Finding your way out of active addiction and into a stable recovery can be tough.
We met Mike, creator of Own Sobriety, to find out how he navigated his own recovery and is plotting a path for his future.
Mike, hi… let’s start with finding out a little bit about you…(what you’ve been doing/ are doing/ going to be doing)
I live in Indiana, in the Midwestern United States. I am 36 years old and have been in recovery for nearly two years. Through my recovery, I have found a passion and calling for helping others overcome addiction. I’m currently a student at Indiana Wesleyan University pursuing a degree in Addictions Counselling. I facilitate a weekly SMART Recovery meeting in my hometown and publish a blog about my journey with modern and alternative recovery methods at ownsobriety.com.
So what brought you here? I mean, you must have some kind of “drinking/ drugging/ addiction story”… care to elaborate?
I started drinking when I was 16 years old. In my early 20’s, I became a nightly drinker. I’m not sure exactly what point it became a problem but sometime in my mid-20’s I started day drinking.
Eventually, I became physically dependent on alcohol and couldn’t go more than a few hours without drinking before withdrawing.
I have always been shy and have severe anxiety. So, once I found that alcohol would calm me down a bit and loosen me up in social situations, it became my crutch. I was also prescribed Benzos like Xanax and Klonopin for my anxiety and would mix them with the alcohol. That combination turned me into a very deceitful and out of control person and I would blackout quite often.
What was your drinking/ using/ addiction like at the point you decided to quit?
As I said, I became an all-the-time drinker. As my tolerance to the alcohol and pills increased, my anxiety worsened. My anxiety became so out of control and I would shake so bad that some days I could barely even walk across the street to the bar that I drank at every night.
Simple tasks like cooking and taking care of myself became unmanageable. It seemed like there weren’t enough alcohol and pills in the world to calm me down.
And the final straw, for you, was what, exactly?
The severe anxiety, tremors, withdrawals and depression became too much. Something had to happen to break the cycle. I once purposely tried to take too many pills to harm myself. My doctor had referred to me a neuro-psychiatrist months before, but I never made an appointment.
One day, in January of 2018, I just decided that it was either die or get help. I decided to try to get help and made an appointment with that specialist that my doctor had referred me to. In that appointment, the specialist told me that I needed to get all of the drugs and alcohol out of my system in order to establish a baseline to treat me. He referred me to their behavioural health department. I took two days to get up the strength and courage to do it, but I checked myself into what would be an eight day inpatient stay at their medical detox facility.
Do you see yourself as being in recovery… If so, how?
What do these words mean to you? If not… how so?
I see myself as recovering from a destructive lifestyle.
Drinking and pills were a coping mechanism for the underlying anxiety and depression that I had never learned how to properly deal with as an adult. It’s part recovery from that lifestyle, part learning how to grow up and make better decisions that enable me to lead a more productive life.
I have goals that I want to accomplish in life and drinking does not allow me to do that.
I have to choose. I tried the drinking thing for 15+ years and it didn’t work. Now, I’m choosing to see what I can accomplish in my life without alcohol and pills setting me back. Recovery to me means repairing the damage that drinking and using caused both physically and mentally. Almost two years in, I feel like I have repaired most of that. Now, the focus is more on learning to make better decisions and live a balanced life. It simply comes down to the desire to live.
Thankfully, that desire was stronger that the desire to die.
So, you stopped/ changed your lifestyle (congratulations!)… how did you do that? How did you manage after you stopped? What did you do to motivate and maintain your abstinence? Any hints or tips, sources of inspiration for people seeking to do the same?
A lot of work.
During my eight day stay in the inpatient detox centre, I made a promise to myself to do whatever it took and to take advantage of all available resources to live a better life. After inpatient detox, I attended an intensive outpatient program (IOP) that was offered to me where a group of us met with a counsellor three days per week for three hours per day for seven weeks.
I started learning about how alcohol and drugs affect the brain and body. I went on a mission of self-discovery to learn and understand as much about addiction and the recovery process as I possibly could. I found some great literature on addiction and immersed myself.
