I wasn’t always an addict.
My parents weren’t addicts. Their parents weren’t addicts. My aunts, uncles and siblings weren’t addicts and neither were my friends. My path to addiction wasn’t all that uncommon, but the catalyst was.
April 20, 1999. I was seventeen years old and a junior at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. I walked into the library to meet my best friend Corey and others for lunch. I remember hearing what sounded like gunshots, but we immediately brushed it off as construction noise, until a teacher ran into the library screaming for everyone to get under the tables. You can hear her yelling at Corey and I on the 911 call from the library— we were the last two still standing, trying to figure out what to do. Eventually, we did as instructed. We got under a table with two other students and waited. We were all scared and Corey kept telling us it would be okay, that the cops would come.
I wasn’t an addict.
Growing up, I spent most of my time fishing and playing golf. I had never ingested alcohol or marijuana, much less anything stronger. Addiction just wasn’t a part of my life. It wasn’t talked about. I wasn’t witness to it. I had no idea what I was about to face.
April 20, 1999. Just ten minutes after the perpetrators entered the library I found myself playing dead next to a pool of blood. I had been shot twice and witnessed my best friend murdered as we were huddled together waiting for help to come. My life was shattered. I was broken. And less than an hour later, I was numb. Medicated on a variety of narcotics intended to relieve pain and sedate.
I was addicted.
Addiction hit me before I realized what was happening. In the weeks after Columbine I was treated by several different doctors — all prescribing medications, but none in collaboration with the others. Within days I was taking pain pills, amphetamines, and various other psychotropic medications. It was only a matter of days before I learned to manage my emotional pain with substances.
I learned very quickly that I could use my traumatic experience and physical injuries to manipulate doctors in my favor. Within months of the shooting, I was in active addiction – an addiction that persisted throughout my late-teens and 20s. When the prescription bottle ran dry, I turned to dealers or the internet. I would do absolutely anything to not have to feel.
I was able to rely on my creative aptitude to piece together what looked like a successful career in marketing management and business development. I worked hard, moved my way up, and even won awards for my work. But in reality, I wasn’t keeping it together. I relied on the false core belief that I “needed” the pills I was taking. That they were making me more creative. More successful. More driven. I knew I needed help. But after each stint in rehab it was only a matter of time before I relapsed. What started as prescription abuse had turned into full blown polysubstance dependence. Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, it didn’t matter. Whatever it was, there was never enough. “More” was truly my drug of choice.
After multiple attempts at recovery, I woke up in jail on April 2nd, 2011 with no recollection of how I had gotten there. My arrest was the result of passing out at a restaurant while having a warrant for a probation violation. It was my third. I was twenty-nine years old and I had been in my addiction for nearly twelve years. I knew if I didn’t change I was going to end up in prison or even dead.
I went to treatment for the third time with profound willingness and humility. I remember sitting down in my therapist’s office and saying, “if you tell me to stand on my head for six hours a day I’m going to do it”. I was done fighting. I was willing to walk differently, talk differently, and approach recovery with a commitment that I’d never had before. I knew that if I were truly going to recover, I would need to change everything. Career, relationships, hobbies, and most importantly — motivations. I could no longer approach life with the self-serving interests that had controlled me for so long.
I am a person in long-term recovery.
I credit my successful recovery with a long-term inpatient program and ongoing aftercare that kept me on track. Combined with a group of friends that I met in recovery who continue to hold me accountable to being the absolute best version of myself. I stayed in a continuum of care for fourteen total months. Without that structure and support I could never be where I am today. Through this experience, I found my calling in helping others on their journey from addiction. I knew that I could never go back to the life I was living, and I was prepared to do whatever it takes. I took a leap of faith and walked away from a career that I once thought gave me everything I ever wanted. I went back to school and started waiting tables to supplement my student loans. Eventually, I secured a part-time position as the marketing director for a sober living facility and I was well on my way.
Today, I am the Chief Operations Officer for a long-term addiction treatment center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I am on the board of directors for Stout Street Foundation and 5280 High School, both non-profit agencies in Denver, Colorado, that focus on atypical methods of addiction recovery and prevention. I am also a featured member of an international speaker’s bureau dedicated to inspiring change in the way society views addiction.
I am a force in long-term recovery.
I am sharing my story to put a face behind the statistics. To show how one person hit multiple rock bottoms and still managed to find a way out. Our stories alone are powerful, but our stories together are powerful beyond measure. Let’s change the national conversation around addiction and prescription drug abuse. For anyone struggling with addiction: You are not alone. There is help. You can recover. With time and hard work you can think again, feel again, and remember who you were before addiction.
“Remember that just because you hit bottom doesn’t mean you have to stay there.” – Robert Downey Jr.