Erik’s Recovery Story
Committing to sobriety and having faith in the process (even through a stint in jail)
Editor’s note: The story that follows is an honest, uplifting account of the progress and personal growth that’s possible when someone who struggles with an addiction to alcohol faces their issues and reaches out for professional help.
Read on for insight into how Erik dealt with his issues and worked tirelessly to protect his recovery, maintaining a positive outlook through challenging circumstances that included two months behind bars.
I started drinking at age 13
After seeing my parents fight and eventually divorce, losing friends and family, and growing up in a mostly unregulated household (single mother working full time and working on degrees), I felt I had finally found my outlet. It was calming and I felt like I finally belonged to some cool club while partying with my older siblings and cousins and eventually upperclassmen.
My family always had alcohol around. Every gathering revolved around a bar and sneaking a few myself was neither hard nor frowned upon. It was how we would celebrate, grieve, and enjoy each other’s company.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized it was different for me. In the last 18 years, drinking transformed from a way to have fun to a necessity. From an occasional Friday night party to daily, alone in a parking lot.
drinking in high school
In high school, I sought out people like me. I had few friends and the ones I kept were exactly like me. We didn’t care so much about right or wrong; we were more concerned about getting beer for the night and letting that deal with whatever problems we were having.
At age 16-17 I was drinking most nights with a friend whose uncle would buy us alcohol as long as we’d fund his habit a bit. I was trying to escape something, but at that point in time, I had no clue what that was.
My senior year was a complete blur. I was doing any hallucinogens I could get my hands on plus ecstasy, which made my depression extreme when I’d come down. That effect led to even more drinking. I graduated early and scouted colleges, even got accepted to a few but never made it through the summer.
DUI before 21
I was arrested with my first DUI two months before I was supposed to leave for school and given the ultimatum of full charges or going to an outpatient program for 30 days. I chose the latter. I completed my 30-day program and felt good about being sober, but I still wasn’t fully convinced I had a problem. The only reason I was staying clean was to stay out of jail and keep my parents happy.
Those turned out to be good enough reasons to get me to a year. At that point, I started to doubt if I really wanted to be sober anymore. That doubt let me back into drinking. At first, I was able to control it, then the trips to the liquor store became more and more frequent. I had made some good friendships while I was sober and started blowing them all off so I could go out and drink either by myself or with people I hardly knew to escape judgment.
What a DUI can destroy
I felt like a quitter. Going back to my old lifestyle led me to two more DUIs and countless destroyed relationships, the one with my son’s mother is the most regrettable. As a kid, I’d always say I’d never put my children through the same situations I had to deal with growing up, yet there I was. I was so full of shame and guilt, yet I avoided any sort of contact with anyone who could understand or help me make sense of it all, and only sought out people who were like me. Drunks.
I realized that if I didn’t truly connect with someone, then it didn’t matter if I was dishonest or self-seeking. If they didn’t know how scared, alone, and hopeless I felt, then it was easier for me to pretend everything was OK. It was always easier to overlook my faults and blame other people for my problems rather than just dealing with life head-on.
Rationalizing my drinking
Throughout all of this, I was always an incredibly hard worker. I’ve had the same job for almost 10 years and have rarely been late or absent. Even after getting home from the bar at 2 a.m. I’d be on time for work at 7.
This was how I rationalized my drinking. I was convinced I was living a functional life. All my bills were paid on time, and I had a place to live and a stable job. What could be wrong with that, right?
New relationships and drinking
In the last three years, I’ve begun a new relationship. The biggest problem was what I was bringing with me. I had severe, unchecked alcoholism and was absolutely not going to let that secret out.
Once we moved in together, there was no choice. I couldn’t drink the way I was accustomed to anymore without raising red flags, but of course, I still tried.
This led to even more drinking, and I was driving absolutely anywhere. I had a gallon of vodka under my passenger seat that rarely lasted more than two days, accompanying me during trips to the store, school drop-off/pick-up, especially the parking lot at work.
There wasn’t a time or place I’d say no, even when I couldn’t stand the thought of another drop.
I made sure to have a few stashes in the garage to get me through the evening and especially in the morning so I could actually eat something. If I ever got called out, I would deny it as I’d never even heard of alcohol before, even with the knowledge that I’d just finished off a pint.
Things started falling apart. My girlfriend was disappointed and felt betrayed. My mother was mentally preparing for my death (alcohol-related liver failure killed both my great uncles), and I was starting to come to work reeking because I just didn’t care about covering up the smell anymore.
The world came crashing down
This world where I was never wrong and it was always someone else’s fault came crashing down on July 7th, 2019. My drinking had led me to a point where everyone around me was concerned about me. Not wanting to hear it, I left; I couldn’t handle everyone’s emotions when I couldn’t even deal with my own. I left my house for a destination I didn’t have, making up excuse after excuse for why my family is overreacting and how it’s their fault that I drank as I did.
I made it one day out on my own, with nowhere to go, drinking myself into oblivion and eventually falling asleep behind the wheel in a parking lot. I woke up to officers arresting me for my fourth DUI. While I was being booked into jail, they made comments on how I shouldn’t have been conscious or coherent. My BAC was .357, seven times the legal limit.
First time in jail
Sitting in jail and listening to other people made a switch click in my head. For years I rarely took responsibility for my actions, and seeing that attitude right in front of me made me realize how wrong I’d been for so long.
Something needed to change. It wasn’t the courts or the cops, it wasn’t me being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it wasn’t the unfair circumstances of life.
The problem was me being an alcoholic, wanting to quit almost every day, and not putting myself in a situation or mindset to succeed. That morning I finally, wholeheartedly admitted that I had a problem.
Meeting Jordan at the lookout
The next day I bailed myself out and called my mom. She’d made a lot of offers to me in the past, and the relief in her voice when I finally said “I need help” was astounding. Within 24 hours I had my bags packed and was meeting with Jordan at Choice House’s “The Lookout”. I honestly wasn’t going to shop around and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t the hospital setting I had in my mind. In my 90 days there, I learned more about myself than I thought possible. I have problems I’ve pushed down for so long that I didn’t even remember they were there.
With those problems came a solution. I learned how to manage my feelings – and even have the ability to feel at all. There was a reason I took drinking to the extent I did, but I’m not just broken. I can be repaired as long as I do the work in front of me and don’t overcomplicate life. I got reintroduced to AA and realized there is so much to be gained when I drop my ego and find we’re all working towards the same goal. I got a sponsor who I can feel comfortable bouncing ideas off of and share my personal life with. My relationships have benefited so much from my new ability to say how I’m really feeling and not having to lie and hide myself anymore.
Feeling support & more jail time for that 4th DUI
I’m feeling the support that I’ve always had but never acknowledged from family, my partner, and a new group of brothers. I recently spent two months in jail for that fourth DUI. It showed me that the principles I’ve learned can get me through the roughest of times, and as long as I have faith that everything will work out it usually does (even if it’s not the way I wanted), I can be happy with what I’ve got.
I’m seeing the benefits of this new lifestyle every day and am grateful for all the help and guidance I’ve received this past nine months.
At Choice House, we would like to recognize Erik for his willingness to put in the hard work necessary to confront his struggles and push forward toward recovery. By retaining a positive outlook on life, embracing faith, and learning to look for critical support from the Choice House community, he has been able to use the therapeutic skills he learned to make huge strides forward in his path to lasting sobriety.
Know someone struggling with addiction? Contact Choice House, a Colorado addiction recovery center dedicated to helping men finding meaning, purpose, and lasting sobriety.