“It hit me like a ton of bricks that if I kept making this decision I was going to lose my son—that was completely unacceptable to me.”
I’m a person in long-term recovery. What that means for me is that I haven’t used a mind-altering substance since 2011. I’ve been able to become a good father, a good husband, I’m a professional helper, and I’m a responsible member of society. I used drugs for twenty-seven years, from the age of fifteen to the age of forty-two. I did all the usual things that come along with that. I did a lot of things I wasn’t proud of. I hurt a lot of people.
It really wasn’t easy for me to stop using. I didn’t want to at first. I got busted and took the recovery court program instead of going to prison—I was facing about three years upstate. I had a son who was a year-and-a-half old at the time, and even with those two things to motivate me I still wanted to keep using. I still wanted to try to find a way to keep using because it was all I had done for so long. It was all I knew.
“I was facing about three years upstate. I had a son who was a year-and-a-half old at the time, and even with those two things to motivate me I still wanted to keep using.”
I was very high functioning—I was able to graduate college. For somebody who was using the way I did I lived a pretty decent life, so I always felt that I could get away with it and just keep doing what I wanted to do.
I took the recovery court program and they sent me to rehab the first time for twenty-eight days. I got home and figured I could use successfully, and within a few months the program did what it was designed to do and I got caught.
They sent me to my second rehab, which was a longer-term rehab—ninety days. So I got up there and was taken away from my wife and son for the second time. I got into a room after day two or day three with a bunch of other guys, and they were sitting around talking about their various custody arrangements and how they couldn’t see their kids and were fighting to see the kids and the kids didn’t know them.
It hit me like a ton of bricks that if I kept making this decision I was going to lose my son—that was completely unacceptable to me. I count myself as very fortunate because I know a lot of people aren’t able to make that decision with the clarity that I did.
They say that you have to do this for yourself, but I have to say that if it hadn’t been for my son, I don’t know if I would’ve ever done this for myself. Now I would, knowing what I know now, but at the time I didn’t care that much about myself—I really didn’t.
“They say that you have to do this for yourself, but I have to say that if it hadn’t been for my son, I don’t know if I would’ve ever done this for myself.”
So at that point I surrendered and started taking suggestions. I was willing to do whatever I had to do to get through this and stay in recovery and get my son back in my life. I did what they asked me to do and I completed that treatment program and I came home and my probation officer suggested I start taking classes, which sounded great to me. I was very ambitious. I’d been stuck in the same place for a long time, so I was really eager to do something else with my life.
At one time I was a special education teacher and I walked away from a salary and benefits and everything in order to keep using, so I was anxious to do something with my life again. So I took some classes towards getting my counseling certification. Eventually I got my license back [and] eventually I got a better job. I went from working at a burger joint to working in bookstores to eventually getting a job in a treatment facility and working towards becoming a counselor. I started to get some confidence back; I started to feel better about myself.
Today I’m a first-year counselor working towards my certification, and life is really good. I wouldn’t trade what I have now for anything—I’d never go back that dark place where I was. I think about using occasionally. I also think about robbing armored cars occasionally—but neither one of those things is going to happen because I know better.
I’ve got security and some confidence in my recovery and I think that’s very important. There’s a misconception out there that once you think you’ve got it that’s when you’re in the most danger of losing it—I think that’s a real mind-fuck. If I can’t have faith in myself and what I’m doing, then what’s the point of recovery?
Another misconception I had about recovery was that I had to go through life as this person who was labeled as broken or sick, who was an outcast from society, and had to hang out in these recovery cliques, and have these strange meetings in church basements, and join this cult.
I do go to meetings in church basements, but there’s a lot more to my recovery than that. It’s returning to the person that I always knew that I could be—the person that my parents raised me to be. I give my mom and dad a lot of credit because they put a lot of good things into me. Even though I come from some trauma in my childhood, my parents did a lot of good things and I had that to draw on when I entered recovery. I was very fortunate that way, too.
“For me recovery’s about becoming whole again, and part of that is being autonomous and having some self-efficacy.”
For me recovery’s about becoming whole again, and part of that is being autonomous and having some self-efficacy. As a former educator I believe in becoming a lifelong learner. When we teach children, we teach them to become independent lifelong learners, which means that eventually they can take over the learning process for themselves. They don’t have to keep coming to us as educators for the rest of their lives, and I think the same thing is true for recovery.
My goal is to be in control of my own recovery—to have self-determined recovery and benefit from all the strengths that come along with that. Recovery’s not a consolation prize or microcosm; it’s about fully joining the human race and getting all the rewards that come along with that. When I was using my world was really small, and I want to live in the big world now.
I was a little skeptical when I first came around. Some of the things that I heard frightened me a little bit—didn’t make a lot of sense. I just held on to hope that there was more to it than what I was hearing [and] what I was being shown, [and] that I would find people who agreed with me and thought the way that I thought, and I’ve been fortunate enough to find those people.
I eventually saw a certain independent film about the public recovery advocacy movement, which really changed my whole paradigm about recovery. It was really encouraging and it opened up a lot of doors for me. I think there’s a lot of hope in recovery, and so I’ve become empowered in my recovery.
When I was a rebellious teenager, my motto was “question authority,” and I always had this romantic notion throughout the years that I was using. I was this counter culture person who was living this secret double life and the whole thing was very romantic. So I’ve kind of held on to the question authority idea, but I’ve flipped it into something positive now. In recovery I question ideas and I try to learn and understand as much as I can, and I try to think outside the box and get behind a lot of the thinking. I learn about recovery history and treatment history, and I think the more that I know about recovery the stronger my recovery is. I don’t listen to people who tell me that my thinking is dangerous or that I can’t think for myself—that to me is the most dangerous idea of all.
And so recovery for me ultimately is a learning process. Just as we are lifelong learners, I’ll be learning from my life in recovery as well.
Photographs taken at a bookstore in West Chester, PA, where Adam worked as general manager for part of his recovery, and recently started a recovery group meeting. Click here to check out Adam’s recovery blog.