Lost Without Direction

Time goes by so fast, and I was done wasting time, I have been on a mission ever since and I myself, cannot even believe I am even here. I have been through so much in my life already and it really is made for a movie. Well at least a Lifetime movie but it was crazy, nonetheless. I am in a completely different place in my life right now and that craziest part about my life now is how much I have accomplished in such a short amount of time. Over Forth of July weekend I was sober for the first time in a long time. Last time I was clean over Forth of July was 2016 and before that we are looking at about 2004. So, with that being said, it was quite the accomplishment, and it also marked my seven months clean date. This still does not sound like a lot of time to me considering how much I have done in the last six months. That first month, I was sick as fuck and was pretty useless, but since then I have been on a mission.

I never would have thought I would be in school for Psychology and have the SoberSteveRecovery Podcast, but as great as both of those things are they do not compare to the rest of my life that I have created for myself. The job I have and the people I see on a daily basis are just good, honest people that only have my best interest at heart when we are together. Rebuilding relationships with my family and some old friends has really been a huge part of finding balance in my life. I attribute most of my success to the relationship I have built with myself and by that, I mean I just have really taken the time to figure out who I am, what I want to be, and how I can or will get there. I have really been able to look deep inside myself and analyze what my weaknesses have been. It is not an easy task to look deep into your past and analyze yourself. It is so easy to analyze others, but when it comes to us, that is another story. I recently told my therapist that our talks are great, and it has been really nice having someone to talk to but if we are going to get into the things in my life that really bother me than we are going to have to do less talk about what is currently happening and talk more about what already has happened to me. The trauma I went through as a child and throughout my life has never been dealt with in a proper way. I have always self-medicated and taken my coping mechanisms into my own hands and we all know how that ended up. Talking to my therapist about what is happening in my life now is helpful and effective so we will still have our check in and if anything, crazy is going on I can talk about it, but it is really going to be more helpful long-term to discuss the things that have been bothering me since I was four years old. Those are the underlining reasons for why I continued to use drugs after I attempted to get clean so many times.

It does not help that life is accumulative and continues to compile life on top of life. Which for us just makes dealing with things that much harder. It really is crazy because the more I did not deal with what had already happened to me, the more new things continued to happen to me, and it just made everything exponentially worse until I found my escape. I never knew how much my life had taken a toll on my self-esteem and self-worth until I saw what my life had turned into after so many years of chronic heroin use. I was just a shell of my self and never really knew how to escape the trapped life that I was living but I never gave up trying to find a new way to live. It really was years of repeated trying and relentless attempts at beating detox and trying to find a way not to use through “The Obsession”. I was always so sick every day, and I was willing to do anything to finally get clean. I had clean time in the past, and I was able to get clean so many times, but it really was so hard to stay stopped. It was because I was not doing any work to help overcome my reasons for using and every time life became too stressful or something bad happened, I would cope by using. I remember I relapsed after my grandmas passed away early in 2016 and that led me into one of the worst years of my life based on some of the things that happened to me and the trouble, I got in. Dealing with the lost of the most amazing person I have ever known was really hard for me and all I know is that she would be really proud of me now. My lasting memory of my grandma is Christmas Day 2015, which I was sober for so I will always have that. The next worst relapse for me was when I was not granted custody of my son at the end of 2018 and by February of 2019, I overdosed for nine minutes and was given the max Narcan dose the paramedic can give before I woke up. Thank goodness I lived in a small town at the time and the police were able to reach me fast enough.

I saw the body cam video which I have talked about before in my writing and on my podcast so I will not go into all the details. But for me that was a turning point even though I had relapsed after that. I saw that video and I wanted to get control of my life and I was going to try as long as it took to get to where I know I can be in life. I was always pretty smart even though I was one of the youngest in my class, and I never had an issue with working hard. It was just always an issue of what should I be working hard towards. I thought that most of my life was such a waste of time because I was enthralled in the depths of addiction and seemingly had no way out. I lived a life on the streets that most people could never even imagine. I know that a lot of people go through tough times, and I know that there are countries whose whole population live worse than I ever did on the streets of Milwaukee. But for most people who grew up in the outer city, suburbs, that I did, they could never imagine some of the things that I have seen and been through. I panhandled and was basically a bum all of Spring and half of Summer of 2015 until I was arrested for stealing textbooks while I was on probation already. Stealing and panhandling while trying not to die on the city streets Milwaukee. If anyone knows Milwaukee, it is a tough city, and if you are living on the streets, it is a really tough city.

I never wanted to end up a panhandling bum, that was never my goal in life. If you asked me in fifth grade what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said a football player. Not a bum, or a heroin addict or someone who wasted everything good that had to offer. I knew that I was always sort of destined for more than I was doing. The only thing about destiny is that there is still work that must be done before anything will ever come to fruition. I do not know what my future has in store for me just yet, but I do know that if I keep going forward and continue to chip away at my goals, then the sky is the limit and everything I accomplish will because of me and my hard work, from living on the street to wherever I make it to. It will be exciting to see what comes of my life, but I already feel like a success story, but the success has just begun.

Life is what you make it and I wish I understood at a younger age about how fragile time and life is. As well as I wish I understood that no one is going to give you anything in life and unless you are born a Saudi Arabian Prince then you are going to have to work for everything that you want in life. Going through life without direction is how I got lost in the first place, so I will always be working towards my goals and always have my future with my son on my mind when it comes to anything I do and any decision I make. I only get him three hours a week on Thursdays, but he is on my mind 168 hours a week and he is the focus of my mission. Created a life for myself that creates the best version of me for him. That is what it is all about, connection and creating a life worth living, which is my focus every single day.

Progress Not Perfection

As my life evolves into something I could never have imagined even a year ago, I truly am thankful everyday for the life I created for myself. I knew that I deserved more and I always knew that I was destined for something far better than the way I was living. I remember biking to the hood to get my drugs thinking that this can’t be my life forever and that if I created a life worth living I would never want to go back to drugs. Drugs will always be there if a person chooses to go back, for me it was, get clean, get a plan and let me really focus on what is important to me, where I want my life to go, and what I have to do to get there. Everything I do during my days now are always striding towards my end goals. I work, work, work, do my homework for school and am constantly focused on my recovery.

This time last year, COVID had taken over the world, we were “safer at home” and I was biking to the inner city to score drugs. I knew that was what I had to do at the time because my addiction didn’t allow me to do anything else. I always just wanted to feel better and just have the obsession lifted, I knew that it could and would happen someday if I kept trying to get clean. I overdosed once in 2019 and that scared me straight for nine months, but then in 2020, I overdosed three times and I just kept using. I should have been dead four times for sure, if not countless more times where I just got lucky. A person doesn’t realize what the life of heroin addiction is like. Being sick everyday, and the only way to feel better that day is to poison ourselves with heroin, almost to the point of overdose but always trying not to die.

Looking back on what I went through everyday and how exhausting it was trying to maintain that lifestyle, I feel like I really am capable of doing anything I set my mind to. If I was willing to do the things I did for heroin, and the energy that was put into making sure I could use everyday, I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. I always used to say, “if we put half of the energy we did to use everyday, into anything else, we would be unbelievably successful.” Just half of the energy, think about that. The other quote I used to say to myself and other people was “I wouldn’t wish being dope sick on my worst enemy.”

Once I got detoxed and figured out what I wanted to do with myself, I started thinking about those quotes. If I wouldn’t wish being dope sick on my worst enemy, why was I putting myself through that everyday? Treating my mind and body so horribly for so long was hurting me, everyone around me and was definitely holding me back from a nice future. I never knew what my life would consist of and that was part of my personal issue with life in general. I just did not know who or what I wanted to be. I just felt so out of place and like I could do anything but didn’t fit anywhere. Life has an amazing way of working out if you just continue to live, it’s that whole dying thing that fucks shit up. I always said if I can just get out of this alive, I could do something with my life. Just getting out of it was the hardest thing I ever did and everyday is a reminder of where I once was. I never want to go back and that is where my other quote comes into play. I am lucky I have an exorbitant amount of energy and now with a focus, I just grind towards my goals everyday.

With everything that I do everyday building towards my short term and long term goals it has been a great experience finding myself again and truly working towards being the best version of myself everyday. I saw my doctor recently and he said it again, “the opposite of addiction is connection.” The connections you build with other people, things you do and places you go is just the start. The biggest connection a person has to make is within themselves. Figuring yourself out and being true to yourself is the best advice I can give a person early on in recovery. Only at the point of figuring out who you are can you begin to heal. We all have gone through crazy things in life and at the ages that most of us are, life has definitely taken its toll. I always say though, it isn’t what happens, but how you deal with it that matters.

