“I tried everything I could. I tried quitting for my wife at the time, tried quitting for my parents, tried quitting for the judges, tried quitting for my kids–and it never worked. I’d quit for a little while, but it never worked.”
I’m Mike. I’m an addict. Been clean since February 16, 2012. Grew up here in a small town—Coal City, Illinois—my whole life. I had a pretty regular childhood—middle-class or whatever. I guess my father was kind of an alcoholic and I didn’t think nothing of it in the beginning really.
I never really fit in at school or anywhere. I always felt different from everybody else. I guess that’s probably why I started using drugs and alcohol to begin with. Fifth grade—in school, fifth-grade—that’s when my real change started coming in with not applying myself in school and everything and trying to be a class clown, seeing doctors and psychiatrists, getting put on medication for the ADD/ADHD, [and] also sleeping pills at a young age. I realized these pills could give me that feeling that I didn’t really care what people thought of me I guess when I was doing them. I guess I can’t blame that on my addiction, but I think that might’ve had a little something to do with it. After I realized what them pills would do to me then every time I went to get my teeth pulled or whatever I started asking the Vicodin and all that.
Started smoking weed at fourteen, then I went to cocaine at about seventeen or eighteen, ended up doing meth for a little while, then after that I got introduced to heroin—and that’s where I really fell in love I guess you could say. That was the feeling I was looking for. I did that for about four years or so. I ended up going to rehab—to get out of jail probably. That was probably the only reason I went.
I never really drank alcohol or anything—maybe a couple times as a kid—but I never really liked it. I figured, “Okay, I’m a drug addict. I’m not an alcoholic.” I didn’t end up drinking until I was twenty-one or something, and that’s where I actually got in a lot of my trouble—legal trouble—and everything. I got two DUIs. The alcohol put me in jail numerous times—I can’t tell you how many times—and I ended up going to prison. I came out on parole and I was going to get drug tested obviously, so I went right back to drinking when I got out of there, and that’s when I ended up getting my two DUIs. They put me on house arrest for three months and I wouldn’t stay home—I still left.
One day my mom actually finally called my parole officer on me and told him he needed to do something with me. She didn’t really care what it was, she just [wanted to] get me out of there because every time I’d leave the phone would ring and she would answer it a couple times, but after that she would just let it ring.
So he came up and was like, “Okay, you can go back to prison or you can go to rehab.” So of course I chose rehab. I was in there for a couple days and he called me up—[my mom] was trying to get me to go to a halfway house—so he calls me up and asks me if I made up my mind. I said, “Well yea, I really don’t think I need to do all that. I’ll just do the twenty-one days here and go home.” He said, “Well alright, get your stuff ready then. I’ll come get you and you can go back to prison.” I was like, “Alright, alright—nevermind. You made my decision for me.”
So I went up to the halfway house there for I think ninety days. I stayed clean for six months. I started smoking weed at first again after six months thinking, “Weed is just weed.” That lasted only a month or two and then it was back to drinking and everything else, and that’s when I realized that weed is a gateway drug for me because it just wasn’t enough. It’d be alright for a week or a month but then after that I needed something more.
In 2010 I actually went into rehab again for the second or third time. The reason I was going in there that time was to get my seventy-five hours for my DUI so I could get that done. I had no intentions on quitting drinking or anything like that, but something hit me while I was in there and I haven’t drank since then. I think I stayed clean that time then for probably another six or nine months and then it was back to the weed then not too much longer after that it was back to the heroin and then of course people were dying. Even though I was killing myself I didn’t really want to die, so I started getting Oxycontins. I just felt that was a little more safe because I knew what I was getting.
I had one overdose on heroin. I actually ended up in my sister’s bathroom and my step-nephew found me there. You’d think that would’ve made me learn, but… I did the Oxycontins and that for I think a year or two and I had wanted to quit doing what I was doing for a while, but every time I stopped doing it or didn’t have it I’d get sick. So of course I’d get high again so I wouldn’t get sick.
It was February 2012. I caught a spiritual bottom. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was tired of living the way I was living, I looked like shit and everything else. I was in my bedroom and my mom and dad started going to church when I was in prison and were talking all this God stuff—God this and God that. So that’s what I did. That’s my higher power I choose to call God. I just asked him that night—hit my knees in my bedroom, crying and everything else. I was high then and I asked him to help me.
The next day or two I find myself in twelve-step meeting, which wasn’t my first time in a twelve-step meeting. I tried everything I could. I tried quitting for my wife at the time, tried quitting for my parents, tried quitting for the judges, tried quitting for my kids—and it never worked. I’d quit for a little while, but it never worked. I don’t remember how old my son was, he was maybe five, and he had come to me about quitting drinking and quitting everything else and that kind of hit me, but of course it took some time to sink in.
