Our country is experiencing a drug epidemic. 100 people die a day from drug overdoses. Heroin is taking out entire cities. People are becoming hopelessly addicted to painkillers. Meth labs are everywhere. But all is not lost. There is hope. There is healing. Today we are sharing with you a story of one of our friends, a recent graduate from Vertava Health, Darren. Darren’s story is one of pain and destruction, but also hope and inspiration. This may mirror your life. This may mirror the life of your loved one. We want you to know that addiction can be treated and a fulfilling life can be had. Darren is proof. Read on.
What is your background? When did you begin drinking to cope?
I had struggled with depression while I was in high school, and shortly after I graduated I was hospitalized and diagnosed with panic disorder. I was prescribed low doses of Xanax and Klonopin, but I was afraid to take any of those drugs. After that, I started college to see if I could make it through one class – and I also got involved in golf, just to see if I could make it through 18 holes. Gradually, I actually became very active in school activities and functions. I started seeing a girl and we would go out country dancing. At the time, I had a very strong Christian walk and served as a lay youth minister at a local church. My junior year of college, people started encouraging me to go to seminary – but I was feeling like I had missed out. I think I felt that way because I was still struggling with anxiety and depression. Then one night, I went out to one of those country dance bars and I drank two beers… and everything went away. I didn’t have the anxiety; I didn’t have doubts; I didn’t have any problem asking a pretty girl to dance.
What happened after that?
My senior year of college, I didn’t have to work – and it may sound odd, but I joined a fraternity. I didn’t have problems with alcohol at that point, in fact, I’d be the designated driver if they needed one. After I graduated, I went to law school – and between my senior year of undergrad and first two years of law school, they were probably the best years of my life. But by my third year of law school, I tried to get off of my anxiety medication. I was still struggling with anxiety though. Instead of taking my medication, I’d drink two or three beers to settle down enough to study. I drank heavily to prepare for the bar. I became licensed and began practice with a firm, and around the same time, I got engaged. At first, it went really well – the partners and judges were happy with my work. The firm had a wet bar and I would pour myself vodka in the morning to settle down, and drink after the partners left in the evening. Drinking became a huge part of my life. As my drinking progressed, I became irrational. I’d leave work to go to the beer store – because I convinced myself that no one becomes an alcoholic on beer.
How did you get into to treatment?
I went to treatment for the first time after I left my job at the first firm. The entire time I was there I was depressed. I stayed sober for about 45 days after I finished treatment. I still got married, and I continued drinking. I got other jobs that went well, but I would mess them up. I ended up in over 20 treatment centers over the next 17 years. Most of the time I stayed sober 45-60 days after I graduated the programs. Most every time, I really tried hard; I tried to follow the instructions, start the steps and read the Big Book. I had one sponsor tell me I had done everything right. I started feeling that it was a product of my mental illness, and felt like my overall sanity was leaving me.
What happened after that?
I ended up getting a DUI, and went through a bunch of halfway houses. I got a job at a coffee shop and met a girl there (I had divorced by this point) and I moved in with her. I continued to relapse; relapse after relapse. I felt like I hit rock bottom when she kicked me out. So, I planned to kill myself. I couldn’t afford a gun, so I got a knife. I wanted to stop by her house before I did it, so I could put a few things in order. I hadn’t planned to commit a violent act. But I ended up assaulting her – and I went to jail for 13 months. I had been raised to treasure womanhood, and all of my heroes believed in chivalry – and my crime betrayed all of that. While in jail, I experienced withdrawal symptoms: I tried to kill myself with linoleum chards from the floor and choke myself with a plastic cup. I was placed in a padded cell. I was able to help start an AA program while I was there, but all the meanwhile, I struggled with depression. I lost my law license and relapsed again after jail. I ended up back in prison for 4 years, where I read the Bible front to back, but just from the perspective that it was a good morals book.
How did you get into Spring 2 Life, Vertava Health?
After prison, I gathered a lot of resentments and I relapsed. I went to a state-funded treatment facility and really tried to get back on track. I found no freedom in it – it was always a struggle. No matter what I did, I found no keys. Finally, when I relapsed again, I went to my parole officer. I knew I was running out of favor with him. So I went to detox at Vanderbilt. My sponsor’s wife worked at Vertava Health, and so he had one of their specialists, Kori, contact me. Kori wanted me to go to Spring 2 Life (Vertava Health) – which is a faith-based rehab. I was convinced that I needed a dual-diagnosis facility because of my mental health issues – but she was relentless in getting me into Spring 2 Life. Finally, I gave in: mainly to avoid consequences.
What happened after you arrived at Spring 2 Life?
During my first hour of classes, I had a deep encounter with God. It felt familiar to the walk I had with Him years ago, but even more powerful. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just emotions, so I reserved my judgement. But I felt a peace, joy and safety I had never felt before. After that experience, I felt the forgiveness of God – and that’s when I was finally able to start to forgive myself. The next morning when I went to pray the prayer I’d prayed for almost 17 years – the prayer to stay sober – I knew that wasn’t what I needed to pray. Instead, I prayed to seek Him and His presence – not sobriety. As long as I passionately pursue the presence of God, those things take care of themselves.
After going to so many treatment centers over the years, what is different this time?
Now, God reveals to me when I need to make amends, and gives me what I need to do so. Words can’t describe encounters with God – they can’t be put into a box. It’s so much deeper than emotion. I’ve learned that my focus needs to remain on my relationship with God. I struggled with traditional treatment, but at Spring 2 Life, I had a spiritual awakening. I’ve realized that the 12 steps are a natural evolution of my faith.
What would you tell someone who can identify with your situation?
Don’t be discouraged, because God is still in the business of redeeming people and resurrecting the dead. In my experience, you don’t have to clean up or do anything – He wants you to come as you are.
What is the most important thing that you learned about yourself at Spring 2 Life?
I am absolutely incapable of making things right in my life. This effort to make things right is fruitless, and I have to surrender it all to Him. Each day, I pray to abandon myself to God – and He asks me three questions:
- Do you trust me?
- Do you trust me?
- Do you really trust me?
And that has opened a floodgate of blessings.
What would you tell someone about Spring 2 Life?
I was very resistant to go to a faith-based rehab. Before I went to Spring 2 Life, I texted Kori to say that “Jesus-Bible camp was a waste of all of our time.” I can’t overstate the powerful role that she played in my recovery. I probably wasn’t the easiest client at Spring 2 Life at first – but when you are there, it feels like hallowed ground. When they pray, they say the Holy Spirit is welcomed there – and the Spirit of God is there. And in that – I’ve found healing: I know today that I’m free and that I’ve found freedom to focus on what to do, not what not to do. I want so badly for everybody to have that experience with God.