“Someone the other day, we were walking back from getting coffee, and he was like, ‘Man, I like you. You’re a good dude.’ Even just that, I was like, ‘What? Me?’ Oh man, nobody’s said that to me before unless I was handing them a bag of drugs or I was buying them a drink.”
My name is Nate Mack, I’m an alcoholic. My sobriety date is April 1st, 2014. I got sober lots of times before this time getting sober, but I’ve never been able to keep myself sober. What my recovery has looked like in the past was getting sober and trying to fight to stay sober.
I was raised in a really small town, I think there’s like a thousand people in my hometown. I’m from Northern New Hampshire, and there’s not a whole lot to do and there’s not a whole lot of people to choose. Either you’re friends with the people around or you don’t have any friends. There’s no choices of who you’re going to hang out with, especially being young if you don’t have a car. I hung out with my older brother, who’s two years older than me, and all of his friends who are two years older than him. I was ten, hanging out with fifteen year olds and I just wanted to fit in with them. I wanted to be friends with them; they were the cool kids.
Another thing about my upbringing and my childhood is I have no reason to be a drug addict. I have no reason to be an alcoholic. I have the most loving mother on the face of the earth, my mother’s a saint. My dad absolutely busts his ass to give my brother and I everything that we need to be comfortable and lead happy lives. Both of my grandparents, you get up before the sun, you work until five and you’re tired at the end of the day and that means you did a good job. That was the mentality that I was brought up with… get up and do it. If you’re struggling, tie your boots and pull your pants up and do it, because no one else is going to do it for you. That’s how I ran my life.
I played football a lot. I played hockey. Those were two things that I was really focused on and that I really cared about. Then I started moving. I moved to upstate New York, and then I moved to another town in New York. Going from having eighty kids in my school first through eighth grade to having hundreds and hundreds of kids in school, it was a lot. I shut down and did my own thing, started skateboarding by myself and I was nervous about everything. Meeting new people, not meeting new people. I was nervous to go to school. I would have these anxiety attacks before I would go to school. I would just start crying and I didn’t know why and I couldn’t stop it. I just didn’t want to go.
I went through that and that was it, pull your pants up, tighten your boots, you’ve got to go to school. All right. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it. I didn’t enjoy any of it, there was hardly anything that I enjoyed. I enjoyed skateboarding alone and that was pretty much it. When I moved back, I moved back to the same town, actually to the same house, and my hair was shoulder length and I was the weird kid in school then and I felt like I didn’t fit in again. Even in my own hometown, I still don’t fit in. I started going to high school and they asked me to play football because they knew that I had played football so I went through the whole whatever it was, training thing, try out and he’s like, “You’re going to do this.” I’m a freshman and he’s telling me he’s got all these plans for me [and] his one deal is, “You’ve got to cut your hair.”
I’m like, “Dude, I’m not cutting my hair.” He’s like, “No, you’ve got to cut your hair.” I don’t know why but I was just like, “I’m not fucking cutting my hair, dude. I’m not doing it. I’m going to stand up for myself.” It was the first time I can really remember in a long time that I’ve stood up for myself and so he was like, “Okay, you’re not playing football then.” I ran off that resentment for four years. I thought about that a lot before I would go into school in the morning and I would get absolute annihilated. I mean, I would drink before school, I was doing Oxys, I was smoking weed in the bathroom because I’m not going to cut my hair and that’s how I told myself that I’m going to hold on to that.
These people don’t get it. They’re all just a bunch of whatever. I just don’t like them. Those were the kids that I hung out with, weren’t the kids that were keeping their grades up so they could play football, it wasn’t the football players, it wasn’t the people that cared about anything. I was hanging out with the kids that were sitting on one bench all day not going to class, getting high in the bathroom. By the end of my senior year of high school, I was doing three Oxy eighties a day in high school. I just thought that my friends are doing… I mean, I’m doing a little bit more than my friends, but I’m the cool kid that can do the most drugs.
I thought that that was awesome and I thought that all my friends thought that. Since talking to some of them, that’s not really what anybody thought. My senior year I would go to class. I had block scheduling so it wasn’t classes every other day. I would go to class, the same class three days in a row and the day that I wasn’t supposed to be there, the teacher would let me sit through the whole class. My whole senior year was like a blackout. I was on Klonopin and Xanax and I couldn’t remember anything. I don’t know how I made it but I walked into the principal’s office and said one day, “Hey man, either you figure out how you can get me out of here early or you’re going to have another drop out statistic.”
I finished my senior year online at home, barely. I got into college with my photography portfolio because my grades were D- everything, just barely enough to get by. They let me into college and were like, “We’re going to take a risk with you. Your portfolio looks really good,” and I made it a semester. I drank myself out of it. It was an art school and there was not a whole [lot] of kids that did drugs and I was pretty shocked by it. I was the kid that stood out who was coming to class drunk or, “What’s wrong with that kid’s eyes? or “Why is he over there?” It was weird. College was weird but I wasn’t able to do that.
