At Vertava Health, we see first-hand the heartbreak and pain that addiction causes every day. When one person suffers from addiction, everyone close to them feels the weight of their struggle. However, we also know that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Not every addiction story has to end in tragedy. With an estimated 23.5 million adults living in recovery today, a life of purpose and opportunity is possible after addiction.
Shannon is just one of the many people currently living a fulfilling life in recovery. He’s also the alumni coordinator at our Texas campus, The Treehouse. Now 18 months into his recovery journey, Shannon opens up about finding sobriety after his near-death experience.
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Shannon, and I’m the alumni coordinator at The Treehouse.
I love sports, video games, and hanging out with my dog, Lucy. She’s a mutt, but I love her. I’m also in the middle of reading Catch-22.
How did your addiction begin?
When I was 22-years-old I started working at a bar, and we all drank heavily during our shifts. I went from just drinking on the weekends to drinking every night for several years. As this continued, I started developing an extremely high tolerance for alcohol and used any excuse I could to go drinking at night.
How did your addiction progress?
About 10 years ago I received my first DUI and got a breathalyzer put on my truck. A normal person would just not drink. I, on the other hand, used every trick in the book to get around the breathalyzer while still drinking every day.
Over time, I started drinking earlier and earlier. I still worked at bars while the rest of my friends moved on with their lives. As my lack of purpose increased, so did my consumption of alcohol.
At my worst, I had to drink every two to three hours to prevent myself from having seizures. I had alcohol by my bed at all times. I had my first seizure in the middle of a restaurant at Sunday brunch and that’s when my family started to ask questions.
Eventually, I got this pain in my abdomen that got worse over time and it turned out to be pancreatitis due to my extreme alcohol abuse. The doctors told me it was fatal and that if I took another drink, I would die. So, I did what any alcoholic would do, and drank on the way home from the hospital.
I was in and out of the hospital for years after that diagnosis because I kept drinking, and that’s how pills were introduced to me. The first time I was in the hospital and they gave me Dilaudid in a bag- I fell in love.
One day, I went to the hospital to get some painkillers and that’s the last thing I remember. I woke up a month later.
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What happened to you during that month?
My body had gone into alcohol withdrawal so badly that I was experiencing delirium tremens. Essentially, my organs started to shut down one by one. They told my family there was very little hope. The doctors hooked me up to a machine to keep me breathing.
When I finally came to, the hallucinations were so bad because of all the drugs the hospital had administered. I tried to call 911 because I thought my dad had kidnapped me. I ripped all the tubes out of my body multiple times.
I had to learn to walk and speak again. Doctors would bring their med students to see me because they couldn’t believe I had survived. I was in the hospital a really, really long time.
How did you finally make it to treatment?
My family told me I had to go, and I obviously couldn’t argue with them. I was so weak I could barely open the front door of my first rehab facility. I was there for 30 days and had every intention of staying sober. When I got out, I immediately went back to working at the bar and relapsed.
I continued drinking for two years after that relapse. While I never got physically addicted again, I could not make it more than three days without a drink.
It was a terrible time for me and my family. My mom caught me with a pistol in my mouth- I didn’t want to survive.
Did you go back to treatment?
Yes, my mom found The Treehouse, and that’s where we are now.
How long have you been sober now?
Around 18 months.
What made this attempt at recovery more successful than your last?
The Treehouse is a great facility. I give it a lot of credit for turning my life around. The staff really is my family- they give me so much love.
I went to sober living and stayed there for about eight months. I worked my AA program really hard. I started helping other people.
The first couple of months were really tough because I wanted to drink every few minutes. Instead, I stuck through it and stayed connected with my Treehouse family. A couple of months in, I realized I wasn’t having to talk myself out of drinking every second of the day.
Life really started getting better after that.
What are some recovery methods you learned at The Treehouse that you still use today?
The Treehouse is really great at giving you ways to recognize the problems that you’re having and then understanding that you can deal with those problems without drugs or alcohol. They taught me that a thought is just a thought and a feeling is just a feeling- those thoughts and feelings are not going to kill me, but a relapse might.
The whole mind, body and spirit approach at The Treehouse was also really important for me. I can’t just heal one of those things and expect the others to follow along, I have to work on all three of them to truly achieve peace.
The Treehouse also showed me that helping others is something that helps keep me sober, and now I get to do that every day.
What are some of your unique recovery tools?
I pray every day and try to be as selfless as possible.
I also love spending time with my nieces and nephews. When they were born, I was in the middle of a nightmare. I never thought I would see them grown up, but here I am now.
What was it like trying to rebuild a relationship with your family?
It was hard. My parents were unwavering in their support for me and immediately accepted me back into their lives. But some of my other family members were not so forgiving.
It’s understandable though. I can’t be mad at the family members that didn’t want me back in their lives at first because I had already taken so much for them. It took a long time to rebuild that relationship and that trust between us.
I just kept doing the next right thing.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself in recovery?
I don’t need the validation of others to be happy or do the right thing. Also, that it’s okay to be alone.