Monday, September 29, 2014

Wrapping Up Recovery Month

September was Recovery Month. It was a momentous one, too, as it was the 25thanniversary of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) very first declaration of Recovery Month. This was also the month Better Life in Recovery (BLiR) decided to really roll out and begin trying to tackle stigma and ignorance head on.
Don’t get me wrong, BLiR has done several events already. BLiR did an outreach in Ash Grove for the youth and community warning of the dangers of addiction and wonders of recovery. There was also the Back to School Bash at New Life Church, which reached over 100 youth and adults. This year was different, this year was bigger.
In January, multiple organizations and individuals joined BLiR because they too shared the same vision. The vision was to deal hope and decimate stigma surrounding addictions and mental health issues through community service, education and awareness events that celebrate people in long-term recovery. That first meeting, several committees were formed and the ball started rolling.
We opted to have 4 subcommittees. Each subcommittee would have their own leader, who would ultimately report to the founder of director of BLiR. We decided on 3 events and an ongoing service arm:
1.       Recovery Day at Hammon’s Field  
2.       Getting Dirty for Staying Clean 5K/10K Trail Run and Family Fun BBQ
3.       Getting Dirty for Staying Clean Float and River Clean Up
4.        Community Service events
After finishing the last recovery event, I have learned several things. For starters, dream big. We sold 300 tickets to the ball game. State Representative Eric Burlison showed up and threw out the first pitch of the game to support us. We had 125 people register to run the 5K/10K. We just finished the campout and had 75 people join us. We had a proclamation for recovery month presented by Senator Bob Dixon for the State of Missouri and another presented by Councilman Jerry Compton for the City of Springfield. For Springfield, it was the first time that the proclamation had been made!
We found some amazing sponsors who contributed goods that made the events successful. We received food, drinks, paper supplies and prizes for giveaways. We sold naming rights and various other things at the race, and we made some great partners in the community. Now we meet in two weeks,on Saturday October 11th at 1. The location as it stands is the Champion Center and I am super excited for it.
The next meeting we have there will be discussions about what we plan for next year. We will talk about what went right and how we can make it even better next year. We will also talk about the things that did not go as planned and that we were not prepared for so that we can learn from them. We will discuss what events we want to do next year and begin planning.
I am most excited about the prospect of writing the paperwork for BLiR to become a 501c3 and forming a board of directors. We have had a great foundation laid this year, and I would argue that all of our events were very successful. There were some learning experiences, but those are growing pains that are expected this early in the life of an organization.
Personally, I am exhausted. This is a run down of my last 30 days:
1.       August 29th: Recovery Day at Hammon’s Field
2.       August 30th: Race Walkthrough at Rutledge Wilson Farm Park and meeting on float trip
3.       September 5th: Set up for the 5K
4.       September 6th: The 1st Annual Getting Dirty for Staying Clean 5K/10K Trail Run and BBQ
5.       September 12th: Taught a lesson on recovery at Glendale Christian Church for Celebrate Recovery
6.       September 13th: Emceed and helped set up and break down for the 4th Annual Recovery Outreach in the Ozarks
7.       September 14th: Shared my testimony at the Church at the Center’s Kids Festival and Benefit Concert
8.       September 25th: Final Float Meeting
9.       September 26th: Shared my testimony for the Say NO to Drugs Virginia state campaign
10.   September 27th-28th: Set up, Camp out and Float Trip then break down
When I say breakdown, I don’t mean psychologically, but today I am feeling shot. I am tired, because on top of all of this I have a wife and 2 children, a full time job and a lot of people that I meet with and talk to who are struggling on a weekly basis outside of work. I have learned several lessons, but I think that I will share those later.
Today, I just want to say that I am grateful for a wife, friends, coworkers and recovery community that support what I do! I am blessed beyond belief and as well as we did this year, I can’t imagine what next year will look like!!
Last but not least, if getting involved with BLiR sounds interesting to you, send me your email address. I will make sure you are added to the email blasts that go out several times a month! If you have not hoped on the train yet, you might want to hop on board now before we leave the station for another amazing year!

