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’s not lost. There is hope. There is healing. Today we are sharing with you a story of one of our friends, a graduate of Vertava Health Texas, formerly The Treehouse, Lewis.
Lewis’ 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. Lewis is proof. Read on.
What is your background? When did you start drinking?
I was raised as an only child in my home – the only product of my parents. They divorced around the time I was 5 years old and I went to live with my father, which is a little unusual. My father was a pastor.
Right before they got divorced, when I was about 4-5 years old, I was sexually assaulted.
By the time I was 23 years old, I had lived at 31 different addresses. I had no solid relationships, friends or stability, as we moved around so frequently. My dad remarried twice, and one of my stepmoms became abusive – mostly emotionally, but some there was also some physical abuse.
I blocked a lot of my childhood out.
Most of my more vivid childhood memories start around the time I turned 14, when we moved to Arkansas. My dad lost his leg and I started caring for him.
I started hanging out with the wrong kids – smoking weed, drinking and partying mostly on the weekends. But as I started smoking weed more regularly, it caused strife with my father. I was bitter, acting out, and frustrated. I felt like no one gave a sh*t about me. When I was 16, my father kicked me out because he told me he wasn’t going to be the dad of a bum.
What happened after that?
After my dad kicked me out, I moved to Wyoming alone. Even though I had been working since I was 11 years old – at a pumpkin patch, Christmas tree farm, delivering papers – moving away made me realize how spoiled I had been growing up. Life was harder than I thought, and I had to man up.
So, I got my GED and enrolled in tech school and graduated with an associate’s degree in a year and half. I then got my bachelor’s degree in Arizona, graduating with a 3.8.
I minored in counseling so I could figure what was wrong with me. I always felt like an outsider; I had no direction and didn’t know who I was.
I met my wife in Arizona, but I kept partying, smoking weed and drinking.
How did your drinking progress?
I straightened out for a little while when we moved back to Texas in 2001, but it didn’t last long. For almost 15 years straight, my drinking slowly became worse and worse.
I mostly drank beer, but in mid-October of 2014, I started drinking whiskey. I remember buying 2 bottles of whiskey and polishing them off in about 2-3 days, picking fights with my wife. That’s when she grabbed the kids and left.
Instead of that being a wake-up call, I drank more.
We went to couples counseling, but I realized that I couldn’t fix a marriage when I needed to fix myself. Somehow, I convinced her to come back home with the kids – but I kept drinking.
I’d drink 6, 12, 14 beers at a time – anything to numb it all.
Around that time, I started having dreams and flashbacks of the sexual assault I experienced when I was a child. I could still see it all in my head – even know, I can still picture it.
I was trying to destroy every relationship in my life. I knew I was about to hit rock bottom. I knew I was about to watch a train wreck and that the end was coming soon.
When did you realize that you needed help?
One day, when I had the day off – I took my kids to school and stopped to get a beer. I started drinking around 8:30 am and drank all day. I don’t remember much about that day, except I drank my last beer around 3 or 4 – and that around 6pm, my wife and kids came home and I was drunk. I remember the look of sheer disappointment on my wife’s face. I didn’t want them to see me like that, so I went to bed.
I woke up around 2am and went out to the garage to grab a Gatorade, but when I opened that refrigerator door, there was more beer.
That scared me to death.
I didn’t remember getting more, and my wife refused to buy alcohol. I was sick to my stomach knowing that I had gone out and bought that beer, blacked out drunk.
That’s when I had an epiphany: If I keep drinking, I’m going to end up dead or killing somebody.
How did you get into the Treehouse?
That night, I went online and did my research, looking for rehabs. I wrote down the information for three different places on a sticky pad.
The next morning, I told my wife that I needed help and that I needed to go to rehab. I gave her my sticky note and told her that if she had time at work that day, to take a look at the three rehabs and decide which one she thought was the best. When she came home that night, she told me she thought the Treehouse looked like the best program. I had been drinking that day, but I hadn’t change my mind. We called that night.
What was the biggest thing you learned about yourself while in treatment?
I learned that I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be. I’m stronger spiritually and mentally than I thought possible.
I learned about my trauma as a kid. I had been kicking myself about not doing something to stop the assault, but I realized I could only do what I knew and could do at that age. I was angry at the wrong people; it wasn’t my wife’s fault and it wasn’t my kids’ fault.
I learned how to cope, and how to confront things in a positive way.
I used to tell myself that one won’t hurt. Even now, it will pop into my head that I can have “just one.” But 1 turns into 2, turns into 3, turns into 15. I can’t believe that lie anymore. I learned that at the Treehouse.
And finally, I learned that I can be the father that my kids need me to be, if I work at it. I know I can be a good dad and I’m working hard to do it.
I now have the opportunity and the blessing and the privilege to be a father to my amazing kids, and to be a husband to my amazing wife.
What would you tell someone who is maybe walking a similar path that you did?
Stop thinking about it and just do it.
If you’re reading this, you’ve already realized that you need help. Don’t walk away. Don’t say, “maybe later.” Don’t think about it. Don’t take that extra time. You’ll talk yourself out of it.
Don’t be embarrassed about what other people think – they don’t have to wake up in your shoes. Don’t let your pride kill you.
When you go to treatment, the world doesn’t change; you change – but the world doesn’t. People will still drink at restaurants, there will still be commercials and advertisements everywhere for beer. So, soak up the Treehouse all that you can – because when you leave, real life happens
What would you tell someone about The Treehouse?
Vinne, the CEO is an amazing guy. Even if you’re not an addict. His classes help make sense of your traumas, your actions and reactions. I had to confront a lot while I was there.
I work in a prison, so I’m read to go at any moment. I always say that I’m not scared of anything; I’m not scared to be in a fight, I’m not scared of the dark, I’m not scared to be alone… But when I got to the Treehouse, I realized I was scared. I was scared to lose my family, I was scared of facing my past trauma, and I was scared of heights.
At The Treehouse, I was able to get to the point of confronting my fears head on and find victory in a healthy way. The Treehouse is a great, safe place to face fears. Once you’re done, life starts to make more sense and it becomes manageable. The Treehouse gives you hope.
How is your family healing?
I never hid this from my kids. Now, my oldest one will talk to me. She talks to me and doesn’t try to hide. I get to have these conversations I didn’t have before. She’s excited when I pick her up from school, because I couldn’t do that when I was drinking.
I’m still earning their trust back, but each day, I gain a little more trust.
One of the things I remind myself each day, and I remind my kids as well – is, “Relax and refocus.” It’s a great grounding technique for all of us.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
There is a stigma around recovery, like – “You went to rehab?” We all have the same issues – but we deal with them in different ways.
Growing up, I wasn’t taught the tools to deal with life. The Treehouse does that, and I now have coping tools for life. The team at The Treehouse – Vinnie, Gerald, Christina – they saved my life.