After that, I moved out and got my own apartment and started working in kitchens. Kitchen work is awesome for people that drink and do drugs a lot because there’s a lot of alcohol and there’s a lot of drugs. The main reason that I held onto that job is because I could drink for free and at the end of the night I could bring home, hopefully, dinner. All my money went towards forty ounces, heroin and dog food. I always made sure my dogs were fed and then anything else that I could come by, that was good [and] I could get cigarettes or something.
That went on for years and then my whole journey in sobriety started where I would try to get sober. I would put together a couple months, I would relapse. I would put together six months and build up all this stuff and my family would be calling me and saying, “Wow, what a great job.” Then, the next week, I’m like, “I really need some money, I’m sick,” and I relapsed and I’d end up weird places. I would end up in cities, my mom would drop me off, “I’m going to this sober house,” and then she’d get a call three days later [and] I’m not even in the same state.
I tried everything that I could think of in order to keep myself sober once I got sober. I went to counseling, I tried different prescriptions, I tried not going to counseling and not taking those prescriptions. I tried moving. I moved eight or nine times in the last six years.
I tried getting away from people and moving to my hunting cabin in the woods with my dogs with no neighbors for like three miles and then moving from there, I moved to Long Beach, California because when I was up there, I decided when I was in my cabin, I decided that there wasn’t enough people so I moved to Long Beach and I wasn’t able to keep myself sober there either. I came back and I started going back to meetings and I went to detox again and I went to rehab again for the fourth or fifth time and decided that this was it.
That was the last time. I stayed sober for a couple of months and I moved in with an old friend and her only stipulation was, “You just can’t drink.” I was fine with that because I wasn’t drinking because it had been a couple months before I had drank. One morning I woke up and I thought, “I’m going to drink today.” I could feel that I was going to drink, I could feel that I had this obsession that I could not think my way out of, so I cleaned off her car, I made her breakfast, I made her lunch because she was going to work a twelve hour shift so she could support herself and I.
I went to the store and I decided, “Today is the day I’m going to control my drinking.” In my mind I had it all planned out. I was going to drink a little bit and catch a little bit of a buzz, keep that buzz going throughout the day and when she got home, I wouldn’t be drunk but I would be kind of drunk, so she would know that I’m controlling it, that I’m in control. It was seven thirty in the morning. I went to the store and I got two forty ounces and two Four Locos and I brought them back and I sat them on my nightstand and I looked at them and I told myself, “This is it. You’re going to control it today.”
I wake up the next morning on another girl’s floor and she tells me to leave and that she doesn’t want to see me again and the whole thing of how much a terrible person I am. I’m tying my shoes as I’m about to walk out the door and I’m trying to make light of the situation and I say, “Hopefully, it was only a night. Hopefully she’ll take me back.” Her face goes white and she gives me this look as she’s like looking right through me and she’s like, “It’s the sixteenth. You’ve been gone for eight days.”
For me, when I control my drinking and when I try my hardest to keep myself sober I end up blacking out for eight days. I left her apartment, I went and sat on a curb and I sat on the curb and cried for a while and was like, “I really can’t do this. I don’t know what to do.” Completely lost, yet again. “I’ve been to meetings, the meetings don’t work. I’ve been to rehab, rehab doesn’t work. Detox doesn’t work. Anywhere from a hunting cabin in the woods to a huge city and everything in between, that doesn’t work.” I was lost. I didn’t know what to do.
The only thing that I knew how to do was drink, so I went back to the store and I bought some more beer. I had a little bit of this grace period where once I stopped getting sick and got a little bit of something into my system then I started making the decision that I should go back to detox because I just can’t live like this. I’m either going to continue drinking on the streets in the city or I’m just going to kill myself. I made a couple phone calls and ended up getting into a detox two days later. [I] went to the detox, I had been there three times previously, went, sat through the detox and then went down to the twenty-eight-day program which I’d already been to two times.
I just didn’t think that any of it was going to work. Nothing had worked for me. Somebody overheard me saying, “I’m going to get high when I get out of here. I’m going to drink when I get out of here,” and she suggested that I go to a sober house. I had been to three different sober houses in the past. Those didn’t work for me but something inside of me was like, “You don’t have another shot. You don’t have another choice.” I don’t know why I was fighting it, so I just came and I told the guy when I got to the house that I can’t keep myself sober. “I can’t stop drinking, I hurt everyone around me, I just lost this girl who I was with for six years who I really cared about. I took down another girl in that, I can’t even take care of my dogs.”
Most importantly, I was telling him, “Dude, I hate myself.” He let me talk for a couple minutes and then he looked up and smiled and he’s like, “It’s perfect.” He was like, “You’re perfect.” I had no idea what he was talking about. He started explaining to me that once I get to that period of completely miserable, like I feel like I deserve to be that way because I make all these decisions, once I get to the point of I can’t do this anymore, then it’s time to take some action to change that because the only reason I’m going to make any changes are because I’m going through pain.