Monday, September 22, 2014

You Think You High but You're Really Getting Low

I was listening to LeCrae’s song Blow Your High yesterday and there is part of his chorus that always catches my ear because of its’ truth, “You think you high but you really getting low.” Every time I hear that I am reminded of my own past, and the reality of addiction. I loved the way it felt when I first used, but by the end I hated it so much but could not quit. When I first used, bad things in life had happened to me. By the end, I was the bad thing that had happened to other people.
My first use was with a group of kids, and I instantly felt a connection to them. It was incredible. I had never really felt like I belonged anywhere and suddenly I was part of a group. All of the painful things I had been through and all the stress I felt instantly melted away.  I had always heard how horrible drugs were in school, and I knew that they had lied to me the first time I tried them.
Drugs were not horrible. In fact, they were quite the opposite. For once, I did not have to put up walls to hide my feelings from others. I could let them see how I really felt. I laughed, I lived and I loved constantly. I was using drugs, and the more I used the better I felt. The better I felt, the more social I became.  I was the life of the party, the center of attention. It felt great and I loved it.
At this point in my life, I was flying high. I was in Junior High and then High School, using to escape my past and create a new reality. I was having fun, acting crazy outside of school and doing pretty well inside of it. I was happy, but only because I was not dealing with life’s problems. In addiction things are often not as they appear.
I went from a stoner in junior high while I was living in Highland to a partying prep when I moved to Eldorado for high school. My junior year I began to get into trouble, drinking too much liquor and smoking too much marijuana. I moved to Hollister for my senior year and was introduced to methamphetamine. It was by far the best thing I had ever done.
To this day, I have never felt anything that compares to the rush I got from doing meth. It was AWESOME!!!! It made me feel so great. I felt so great that I wanted that feeling all of the time. In my previous addiction I would sometimes skip classes so that I could get high. I would get drunk every weekend, several times. But I still had a semblance of a life. With meth, everything faded but the drug.
In my previous use, I vandalized and swiped money and credit cards from my dad. I kept my grades up and I was a prep at school. With meth, I dropped out of school and started stealing so that I could afford to continue using. From there I started dealing meth and marijuana so that I could continue to use meth.
I was in and out of jail 15 or 20 times. I eventually wound up in prison, where I turned 21. I was on probation, parole, in jail or in prison from 17 until I was 29. I hurt people I considered friends: physically, emotionally, psychologically, sexually and spiritually. I stole from people, a lot. I introduced people to methamphetamine and the drug lifestyle. Many of those people are either in prison or dead.
Mister social, with tons of friends at the parties every night, ended up unconscious in a pool full of my own blood after slashing my wrists. Luckily, someone found me before it was too late. The guy who always had parties at his house, ended up all alone locked up in his room with a  needle in his arm while everyone else partied because I didn’t want them to know I was shooting up. Then I only started hanging out with other people who shot up.  
I was no longer doing drugs, the drugs were doing me. I was no longer using to have fun, I was using just to feel less bad. That is the lie many who have never struggled with addiction believe, that we use because we are having fun and life is amazing. The truth is, we often start using to escape life and end up addicted because we can no longer function without it.
I needed drugs to get out of bed. I needed drugs to think. I was sluggish; operating at less than 50 percent and when I used it would lift me to 75 percent. I never felt great, I always felt bad. Using allowed me to feel less bad. Depression that I had once been able to escape and numb from returned and was even worse. Not feeling like I fit in was replaced by social acceptance and that in turn was replaced by paranoia and lack of trust for everybody.
What had started out as freeing in the end became my prison! LeCrae’s lyrics remind me of a saying I heard once at an NA meeting, “Drugs gave me wings, then they took my sky away.” That was the reality of drugs. I have seen that occur not only in my life, but in the lives of countless others. We continually make choices that we swore we would never make and cross lines we never imagined we would cross.