I found a program called SMART Recovery at started using its tools and attending meetings. After the IOP, I began one-on-one counselling with a therapist at my local treatment centre and they offered to let me join in a relapse prevention group. I attended that group once per week for sixteen weeks. The local treatment centre also offered me case management services to help with adjusting to a normal life. I met with my case manager weekly for over a year. During all of this, I have also been receiving the Vivitrol injection once per month to help with cravings.
I try my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating right, sleeping on a regular schedule, and exercising. I do a lot of journaling and writing for my blog as well.
Not drinking alcohol (for example) can be a very stigmatising thing… were you prepared for that? How did you deal with it? How did others around you deal with it?
I think I may be a bit of an oddball in this case. I was never really ashamed of my problem.
I’ve always been very active on social media and putting things out there so I felt like most people knew I had a problem. I’ve done the same with my recovery. About 30 days into my recovery, I put it out there that I was back in recovery. It was a very conscious decision to put it out there and to become an example. As someone who had lost all purpose in life for several years, I had finally found my purpose in being an example and helping others.
Plus, I found that I loved learning about addiction and had a passion for helping others. I kept the supportive people around me and cut ties with those who weren’t.
They told me in treatment that it’s okay to be selfish in my recovery and that was one thing I knew I could do. So it’s been a mentality of owning it (hence the name OWN Sobriety) and not really caring what people think.
Were you successful from day one? Any relapses (etc)? How did you cope, emotionally with all this?
I tried many, many times to moderate or to quit on my own over the years and those efforts would only last a few days. Back in 2014, I had really become out of control and reached out for help for the first time. I went to a 30-day rehab program and then did a sober living house for three months before moving out against advice.
I lasted about two more months before relapsing pretty hard and ending up in jail.
After that, I moved back to my hometown and stayed with my parents for what I thought would be a few weeks. Instead, I fell even deeper into addiction and it ended up being over two years before this most recent attempt at getting back into recovery. The relapse destroyed me. It killed all of my confidence and motivation. I went into fuck it mode and that next two years is a big blur. Since I’d had a taste of about six months of sobriety, the relapse was miserable because I knew I could do better. I really think I was done with it all back in 2014 when I went to rehab but I didn’t have the tools and resources to cope with life.
This time, the focus has been on learning how to deal with the ups and downs of life in a healthy manner.
You’ve been sober/ clean for a while now, are there any manifest benefits in your life that not drinking/ using has afforded? What are they? (Feel free to elaborate as much as you want… really!!)
Where do I begin? My entire life has changed.
It may sound cliche or whatever, but the best benefit has been how my relationship with myself has changed. I’m still a work in progress and always will be, but I like myself for the first time in a long, long time. Instead of beating myself up over drinking and all the things I wasn’t doing with my life, I now have an optimistic outlook and have respect and compassion for myself. Not having respect for yourself is one of the worst feelings in the world.
I’ve worked through SMART Recovery and CBT therapy with my therapist to completely change my thinking. I can encourage and compliment myself now. I’ve learned how to challenge my negative thoughts and to just be kinder to myself. Through improving my relationship with myself, my relationships with others have improved dramatically too. I’m much more stable, the lows aren’t as low and the highs aren’t as high.
I take things in stride and don’t let the little things bother me. It’s easier to keep things in perspective when you know you probably wouldn’t have been alive much longer, so this time is a blessing. My energy has improved dramatically, I’m so much sharper and clearer with my thoughts. I’m just present for my life and love life again.
Any advice for people reading this… heh, can we learn from any of your mistakes?
My biggest piece of advice at this point in my journey is to not rush the process of recovery.
I get restless and want to make things happen on my own time. In the first few months of recovery, we want everything to happen in X amount of time. Goals are extremely important to keep motivated but they need to be realistic and they need to flexible.
The recovery process is hard and long. You can’t just skip forward to where you think you should be.
