I have returned full circle. For the last two days, I have been given the opportunity to share my personal story of addiction and recovery with 350 students at Highland Park High School in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I have come full circle because the seeds of my addiction started when I was a sophomore in high school. Coincidentally, all of the 350 students that I spoke to were sophomores. It strengthened my case when I said, “my addiction started when I was your age in my sophomore year.”
Here are some of the comments from the students about my presentation:
“It was really nice that you were so willing to share your story. It’s so inspiring that you could take your struggle and turn your story into something that can help others.”
A few other students said, “I was surprised by the way you told your story, so calmly. The story was inspiring to me for the way that you can overcome anything and even when it gets so tough, you could still manage to pull though.”
“This made me feel how intense and how bad it can get. Your story helped me to realize how sad and bad life can get, and how life can get better. Helped me to not try this stuff.”
“I think that you are brave for telling your story and inspiring others to get sober.”
“As emotional as it was, I really enjoyed it and it just makes me realize that you can turn your life around.”
“Your story really touched me and makes me think about the choices and paths I go down.”
“Well done! I like how you never gave up, always had hope. Way to recover!”
“It was a good powerful story. I wish you all the best. People like you give me hope in life. Thank you.
Here are just a few thoughts from my speech: I began using marijuana my sophomore year in high school. I began drinking alcohol heavily in my Junior and Senior year. I was smoking pot every day and drinking about three cases of beer each week. I was popular in school, but I still felt like I did not fit in, like I was on the outside looking in. I began to use chemicals to change the way I felt, to change my mood and to overcome fears and anxiety. This is how addiction starts. Chemicals made me feel “normal”. In the end, chemicals just made everything worse.
I was always a high achiever, and even though I was getting high or drunk, I was able to maintain very good grades in school, and I was involved in four sports. I did not know it at the time, but during my high school years, the deadly seed of addiction had been planted and my life would one day be shattered.
At 27 years old, I was diagnosed with bi-polar manic depression. Looking back on my high school years, I can now see that I was always manic depressive, but I did not know it when I was in high school. I believe that back in high school, I was “self-medicating” for manic depression which I did not know that I had. I smoked pot to calm me down and at the same time I enjoyed the energy that it gave me. Alcohol helped me to relieve my social anxiety, gave me confidence and made me feel powerful.
“I went to college and continued the same pattern — I studied hard and partied hard. I did cocaine for the first time, my freshman year of college. At that time, I did not know the terrible price that I would have to pay for falling in love with cocaine. At the end of my senior year of college I had achieved an A- grade average for all four years, and I was completing a 324 page thesis on Soviet- United States high technology transfer, but then suddenly, I descended into a severe depression and a crippling nervous breakdown brought on by stress and my consuming large quantities of powder cocaine.
I was again self-medicating, just like I had been doing in high school. My perception was that cocaine enabled me to deal with the stress of the thesis, final exams, taking the LSAT, GMAT and GRE graduate school aptitude tests and flying back and forth to Chicago to do job interviews, while trying to manage the breakup with my girlfriend. Of course, cocaine only made things worse and further isolated me from family and friends.
Ultimately, the lesson that I learned was that I must get help and treatment for both my addiction and my manic depression, or I was going to die the horrific, lonely death of an addict. The one year that I was homeless living outside on the streets of Denver, Colorado carried me further into insanity, hate and rage. My manic depression and my addiction to chemicals was burning out of control, and I had become a lost soul. I remember many times during that year on the streets I would look up in the sky and see the sun about to set. Especially, in winter, the feeling of loneliness was crushing me. I thought about things like, “where I am going to find a safe place to sleep off of the streets tonight, where can I find some food, how I am going to get money for alcohol and where can I get a winter coat?”
I learned that loneliness is not necessarily being alone by yourself. Rather, true loneliness is feeling that there is no one in your life who cares about you. I felt a lingering loneliness that I could feel in my bones and it was killing me. I drank alcohol to blot it out and to become numb to the pain I was feeling. Again, I was self-medicating and killing myself in the process.
It was a single four word prayer and my own surrender that ended that old life and gave me the gift of my new life. The prayer was simple and powerful: “Jesus please help me.” Today, by the grace of God, I have been blessed with 18 years sober and I am helping others to win their sobriety.
You can read my complete story in my published book, “Saved By The Prince Of Peace—Dungeon To Sky.”
Please visit my website: dungeontosky.com and check out the facebook page: dungeontosky
I wish you peace, happiness and the opportunity to help others.