On an evening in 2011, Max and three friends checked into a motel, beer and liquor in tow. Undisturbed, the four drank heavily late into the night. Max drank more than his friends – as usual – and became increasingly agitated. Normally, drinking curbed the well of negative emotions he bottled inside, but that night it was different.
Max snapped. A temper-tantrum and property damage later, he was outside, staring at the clear night-sky reflecting upon his decaying life. On the surface, jealousy over the hooking up of two friends caused the fit, but in reflection, he realized there was much more going on.
“I was on probation for a DWI [driving while impaired], my license was suspended, I was dogging this outpatient addiction treatment I was assigned to, I was failing out of school, and my closest friend, Chris, stopped talking to me. Things were not going well,” he told The Globe Post.
Max, like millions of Americans, struggled with substance abuse. Between 16 and 21-years-old he was in-and-out of addiction therapy and boarding schools. “My life was pretty much centered around my drug use. Being able to use was the most important thing to me,” he said.
Hitting an emotional rock-bottom that night in the motel, he realized it was time for a change. The next day, he returned to the outpatient addiction treatment he was avoiding and came clean about his use. With the help of a 12-step program, AA meetings, and his sponsor, he dropped the bottle for good and celebrates seven years of sobriety this year.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 18.7 million Americans (aged 18 or older) had a substance abuse disorder in 2017. Three out of four of those people struggled with alcohol use exclusively. And one out of nine of them – or 8.5 million people – had an illicit drug and alcohol use disorder simultaneously.
“Addiction must be viewed as a chronic disease much like diabetes,” said Robert Dupont, the first Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the second White House Drug Chief. He recently authored a book called “Chemical Slavery: Understanding Addiction and Stopping the Drug Epidemic,” which tackles the personal and societal dimensions of addiction.
On October 30, Dupont gave a presentation on drug addiction via the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. During the discussion, Jan Brown, board chair of Faces & Voices of Recovery, asked how to most effectively inspire hope for recovery through the stories of recovering addicts.
According to Dupont, the story of recovery comes down to three parts. What was your life like when you were using you were using, what happened to get you to stop, and what is your life like now? Structuring recovery stories in this way “not only gives [addicts] hope but shows how it happened,” he said.
Brown, a recovering addict herself, thought it was inconceivable in the midst of her addiction. She primarily used alcohol but experimented with multiple substances. “I was one of those people where if you said to me ‘using this drug will get you high’ I would try it,” she told The Globe Post.
During her use, her life was a mess. She lost jobs, got kicked out of school, isolated herself from friends and family, all culminating with her physician saying “if you don’t stop using, within two weeks you’re going to be dead.” She found herself waking up in a hospital within a week.
That’s not what got her to stop. The inspiration for sobriety came after struggling in rehab for 17 months and when a local magistrate made her choose between drugs or jail. “My understanding of myself at the time was ‘I’m too cute to go to jail’ and that people would do nasty things to me there. That was ultimately the reason I stopped using drugs,” she said. She’s been drug and alcohol-free for 31 years.
Since then, she’s regained all of the things lost during her addiction and has a new lease on life, focusing on helping others who are on the same path she was those 31 years ago. In addition to being the board chair of Faces & Voices of Recovery, she is the founder and executive director of SpiritWorks Foundation Center for Recovery of the Soul. She views living an active lifestyle in service of others part-in-parcel to her continuing recovery.
“It’s about being able to transform other’s lives and help people see there really is hope. When I do that, I’m not really thinking about myself and I think that’s one of the big pieces,” she said.
— NIDAnews (@NIDAnews) October 20, 2018
Max agreed, “In recovery, I learned that caring for others is vital to my sobriety.” After years of excessive drug use and a lifestyle of deception, anger, and insecurity Max turned his life around. He has graduated from college, can hold a job, and in keeping with caring for others, is moving to Utah to support his mother whose health took a nose-dive in recent months. He plans on becoming a firefighter once he arrives.
“It can get better and it does get better. The likelihood of you doing it on your own is very small but if you are willing to accept help and do something different, things can change. Feeling good on a day-to-day basis without drugs can happen and it will become a reality,” he said.