Now days I still go through a lot of trials and tribulations and life happens everyday. I still deal with a lot when it comes to being able to see my son, the stressors of school and work, and just everyday life. I just don’t let anything knock me off my square. I face everything head on, I am open and vocal about what I am dealing with and I use much better coping mechanisms than I used to. Drugs technically isn’t coping, it is avoiding and masking, so that never helps anything. Drugs only magnify the issues that are already there and has a way of creating new ones. I tend to break out in handcuffs and that never ends well. Now it is different though, I have great friends and family to turn to, many different recovery skills, and I view life in such a different way than I used to. This really allows me to deal with anything that comes my way and feel confident that I am doing the right thing.

Being who I am today and where I am in life right now is truly a miracle and I am thankful everyday that I got out of that life. I just did my first bike race in about 20 years and it went amazingly well for a guy that had a needle in his arm at this time last year. I actually did well in general, but it definitely would not have been possible at all if I was still using. Getting back into bike racing and doing other things that I used to do before the drugs took over my life has been so rewarding. Now I can’t wait for the next race and really just enjoyed feeling like I was finally living life again. Drug addiction is not living, it is like being in a prison of the mind and it is like being forced to do something you don’t want to do everyday no matter what. I finally feel like I am living again and I honestly couldn’t be happier right now.

I am so ahead of where I thought I would ever be and the fact that I am right in the middle of so many things only 6 months after getting clean for the last time is a true testament to my drive and desire for a better life. I started using heroin in 2008 and by 2008 I wanted to quit. That is the truth of the matter, and the first time I actually tried to get clean for real was 2011. Even after really wanting to get clean over the next 5 years I would be in and out of jail and rehabs like a revolving door. Friends dying continuously and their friends would ask me where they got the dope because it must be good. Such a convoluted thought process we have as heroin users, if someone dies it must be good, and we want to try it. How about it just killed my friends, I should probably stay away from that batch and all batches for that matter. From 2016 until the end of 2020 when I got clean finally I had been clean longer than I used for but as a chronic relapser I just could never say never again and I seemed to always fall back into the cycle. The craziest thing for a drug user is when they quit and go back; very quickly do they end up right where they left off, if the first use doesn’t kill them like it did two of my really good friends. RIP Swiss & Pat.

Always wanting to get clean but never truly knowing how to stay clean was always my biggest issue. I could go to detox or detox myself once or twice a week but after a few days “the obsession” (read same title) would be too overwhelming and I would feel like I had to use. I remember trying to fight the obsession and literally wanting to knock myself out just to get relief for a few minutes where I didn’t have to be in my own body or mind. I don’t know how it exactly works but once the obsession lifted finally, I closed the door on that forever. I can finally say never again, I have no reservations about using, and I created a life for myself that I do not want anything to ever interfere with.

Life is not perfect and some days are stressful and tiring but the worst day in this life is better than the best day in addiction. Some people say they wouldn’t change what they went through because it makes them who they are today and they are able to use their experiences to help other people. Well, I am one of those people, but it couldn’t be more true. I sometimes wish that I didn’t waste 13 years doing heroin and another 2 years before that doing cocaine because no one should ever have to go through that. Not only because I never deserved doing that to myself, but 15 years is a long time to not be productive and moving forward. But it led to the life I have today, with the people I have in it and the things that I am doing, and going to be doing, so was it a waste…

I guess it depends on what I do with my future. If I stay on my goal train and the path that I am on, then the sky’s the limit. If I think I can use it just one time or think I can use it successfully this time, then it all goes away. The cliche NA line, 1 is too many, 1,000 is never enough. That is the reality of it and couldn’t be more true. I never lose sight of where I want to be and I definitely never forget where I came out of. My tomorrow looks fulfilling and my future looks bright. Better get them new sunglasses. Progress not perfection. I live by that mantra everyday. I never will be perfect but I can always be better.

“Started From the Bottom Now Im Here”

I have been through rehab more times than I can count and a lot of the time it felt like the movie groundhog day where I just was reliving my cycle of addiction. In and out of rehabs and jails and back on the streets with a needle in my arm. Life was basically a prison of solitude within myself and not knowing how to break away from that. Everyday was so horrible, I was forced, everyday, no matter what, to chase the high in order to feel I could function “normally”. There is no normal when you are addicted to drugs and the life you are living is not a life at all. Just trying to score drugs everyday gets exhausting and it is so sketchy, and risky, and dangerous that it really shows a lack of self. Why am I allowing myself to be put in these situations, in these dangerous areas, around people who may also be dangerous? The drugs take us to places that we never thought we would go or see. At first drugs seemed to be fun and seemed like it could take me places when it came to drug dealing. Pretty quickly though, partying became using alone in a bathroom, and then drug dealing became panhandling under the highway in Milwaukee off McKinley. That wasn’t how life was supposed to go and that was never how I pictured myself. Started from the bottom, Now i’m here.

When I was 17 and began selling weed, it really was new and exciting and cool. Things quickly went from let’s see if I can sell an ounce a week, to my guy fronting me 4lbs a week roughly within three months and that was making me almost a crazy amount of money after being broke my whole life. I never had the coolest clothes, or the nicest shoes. I never owned a pair of Js. For one, my dad doesn’t understand shoes and would never spend that much on them and two, I just knew we didn’t have that kind of money for me to have shoes. It wasn’t just about the money though, for once in my life, I felt like I was popular or cool because now everyone needed me and I had good product for good prices and I would deliver. I also had five guys that worked for me and a driver. Things were crazy and by the time I was 20 years old, I made about a million dollars that we blew, moved to a nice apartment on the eastside of Milwaukee, had a beautiful girlfriend, a great dog, a lot of friends and I was about to become a senior in college studying Environmental Science. Nothing could stop me.

Granted. Since I was 18, I was basically doing and selling powder cocaine everyday. The weed market I was in, turned to coke, Molly or X, LSD, shrooms, pills, K, and in order to promote my product I had to try it all of course. I should have listened to BIGGIE and not got high on my own supply, but we really were making so much money that I did way too much drugs. I took ‘candy flippin’ and ‘hippie trippin’ to whole new levels. I was kinda like “Mikey” he’ll try anything. It seemed like it was ok at the time because of everything I had going in my life which looking back was a complete disaster, but trying heroin ended everything.

When heroin came into my life, it started taking my friends away, then where I lived had to change, I couldn’t go to school and other business ventures ended because of snitches.It was a perfect storm for heroin to take over my life. Oxy had switched from OC to OP and that made heroin use skyrocket, a lot of my friends were in perks or doing pills and once it was too hard to find pills, they all switched to heroin and so I started selling heroin. Selling heroin as a heroin user is a terrible idea, heroin is a terrible idea either way but with the money and resources I had, I really did a lot those first years, really making that canyon in my brain deep and long and really hard to climb out of. (Please read “The Obsession”)

Heroin took over my life and I lost everything, the girl, the friends, the life, the respect, the dog was even killed indirectly because of my drug use. (Please Read Pink Diary), and I was broke and dropped out of school and moved countless times all over Wisconsin. Until I went to rehab in Florida to really try to get clean. This was October 25, 2012. I got clean December 5th 2020. It is not about want. I wanted to get clean since I started using in 2008. Rehab in Florida is where I really tried to get clean and did take direction and I did listen, I just was a young punk and was still fighting the treatment. I didn’t want to face my problems and I really didn’t even know which problems were bothering me the most. It takes a lot of growth and maturity to realize what issues there are and what it takes to get through those issues. I attempted rehabs so many different times and I did understand what they were trying to say, it was just putting it all together and using what worked for me in order to change who I am and what kind of person I wanted to be. It is progress, not perfection, every single day.In and out of rehabs all over the country, literally and they all basically had a similar message. Go to meetings, get a sponsor, work the steps, and that works for many people and I am all for it if it works for you, I used my own version of all of those and I prefer 1 on 1 counseling, but I am not opposed to NA/AA at all. I just feel everyone needs their own treatment program and that each person has specific needs when it comes to their individual treatment. I understand that the 12 Steps have worked for a lot of people and I actually really like the 12 Principles but I still think treatment plans must be individualized for everyone. Going through all the groups and meetings that I have, coping skills, what they are, and how to use them is one of the pivotal tools you will learn in treatment.

