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In May 2016 I ran The Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon and May 30, 2017 will mark five years in recovery for me!
Life before recovery was hell. That’s the easiest way to put it. I grew up in a drinking culture but I really didn’t learn how to drink until I hit the Army.
Between 2004 and 2008, I spent a majority of my time in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as an infantry officer. In July of 2008, I left the Army; however, not on my own accord. It is rather embarrassing to say this, but I had gone from being a respected leader and battalion executive officer to an Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) rehab failure. I did not realize the toll that multiple deployments took on my mental health, and I self-medicated with alcohol. I did not want to admit that I had any chinks in my armor like a drinking problem. The next several years were a blur, and I lost myself along the way because I would not reach out to others. My thought was that I was physically and mentally tough; I could not have any problems. Hell, I was an Airborne Ranger!
Over the course of a few years, my life fell apart. My life was in shambles, and I was in a very dark place. I felt like there was nowhere to turn, and figured I would just die drinking. PTSD and alcohol dependence were killing me physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. My will to live was pretty much broken. Honestly, I did not want to live any more.
Drinking was part of everyday life for me. With every deployment, I came back and drank a little bit more, then drank a little bit more and drank a little bit more each time. I knew it started to become a problem when every rule I made was broken; rules like, I’m only going to drink beer or I won’t drink before noon. I wasn’t going to drink hard alcohol and then I started drinking whiskey and vodka and then it pretty much got to the point that I had to drink to just to make it through the day.
I walked around like a whipped pup with my tail between my legs. I wanted to die but I was afraid to die. I could stop drinking but I could not stay, stopped. I went through rehab several times and my last visit in rehab was on 5/30/12. That was when I finally got it. I finally did it for myself and it wasn’t for anybody else.
I think one of the biggest things for me in finally entering recovery was surrounding myself with positive people. Running probably saved my life. I hated running in the Army, actually. It wasn’t fun there, but the trail running community in Central Pennsylvania was a huge group of positive people as was team Red, White and Blue. Yes, running pretty much saved my life from booze, PTSD and depression. In November 2014, I got to share my story at the Runner’s World Half Marathon Festival about how running saved my life.
Finally listening to people and realizing I couldn’t do it on my own is how I started my recovery journey. I remember when I went back to school, my Health Science advisor, who was also in recovery said, “Damn it Sean, the problem is you’re too damn smart. You’re never going to figure this out until you dumb it down a little bit.” He was right!
Right now, the thing I am most proud of is getting sober, by far. It’s the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I work on staying in the here-and-now and not beating myself up over the past. With the number of DUI’s and the damage I had done during my drinking days, while I haven’t had any legal troubles over 7 years, just with that trail of destruction, something still just comes back to rear its ugly head and brings back the memories. It does get easier day by day because I do have awesome people in my life. Some of them are comfortable enough to hit me in the head with a 2 x4 and say “knock it off!”
The relationship with my parents is closer now than it has ever been in my life. During my drinking, I either lost my friends or pushed them away because I didn’t want them to know just how much I was drinking or what I was really up to. The relationship with my son is very good now. He didn’t want to have anything to do with me for quite some time. The relationship with my brother is better than it has been in years. The other relationships and friendships that I have are just, wow, I can’t say enough good things.
To anyone who is struggling, I would say, just listen to others who have been around the program or who have been in recovery for a while. It does get better. The analogy I use frequently is, that in every rain storm the sun does come out, you just have to weather the storm. Sometimes you may need others to walk with you in the storm and hold the umbrella, but it does get better.
Today, I’m a mental health counselor and I get to work with people every day. That is very beneficial in my own recovery because sometimes it helps me remember where I was and a lot of things I use in counseling is a lot of what I learned in recovery.