‘Losing my way’
From student body president in high school to skipping class to drink alone, Jon’s first experience on the UT campus was far from what he expected. He was pursuing a path that did not suit him and his report card reflected the mismatch.
“I had this plan. I don’t know that it was my plan but it was the plan I was on,” Jon said. “I was so locked into it and I didn’t know how to ask for help or how to get out of the situation.”
To not excel was foreign to Jon, who had grown up earning privileges for performing well. He now found himself lying to his family about his grades and experiencing feelings of inadequacy.
“Who wants to be that guy who says, ‘I can’t do this.’? All of that stuff started to build and become a little too much,” he said.
Jon withdrew from classmates and friends and started hanging out with an older crowd. With family crises at home and no internal mechanism to deal with the stress, he reprieved to Chicago. There, Jon bounced around living in more than 20 places all on the same “destructive” course.
After more than a decade of running, it was the lyrics of a Justin Timberlake song called Losing My Way that resonated with Jon:
It is breaking me down/ Watching the world spin round/ While my dreams fall down/Is anybody out there?/ Can anybody out there hear me?/…Keep losing my way.
“It has got to be easier,” Jon thought to himself.
Asking for Help
A weary Jon turned to family for help despite his own reservations.
“My personal experience with getting sober was that it did not work. My dad was still drinking… and my grandfather struggled with the disease as well,” Jon said.
When he finally asked for help, he got it. On the way to the out-of-town recovery center, Jon was instructed to hold off on starting the process to get sober until arriving for treatment, so he intuitively grabbed a six-pack for the road.
“I’m drinking all the way up to treatment,” Jon said. “I wasn’t thinking about 30 days (of rehab) or whatever, and then my mom pulls out her checkbook and wrote a very substantial check, and my mom doesn’t have… (that kind of money). That registered for me.”
Reflecting on this back-to-reality moment, Jon said, with a tinge of re-commitment to sobriety, “There isn’t a second check for me.”
A 12-Step recovery program focusing on sobriety, strength, and serenity worked for Jon the first go-round, a rarity in a field where 90 percent of alcoholics relapse at least once over the four-year period following treatment, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Today, sober since May 2007, Jon does not miss his previous ways. But he was not the only one who had to adjust. For the first year of his sobriety, his mother called him every month to check if he had paid his bills.
“She has 10 years experience of me not paying my bills,” he said.
Making amends and rekindling trust with family members is no easy feat, especially when they still have “visual memories” of the old Jon.
“Their experiences around my drinking and using were so real,” Jon said.
People who have not experienced addiction do not grasp the full picture of recovery, Jon said.
“All they know is that I stopped drinking, I go to meetings, and so I show them through my actions that something has drastically changed,” he said.
No longer being dependent on drugs or alcohol means “everything” to Jon.
“A lot of times I don’t think I deserve it,” he said. “I understand how elusive it is, but to me, to say those words ‘I’m sober’ is something that I don’t at all take for granted.
“What it looks like for me to be a sober person is a complete 180-degree turn from where I was. The fact that I’m thinking about anyone else at all is huge,” he said.
Back in School
Jon heard about a scholarship opportunity with Real Life Angels through The Center for Students in Recovery, which hosts a regular, open Students for Recovery support group on UT’s main campus. He was not sure whether he would meet the criteria but he was hopeful that he did.
Scholarship recipients must participate in a substance abuse treatment program, graduate from high school or complete a GED, enroll in a continuing education institution, provide a recommendation letter, and must be “currently living in a manner demonstrated by a commitment to sobriety.”
Jon was awarded the scholarship and now plans to transfer from Austin Community College into the UT School of Nursing.
“I have had first-hand experience with the important role that nurses play in the recovery field, and I hope to use my experience to make a difference in the lives of others through nursing,” Jon stated is his scholarship essay.
Real Life Angels
Jon was flabbergasted when he learned the mission of Real Life Angels, which is funded by donations and run by volunteer board members.
“Knowing that people out there, (who) to my understanding aren’t 100 percent connected or affected by the disease, acknowledge and see the importance of reaching out, is phenomenal,” Jon said of the budding nonprofit.
The belief is supportive mentorship grounded in career counseling will open up more hopeful paths for addicts. In fact, today Jon helps others through the steps toward recovery.
“I think I am a horrible sponsor,” he concedes. “(Progress) happens in spite of me. It happens because I show up. It happens because somebody taught me and because the universe steps in.”
Pay it Forward
Jon admits he cannot ultimately promise his mother that he will never slip into his old habits.
“I’ve had relationships with people who have relapsed; I see it all the time,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and throwing his hands up as if to demonstrate that words cannot describe the lifelong struggle of addiction.
“I can’t promise you that doesn’t happen. All I can do is say that my intention today is that’s not what I plan on doing,” Jon said. “As the days add together and life continues to happen, I continue to have more faith that everything’s going to be OK, and everything is OK.”
Today, Jon has years of sobriety under his belt and a personal conviction to pay it forward, yet he does not think much about what his legacy will be. Rather he embraces little opportunities to do something meaningful, such as treating a patient with dignity or buying a hamburger for a man on the street.
“It’s the least I can do today,” Jon said. “I don’t know the impact I’ll have on somebody’s life, but I know we all do.”