Not one drug treatment tool we learn in rehab is going to keep us sober. It is using everything we’ve learned and applying that to our lives in order to create a life so worth living that drugs have no place in it anymore. Coping skills are cool because they can be anything and for everyone they are different. A coping skill is doing anything to deal with your problems, stress, or anxiety that doesn’t involve using drugs or alcohol. Doing anything to cope with life besides drugs, which only created more problems anyway. Coping skills can be unique to each person and although there are some common ones, finding the coping skills that suit you are going to be one of the most important things you do for yourself in recovery.

My coping skills start with the basics like talking to my sobriety coach, venting to friends or family, and talking to my therapist. Anything can be a coping skill as long as it doesn’t involve using drugs or drinking. The whole purpose is to replace drugs and alcohol as your coping mechanism with something that is going to benefit you in the long run. Something that is not harmful to your future and that doesn’t steal your soul, preferably. Drugs and alcohol may mask your feelings the way you want, they may make you not feel, or feel invisible, but the problem isn’t with the drugs, the problem is within ourselves. The way we treat ourselves, reflects how we feel about ourselves and that is directly related to which coping mechanisms we use. The healthy ones, like talking to a friend and going for a bike ride, or listening to music and walking the dog, writing and playing with your kids, or anything that isn’t drug use.

I used to not need much of a reason to use drugs. If my eyes opened that day, my obsession started and drugs were it. Getting sober a million times but never really doing all the work it takes to stay clean. Getting clean these last few times and really starting to figure it out. I still relapsed and I had 19 months clean before around when my son was born and another 9 months after my first overdose. I used bits and pieces from every recovery center, detox and rehab that I went to, all of my jail time and just living life, going through everything I have and things still have a long way to go. But I don’t use drugs to cope with life anymore, I am done being passive and hurting myself because of it. Life is too short not to take full advantage of every moment and really strive for the impossible. I never thought I would be where I am today and of course there will always be work to do when it comes to staying clean. Coping with the stresses of the world in a different way has really been the biggest change for me in my life. It isn’t what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you that is going to define you.

“Create A Life Worth Living”

I have been trying to get clean for over a decade, I wanted to get clean, I needed to get clean, and I knew life would be better if I got clean. But, the addiction does not care what I wanted, I was obsessed with heroin and escaping life which seemed like how my life would end. They say we aren’t addicted to the drugs themselves, rather we are addicted to the way they make us feel and the escaping power they have on our lives. It really turns into a horrible cycle which is hard for some people to understand. The more we use, the more we feel like shit about ourselves, the guilt, and shame, and then we go through the physical sickness and that is awful, but to avoid that we use. Starting the cycle over and over again. I hear all the time that the user will not get clean unless they want to, which 100% I agree with, however, the want to get clean is not always enough, there really is so much more to it.

Even after we get clean for a month, three, twelve, life still happens and it is not always easy. Life really has a crazy way of throwing things at us that we think we can’t handle. Somehow, someway, we figure it out and that is what life’s about. It really is not what happens to us that dictates who we are or how we are going to live our lives. Rather, it is how we deal with what happens in our lives that is going to dictate who we are and who we become in our lives. Changing how I deal with things and what I ALLOW to bother me has really been a big step forward in my recovery. We have no control over what other people do, and life happens, so it isn’t what happens, rather how you deal with what happens that is important.

I always thought if I were able to get rid of the drugs, or eliminate the drugs from my life, that the work to stay clean would be easy. Early on in my addiction I really thought that if I could just get over the physical illness that everything else would be easy. The physical withdrawals are so intense, literally it feels like I am about to die, but I don’t, I keep living through it, feeling every second of it. Escaping how I felt about myself and my life is really what lead to my relapses every time. I may have cleaned the drugs out of my system, and detoxed so many times that it just became normal, but I thought that was all I needed for my treatment, was to get over the physical sickness. I really couldn’t even process the mental addiction the drugs had on my brain, read the “Obsession” if you haven’t, and because of that, I never really was able to or wanted to address some of the major reasons why I continue to use. A lot of people may try drugs or alcohol, but to become an addict takes a perfect storm of circumstances that leads us to thinking that drugs are the only option for us to feel better about ourselves.It comes down to personal self worth, self esteem, and value of self, that is why we treat ourselves so good, or so bad depending on how we are living. One of the biggest things for me was thinking that I wouldn’t wish dope sickness, and withdrawal on my worst enemy, but I put myself through it everyday. If that isn’t the most convoluted statement ever. The self destructive behavior had to stop and once I was able to realize that I wasn’t getting high because I wanted to, I was getting high to cover up how I felt about myself. Then I had to figure out why I felt that way about myself and change my focus, change what I wanted to have important to my life.

I did have a lot of trauma happen to me as a child, mostly at 4 years old, is when everything happened. Sexual abuse, Abandonment, Cop Car, Foster Care, and then being sent to live with my father who I hadn’t know that well at that point. Then in 2012 when my ex girlfriend murdered my dog and it became world news, please read “Pink Diary”, my PTSD from that has really taken a toll on me. For a long time, and sometimes still today I feel guilty for not protecting MJ. Makes me sad, but she would be happy to know that because of her, I got away from that woman, and maybe she would have killed me next, she is back in prison now, but if MJ could see me now, her tail would be waggin for sure, with those floppy ears.

Anyway, Since 2008, when my first two friends passed away during college, a month apart, I have had forty more friends pass away and having to save the life of a few of my buddies and a few girlfriends, has really taken its toll on my mind and thoughts. It is scary and I have saved more lives, and had more friends die than anyone I know combined, besides the ones in the medical field. That is crazy! My point is, regardless of all of that, I can sit down, feel sorry for myself and do nothing. For a while, getting high, I thought was working, but it just compounds the issues and creates more issues, and how I lived like that is mind boggling to me. I never wanted anyone to feel sorry for me but I wanted to share my story and some people took that as a narcissistic attempt to get people to feel sorry for me. I never wanted that at all, just wanted to share what I went through and the pain that I was masking with drugs. This was me sharing my story before I created SoberSteveRecovery and was called that then, so imagine some of what I deal with now. It really is crazy, but the reason I shared my story was so people could maybe understand why I was the way I was and what I dealt with in my life that makes me who I am. Everyone says, I went through hard times as well, and that may be the case, and I completely understand that everyone goes through life and things happen to all of us. Again it is how we deal with things that really makes us who we are. For the most part, addiction issues stem from some kind of childhood trauma mixed with a lack of nurture during the pivotal years of about 4-14, where children really start to form who they are going to become and how they feel about themselves.

Not everyone is predisposed through genetics to have addiction issues and even some who are may never be exposed to drugs so their addiction never starts. I say this a lot and it’s like the movie ‘Perfect Storm’, and that is how I explain how I became addicted to heroin. All aspects of my life, how I felt about myself, who was in my life and how the flow of everyday went, when I first tried heroin, I really did not think about the long term devastation it was about to cause in my life. I didn’t really know, but I was smart enough too, just the variables lined up and my addiction started, by the time I thought it may be a problem I was hooked and I guess embarrassed and ashamed to say anything so I just started to dictate my life. Using is just such a terrible cycle, we use to feel better about ourselves and to physically feel better, but the drugs make us feel worse about ourselves for doing them, and when we do not have them, we get sick. Even coming off of uppers, like meth and crack the crash makes us feel like such shit, the endorphins and serotonin gets so messed up that the crash is like being dope sick, just completely depressed and then we use drugs to mask that or feel better. And so the cycle continues.

Everyone asks what to do to get clean or how they can help their loved one get clean. I am currently trying to help a pregnant wife in South Africa with her ‘stone’ addicted husband into treatment. I believe that is meth. But the main thing is if the person wants to get clean, then the work begins, nothing can happen unless the person wants to get clean and like me, even then, it can take 13 years and 40 rehabs to get clean. I never gave up on myself, or my future and now I am creating the type of life I always knew I deserved. Once, the person says they want help, I am starting to recommend a 28 day inpatient rehab center. The week-long detox is not long enough, and for people who say they can’t go somewhere for 28 days, if you don’t you could be dead and that is forever. So just be willing, and open to try to go outside of your comfort zone for a better life long term. The 28 day detox will start out with a lot of withdrawal and sickness and being medically monitored really helps, they try to make it a little more bearable. Then building up the body and getting physically stronger is what those week 2 and 3 are about. The brain will be so scattered with drug dreams, cravings, racing thoughts, and in the beginning stages of healing. Do not overwhelm yourself too quickly into recovery. Too many times I tried rushing back to life and without doing any work to stay clean, that’s leading to relapse for sure. That last week of impatient treatment is where the work really starts to begin.

