Recovery Support Services Gave Me A Path To Long-Term Recovery

When I think back on the year 2010, I think of the nights spent drinking until I blacked out in a dirty house/apartment/trailer or field if need be, and ingesting lines of whatever was offered to me at the time. I rarely think of the fact that I was going into my senior year of high school because a majority of my time was not actually spent in school; it was spent sleeping off a raging hangover until my school counselor would call and implore me to get to class, and then upon arrival attempting to figure out how I was going to get drunk that night.

I had made a new group of friends who would host me and my binge drinking any night of the week. My childhood friends would try partying with my new friends and me only to be horrified at the debauchery taking place by a group of misfits all fiending to get as messed up as possible.

A different life and a different group of friends didn’t seem desirable or attainable at the time, and I would continue drinking for another six years. However, as I was edging closer and closer to my personal bottom, a place called the Bethlehem Recovery Center was being conceived by Mary Carr which would be an answer to the problem that me and many others who decide to get sober ask, which is: “What now?”

For me, putting down the drink and the drug was the first step, but then I had to figure out what to do with a majority of my time that was previously spent either drinking or planning for my next drink. Not to mention my closest friend on any given night was whoever sat down next to me at the bar, so I didn’t have many people calling me with plans.

The Bethlehem Recovery Center started as a dream of Mary Carr’s, then head of Northampton County Drug & Alcohol. Carr knew first-hand the difficulties that arise in early recovery such as finding a safe and sober place to spend time outside of recovery-based meetings, where and how to look for things such as employment and housing, and how to become reintegrated into the community.

The Lehigh Valley Drug & Alcohol Intake Unit and Northampton County collaborated to provide a resource such as this and in 2010 the BRC opened its doors to the recovery community. The drop-in center is run by individuals in recovery from drugs and/or alcohol and supported by volunteers from the community both in and outside of the recovery community.

Carr credits the long-term success of the BRC to the aforementioned recovery community in the surrounding area taking ownership of the space and what it offers. In the beginning, the center hosted one AA meeting, but has now expanded to offer 11 recovery-based meetings, yoga and meditation, crafting and art classes, job and resume workshops, and life-skills classes, all of which are led by volunteers.

Some of those whose beginnings can be traced back to the BRC have gone on to work at inpatient treatment facilities in the area, local nonprofit organizations, or even to work at the BRC like myself. One of the miracles of recovery is that the lives that are saved from drugs and alcohol go on to save others, as shown by one longtime visitor of the BRC Leslie Simmons. Leslie, who continued to volunteer at the center even after it was no longer court-ordered through his probation, went on to help keep the BRC’s Friday night Narcotics Anonymous meeting alive when its founders could no longer run the group.

Tim Munsch, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Drug & Alcohol Intake Unit, expressed the importance of utilizing the strengths of those in recovery and the surrounding community as the BRC  continues to assist those in all stages of recovery, and especially as it begins to extend its services to those on the wide spectrum of mental health issues.

On any given day, since the center is open seven days a week, you can walk into the BRC and see familiar faces from local meetings, new faces waiting to meet with their Certified Recovery Specialist, or someone stopping in to seek assistance with a job application. All of these represent the community-led recovery initiative of the Bethlehem Recovery Center and the wonders of sobriety.

It is in Recovery That I Found My Life. And in My Life, I Found My Purpose.

I had my first drink when I was 17. By the time I was 20, I was snorting crystal meth with my father in San Diego, Ca. At 29, I was divorced and a full blown alcoholic. By the time I was 37, I had 3 children and was out of control.

At 39, I had been through a detox facility twice. At 40, I would find rock bottom and on June 19th, 2013, I would finally give in and seek help.

When I entered rehab, I would be successfully self employed. Money was no object. My soul was depleted, my mind raged and I didn’t know which way was which. My home was empty. My wife and kids were gone. I stood broken, alone and scared.

Today, my home is filled. My marriage restored, my mind sane, and my soul filled with hope and love. I am a father as I’m called to be, a husband that I am called to be and the man that God has called me to be.

My life has gone from ordinary to extraordinary. I lost it all, but gained it all. My name is Rob Johansen and I am a person in long term recovery. It is in recovery that I found my life. And in my life, I found my purpose. But for the grace of God can I forgive and it’s in forgiving that I can live.

