My name is Shawn. I am an alcoholic and an addict who has been clean and sober for a little over two years now. As I am 37 years old, I am a child of the 80s who grew up with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign and the commercials, the ones with the eggs frying in the pan that stated, “This is your brain on drugs.” I am also the child of an alcoholic mother and at a young age became very familiar with the destructive power of alcohol. I honestly don’t why I began drinking and doing drugs at the age of 14. I do know that when the combination of THC and alcohol entered my bloodstream for the first time, it felt like the most important thing that had ever happened to me. I went on what I called a “vision quest” for the next 20 years.
I was a full-blown drunk before I was even old enough to purchase beer legally and was hopelessly addicted to methamphetamine by the time I was in my early 20s. I became completely obsessed with “feeling good” all of the time. I became someone who thought the world looked better through the bottom of a beer glass or through a cloud of smoke. I began injecting speed intravenously. It made everything go blurry for a minute or two, and I thought the world looked better like that too. My perception became so warped that I convinced myself I didn’t belong in this world. I tried to separate myself from the rest of humanity, and drugs helped me do just that.
It wasn’t long before I began selling drugs and stealing to support my insatiable habit. That took me to a lot of interesting places; Ventura County Jail, Orange County Jail and Kern County Jail to name a few. In July 2006 after numerous violations of my felony probation, including failed drug tests and various misdemeanors, a judge sentenced me to two years in state prison. After walking through one of the most eye-opening and unsettling years of my life and coming out alive, I felt like I deserved a beer. Intoxicated, I once again became obsessed with my one true love, crystal meth. It wasn’t long before we were reunited. This led to violating my parole, and in a matter of weeks I was back in shackles and on another prison bus. This one took me to Ironwood, hundreds of miles from home in the middle of the California desert. This started a pattern that would repeat itself over and over for years to come.
One day I was sitting in front of my county probation officer discussing the circumstances of yet another violation. She was looking at me with what appeared to be a strange mix of pity and fascination when she asked, “What is WRONG with you?” I heard myself telling her that I was an addict, I couldn’t stop and I needed help. She gave me a court date instead of another ride to jail that day, and things have never been the same since.
When I checked myself into treatment with what we in the recovery community like to call a “nudge from the judge,” I had been arrested for everything from residential burglary and unlawful taking of a vehicle to possession of controlled substance, possession for sale, manufacturing deadly weapons, petty theft and driving under the influence. I hated myself, I hated the world and almost everyone in it, and if there was a creator responsible for what was going on in the world, I hated him too.
Residential treatment made it a requirement that I get up early and go to work six days a week, attend chemical dependency classes, and go to one-on-one counseling. They made it a requirement that I get a sponsor and attend outside meetings where I met people that told stories about their own alcoholism and drug addiction. Many of these people had been clean and sober for decades. They remembered my name and asked how I was doing every time I saw them. They told me there was a solution to my problem.
A man who had been sober for a couple years volunteered to pick me up from treatment, take me to outside meetings and help me through the 12 steps. I had been in treatment for about 90 days when I was finally able to sign out and take a nice long walk to a meeting by myself. I don’t know if it was something I heard in that meeting or if my head just finally cleared enough for everything I needed to settle in, but on the walk home that night, everything changed. In a single moment, I suddenly realized that I had the ability to help someone else recover if they wanted to get better. All thought of drinking or using completely left my consciousness for the first time since I started on my “vision quest” all those years ago. Instead of obsessing about how I could make myself feel better, I started to think of what I could do to help someone else. I became aware of being part of something much greater than myself and rejoiced in a new feeling of hope for humankind. I understood faith for the first time in my life.
Since coming home from treatment, I have had to stay vigilant while cleaning up the wreckage of my past and in my efforts to make amends to those I harmed. I have had to look many people in the face and apologize for some of the things I did while I was using. I have had to pay a lot of money back. Through this process I have been able to grow into a man of compassion and integrity. I have transformed into someone who I am proud to be. In living my life by spiritual principles, I have found a new freedom and a new happiness. I have apologized to family and friends that I lied to and stole from when I was using. I have gotten off of parole and probation. I’ve made a whole new group of clean and sober friends in the local recovery community. I have learned to surf. I have a great job with a treatment program and work to help others overcome their addiction and change their lives for the better. I have a God of my own understanding that carries me with him wherever I go. I enjoy traveling around and sharing my story at meetings and other treatment facilities, and I am grateful for the opportunity to give back what was so freely given to me. It’s amazing how much my life has changed since getting clean and sober two years ago. I won’t lie and tell you that I have everything I ever wanted, but that’s okay because the miracle of my recovery didn’t happen when I got what I wanted. It happened when I realized I wanted what I had. I enjoy living in the world today and am always happy to share the message of hope with anyone looking for freedom from active addiction. Recovery is possible!