We are grateful to our friend Bill for sharing his recovery story as part of our series on navigating teens stress and anxiety, a common reason for substance use. Find the full series at Stress & Drug Use: What Every Parent Should Know.
From a young age, I always strove for a high standard of success — getting good grades in school, participating in high-level athletics, attending a prestigious college and pursuing a career in finance. These goals permeated every aspect of my life. My psyche, the pressure to succeed, and the fear of failure dogged me.
Upholding my lofty goals became impossible. I discovered that drugs and alcohol served as a reprieve from the pressure, and my addictive behavior took flight.
With countless arrests and a reputation as a “wild man,” my control over people’s perceptions of me became unmanageable. My fears were compounded, stress seemed insurmountable and self-hatred blossomed.
My reaction was always the same: Get back on the beam, muster all of the self-will within me and keep fighting for success. I thought that if I could temper my erratic behavior and string together a number of accomplishments, then my perception of myself, and others’ perceptions of me, would be mended.
My parents restricted me from getting a driver’s license until I turned 18 because I was reckless and irresponsible. When I was 18, I returned home from school and obtained a license. On my first night as a driver, I ran out of gas on the side of the road with a consumed case of beer in my trunk. I was arrested and held in a jail cell overnight. My history with substance use is littered with similar incidents. At this point, the knot of shame and guilt in my stomach was all-consuming.
I was a shell of a human, living only to prove to the people around me that I was a good person, despite my failures. It felt as though everyone was disappointed — or at least in awe of my propensity for self-destruction. Determined to right my wrongs, I returned to college with a newfound resolve.
It was the beginning of my second semester and I discovered unprescribed Adderall. I proceeded to get straight A’s and had an impressive showing as a freshman on a varsity sports team. Naturally, I concluded that ADD had been the cause of all of my struggles to date and that Adderall was the cure.
I used Adderall to wake up, go to class, play sports, write papers, talk to girls, make important phone calls, play video games, and brush my teeth. By this point I had developed the alias of “Blackout Billy” due to the long and unpredictable blackouts that I had while drinking. Adderall even prevented the blackouts! It was perfect.
But I couldn’t sleep and I found that taking painkillers at night helped with the insomnia. I discovered OxyContin during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year and fell in love. I believed that if I could sustain the feeling I got from mixing OxyContin and Adderall for the rest of my life, the sky was the limit for my success. It relieved me of my insecurities. I was happy and relaxed, and I wasn’t tortured by my guilt or shame.
Over time, my tolerance grew and the high became less controlled. I began to withdraw from the people who loved me. I neglected school, quit sports and couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours without experiencing physical withdrawals from the opiates. I became utterly isolated and life became indescribably dark. Even the thought of a face-to-face encounter with one of my friends was enough to send me into a panic. Yet, to the very end, I maintained my delusion of having a sense of control.
My family unsuccessfully intervened over and over again, but in August 2010, they finally caught me at a desperate time. I agreed to go to 28-day inpatient treatment with a relatively open mind. The severity of my problem began to sink in when I didn’t sleep for my first 10 days due to opiate withdrawal. After 28 days, I agreed to do one month in a sober house in Minnesota. This was a monumental shift in behavior. For the first time in my life, I resisted the urge to rush back to school, sports and finance in an attempt to repair the damage as quickly as possible.
At some point in my first two months of recovery, I was struck by the revelation that my thinking was abnormal, that my ego and self-will had driven me to emotional and spiritual bankruptcy, and that if left to my own devices, I would drink again or at least struggle through life. I threw my hands up and accepted suggestions for the first time. I prayed to be relieved of my bondage of self, and voraciously sought counsel from my newfound support network on how to live. I conceded that I was powerless and needed help.
I have been given a life beyond my wildest dreams and have remained on a pink cloud since my time in Minnesota.
I returned to college and started a student-run support group with my friend. I worked on Wall Street for three years and experienced success in New York City. After three years, I asked myself if I wanted to look back on my life in thirty years and see a life in finance. I realized that I have never had any passion for finance. I simply pursued it because it seemed like the popular thing to do.
I left my job seven months ago and began a sober house, similar to the one I lived in for a year in Minnesota. I live in the house and am currently helping fourteen men maintain recovery through a daily program of action. I still follow the daily program of self-care that I developed in my sober house in Minnesota. Substance use was 1% of my problem. I stay in recovery for my thinking, not for my drinking.
I recently read a short story in which a man on his deathbed was asked what his greatest regret was. He said he regretted that he spent time worrying. I can worry myself sick, but I know today that this is truly pointless. If I have a daily plan, have faith that I will be taken care of, and take action, I know that I will be healthy.
Addiction had to run its course and I had to get torn down repeatedly before I was ready to get well. Today, I am grateful for every arrest, embarrassing night, hangover, and hour of withdrawal that I have experienced. These things brought me to a point of willingness to recover.
I still have pressure in my life but it no longer feels like a crushing burden. I am grateful for the responsibilities that life presents and, thanks to recovery, I am prepared to face them.