Through the first few weeks, there are groups to attend and it is laying the groundwork for the long term treatment plan. Which I strongly believe is different for everyone, but basically follows a template. Relapse Prevention Plan, Coping Skills, and a Crisis Plan in case of major catastrophic events, on to a daily recovery plan, it does take work everyday. I also have a Therapist, Psychiatrist, and great Medical doctor, and his two nurses, and an amazing sobriety coach who has been by my side since the beginning of my recovery journey which has been a big help. Going to a 60 year old man in AA for my sponsor just was not going to be conducive to my recovery and I knew that. Like I said, 40 rehabs, I did 90 in 90, meaning meetings, and then did it again. I really was always open to trying things to get clean, and I followed directions. It just was that the cure is not the exact same for everyone.

The cycle of addiction is literally the devil at work, and he is constantly waiting for a lapse, or a moment of vulnerability or weakness so he can squeeze back into our lives. Everyday that we use the tools we have to defeat our addiction is one more day built on our foundation to recovery. Our addiction never took any days off, and either does our work in recovery. They say we mentally and emotionally relapse before we ever pick up the drink or drugs and physically relapse. It is important to stay focused, have a solid treatment plan, and build a really great support system around you. The idea is to create a life for yourself that is so great and so amazing, that even when hardships occur, living this recovery life is indispensable.

‘Crawfish ‘n the Bayou’

“This is supposed to be a road, trip. All we’re doing is driving all the time.”

It was my cousin’s graduation from high school and I went to California for a trip with my dad and step mom. 52 hours in Cali and that was it in 13 years….

That was my first trip anywhere since I went to Gulf Shores, Alabama after Christmas in 2008. I mean I did get shipped to rehab in Florida, but that was hardly a vacation. Ending up homeless and rehab hopping towards the end there in Florida was hardly my idea of a vacation. I ended up going to Las Vegas for my 21st birthday in September of 2008. I also taped heroin to my nut sack for that trip. Gulf Shores I had brought enough for the trip and actually ran out, can you believe that. Well, I toughed it out as long as I could and the first second someone talked about going home, I said I’ll drive lol. I did that drive from Gulf Shores to Milwaukee in less than 10 hours and I realized that was the last time I could go on vacation as long as I was on heroin. 

    I would even just go away for a weekend and I couldn’t manage it. There was too much I had to plan for and I never had enough money to just buy enough supply to travel with. That never worked out anyway and I just decided against traveling all together. The few times I had clean time over the years I was able to do a few things but I never really went anywhere besides Cali for my cousin’s graduation party. I never thought I would stop traveling in my life because I had already been to about 30 states and Mexico and the Boundary Waters by Canada so traveling was always a big deal to me. I loved going to California with my Grandma to visit our family that still lives there. When I was like 12-16 I went to Cali like 10 times probably with my Grandma and it really was part of my peace. 

    I loved California and the beach so much that when I was 14 my dad and I talked about moving there, but I wanted to be in High School with my friends, that was what we had been waiting for so I wasn’t going to move. I did love Cali though and the memories I have with my grandma are unforgettable and since she passed in 2015 I have only gone to California one time. Traveling has definitely not been a priority during my addiction to heroin and I really missed being able to explore. I haven’t even seen all of the U.S. and I want to do the rest of the world too. Being addicted to heroin, I would never have been able to go anywhere cool and I used to actually pass up going on a trip because I knew I physically couldn’t get through the trip without getting super dope sick and it just wasn’t worth it. 

    I always am up for a road trip and I have even hitch hiked a little bit in my time, well, more than five times for real and I love road trips, the Tom Green movie and actual road trips. I have driven from Wisconsin, to Florida and then Florida to Taos, New Mexico and then back to Wisconsin. I have driven back from Denver with my Brother and with the late B Cubed, I road tripped from Orlando to South Beach Miami. Those are just a few of my road trips, and there were many more. I plan to do many more and now that I am sober I really can do whatever I want which is a beautiful thing. 

    I woke up this morning in New Orleans, Louisiana. Actually just to the East of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain which is almost like a lake in the sense that it has water. The locals told me that there are Bull Sharks, although, they said, “don’t worry, they are just baby four footer bull sharks,” I mean that doesnt help me much considering lakes that I am used to have no sharks. Just an idea. They built they the longest bridges in the world across the lake, it’s like 26 miles long and is actually quite the site to see if you ever are able to get to New Orleans. I did find some areas off the main drag and in the deep Louisiana South where there was still some debri  from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. New Orleans has always been on my list of cities that I wanted to visit and I always love seeing the ocean. How can you not love the power, beauty and sanctity of the ocean. The sound of the waves and the wildlife are so peaceful and just being in a calm environment and away from the drama of everyday life. 

    There is a lot to do when I get back next week, firstly, I get to see my son on Thursday’s starting after Easter and then I have a lot regarding school and work that I have to get caught up on. But right now I am focused on finally giving my mind and body a vacation from active addiction which isn’t fun at all, regardless of what people think, and now a vacation from all the stress I have been putting on myself building my life back. I love it, and everyday is better than the last, but everyone deserves a vacation and I haven’t been on one in 14 years. My cousin’s graduation was a 52 hour trip to Cali. I’m glad I got to go but I wish I would have been able to stay longer but it was still good to get away. I did get into the ocean and swim with my cousins before they both went and go off to college. Cali I will definitely do again and I wouldn’t mind doing parts of Florida, but there is a whole world I want to explore now that I am sober. I plan to do a lot of traveling, schedule permitting, but none of that would be possible if I was still obsessing about getting high everyday. It really is a miracle and amazing that my brain is finally able to think about something else and I am able to live a semi normal life.LOL.

    Life in the Bayou is much slower and much more laid back then life outside of Madison. Talking to the guy working the crawfish stand, he sells 1200lbs a week of crawfish and has over 6,000 crab traps which is a lot. I mean this is these guys lives and it is all they know and everything they know. Crawfish is good but just the whole thing is unusual for me because in Lake Michigan I catch big SmallMouth Bass on crawfish so to be the one eating them was different. The meat is really good though, not gonna lie, it is. The gator was good too, and I already know I love oysters but I had some really good ones. They really are able to live off of the land down here and they definitely do not waste any opportunity to fry something and eat it. 

Being on the Bayou with family and seeing how they live down here has been quite the learning experience. From Hollygrove where Lil Wayne is from to the tip of the boot of Louisiana and out to Biloxi Mississippi, a road trip like this never would have been possible if I was still using. I woke up everyday sick with the  how to get drugs today mentality and that controlled everyday of my life. I never had much control over what I was going to do with my day or week. 

    Tomorrow I get to spend the day with my brother and his family in New Orleans exploring the historic Bourbon and Canal St. I already drove through there because after driving 12 hours I wanted to actually get to the heart of New Orleans instead of just the outskirts. But it will be super fun to explore Nawlins with the fam.

    The life I am creating without heroin in it has been so fulfilling and it literally just started with the rest of my life to build on the foundation I have created. There are so many things happening with SoberSteveRecovery and with transferring colleges and with working that it is so sweet that my schedule is pretty flexible as long as I get my work done. That is how it is going to be for me and that is perfect. I am excited about my life and watching my son grow up. Everything will continue to progress and it really is going to be the life I dreamt about when I was stuck using drugs everyday. I literally would just think to myself or say out loud that I just want to feel normal. I almost said be normal, I’ll never be normal, but at least I can feel content without drugs and my future has just begun.