Because if drinking was still working or if getting high was still working, it wasn’t causing me pain, I would still be doing it because I love it. That’s what I did, I found a guy who would take me through the twelve steps and I chased after that daily, like I was drinking, and I spent a lot of time with my sponsor with people that were sober and going to meetings. I got a home group, I got a service position in that home group. I basically just did things that I wasn’t willing to do in the past and I did things that people who I look up to said would work.
It’s still sometimes is kind of weird for me to think about and to talk about because this isn’t who I am. I don’t want to help anybody else, I don’t want to wake up in the morning and do a half an hour routine of prayer and meditation. I don’t like doing any of that, I don’t want to do any of that, but the pain was so great that I was willing to make that change and somewhere along the line of moving my feet, a shift happened where it didn’t start to feel like a chore anymore. It was something that I look forward to and it was something that I’m really grateful and blessed that I’m able to do, because a lot of people don’t get that opportunity.
I was two months sober and I was writing a fourth step and I was completely consumed and everybody was against me. My boss was a terrible person, and I didn’t make enough money, and there was other people that were at work and they were getting high and, “Why can they get high? Why the hell can’t I get high?” “I can’t believe I ruined my life,” and I start getting back into that old thing and I get a phone call and it’s from my brother and he says that my best friend, who I grew up with, had killed himself. He was a heroin addict and he was unable to stop.
The more I thought about it, it was like the only difference was that he had a gun and I didn’t. I can’t believe that I let myself get to the point of thinking that that was a good idea and I can’t believe that he’s gone. A lot of the work that I was putting in at that point, it wasn’t really for me. I was doing it because of him and like I said, somewhere that shift happened where I was like, “This is amazing.”
The things that I’ve gotten out of being sober, a year and a couple months, doing the work and really chasing after this idea of God that I have. My family’s back. It’s cool to be able to call my mom and say hi and not have her be like, “Ugh, God.” I can feel when the phone’s ringing, I can see her looking at the phone being like, “Ugh, it’s Nate.” Like, “Here we go,” and then she has to prepare herself and I’m not asking for things. It’s just to say hi. My brother’s back in my life, I’ve been able to make amends with all my family. I continue to do this, the only way that I’ve gotten any relief from being sober, all of these times getting sober is helping other people and really chasing after that and trying to help somebody else. Working at a sober house now gives me an opportunity to do that.
It’s by no means my twelve step work working here, but the main thing that it does is hold me accountable in the sense of, if I’m telling somebody that I think they should do this or that I’m giving them suggestions to do this and I’m not doing it, then I can’t wholeheartedly and honestly say, “I think you should be praying. I think you should be meditating. You really should write.” If I’m not doing those things, me saying it, I feel fake. I’ve felt that way for a really long time and I don’t want to feel like that anymore.
I didn’t think it was possible, going from getting into a fight with a girl, taking a handful of pills, going to the bar and saying, “If I can’t drink this away, I’m going to crash my car into a tree,” coming to the next morning in the hospital with a brand new totaled car and saying, “Shit, I can’t even do that right.” Going from that to where I am now, it’s unbelievable. It’s crazy, someone the other day, we were walking back from getting coffee, and he was like, “Man, I like you. You’re a good dude.” Even just that, I was like, “What? Me?” Oh man, nobody’s said that to me before unless I was handing them a bag of drugs or I was buying them a drink.
I try my best not to take credit for this. It’s all the people that I looked up to before that did this stuff before me and showed me if you do this, this and this, then you can have this, this and this. If you don’t do this, then you can go back to that. I don’t want to go back to that. That sucked. I’m over that. That was fucking terrible. That’s where I’m at, I’m pretty fortunate to be here and I’m pretty fortunate to be taking action in my recovery because I was sober for ten months at one point and I heard in rehab, “Meeting makers make it,” and go to meetings and get a sponsor and so that’s what I did.
My mom was willing to help me out with rent. I worked a really shitty, third shift job at Toys R Us and I just went to meetings. I would go to work at seven or eight at night, get off the bus at six in the morning, go to the early meeting, six to seven, go home and smoke cigarettes and drink coffee and shake until noon and then go to the noon time meeting and raise my hand and say, “I’m an alcoholic. I really want to drink,” and people would say, “Don’t do it.” I would shake my head and clench my fists and walk home and go to sleep and wake up for the night time meeting and go to the meeting and say, “My name is Nate. I’m an addict. I want to get high,” and people would say, “Keep coming.”
Ten months of three meetings a day and no relief was unacceptable to me, so I ended up getting high again because I’m not getting sober to be miserable and hang out in churches the rest of my life. I’d rather be off doing whatever. The difference from then to this is meetings are still very important, I’m not saying that going to meetings isn’t important. I still go to a lot of meetings, but getting into the step work, getting a sponsor who’s out of the book, getting surrounded by people who are all moving in the same direction that I’m going, which is trying to recover from this and then turn around and give it to somebody else, that’s been really beneficial for me. I think that’s pretty much all I got.
Photographs taken at Nate’s work, Bonfire Recovery, in Dover, New Hampshire.