I always knew that I was different, even as a child. I felt as if everyone else got an instruction manual and I did not. However, I found a solution as a teenager: drugs and alcohol. That worked great for a while, until it did not. I ended up going to prison, loosing my mother, and every part of my life that I was familiar with. I thought that I had already chosen my path in life and that my past would predict my future. However through recovery I have created an new and beautiful life. I have a family that means the world to me, and i get to be present in peoples lives today. Even though I have a terrible criminal record, I am a college student. No matter what that past looks like the future can always be brighter. There is always someone out there that will believe in you. For me it is the people behind Real Life angels.
Hi, my name is Courtney and I am an alcoholic.
My sobriety date is May 19, 2010.
My story is very familiar to a lot of others in recovery. I come from an abusive and dysfunctional family where my father was an active alcoholic (and he remained that way until the day he died, at age 46). Growing up I always felt different, like I was born into the wrong family. I was lost and broken, I never knew who Courtney was. My confusion and misunderstanding eventually led me drinking and using drugs to escape the reality that was my life.
My first drunk was at age 11, and by the time I was 16 years old I was smoking crack, smoking weed, drinking alcohol and taking Xanax on a daily basis. I went from an all A’s student who played starting varsity volleyball to dropping out of high school my senior year. I suffered many consequences due to my negative volition (alcohol and drug use). I was first introduced to a 12 step program when I was 15 years old, I focused on all of the differences, and honestly I had no desire to get sober. My drug and alcohol use was still “working” and I was unable to see that I had already lost control. By 18 years old, I was a daily crack smoker, and was living on the streets of Houston. I grew accustomed to that lifestyle being part of my identity and just accepted my life; completely misery, disgust, loneliness and pain, exactly as it was.
Out of all of the institutions, rehabs and jails that I have been to, I have only volunteered myself to two institutions, and there have been many. One of the institutions was Bowie County Women’s Recovery Center in Texarkana, Texas. (Which I was recently honored as their guest speaker at their 2014 August graduation for the residents who has successfully completed the program for that month.) BCWC has completely changed my life, and I will forever be grateful for that place, the treatment team that helped me when I was there and all of the residents that I had the opportunity to learn from. I learned something from each person that I crossed paths with while I was there. I either learned characteristics that I would strive to acquire through my sobriety or I learned exactly who I did not want to be in sobriety. I believe that God knew exactly what he was doing when he separated me from society for a total of 13 consecutive months. (3 months county jail, and the transferred to BCWC).
During my time at BCWC, I found God, I learned exactly who Courtney is and who Courtney is not. “It was in finding God that I found myself.” During those 10 months, my soul was reborn. I was able to come face to face with and work through my deepest darkest demons. I gained spiritual self-esteem, confidence in myself and my sobriety, hope, determination, courage, willingness, honestly, open-mindedness and much more. I have been able to experience what living actually is, for a long time I was just merely existing.
After graduating at BCWC I moved back to Houston, where I established my recovery foundation and fellowship. I still have an active sponsor which I have worked the 12 steps with, and God has also blessed me with two sponsees that I am currently taking through the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous. I am fully convinced that it is in the giving that we receive. Referencing the Big Book of AA, I can assure you that “this is definitely an experience that one must not miss”. I have been given the opportunity to live two different lives within one lifetime, and wow! What a beautiful gift.
A little over two years ago, the sponsor that I had when I was 16 years old contacted me. She proposed me a job offer with a huge industrial real estate development company in the Houston area. She mentioned that something was different with me and it was very apparent that I was serious about my recovery and trying to fulfill God’s plan for my life. She also mentioned that my demeanor and aura is contagious and that I would be a huge asset to the company. Without hesitation I accepted. I felt as if it was God working through her. Almost two and a half years later, I can assure you that it was definitely a God promotion. I have been a full-time employee since April of 2012 with GSL Welcome Group. My boss is very supporting of my recovery, my drive to stay sober and my desire to further my education.
I am confident in saying that I am a positive member of society. Not just because I am no longer drinking or doing drugs, but because, daily, I am positively contributing to the lives of others and my surrounding community. I am actively involved in 12 steps programs, a church and also engage in volunteering activities. I am passionate and look forward to being of service. I understand that I took the action, however I give God all the credit for the changes have occurred within. Today I am equipped with a God conscious which enables me to grow towards the woman that God has intended for me to be.
June of 2014 I was accepted into the Cougars in Recovery program at the University of Houston, and later that month I was accepted to the University of Houston itself. (Wow!! I am still in shock.) With the help of God, others in AA teaching me, my willingness and my trial and error I have learned the importance and what it really means to be fully self-supporting. Which is sometimes a struggle, but the Big Book informs us that “as long as we stick close to God and perform his work well, he will provide.” And, he always does.
I allowed my alcohol and drug use to hinder my education and my desire to live up to my highest potential. Today, I am aware that God has huge plans for me but it is up to me to take the action and receive his blessings. If I am granted the scholarship, it will enable me to achieve my educational and personal goals and in doing so, I will be able share that with the society. To be honest, I have huge financial fear when it comes to college. I do not qualify for financial aid, and I am not in a financial position to pay for the cost of living and my schooling. One of the most vital things I have learned in recovery is how to ask for help regardless of the fear of rejection, embarrassment or pride. The scholarship money would enable me to purchase books and supplies to continue my education, and in doing so I will be able to be a positive representative for a person who can walk through the fear of going to school. I will also be an advocate for what God can do in our lives, if we just trust him and take the action.
I greatly appreciate your consideration.