Basically everything I tried didn’t work, so I go to this twelve-step meeting and they talked about these steps and suggestions. I figured, “What the hell, I’ll try it. What can it hurt?” The nice thing about that was I could see some people that I’d seen years back that were still there, so obviously something’s working here for these people to still be here. I got a sponsor right away and started working steps right away because for me—people can say there’s no race or everybody work at your own pace and all that—but I had tried everything and this was the only thing I didn’t try to the best of my ability.
I know for a while there I was probably working one step a month for about two months. Then I ended up getting thrown in jail with about two months clean and they wouldn’t let me have anything in there or work on anything.There’s drugs in jail, too, so you can still get them. I could’ve said, “The hell with it all,” and got high in there and then quit, but I didn’t.
I got out of there after thirty days and started going back to meetings. Before i got locked up—they talk about this ninety meetings in ninety days thing—and I was trying to do that and then my sponsor at the time said, “It’s not your fault. Just pick up where you left off.” It’s not that I was racing or nothing, but my thing is the quicker I get through these twelve steps the better my foundation of recovery’s going to be. I’m going to have to do them again anyway, so that’s kind of my outlook on that.
The reality of it is my problem is thinking. So now I use Facebook a lot—positive quotes—I started doing that early on. That’s something I continuously do and I use Facebook for that because it’s so easy to see all these quotes—memes or whatever they call them. I’m the guy who posts fifty, sixty posts a day and get people who delete me and everything else but I don’t care. I thought negative for so long [and] in order for me to think positive I got to practice. I’m a creature of habit, so in order to change my habits I got to continuously do them. That makes a big difference—it makes a big difference.
When I’m looking at things positive, positive things happen. Like the law of attraction. When I think negative, negative things happen and that’s just how it works for me anyway. But when I keep practicing this positivity and everything, no matter what comes at me in my life I can find a positive in it if I look hard enough. Sometimes I got to look hard, but I don’t think I’ve ever ran into anything where I haven’t been able to pull a positive out of it unless I choose not to. I’m a big believer of that, too—that I choose my feelings. Nobody else can make me feel anything unless I allow them to. When I let you make me mad or let him make me mad—anybody make me mad or sad or anything—then I’m giving that person power over me. I don’t like that; there’s no reason for it.
I can choose to be happy, I can choose to be sad, I can choose to be mad—and I was sad and depressed and all that for a long time—so of course that’s going to be comfortable to me. Sometimes I sit in it. I choose to feel that way sometimes and people come up to me and [say], “Well you know you’re just choosing that.” I can tell somebody what they should do or what will help them, but when it comes to myself sometimes it’s hard to apply that.
I tried getting clean before when I was on prescription medication—all the ADD, ADHD, depression, bipolar medication. For me, I just abused it anyway because I know that feeling I got from it. So in order for me to get clean, I had to stop taking prescription medications—and that’s just me. I chose to do that and to be honest with you I’m happier than I ever was when I was on any of that. I would get Suboxone off the street before when I couldn’t get dope or pills, so when I first got clean this time I went and got it off the streets and I took it for three days. For me, the physical withdrawal from it was about three days, and I knew if I went to a doctor I’d probably still be on it three years later. For me, too, that got me higher than the heroin did a lot of the times. So for me, any mind- or mood-altering substance, whether it’s doctor-prescribed or not I can’t do.
Of course I’ve formally worked all twelve steps and I sponsor people now. I try to give back as much as I can that was given to me. When it comes to any kind of service work, I do it—all different kinds—whether it be social media, newspaper articles, or whatever. That helps me stay clean in a way, in hopes, too, that the stigma they put on people with addictions will change because that stops a lot of people from getting help to begin with.
Recovery for me has been a blessing and there’s different miracles that happen every day throughout the day if I’m open-minded and willing to see them. Going back to perception, it’s all about how I look at things. Since I’ve gotten clean I got a revoked driver’s license [and] just last year I finally got a restricted driving permit after six years without a license. Now I can get myself back and forth to work and back and forth to twelve-step meetings without having to rely on everybody for everything. I actually got custody of one of my kids, too, since I’ve been in recovery, a good job making decent money working.
None of that would be possible without my recovery or without my higher power. I got to remember that, too, because my higher power works through me to help other people. It’s not me wanting to help people necessarily, or it’s not me posting things on Facebook that’ll help people—that’s my higher power working through me, just like all these blessings I’ve gotten from applying a recovery program to my life. My mind is a lot more powerful than I ever thought possible with the help of my higher power. It still amazes me sometimes to think about it.
Photographs taken at Mike’s home in Coal City, Illinois.