“Getting Clean During Covid-19”

Coronavirus- Covid-19- Corona- Rona- the vid

Getting clean during the Pandemic:

It was about August of 2008 that I really started to realize I was physically addicted to heroin. I had been using since April of 2008 and pretty much right away my family was notified by some friends about what I was doing but I lied my way out of it and made that go away but me, myself, wanted to stop pretty quickly after starting. I really did try to get clean myself, but those first few times going through withdrawal my body had no clue what was going on and literally I was a complete mess. I didn’t last long detoxing, and relapse was always easier than going through withdrawal, and detox, and facing our problems. Those first few times it was just so shocking how fucking sick it made me that I really was in disbelief and just used to deal with that. Moving forward I was raided in February of 09’ and had a little bit of heroin and again lied about why I had that. Still no one really knew that I was dealing with this heroin obsession everyday. I had to go to treatment in 09’ for my drug case but I lied my way through that program and it just became the norm. Anyway, this is not a story about using, this is my journey of recovery. I always wish I would have documented more of myself during active addiction, but maybe nobody wants to see that and there is no way I would have thought of that during all my years of being strung out. I did try to get clean about a thousand times on my own but I really have been to about 40 rehab or treatment programs and getting clean last year during CoronaVirus, Covid-19, seemed like it would have been impossible. Last Winter I had relapsed and going into 2020 I was already using everyday, this led to losing a job but I thought it was a new year, and I was ready to start new. I had some money, but I would just get clean and find a job I liked and start fresh. Well, using all of January, turned to February, and right as I thought maybe I will get clean from heroin, finally, Covid-19 was first reported and any hope of getting a job or starting over pretty much stopped. It’s not like I needed much more of a reason to use, or to keep using, but a worldwide pandemic that scares everyone fit right into my addictions hands because now I would have to isolate and distance and at first everyone was so afraid it was really easy to just do whatever I wanted without more people caring. It isn’t funny but I had a friend that would always ask me, doesn’t anyone care that you’re killing yourself. And it was like, kinda yea, no, I don’t know, I assume so, but what are they gonna do about it. It is not like Covid created my addiction but using during Covid just was easy and it went together because there were no expectations for me to do anything else. I could use and go home and go home and use and this was everyday because everyone was afraid r. I remember one day I was just leaving and my dad had stopped over so I had to turn around and just chill but I was so anxious to use, just an everyday obsession. It never gave up, not even one day off, everyday you think maybe you won’t have to deal with your addiction, boom it’s there needing to be handled. It really rips you away from every part of life in order for it to be filled. I had a car for a few months early on during Covid but I got my OWI on March 26th and literally by early April I basically drove the wheels off of my car. My addiction didn’t stop just because I didn’t have a car and so I began biking 25 miles one way in order to score my drugs, sometimes I had to bike dope sick, or in the freezing cold, or the pouring rain. I even did the bike trip twice in one day a few times and I think the most I tallied in one day for dope was 120 miles on a bicycle. Some people wouldn’t even do that just for fun and I was doing it just for dope. It was really nuts, I really did just keep pedaling and while becoming skinny and not eating, I saw the city for what it really was up close. All Spring and Summer I biked through the city streets of Milwaukee and I saw the protests, the inequality in the streets, the destruction and the sadness. It really was eye opening for what was going on in the world. Every morning I would bike through the city and just hope for change. A change in me. A change in society. A change in the City. A change in the world. I don’t know what we will change but starting with changing myself was a good start. I didn’t want to be hooked on heroin but once I was finding something to replace my love for heroin seemed nearly impossible. I wrote “The Obsession” explaining how our brains are so fixated on the drug and how the obsession rules all. Eliminating or lifting the obsession is that part that needs figuring out. For everyone lifting the obsession is different, and it is so different that it may take 13 years and 40 attempts and going all over the country trying everything before they get it. It is your journey, and however you get there is fine. Do not let anyone tell you that your sobriety isn’t enough or that you’re not clean because you’re on medication. If your life is semi normal, and by normal I mean, you don’t have to drug seek all day. Then just forget them. People always like to talk shit when we aren’t doing well. But as soon as we do good, they run out of shit to say. People rarely will tell you how good you are doing, slip up, then you’ll hear them, never let how others look at you control your motivation. I always let how others talked about me affect my recovery and just used it as reasons to relapse. Those days are over, and now there is no reason to relapse. I have so many coping skills, that I don’t even have to use most of them because the ones I use work, but I have back ups. I heard about having a crisis plan, just in case during recovery, let’s say in 6 months, something crazy happens. Well, it is good to have a crisis plan, no one could have accounted for MaryJane being killed but maybe if I had a crisis plan I may have been able to deal with it better. But it is important early on in recovery to always have a plan or people to turn to in case of moments of anxiety and depression. I never thought I would really get clean during a pandemic, let alone live during a time that we are forced to wear masks. My addiction doesn’t care that we have to social distance and wear a mask, I still had to get my drugs everyday. It really was awful having to deal with everything that was freaking society out and dealing with how people interacted, meanwhile, I am trying to use a public bathroom in the “hood” so I can shoot my drugs. What a scene, it is a predominantly black neighborhood, the white boy on the bicycle stops to use the bathroom for 20 minutes, because I have so many layers of clothes on, and I am so dehydrated that I have no veins to use. I have spent 45 minutes in a public bathroom covered in blood trying to get myself unsick. It really isn’t a nice seen. I hate that that was my life and I hate that it still is some people’s lives. I would always find other “rigs” and “kits” in the bathroom that showed me that someone else had been there that day to get high. Pretty crazy but I saw that all over every city I’ve been in, signs of drug use. It really is the pandemic behind the pandemic. Dealing with trying to live a lifestyle where biking 5 hours a day for heroin makes sense is really hard sometimes. I am a smart guy, not the show, but like most people who use, we have so much potential and thinking about how my life was is really sad to me. I just fight every day to never have to live that way and if sharing the bull shit and horror I dealt with and lived through helps keep the next person from living that life, then it is all worth it. Getting clean during Covid was never part of the plan because Covid was never part of the plan but getting clean was what had to be done and even though for most of the year I just used and knew I was using. I did try to go to detox, and I did detox myself a bunch of times, my mind just drove me crazy and at like day 4 or 5 the obsession would win and I “had” to use and then it was start over. I fight for my life everyday, but to get clean during Covid, and I quit smoking, it saves me 10 bucks a pack on my green menthol cigs every other day, which is nice, it seemed impossible that I was going to be able to do all of that and now all of this and still have more that I am doing and to look forward too. Getting clean during Covid, was especially hard because we are told to distance from family and friends and we are forced to stay home, bored, and alone, so they even have statistics that say, drug use, depression, and sadly suicide rates are all higher during the Pandemic because people feel so alone. For me it was more of a I am just so sick of this life I have lived, I know what I have to do, and I am going to do it to the fullest because if I don’t I am going to die. If I die then I am gone, but I am worthless and I really wanted to at least try to fulfill my potential. I wasted this much time fucking around, and I still work at this recovery stuff everyday. I am not perfect and I still have a long way to go. I do know that I do not put a needle in my arm to function normally anymore and that is always a plus. I do know that nothing short of amazing things have happened since I became Sober Steve and since I got clean I have really had some blessings happen in my life and it really is only the beginning. Getting clean during Covid seemed impossible and I really am still in shock that this is my life and that it really is only the beginning. So many great things have happened already and I still have so much I want to accomplish, learn, and do, so I will continue to share my current journey and my past as it all creates who I am today. If anyone needs anything don’t be afraid to reach out. Search for the SoberSteveRecovery Podcast anywhere you listen to your Podcasts.

“The Obsession”

Imagine the Colorado River, slowly carving what we know as the Grand Canyon into the desert of the Southeastern United States. The cliffs of the Canyon being so dangerous and steep. I was with my brother and we had quite a scare one year at the Grand Canyon, but that is a different story. Let’s just say I fell into the Canyon and I wanted to get out. Now imagine the river is heroin addiction flowing through my brain and the canyon is literally forming, deeper and deeper and longer and longer in my brain. The more we use drugs the deeper and steeper the canyon gets which is why addiction is a progressive disease. The drugs really make these tracks on our brains, as we make tracks on our arms. I always seemed to fall back into the same using patterns and dosage amounts that I was using when I quit and that all happened pretty quickly after a relapse. It takes 6 months to a year of no drugs for the brain to start healing THE GRAND CANYON that we made with drugs in our brain. It takes about two years for the brain to really start to heal and that is only the beginning. I have to be constantly working at my recovery or my addiction might try to take advantage of that. Being deep in the canyon obviously makes fighting to get out of our addiction that much harder. When we are within our addiction it is much easier to stay down and use drugs than it is to stand up face the cliffs of our obsession. 

