Our country is in the middle of a drug epidemic that’s claiming hundreds of lives each day. The mounting death toll caused by overdose and addiction is reaching alarming heights that America has never seen before, and it’s not expected to slow anytime soon. But in the midst of the crisis, September’s Recovery Month serves as a reminder that not all addiction stories have to end in tragedy. As long as you are alive, recovery is possible. Michael P. is just one example of the millions of Americans currently living in recovery. He’s also a graduate of our Massachusetts campus, Vertava Health Massachusetts. Just a little over a month into his journey, Michael’s story elaborates on what recovery looks like in its earliest stages, and how treatment lead him to the most fulfilling period in his life. —
Tell me about yourself, what’s your background?
My name is Michael P. and I’m 54-years-old. I lived most of my life in Staten Island with a pit stop in Florida and Michigan before moving back to the Island in January of this year. I’m a maintenance engineer at a major hotel chain, but more so than that I’m an avid softball player and semi professional largemouth bass fisherman. I competed in fishing tournaments up until 2013. Sometimes I’ll write for some sports publications. Other than that, I live a pretty ordinary life.
When did you start abusing alcohol and drugs?
I started drinking legally at the age of 18 with my dad. He would take me to the bars and I would look forward to that- I felt like a superstar when I would go to the bars with him. I glorified my father and the good times he had with his buddies at the bar, so I tried to emulate that. Essentially, I followed in my dad’s footsteps and ended up escalating far above what my father was doing in the first place. I received my first DUI two months after I moved to Florida. I thought it was comical. Then I received another DUI and then another one after that. [middle-callout]
Did you recognize that you might be addicted to alcohol at this point?
No, but after my fourth or fifth DUI, I was completely sober from 2008 until around November of 2013. That’s when my doctor started to prescribe me 10 mg of Vicodin for my shoulder pain. A year and a half later, I was taking 10 pills a day and my wife was abusing them too. In 2015, my doctor couldn’t prescribe the pills for me anymore. At this point, I was heavily addicted to opioids and hated the feeling of withdrawal. So to avoid having to go through withdrawals, I bought opioids on the street until they got too expensive to support myself and my wife on. In December, I was introduced to heroin. It was cheaper, and an easier avenue for me. To give you an idea of how bad it was: while I was on my way to rehab I consumed all of the heroin I had so I wouldn’t get sick- and the trip was only about six hours.
And how long have you been in recovery?
I checked myself into Vertava Health Massachusetts on July 21st, and I’m celebrating my 41st day of recovery today [August 31, 2017].
What are you finding to be the most difficult in these first few weeks of recovery?
The hardest part is removing myself from certain people, places and things. I’ve had to distance myself from anything or anyone that includes drinking and using drugs. But for the most part, environments with drugs or alcohol are all I’ve ever known. It’s hard to detach from those places since they carry such a sense of familiarity. Unfortunately, this included moving away from my wife. She is still living in Florida with three grown children who use drugs. More immediately, I’m worried about losing my employment. There were a lot of issues, both emotional and physical, that I ignored while I was using. Even though I’m in recovery, those issues are still there and now I have to face them without drugs or alcohol. So I’m getting shoulder surgery on September 13th and am concerned about whether I can extend my leave of absence from work. But we’re gunna take it one day at a time, and I’m not going to let that bother me too much. I have to take care of my body, we’re only granted one.
How do you make it through the difficult moments?
The most important thing to me right now is surrounding myself with quality people who are going through a lot of the same things I’m going through. I go to in-person group therapy sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I also do online group therapy at least two times a week. It brings me a lot of closure to talk to these people who have been through some of the same experiences as me. I also try to stay as close as possible to the people at Vertava Health Massachusetts. Our addiction and recovery stories might be different, but we shared a lot of important experiences together at the same place. It creates a connection I can’t explain.
You’re 41 days into recovery, what keeps you going each day?
Other than how much better I feel- I think about all the opportunities I lost because of my drinking and drug use. I just keep asking myself: how much more of myself do I want to lose? I also aspire to become a counselor and set up a recovery program for young adults ages 16 to 25. I can’t do that if I’m not sober.
What would you tell someone else who’s also in the early stages of recovery?
At group therapy, there are a lot of people who have been in recovery for longer than I have. They’re teaching me a lot about how to live in sobriety, and inspire me every day to reach my sober goals. From them, I’ve learned how to confront my issues head on and reach out to people when I’m struggling… not reach out for drugs or alcohol. To anyone else who’s still early on in their recovery, find those people in your area who have years of sobriety under their belt and use their knowledge to guide your own recovery. Oh, and try to keep a positive and open mind.
Do you miss any part of your life before recovery?
I’m so glad I made the choice to go to Vertava Health Massachusetts. I don’t miss any of it.