my secret escape. One night, as if in a dress rehearsal for my own death, I closed my eyes and imagined taking my last breath and at that very moment it occurred to me that I still wanted to travel to Africa. That was my first “geographic” – assuming “it” (and I) would be different somewhere else.

A new vision of my future emerged – adventure – uncharted landscapes, new possibilities. After graduation and a year of work, I packed up my stuff, sold my car, donned a backpack, and flew over to Africa. I was looking for meaning, connection, grounding, purpose, and peace. That seeking lasted another 15 years.

During that time-period, I traveled to foreign lands, lived abroad, married, had children, worked, came back to the States, earned a second degree, and set up a home within a community. My family began to put down roots. Drinking continued to be my fuel and refuge. But by 40, it all stopped working.

I began to feel depressed and a bit insane. I wanted to be healthy and happy but couldn’t stop using and wouldn’t ask for help. So, I divorced, moved, got into better shape, dated, changed jobs, and cut out sugar and flour. I blamed food for my volatility. Yet, the insanity was I couldn’t cut out the drinking.

I’m told most of us hit bottom before seeking change. This was what happened for me. It was not the end of my marriage that brought me to recovery, but rather the end of my sense of sanity and the loss of my belief in myself.

Addiction is isolating, insanity-making, debilitating, and goes largely untreated due to stigma, ignorance, and shame. Addiction is not a choice, moral failing, or sign of weakness. Yet, due to the stigma and subsequent discrimination, only 1 in 10 people with addiction will get help this year.

While the loss and pain of my youth did not make an addict, it did compel me to seek relief from unbearable pain. Yet, it was the stigma and shame associated with addiction that caused even greater suffering and kept me silent for decades, when I really needed help.

I Am Open About My Life In Recovery. I Will Not Be Silenced, Shamed, Or Invisible. - by Fay Zenoff, #VoicesProject

Today I lead a nonprofit called Center for Open Recovery. We are an organization leading the charge to end the stigma of addiction by empowering people in recovery to step out of the shadows of shame, shift the public’s understanding about outcomes, and help tackle the addiction health crisis we face in our country today.

Through bold initiatives in media education, advocacy, and community experiences, Center for Open Recovery is mobilizing a social justice movement and a paradigm shift. We call it Open Recovery as a challenge to the stigma of addiction. Open Recovery inspires, supports, and demands change in the ways we respond to addiction.…recovery.

This is why I am using my voice today. I am a woman in recovery. A mother. A woman who has found peace and health and hope. I know healing is possible and addiction can be beat. My life is proof. I believe with all my heart it is time to end shame and open up about recovery.