    Explaining the obsession finally came out in a way that made sense after I had been talking to some friends that I was close to from before 2008, when everything started to go really down hill, and of course they had lots of questions for me. I welcome all questions all the time of course and a lot of the time, I will get the, I don’t want to upset you or don’t get mad for asking… 

I am not going to get mad, and I enjoy sharing because it helps everyone understand better, and I am learning more about myself everyday so it is just all about growth. But in trying to verbalize the overwhelmingness of the obsession I realised that it was harder than I thought to explain. Imagine waking up everyday and having only One thing on your mind. Being focused on something like lunch during your work day is not what I am talking about. This One thing doesn’t allow anyone or anything to come before it. Until we take care of that one thing, we pretty much are useless. Won’t be able to think about anything else, do anything else, care about anything else, until that one thing is taken care of. I explained to my friend why it was impossible to make plans, or commit to doing anything because how can I plan a day if I have no idea when or even if I will be able to take care of this one thing. Sometimes I might have spent all day taking care of that one thing just for it not to be good enough to tame it fully. This one thing did not take any days off, it didn’t care if we had school, had to work, a birthday, christmas, it took no days off. The stress of trying to hide this One thing plus control leads us back to it anyway so it really becomes an everyday all day cycle because even if the one thing is handled intermittently the next day is still right around the corner and there is no stopping it or delaying it. That One thing is our obsession with our drug of choice. Our obsession was never satisfied even after we thought we satisfied it and it was an everyday cycle and explaining how the obsession works is the hardest part because people can’t grasp the concept of just having one thing on your mind, life actually one, not a fake, all I can think about is tacos. Type shit. We are not the same.

    Going back to the Grand Canyon analogy which is actually pretty great because while using the concept of the steep cliffs and visual presence that it brings, it shows the complexity it takes for us to battle our addiction. Then to add to the analogy, imagine the heroin river of addiction is meandering through our lives while the river hits rapids and rough waters and there is no way we are going to get clean while we are battling the addiction, trying to hide the addiction, and dealing with life. Then lets say, we even get a break from life for a few minutes during a slow part of the river, or lets say a week in detox.

    This, it would seem, would be the time to pull ourselves up away from the river and back to the top of the canyon. Easier said than done because after 18 years of drinking, drugging and hard drugging, my Canyon was almost at the Point Of No Return. Having the time after detox, our break from the river, really did nothing for the long term issues that our brains deal with after being wired around drugs for too long. Everyone expects that we are just fixed all of a sudden because we have been separated from the drugs for a week, or two, or a month. 

    Literally even if we are able to get a week to go to detox, as soon as we are done we are expected to go right back to our lives and just have a group meeting and that is supposed to fix everything. Not only has the drug created this Canyon in our brains so deep that its seemingly impossible to get out of, we have to deal with the continuous stressors of life as well as imagine along the edge of the cliffs are all of our triggers and as we close in on maybe making some progress in getting out of the canyon, these triggers keep hitting us in the face as we are trying to find our way out. 

    Fresh off of detox my main triggers that would get me to use would be:

  1. People not believing that I am actually clean
  2. Accused of using or being high
  3. Being Berated for my previous behavior
  4. Triggers can be any, PEOPLE, PLACEs, or THINGS
  5. Guilt and Shame after 2012 for what happened to MJ (read “Pink Diary)
  6. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem
  7. “It’s not personal, its business.” (Listen to Episode 6)

Those really were some of the easiest excuses to use. My main trigger was always there, the obsession, though no matter what I did it doesn’t go away until it is either fed or lifted. Triggers are different for everyone. The obsession is very much the same. It is the basis for the canyon analogy, the obsession that our brains put on these drugs is unreal and the obsession is so overwhelming and powerful that no other thoughts can even enter our minds, and it is even irritating to think about something else and until we take care of the obsession by using. We literally drive ourselves insane because we do not want to do more drugs but the only thing that will shut off our obsessed brain is the drugs.            

Having a drug obsessed brain is like needing something to drink when you are thirsty. Cant talk, dry mouth, lips sticking to your teeth, thirsty. But while your brain and thoughts are all about fixing your thirst issue. The solution you are told by everyone around you is to start telling yourself you aren’t thirsty. How ridiculous does that sound and instead of having a group of people keeping you in your Canyon, you need a group of people ready to pull you out. Right before you drink something after you work out next time. Dont. Just mess with the obsession for a little bit. Imagine. Being so thirsty and trying to talk yourself out of it. This is what it is like for us when we are struggling with our addiction and we are newly off drugs.

In the grand scheme of healing and treatment, we have to stop looking at drug treatment like a bandaid that is just a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Well addiction is not a temporary problem and a bandaid is not going to be enough. Addiction is a life threatening disease, we did not choose to become drug addicted human beings, we may have chosen to try drugs, but we never chose to live this life. That is where education needs to be implemented. Not one of my friends who struggles with drugs ever thought this would be their lives. We all have different stories for what leads us to using drugs. The reasons that we all kept using drugs, that reason is much more universal. Self Esteem.

    Spending days and weeks sick in contemplation mode knowing what the right thing to do is but knowing the wrong way is easier. Getting clean from the drugs was hardly the main issue, I could stop using and I would make myself suffer through detox for a few days just to relapse after a few days clean because I literally was going insane from the obsession for heroin that my brain had. The obsession does not just lift because the drugs have been removed from our lives for a few days. The mental strain that these drugs put on the human brain is so detrimental to how we function on a day to day basis. Being “clean” from the drugs for a little while is not enough to heal our brains and the drug obsession is real.

Some times, I would be completely out of the physical sickness stage and be on the other side of the intense withdrawal but the obsession would be just overwhelming.I have gotten “clean” so many times that I actually have no clue how many times that I got clean from the drugs for a f. Getting clean was never really the hard part. I would force myself to detox for a few days just randomly and I would be completely useless for a few days but I would at least be off the drugs for a few days. It was such an obsession though in my mind and my thoughts were only focused on one thing so even after a few days of not using opiates, the obsession would just get greater and greater. Anyone who has ever been obsessed with anything knows that it is so hard to shut off the obsession. There were days that I just submitted to my addiction and that would go on for weeks or months at a time without even a thought of quitting. I keep trying to think of a good analogy for why it is so hard to stay clean from drugs once we do get a few days or even weeks clean. 

    Everyone looked at me like I was a failure or that I was not really trying because in their minds it should have been much easier to get clean than it has been. It literally took me 12 years of trying and failing to finally figure out a treatment plan that worked for me. I still have to work at my recovery everyday and I am always going to have to do that and that is ok with me. I really enjoy sharing my story to create awareness and I hope my transparency really helps others.

    If we put half as much energy into our recovery as we did our addictions, there is no reason we can’t be successful. We used to jokingly say this but not it really could not be more true. It is common for people who struggle with addiction to have about average IQ but also have mental illness or childhood trauma/ abandonment issues that lead to their drug use. Take the drugs away and remove the obsession and there really is unlimited potential there. 

    I wish I had an exact timetable for when the obsession lifts or what makes that voice in our heads stop shouting that it needs drugs. For some people it happens quickly. I was not one of them, even when I had 16 months clean when my son was born, I still had reservations about using drugs. I always wanted to keep the option open to use if I ever needed to. It is never an option ever again but for 13 years it was the only way that I knew how to cope or deal with anything. The obsession has been lifted and now I use so many different coping mechanisms and process and handling things so much different and I am still continuing to grow that way.

It really is just a one track, one focus obsession and I would say that I would not wish being dope sick on even my worst enemy. But I would put myself through it every single day. It really does not make sense when I was able to step away from it all. The self destructive and high risk behavior occurs because I didn’t value myself. It is time to really embrace my life and fulfill my potential. Trying to explain the obsession of drugs has been one of the harder topics for me to explain. I hope anyone that is trying to understand why their loved one just can’t stop using drugs reads this and it helps them understand what we are going through. We do not want to be this way, but the longer we do damage to our spirit, body and mind with drugs, the deeper and stronger the obsession becomes and therefore harder to stop. Everyone is different but we no matter what treatment plan we choose for ourselves, a support group is a must. With the pandemic and the way some groups made me feel, I created a group online that anyone can be a part of to ask questions or get support whether it is for them or for a loved one who struggles with addiction. Someone is always available to talk from all over the world. We are in this together, and together. WE can destroy the stigma.

If you aren’t already a member check out the Facebook Group SoberSteveRecovery Or visit us on Instagram or watch my YouTube Channel. Please also check out the SoberSteveRecovery Podcast anywhere you listen to your Podcasts. 