In order to avoid this, don’t use. If you are using, stop. Although this is easier said than done, it is not only  a possibility but a reality if you apply the 5 Pillars of Recovery to your life:
1.       Higher Power: Find something that gives you hope, validation, forgiveness and more. I found that through Jesus Christ, others have found it through the fellowship. Find something bigger than you!
2.       Meetings: Find a community of people who have struggled as you are struggling and have overcome it. This is another great place to gain strength, experience and hope. Some use AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery, Rational Recovery, small groups or an amalgam of the above.
3.       12 Steps: Find a game plan that will help you live your life better. I have found both the 12 Steps and the book of James have been great advice on how to remain sober while building a great foundation for my life as long as I apply them in my life and then follow them daily.
4.       Sponsor/Mentor: Find someone whose life you would like to have in 5 years and ask them to help you get there. If you are working the 12 steps, find someone who has applied them to their lives successfully and have them help you work through them.
5.       Accountability Partners: Put people in your life that will support your future goals and hold you accountable. They have permission to call you out and to support you, through the good and the bad and they are not afraid to do it.
So in closing, although drugs and alcohol may make you feel great at first, for many there are negative consequences down the road. When those occur, there is a solution that can help you get your life back on track and the 5 Pillars of Recovery are a great place to start. I have never seen someone who was actively engaging in all 5 who went back out and stayed there! Never forget, there is a better life in recovery!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Evil Exists

I had a gun to her head. She had turned me over to the police, made a deal with them so that she could get out of trouble. A week previous, I had come home after doing a burn (making a batch of methamphetamine) with several ounces of meth and took a shower. When I got out of the shower, there were people in my house tearing it apart that identified themselves as police. She had let them in to search. They found the meth I had brought home and arrested me.
When you get arrested, you eventually get out. I got out sooner than she thought I would. They held me for 24 hours and then let me go. She was still there when I showed up at home. I went straight to a stash spot they had not uncovered, grabbed my gun, chambered a round and grabbed her by the hair. I pushed her to the ground while putting my gun to the back of her head.
Time stopped. It was like a slow motion scene in a movie. She started crying, telling me she was sorry.  “I didn’t want to tell on you. They pulled me over with drugs and were going to put me in jail. I didn’t have a choice.” My companion was screaming at me as well, “Pull the trigger, coward. Don’t get scared now. You HAVE to do this.”
At that moment, I only knew a few things. One, I was about to make a choice I could never take back. I prided myself on never hitting a girl, and I was preparing to take one’s life. Second, although I was not sure I wanted to kill her, I knew my companion wanted me to pull the trigger and put her out of her misery. Finally, I knew that my companion was evil beyond anyone or thing I had ever met.
My companion always wanted me to hurt either myself or other people. He was there a lot in the shadows, but he only came around when things were getting ready to turn bad. He would encourage me to do the absolute worst thing. If I was going to collect money, he would remind me to take my gun. If I was in a fight, his would be the voice telling me not to quit punching and kicking long after the fight was over. If I was in a house of people I didn’t know, he would whisper in my ear, “They want to kill you. They are going to kill you. You should get them first.”
If I was thinking about quitting drugs, he would show up and remind me of all the times I had tried to quit and failed. “You have been using for over half your life. You’re never going to be able to quit. This is the only thing you are good at. You are not a quitter. DO IT! You know you want to get high. You can’t live without it.”
This time, my companion was not giving up. He was screaming at me, “Pull the trigger, coward. She tried to take your freedom away.” I turned to look at where the voice was coming from and saw my companion. He was a figure blacker than black. He was standing right behind me, darker than any shadow could possibly be. He was not all smooth lines, but his outline was jagged and rough.
I could never make out any features of his face, as his face was always dark and cloaked in shadow. The most remarkable thing about him was his eyes. They were pulsating, red eyes that burned into me every time he looked at me. The scariest thing was not the eyes, or even him being beside me in my ear but his voice. He never spoke, he shrieked and screamed and yelled. Even his whispers oozed with rage and hate.
