Charles: February 14, 1994

Photos of people in long-term recovery, photos of recovering addicts

“I stayed on parole for seven and a half years and got married, had a family, bought a house, had a pretty decent job, and I thought I had it made but I hadn’t addressed my addiction. One day out of the blue my addiction addressed me.”

My name is Charles. I’m in long-term recovery. My story started with me drinking at any early age, around fifteen. At sixteen I was experiencing blackouts. At seventeen I started experimenting with pills. By eighteen I was a full blown alcoholic and a pill freak. Some kind of way I still kept my composure and played football. I was real-life letter. Got a scholarship to Florida A & M to play, full scholarship, full ride.

I managed to drug and drink that away after a year and I was drafted and went to the military, was sent to Vietnam. That was the start of something that was really awful. I was scared physically, spiritually, and mentally after I left there. It’s amazing when you lose the fear of death which you’re capable of doing. I lived the rest of my life like an outlaw doing whatever it takes in order for me to maintain a certain lifestyle. Eventually I ended up in the penitentiary and that kind of straightened me out for a little while. I stayed on parole for seven-and-a-half years and got married, had a family, bought a house, had a pretty decent job, and I thought I had it made, but I hadn’t addressed my addiction.

“The powerlessness…Until that actually comes to bear in your life, you don’t really know what being powerless truly is.”

One day out of the blue my addiction addressed me. It was the last drug that I ever used. And most powerful drug I’ve ever used in my life. I struggled with that for about five years. Got myself clean, went to treatment, got myself clean, doing fairly well. After I was clean for about five years, my wife started using, so I guess what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

You know a lot of people will talk about in certain programs about powerlessness. The powerlessness. But until that actually comes to bear in your life, you don’t really know what being powerless truly is. When it comes to your house. But some kind of way I struggled through that and I would take my little girl to meetings, my daughter knows more about fellowship than I do because she went with me for about four or five years and eventually my wife got clean, which was only through the grace of God because it wasn’t nothing I did. I did everything I could.

I found out that if you make a decision to stay, then you have to deal with everything that goes along with the using person. I made that choice to stay, keep my family together. I’ve been maintaining being clean. I have twenty-two years clean as of February the fourteenth, Valentine’s Day. Right now I’ve had a lot of things in my life, lost a lot of things. You know, I could shake off the addiction but I had a problem with manageability. I could make money but I couldn’t save nothing. That let me know that even though I addressed one problem of the disease of addiction, that if you leave the other parts untreated they’ll still create problems in your life. I remember when they first told me that substance was just a symptom of my disease, I thought they were lying but I’ve come to believe that.

As a result of my manageability, my wife left me. Got disabled, couldn’t work, went through a very tough period of time and lost everything. I had my own business and me and the IRS got into it, the IRS won. You know, I think that was our mistake. I been able to do pretty well now. I’m working with a recovery program today where I’m a peer support specialist. Not only am I a peer support specialist substance abuse, I’m a peer support specialist in mental health too. What a peer support specialist does is they breech the gap between the client and the conditions, the actual counselors. Kind of like deal with our experience and dealing with other people. I love what I do. No bigger joy than helping other people.

I may not have a lot anymore but one thing I do have is I have peace of mind. When I lay down at night, I know that I did the best that I could do that day and sometimes that’s enough. Things are starting to turn around for me. I will accumulate some more materialistic things but they don’t hold the same value that they had before. One time, that’s what I lived for, but today I live for just being okay. Being all right. I’m blessed every day. I thank you for allowing me to share my story and I’m through with that.

Photographs taken at the Council on Substance Abuse in Montgomery, Alabama. 

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