Brain Imagery to show a little perspective.

“Like Pieces to a Recovery Puzzle”

      For so long I really thought I was a lost cause when it came to getting off of heroin. When it came to living a normal life that didn’t revolve around using drugs. It was an obsession every minute of every day and even though I had all of the tools to grow past a life of drugs. The drugs kept winning every day. Made it really hard to live a normal life and do things that I really enjoyed doing.
    Most of the relapse prevention and coping skills I learned over the 13 years of going to rehabs all over the country were always in my mind and I liked to tell others about them. Living them was a different story. The last five years of going to treatment I would joke that I could teach this “shit,” and I really could have. It was after going to treatment about 30 times between 09’ and 16’, which when it is put like that, sounds absolutely crazy, 10 times from about 16’ to 19’ and that is even a lot. The point is I really was able to finally implement some of the things I learned in all of those years of rehab.
         I really did start making my first real attempts at getting clean after my ex girlfriend killed MaryJane, read “Pink Diary” (Google (Animal Cruelty, 2012, Wausau, Mary)) Just so people know what I went through, it was on GMA and in USA Today. After that I went to rehab in Florida for 74 days and I really did try to learn about how to get and stay sober. I also always asked questions but then I did get side tracked and I got kicked out for going to South Beach with a girl. Yea, that happened. Funny Story. True Story. Real World True Story, 7 Strangers living in one house. Ask me about it sometime and I will tell everyone.
         All of my attempts at rehab and recovery were really just building blocks for me to finally get recovering. Getting through detox and then after the recovery stage, all of the things I have done to really change my life are much different than how I used to handle my life. I never was much for using coping skills and relapse prevention was never a thought. How I could relapse and now get caught. That was the usual thought process ever before I thought about how I could be prevented.
           That is the worst part about addiction, it is the only disease that tells us that we don’t have a disease. I always had people to turn to and talk to about my issues and to vent to, but I would always just turn to drugs because not only is it easier, it’s always there. Well it seemed like it was the best way to handle things. However, the self destructive behavior and not being able to just live a normal life because of the drugs made it obvious drugs were not the answer. Now getting off of them was the hard part.
Obviously you have to get through the detox portion of the recovery process.  Listen to my Podcast and read the other articles on this blog about how I detox and got through withdrawal. I really wish I made a withdrawal video. It was awful and it would have really been eye opening for people who have never seen someone withdrawal hard. It really is not a pleasant sight. I was quite sick, like the flu times 100. But it is too late now for that video but I have talked about it. Once you get through withdrawal, I recommend going to a detox facility and just get through the hardest part with some medical help. Then is when the real work begins.
       Relapse prevention really breaks down to the connections we build and the relationships we cherish. The people, places and things around us that we make important and that are healthy options for our treatment. I noticed that this time around things were much different. All of the relationships that I have built recently are extremely important and I would not let anything in the world interfere with those. Mostly with my son, but also with any of the family that I have recently reconnected with. Reconnection with myself has been really the biggest difference in my self esteem that I noticed. I lost who I was, I lost what I liked, and I lost what who made me me. Now getting back into things like skiing, biking, and fishing really are the things that I used to do that I cared about that occupied my time before drugs.
           That can be the hardest part at times, finding something, a hobby or interest that is either something new or something that you use to do and make that your new focal point of your time. I prefer to have a few, at least I will not get bored, but at least having one main interest is better than doing drugs. Back to those relationships we built, now that becomes my support system. That group of people that you now want to just be around and spend time with and will know if you are using or drunk because I act so different when I am all fucked up. It is nice having family back.
         I also have a team of professionals in my corner that have all really played a huge part in my recovery. Well my Primary Medical Doctor and my Therapist are super great. I have not met my Psychiatrist yet but he was referred by my Therapist and UW Health wants to hear my story and maybe study my brain. Pretty cool. My therapist is really great to talk to and that is always important. Having someone that has a non biased view on what they are hearing. He legit, has my best interest at heart. Then my MD. The man. He is who really did not give up on me like so many doctors have before. He stuck with me and we really worked together to try and get my clean once and for all.
         The craziest part is I just recently had blood work done for my Hepatitis C treatment and I was waiting to hear about the blood work so I would be able to start the treatment and get it over with. THe treatment is only 8 weeks and it would be cured. The carry always has the antibodies but not the active hep c virus. I just talked to the doctor and like Madonna and like 25% of people who get Hep C. I passed it on my own with my own natural immunity. Fancy that. “My Junkie, Crack Head, Loser” self cause I heard those a lot, beat Hep C without treatment and now I can kiss my son again without people worrying. It was pretty awesome, I really could not believe it when my doctor told me. I am going to get a doctor’s note to show people because it is almost not believable. My doctor even said it is like having a guardian angel…..
All of the treatment, and therapy and groups, meetings, and circle of family and friends are everything you need for relapse prevention. Learn what is important in life and the people close to you will help you get through most everything. However, being able to handle the stresses of fine on your own and dealing with things like an adult, without drugs, comes down to being able to cope. And that is where coping skills come into play. Coping skills really are any positive action that does not involve using drugs or drinking and does not involve anything that will lead to using. I mentioned skiing and biking, those are definitely coping skills, talking to family and friends also mentioned, also a coping skill. A lot of people get back into their artistic lifestyle and go back to drawing or painting which is very therapeutic. I suck at art but I still try, that is the most important part, just trying new things, figuring out what things I like again and maybe trying things that I know nothing about just to see if I can learn.
The most important part about coping skills is that it really is the opposite of the people, places and things that you are told to avoid regarding triggers. The opposite of a trigger is a coping skill. Triggers I don’t talk about much because to me just waking up was my trigger, it controlled me every day. Those opposite people places and things can be used as coping skills and having those things to turn to besides drugs is the only way to really have a solid structure for long term sobriety. Triggers are people, places, or things that “trigger” a person to use drugs or drink. Triggers can really be anyone or anything and that is what makes getting off of drugs and booze so impossible sometimes. Triggers are all around us and they are every day all day. The opposite of a trigger is a coping skill, and those coping skills are just positive people, places and things. If that makes sense. I never had it put to me like that.
Just makes sense to me and I really do deal with life in a much different way than I used to. I don’t always fight with people when I could. I try to pick my battles and just create the kind of drama free like that I really want to live. Not always correcting people when they are wrong like I used to has really gone a long way as well. Just minimizing my conflict, and maximizing the positive people, places, and things in my life. Getting back to the old me and finding out who I am and what I want to do with my life, well maybe not what I want to do. But I know I do not want to do heroin anymore, or be a slave in a life of addiction.
I wake up every morning and I do whatever I want. The first things I think of now are being thankful for another day, my son, and what I can do for my recovery today. I no longer am obsessed with using drugs and getting money for drugs. It is no way to live and it literally consumed my entire life. I am such a big advocate for everyone having a different treatment program. The same program will not work for everyone, and the AA book was written in 1939 by some older white males that struggled with alcohol. I am all for the 12 principles of the 12 steps and having a group united for a common goal. I do not think it is the only way to get clean and I think people get hung up on that idea and may think they can not be helped because some part of the AA and NA meetings does not click.
That is why I believe that everyone should follow their own treatment plan and do everything that they need to in order to just handle life differently. In order to cope with the anxiety and stresses of life, the relapse prevention plan and coping skills a person has are some of the most important parts of getting clean and staying clean. We all go through different stress and trauma in life and when we all use a common solution like drugs and alcohol, we have different ways we will overcome our addiction.

        My coping skills and relapse prevention tools on top of my MD and Therapist whom I actively speak to are all pieces of the recovery puzzle. Because that is honestly what it is like. 13 years and 40 rehabs of putting the pieces together. I finally have a life that I can say I enjoy. It also is just getting started. Follow my page and find me on Facebook and Instagram. Also Listen to my Podcast on Spotify. SoberSteveRecovery anywhere you go for your social media. I just recently found out that friend 42 has passed away. Please take a moment of silence for him, he was a good guy. That is why it is so important to carry Narcan, it does save lives. Please share my page with anyone you know who is still sick and struggling from the wrath of addiction.