I Learned to Become Vulnerable & Authentic. And that Led Me to Long Term Recovery.

I am a selfish person, emotionally numb, and narcissistic in the sense that I believe to my core that everything should be handed to me. I was the youngest of the three brothers and grew up protected by two older brothers and a successful dad that gave me everything a kid could ask for. Yet here I stood in an orange jumpsuit in front of a judge with my loving parents sitting in a courtroom with disbelief in their eyes. I could see their disgust and love. They officially were powerless over how to save their son. I was once again arrested for drinking and driving.

As the arrests piled up, the shame was insurmountable. This was no longer a “phase.” This was an issue that bled through my whole family, community, and self-care. Believing that I was only harming myself was a lie that I believed down to my core. Lying to myself was nothing new to me. I told lies to everyone for the game of it. I was honing my craft of being a dishonest person. No matter the consequence, even when telling the truth was easier, I clung to the fact that I could I get out of any situation by creating a story in my head and becoming a classic story teller. I lived in a fantasy world growing up. The stories that I made up in my head I viewed as truth. For every dream, there needs to be action to achieve it. Quitting became natural to me.

I was eighteen years old at college, on my own. The hooting and hollering was noticeable that first night. I walked down the hall to the common area where guys were gathered around a table with beer cans and liquor bottles taking up most of the space on the table. Drinking was not something I ever did up to this point, but I knew I couldn’t let anyone know that. I was welcomed by the guys as they made room at the table for me. Little did I know that sitting down at that table would change the course of my life forever.

I quickly realized that alcohol and drugs made me feel “normal.” I failed out of college, went back to college. Failed out of college again, and went back to college again. I floundered around life with a bottle as my compass. I got arrested several times, was bailed out of consequences, and went right back to drugs and alcohol. I spent several years in my twenties on “house arrest” as I moved into my parent’s basement and worked for my dad. Not having a driver’s license, being on house arrest, and/or watching the consequences pile up was no match for my addiction. I could not imagine life without drugs and alcohol.

By 2008, I was having thoughts that I may be better off leaving this world then to keep floundering in life. I was told that I was going to long term treatment. I did not fight it. My mom had packed me a care package, in it was a journal book. I was shattered as a person and completely lost as a person. I opened that journal book on my first night in long term treatment and wrote words that I will never forget:

“Here I sit in long term treatment. I am not sure if I don’t want to be here in treatment, or if I do not want to be here on Earth. I am going to stay here till I can figure it out.”

That was October 19, 2008, and I have not had a drink or a drug since.

What I came to realize, is that drugs and alcohol were just a hurtful solution for me. It was not just me that I was hurting, it was everyone that I had encountered. Vulnerability, authenticity, and connection are three things that I have built my long-term recovery. I never learned how to find a connection to anyone, or anything growing up. I grew up in a loving, supportive home but I never could feel connected. That connection was never made due to never feeling connected to myself. Once I was able to get a connection to myself, to feel comfortable in my own skin, I was able to feel connected to other people. To get that connection I had to become vulnerable. Now all I knew about vulnerability was that it was a sign of weakness, or so I thought. It never came natural, and it never came quickly. It started with a heart to heart conversation with a dog in long term treatment, which led to being open and honest with my counselor. Once I became somewhat vulnerable, people could finally see the authentic me.

I Learned to Become Vulnerable & Authentic. And that Led Me to Long Term Recovery. - #VoicesProject

My life today is built on providing hope and help to the hopeless and helpless like I was once before. As each day passes, I get more and more connected to myself and to others. Recovery has always come first in my life since I started my journey utilizing my personal recovery program. I still wake up with thoughts of “I am not worthy” and “I am not good enough” but recovery has given me the tools to deal with those thoughts. I walk through life today comfortable with the person that I have become and that is due to getting vulnerable with those around me. Being an alcoholic and addict is no longer shameful to me, and I refuse to hide my scars that have made me the person that I am today. I continue to pray for the courage to be vulnerable, which leads to me becoming more and more authentic. I no longer play one of the many characters that addiction forced me to be which allows me to get connected to myself and to others. I now know the meaning of “Be who you are.” Long term recovery gave me that.

My Name Is Vanessa. And I’m More Than An Addict.