People have asked me if he was just a shadow person. He had started out that way. Shadow people are there when you have been up too long. They come out of trees, around corners, run by you so fast you can only catch a glimpse. When you look, the figure fades away, blends in or is gone. You’re mind is unable to explain what you see, so it explains them away to something you can understand.
I was an atheist when my companion was still a shadow person, and did not believe in spirits. I rationalized what I was seeing. I would tell myself it was the wind blowing a branch, or the fact I had been up for a week and had psychosis. Sometimes I thought maybe it was the police watching me, waiting to arrest me. That is the reason so many people think they are being watched when they are not. The shadow people become COMET or DEA to them. That is what they were to me. The problem was, they seemed real and I shared the visions with other people who were with me.
If I was alone I only saw him. When I was by myself, it was just the solitary shadow man. I have talked to some people who saw groups when they are alone. Not me, I generally saw just one. When around other needle freaks, I would see more than just one. They would stand around in a group, almost like they were talking. Maybe our demons were comparing notes or sharing new ways to get us to do things we didn’t want to.
I would explain it away as a group hallucination, telling myself it was sleep deprivation or my mind playing tricks on me. Over time I started seeing him constantly in the shadows, or out of the corner of my eye. The bad part was that I was starting to see him when I was not high. He was always there lurking.
That was how it began for me, with my shadow man. Then I started to hear whispers that I could not quite make out. That advanced to the voice actually speaking to me, telling me what to do. At first the voice was harmless, encouraging my drug use and validating what I was thinking on occasion when I would think out loud. Then it began to tell me to do horrible things, to myself and to others. It was no longer a whisper, it was a scream.  Yelling and nagging at me to do things.
Then one day it appeared before me. I saw something out of the corner of my eye and when I turned to look, it was still there in the shadows watching me. From that day on he would randomly appear next to me, often at the times I was at my weakest, angriest or highest. Always egging me on, encouraging me to do the worst possible thing to either myself or other people.
There were times, like when I was contemplating not using after waking up Sunday, he would show up and remind me that I had never been able to quit and would never be able to. Today I was angry, and it was telling me to do what a part of me wanted and another part of me did not. It was telling me to pull the trigger. I was seriously thinking about it.
I started trying to reason with my companion, “I can’t pull the trigger. I really don’t want to do this.” My girlfriend started talking back to me, thinking that I was talking to her, “Then put the gun down, David. I know you don’t want to shoot me.”  I pulled her head back and started laughing in her face as I told her I wasn’t talking to her. “Who are you talking to then,” she asked? “The demon standing behind me, can’t you see him? He wants me to kill you and part of me wants to kill you as well.”
I am not sure if he showed himself to her or if the craziness of what I said scared her but as she looked behind me her face turned to sheer terror and she started screaming. Not yelling at me like she had been, trying to plead with me. There were no words, just a shrill keening. Her face froze as her eyes went wide.
I had never seen such an intense look of terror before.  The gun to her head had not caused that look of fear, but either her seeing my companion or the insanity she saw in me scared her to death. I took the gun away from her head and pulled her off her knees. “You have one hour to get your stuff and go. You have until tomorrow to be gone. You are going to leave state and go back home. I never want to see you again, or it will be a bad deal,” I told her.
She did not speak. All she did was nod and run out the door. I never saw or heard from her again. She lived with me and she left all of her stuff with me. She left her clothes, make up, purse, everything. She left it all and disappeared.
Looking back now, I hope she made it home and out of her addiction. I pray she is somewhere clean and sober, living a better life in recovery. If you are reading this, and you know who you are, I hope that you can forgive me. You are just one of the people I met in my addiction whose life I wrecked. 
When my shadow person stopped being a shadow person lurking about and started talking to me and had taken form, I stopped being an atheist. I knew that my companion was evil and that he was a spirit. He made me an agnostic, because if he existed than surely other spirits did as well. Or was it all from my imagination and random misfiring neurons in my brain? Was it the drugs working on my brain? Even when I was not high, I still had drugs in my system so it could have been that as well.
I have thought about it for years. I have talked to many other addicts who have shared the same experience that I have with my companion. Due to so many others having very similar if not the same stories, I have come to believe that my companion was a demon, and that when I was using drugs I opened myself up to forces that were evil beyond comprehension.