I’ve tried and that doesn’t work. You gotta put in the work on yourself and give yourself time. Trust the process. That doesn’t mean it has to be boring but you have to find a balance of determination and patience. I still struggle with that at times. Also, don’t expect people to understand what you are going through. Not everyone will understand and they don’t need to.
What other people think of you is none of your business. I know that’s a tough one for some people but you have to find that confidence with yourself and not worry about what other people think. Finally, surround yourself with people who want you to succeed. I am blessed with an amazing support group. These past 20 months have truly been a team effort. I need all the help I can get and I’m no longer afraid to ask for it when I’m struggling with something.
OK… (drum roll)… let’s talk about Own Sobriety – what’s THAT all about? (What is it? Where did he idea come from? Who’s it for… etc)
OWN Sobriety right now is a personal brand that I have built to share my journey and inspire others.
My background is in online development and branding so I tend to make a brand out of everything I do. The idea for OWN Sobriety came from something I said often in early recovery, “just own it.” In overcoming my anxiety, tremors, and addiction, all I could do in the beginning was to own it and just put it out there.
I get self-conscious about things so I flip that thinking and instead of being ashamed of something I try to own it and just put it out there that I am a work in progress. Then, I found that the concept aligns with taking an empowering approach to recovery. I believe that everyone should find their own path. I have chosen to focus on the non-traditional paths.
There is tons of information out there about 12-step programs and that form of recovery so I want to share the more modern approaches that are out there like SMART Recovery and CBT therapy to show people that there are options available. At the end of the day, it’s all about sharing information and being supportive of others who are on a recovery journey.
You have a pretty impressive presence on social media – which is cool – we’ve noticed a hell of a lot of “lifestyle sobriety” accounts out there, especially on Instagram – what do you think of these? the actual recovery scene small – do you find it difficult to get your message out there?
I am all for people living their best life. I think the sober lifestyle and sober curious movements are a good thing. I totally support the concept of what I call “grey-area drinking.” That’s where the biggest percentage of the population sits, not out of control and losing everything, but battling overindulgence in a substance that is designed to be addictive. My hope is that people will find the benefits of a sober lifestyle before they get fully engulfed in addiction. I also hope that the people behind these new accounts will educate themselves about the space they are in.
They need to keep in mind that for some people this is a life and death matter. Just be respectful of that in your writing and the things you share.
And, yes, I do find it tough to get the message out there. Sometimes, it feels like I’m talking to myself but that’s okay. I am doing this in part for myself. Plus, it’s the internet so those messages are out there for people to consume on their own time. I support everyone and all forms of recovery, the part I don’t like is that the people bashing one form of recovery or another get more attention than someone who is truly trying to help others. It’s like all media in that you need a controversial headline to get attention and that’s just not me. I’m just going to keep doing my thing and have faith that my message will reach those who really need it.
Cool… okay, great, so… what’s next for Mike – tell us a bit about your studies maybe? We saw the newspaper clipping!
So, as I mentioned above, I am very interested in addiction, its causes, and recovering from it. About 9 months into my recovery, I decided to return to college to become a substance abuse counsellor so that I can help others as my counsellors helped me. I am currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Addictions Counselling from Indiana Wesleyan University.
Also, I recently completed the facilitator training program for SMART Recovery and started a new meeting in my hometown as faith-based programs were the only option here. The newspaper clipping you are referring to was my from my local newspaper describing the new meeting and SMART Recovery program. So my studies and facilitating and growing my new meeting are the focus at the moment.
The intent is to get some direct experience in working with individuals in recovery, and once I get my degree, I will become a licensed substance abuse counsellor. I plan to continue to share my journey through the OWN Sobriety blog and to continue to grow that following and eventually expand into a platform for others to share their alternative paths to recovery.
About our subject, Mike.
Mike is a 35-year-old guy from someplace in a weirdly shaped state in the United States of America (it’s Indiana). He used to drink lots of alcohol and pop Benzos to deal with life. Then, it became a problem. So, he did it for a few more years just to be sure it was, in fact, a problem. Now, he doesn’t.