“Keep it Simple”

I have been trying to get outside after a Covid filled 2020 and another Wisconsin winter, so I tried to bike yesterday but it was March 1st and Wisconsin wasn’t ready. Trying to get back into the lifestyle I lived before drugs is not only hard to do, it’s hard to remember. I mean I started smoking pot about 16 years ago, and since then it has been off to the races. As I became a teenager I was on my own so I did bike with friends a lot and that ended once one of us got a car. I was 15 when my buddy got a car and that ended our biking around faze. I did not realise how much I needed that time on the bike. I was never a gym rat, and was never much for running, left that to my brother. But anyform of stress relief, anxiety release, whatever you want to call it, went out the window. I never dealt with the issues that bothered me as a young child and as a teenager I was so worried about girls and having fun. That fun carried me into a crazy lifestyle and I was really trying to mask the sadness I felt as a kid. The correlation between childhood trauma and drug use, self esteem and drug use, and adolescent encouragement and drug use, is overwhelming.

I just was asked about being part of UW Health’s research about the relationship between childhood trauma and drug use. Which shows they are finally making that connection. I ask a lot of people why they use drugs or drink and it always comes back to trauma of some kind. My childhood trauma was really the only reason why drugs like cocaine and heroin were even an option. The Psychiatrist at the Behavioral Health and Recovery Clinic will probably be stunned by my whole story, so I will let you know how that goes. Still a few weeks away. I think we all started using drugs for different reasons but we all kept using drugs for similar reasons.I was not a rich kid from the suburbs who just did some cocaine and got hooked like Lindsay Lohan, lol. My life has had its time where I had money, but usually it was just my family around me who had money. That never turned into tangible money for me to just blow on whatever I wanted though. I had my first job at 13, and I cleaned a dentist office and then worked at Taco Bell before I graduated. We bought our first weed from our manager at TB, his name was Corn. LOL. But anyway, I had a stable home setting otherwise I guess is the best way to put it considering my mom unavailable and my dad was busy all the time. I had the necessities and that would have been enough. If I wasn’t ready so sad from when I was four.

A lot happened to me at four. I was sexually abused by 3 sisters who were close to my age but it was still weird. Then I was split up from my mother who had been the main caretaker for me since I was born. Starting a new life with my dad who really didn’t know what to do with a four year old lol. Who would, it’s like the movie Big Daddy, my dad was strict though, so it was a weird balance because I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing or if what I was doing was right. I was given negativity in everything I wanted to do so I just lost purpose for what I should be doing.That was part of the appeal in those early days of selling a little weed, a feeling of being wanted, or needed, and seemingly, finding a purpose. For so long I always felt like, what is my purpose? That’s a question I think we have all asked. Why are we here? Well that’s pretty deep, I wasn’t talking about like, the reason for life; more so, what was I going to do for the rest of my life. Career wise. Nonetheless. I had not really thought about it leading to high school graduation and because of that I actually started college undeclared until I switched to Journalism, initially. I was Journalism and Mass Communications for my first two and a half years of college, I was half way done and I wanted to switch my focal point to Environmental Science. Which I still love, but because of the drug use I never was able to take completely serious. I was so close to graduating still, even though it was 2011 when I finally dropped out until 2015….

All through college I never did much athletically to really deal with my stress or anxiety. THe stress of the life I was living with the drugs, and having to hide the drugs from family and school made it so that I did more drugs because that was how I dealt with my problems. It really is just an awful cycle to get into because the only way you know how to deal with anything is with drugs. I started needing less of a reason then that to use because of the physical sickness. Twitching awake at 6am because withdrawal is kicking in and I will be puking by noon unless I get a fix.

Drugs should never have even been even an option in my life. I should have had enough self esteem, and self respect to avoid that lifestyle. I am not talking about smoking pot or even dealing, although that was one of the contributing factors, all the connections I made to grow my drug use opportunities. Which I took full advantage of. But before I tried heroin for the first time I had already been doing cocaine pretty much every day from 18.5 until I switched to heroin. At first I was doing both because I had the money and I liked it. It is not normal for a senior in college to be doing blow and Afghan heroin everyday, or being able to afford it everyday. For a college kid, the drug dealing money was cool at the time but dealing with the lifestyle I lived was so stressful. Worried about cops, worrying about overdosing, getting dope everyday, and trying to keep it from my family. It all added to the stress and it was just a vicious cycle.

My self esteem was given a boost with the drug dealing and the lifestyle but the stress of that life spiraled me back to using more and that just was how it went. Doing cocaine every morning before class was not ideal for a student to learn. From Fall of ‘08 to Spring of 11’ I tried to go to school and maintain my heroin habit. Classes were passed, but I failed 9 classes in that time. If I would have passed just two of them. I would have my degree….

Not everyone who has trauma issues, and self esteem issues turn to drugs though. I get it, and I know that, and I do take responsibility for spiraling down from weed through the drugs to heroin. It was kind of a perfect storm of people, places and things that led to heroin entering my life. The mindset I was in, the people around me and the fact that I had done every other drug to the max, and nothing bad happened yet so I thought I tried it all already so fuck it. That fuck it cost me 13 years of my life. My self esteem issues cost me 13 years of my life. I never tried much as a child either because I was afraid to fail because I thought if I failed then my dad wouldn’t want me, since I was already “abandoned” by my mom.

That really scared me into being a good kid for all of my childhood. I was always worried about getting in trouble with my dad. I never cared about what the cops thought. Just what my dad would think or do and how he would make me feel. It wasn’t fair, I should not have been so afraid to get into trouble or fail that I didn’t try things. Ironically I got arrested for the first time 4 days after I turned 18. What luck huh? But that was only the beginning, I have been arrested 13 times I think and I was only arrested two times for the 7 cases in 6 counties in 12 days in 2012 that I caught. Point is I cared so much as a kid that I didn’t do anything. Then after 18 it was like, the ones close to me didn’t ask me about college, or the military or a career, it was like no one really cared, even my highschool advisor and mind you I have an exceptional IQ, and automatically entered into UWM without even doing one whole section of my ACT. I read more books in jail than I did in college. That is not a joke, getting clean being in jail I wanted to read and learn. My drug filled mind otherwise just did not care. That is what is so sad about this, it took years of self discovery, and I am still working on building my self esteem everyday. For me to get out of the shadow of my childhood and try to just build on my strengths and work to improve my weaknesses. Having a son helped me, all my treatment helped me, getting sober helped me, and aligning what I make important now helped me. Creating small reachable goals that I can achieve on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, as well as long term goals, that may take 5 to 15 years to achieve. THe point is to progress everyday towards being the best version of myself that I can be. Not only being better for myself, because I deserve it, but being better for myself because my family deserves it and my future deserves it. The ironic thing about all of my treatments and everything that I have been through is that I am a very complicated person. Many girlfriends have said they thought they had me figured out, but did not have a clue. THe complexity of my life, is what I brought to my recovery. It made it impossible to work on my trauma issues or my self esteem issues because I was trying to solve everything at the same time. Keep it Simple. It made so much sense, finally. I had heard it a million times before. With all the tools I learned like coping skills, my biking, or writing, of course, and connecting with positive people again, I still needed something to click. My self esteem would build as I worked towards goals and my trauma is being worked through with a therapist so all the tools I needed to really create a great life for myself was right in front of me. I still had reservations about using though. Like I had every other time before. When my doctor said that the “opposite of addiction is connection” it really made sense to me and I have really used that as half of the final piece. Connection with myself has made all the difference but ultimately that connection with the still sick and suffering. Wanting to inspire hope and encourage a new way of thinking. If I could get out of that life and stop using finally after 40 failed rehab attempts. I got clean this last time without a rehab or detox center. I will tell you how I did it another time.

I have been talking to friends and family more than ever before and spending time with my brother and nieces a lot. “Uncle Steve.” It’s great. I made it simple for myself. Keep it simple, stupid. As they say in the meetings. I ultimately had to make a decision, a heroin death, or a life with my son. After everything I have been through and all of the failed attempts, any moments of weakness, I just think about him, and I will not let anyone or anything ever get in the way of that. And that has extra on it for personal reasons. But it had to be black or white for me, or heads or tails. There was no grey area or both option. It was one or the other. The confidence it takes to pull your life out of the death I created, shows me I am on the right track in my recovery process. Hopefully Wisconsin warms up soon, adding outdoor biking to my routine can only better my life so Im excited. I am not perfect by any means, and I do admit promptly when I am wrong now. I realised it’s ok to be wrong sometimes, that the problem really is never trying at all. Do not give up on yourself and never give up on your dreams.