Growing up, society taught me that I should not disclose that I am an alcoholic or an addict; that my addiction is something I should be ashamed of. I heard this message every time someone described someone’s behavior to be that of a “crackhead,” every time someone talked about what a “drunk” someone was or called someone a “junkie,” and every time politicians on TV talked about the War on Drugs and promised every addict would be locked away in prisons for life.

I believed in this stigma for most of my life. I thought, as many people still do, that alcoholics were homeless people, living under bridges with nothing but a bottle in a paper bag. That drug addicts were criminals who only knew how to lie, cheat and steal. That is until I became one myself…

It’s because of this stigma that I refused to acknowledge I was sick. I spent the next decade of my life trying to control something that was uncontrollable.

I always smile when someone tells me I don’t “look like an addict.” Not because I blame them for thinking this way, but because who they see in front of them today is certainly a far cry from the person I was in active addiction.  When I was sick, I was unrecognizable.

The reality is, I look exactly as an addict does. We are your neighbor, doctor, teacher, co-worker, caretaker and child. Addiction knows no boundaries. If society wants to paint an honest picture of what an addict looks like today, maybe they could start with me.

Here is what I can tell you about my life. I grew up in a loving family, with successful parents and a happy childhood. I never wanted for anything. There wasn’t any abuse or trauma that I could blame my addiction on. There was no neglect, poverty, or addiction in my home. I have searched my life, with a fine-tooth comb, for some pivotal moment that changed everything, and all I can tell you is that the first time I used I knew I wanted more. And not just in the “Hey that was fun. I think I will do that again sometime” kind of way. But in the, “I want more. More! Give me MORE!” kind of way.

It’s important that I share this piece of my story with others; that I acknowledge the lack of chaos in my upbringing. Many times, society wants to blame the parents. My parents had absolutely nothing to do with my addiction, but I can tell you their unflinching love and support have had a tremendous impact on my recovery.

I was just a normal teenager, seeking acceptance from my peers and wanting to grow up too fast. Just a normal teenager experimenting with friends. That experimentation, though harmless at first, lead to full-blown addiction by my late 20’s. That little girl, with all her hopes and dreams, disappeared. I did some deplorable things in the name of my addiction. I abandoned my family, I was violent and spewed hateful words, and I often times put my addiction before my own daughter’s welfare. I lied, I manipulated, I self-harmed. And at the end of my active addiction, I was reported missing. Poof!

As sure as I am sitting here writing this, I can tell you that I didn’t grow up and suddenly announce I wanted to be a professional addict on Career Day. This was learned behavior by a person with the disease of addiction; a sick person, not a bad one. That does not in any way excuse my behavior, because believe me I have worked for years trying to forgive myself for the damage I caused, but it does explain why I lost control so quickly. Because, you see, I am not that woman anymore. There are times when it seems like a different life altogether.

For years, I tried to “figure out my addiction.” I tried to dissect my life to find some moment in time that turned everything upside down, that made me act the way I did. Something that made sense of the chaos I had created. Always telling myself I couldn’t possibly be an addict, until the day my disease almost left my daughter without a mother, and I couldn’t hide from it anymore.

When we are broken, we become willing change. And I was broken. Thankfully, I had recovering women in my life who had been waiting for me to wake up. They took me under their wings, they held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own and they taught me how to live. They taught me how to take care of myself, how to be honest and what it means to have integrity.  These women have never left my side yet, and I am forever grateful to them.

My Name Is Vanessa. And I'm More Than An Addict.

One of the most important things they taught me was to carry the message to the still suffering addict, and I have been doing my best to honor this commitment throughout my journey. I take my story into women’s prisons, treatment centers and into my community.

Addiction is a shame based disease. I choose to recover out loud because I firmly believe that no addict should ever have to suffer in silence, that no addict should ever have to die from this disease and that there is nothing that compares to the magic that happens when one addict helps another addict find a new way of life.

My name is Vanessa, and I am a woman in long-term recovery. What that means is that I have not had a drink or prescription drug since October 16th, 2014, and  I pray that I never forget the despair I felt at the end of my active addiction.

Every morning, before my feet hit the floor, I make a commitment to myself to stay sober for another 24 hours, and with that one simple task, a beautiful life was created.

We do recover.