What is even scarier is the period of my life from 1994 – 2001 and how little memory I have of that 7 years. I almost wonder if I wasn’t possessed for large parts of that time, or if the memories just didn’t form because of all the drugs I was using and the lack of sleep I experienced. I have come to a place where I hold on to a few things about this time in my life so that I can function today:
1.      I know that evil exists and at one period in my life I made very evil choices
2.      I know that nothing good lived in me during my addiction and that all people are capable of doing things they never would believe they would do
3.      I know I am no longer the person I was in my addiction, for I have found a better life in recovery
4.      I know that I have made my life a living amends so that I can help rebuild other people’s lives today instead of destroying them like I once did
5.      I know I believe in a Higher Power I call Jesus that has freed me from my addiction and supports, encourages and guides me in all that I do today

This is actually the rough draft of the first chapter of the book I am writing. I am open to feedback. It is a little rough, but I feel that it gives people an idea of how far down I had gotten in my addiction. I also would ask that if you have had similar experiences or thoughts on what I experiences that you leave comments as I would be very interested in hearing what you have to say.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Healed People Heal People

I am sure you know the saying, “Hurt people hurt people.”  That saying means that when people are hurting, they tend to lash out and hurt others. It may be unintentional, like snapping on someone you love as soon as you get home after a long day of your boss jumping all over you like he was a 10 year old in a bounce house. It could be more intentional, you are getting abused at home by your dad so you go to school and bully kids weaker than you so that you can feel power.
If hurt people hurt people, then the opposite is true as well. Healed people heal people. Once I have overcome something, I have a unique insight into what I went through that most people don’t have. For example, I spent 25 years of my life in addiction. I have now been clean and sober for over 5 years. I know what it takes to get clean and stay that way. I can share what has helped me, what I have seen help others as well as the science that has validated some forms of treatment to be evidence-based practices.
I have several close friends, that have been diagnosed with cancer and after treatment are now either cancer-free or in remission. They have unique perspectives that I lack. One, they have been diagnosed with cancer. I have no idea what that feels like, to be diagnosed with cancer. I have never had cancer, so although I can have empathy and support someone who has cancer, my friends come from a place of wisdom that I don’t have. Second, that they have overcome that cancer through treatment. They are living proof that surviving a cancer diagnosis is not only possible, but a reality because they have first hand knowledge. They can help people that I cannot because of having lived through cancer.
Everybody has been through something. We all have been hurt in one way or another. It could be physical abuse, sexual abuse, feeling fat, being told we are worthless, being bullied, depression, cancer, child of an alcoholic/addict, grief and loss, etc. I am sure you get the idea, there are a lot of ways life hurts us. Life puts holes in our souls.
Once those holes are placed, many of us use something to escape, numb or forget the hole is there. Food, sex, money, cutting, power, alcohol and other drugs are a few of the things we use as band-aids to numb/escape our past. These bandages don’t heal the problem, they just cover them up. They are still festering underneath and more issues are being added to it.  
Fortunately, some of us figured out how to stop covering the problem up. We have learned what it takes to fix the problem. Once we have learned how to deal with the holes instead of running from them, we have unique wisdom that only someone who has gone through what we have gone through has. Once we have that wisdom, we can impart it to others. That is all part of what I call my garbage theory, which you can read about here:
Many people live with regrets about their past choices and things that have happened to them. I have learned to embrace mine. I am not defined by them, but instead I define myself by my recovery. I realize that all those events led me to be the person I am today. The person I am today helps people, and if it was not for everything I have been through, I would not be as effective in doing that.
The same is true for you. Everyone has survived or lived through something that had an impact on them. Never forget that the past has made you who you are, and the person you are today is awesome and will only get better with time. To quote a dead jazz singer, “My God don’t make no junk.” You are not junk, and there is no reason to let your past issues define you. My past did not defeat me, instead it made me stronger and wiser than I ever would have been without it. The same is true for you!