Recovery and Service

Over the last month or so I have released many articles telling my story and detailing the phases of my own personal recovery. This last piece is something I had to actively participate in while I was continuing to get sober. However, this doesn’t just apply to people getting sober, I believe this last piece of advice can apply everyone and anyone trying to make their life more fulfilling. As I have stated on multiple occasions, addiction is a very selfish and self-seeking disease. It creates the illusion that the world revolves around the person in active addiction, and blinds them to the fact that nothing could be further from the truth. I say this because I was that addict for nearly a decade, and this was undoubtedly my truth.

This selfishness was a huge part of why I couldn’t get out of my own way. I was a Tasmanian Devil that ran through the lives of the people around me. I think a more fitting analogy would actually be some kind of parasite because I would attach myself to a host and try to get everything I could from them for as long as possible. When the well ran dry and I felt as if I poached everything I could from someone, I would move on to my next victim. I wasn’t purposely going around and doing this, but it was just how my life played out time after time. I was selfish, I was self-seeking and I couldn’t find the version of myself I had lost so many moons ago.

The last, and most important part of me finding myself, was me losing myself in the service of others. We hear stories of people going out of their way to do good deeds for strangers – and I feel justified in saying – it gives us that warm and hopeful feeling inside. In the beginning of my sobriety I needed to find the hope in myself that I could actually follow through with my own personal recovery. Once I had put some real sober time together I needed to find the hope in me that I could become a better person by helping those who needed it. The scales fell away from my eyes at this point and I came to the stark realization that I was not the most important person on earth and I never would be. I had made my peace with that. I also realized that my importance did not come from what I could wrestle away from other people, but instead what I could give to them.

Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I have always been big into the idea of self motivation and finding out what drives someone to do the things they do in life. When I finally got sober and realized that I had the ability to tell my story and positively affect those around me, I was sold. Not to mention I had a formal education in Journalism and I had always dreamed of writing for an audience I may be able to help in some way, shape or form. I was born, I was born again in sobriety, and I had figured out that my story should be used to help others find their way – while battling through the disease of addiction.

But it doesn’t stop there. Service is a daily agreement. Service is something that we can do regardless of our background or our upbringing. This is why I believe that this piece of recovery can be used for those struggling with addiction, and also those people who just need to find themselves again. After all, Mahatma Gandhi said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

You don’t have to be wealthy to hold the door for someone. But I am positive you’ll feel rich after the deed is done. You don’t have to be happy to smile at someone you pass on the street. But I am positive you will be after they return the favor. You don’t have to feel good about yourself to pay a stranger a compliment. But I am sure you will after you see the impact it had on their day. You don’t have to buy a homeless man a house. But I’m sure he will feel at home when you offer to buy him a hot meal. You don’t have to be an auto mechanic, but I am sure the woman’s tire you changed will treat you like one. You don’t have to change the whole world at once, but I am sure you will be able to find a way to change one person’s whole world.

A Letter to My Brother

I wrote this letter after getting news of the death of my best friend. A man that I looked up to in more ways than I could ever express. I have been thinking about him a lot recently and I wanted to share this so his memory would live on. I wrote this letter and spoke these words at his memorial services this past July. 


A letter to my brother,

I write this letter at a time in my life where confusion, anger, sadness and heartbreak are at the forefront of my mind. I have dealt with loss and I have dealt with pain throughout my life, but since I met you I dealt with all of those emotions with you on my team. And anyone that really knows you understands how great you were at protecting your teammates. Through the good times and the bad times we looked out for each other just as brothers would and for that I am eternally grateful.

I remember arriving at the apartments I was going to be living at with no idea of what to expect. The managers attempted to put me into a room with two messy roommates and I vehemently opposed because I like order and cleanliness. They offered to put me in a room with you but warned me you had lived there for a little while and you weren’t looking for a new roommate. It took you half of a day to warm up to me, and once we were able to go to the gym together the next morning I think you realized we were going to get along just fine. Little did I know you were going to become family. Little did I know you would have a lasting impact on my life and the lives of the people that were so rightfully drawn to you.

From that point forward we did everything together. We lived together, we worked together, we went to the gym together, we food shopped together, we cooked together, we laughed together, we cried together and we grew together. I may not have told you this enough but I always looked up to you. Even though you were a few years younger than me I always felt like you had this aura about you that projected confidence in the most humble of ways. I felt like you had the most compassionate soul that was built for protecting and helping those around you. I know this first hand because I watched you do it for mutual friends of ours – and I carry it with me to this day.

But the impact you really had in my life was a direct one. I have met a lot of people in my 28 years and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to you leaving one of the most memorable and profound impacts on my life. You taught me what it meant to have a real friend that I would have done anything for. After all, I didn’t even plan on staying in Florida for more than a month, and now its been close to three years. I attribute a lot of that to having a friend like you present in my life since the beginning of this journey.

The text messages between us always ended with the phrase, “best friend I’ve ever had bro. I love you.”  The thought of that simple statement means even more to me now then it ever did before – if that is even possible. I spent time with you’re family in Detroit and they treated me like I had always been a part of their lives. And then you spent this past Christmas with my family in Boston and they were so grateful to have such a beautiful soul around for the holidays. My mother and father told me it was a much more full Christmas because you were present; and I couldn’t agree more.

The thing about friends like you is that they only come around once in a lifetime. We had some great times together and we also went through some extremely difficult ones.  The reason you became like a brother to me is because we never changed how we acted toward one another and we always wanted what was best for the other person. That was the relationship we created and that was the bond that turned you from a friend into family.

I write this letter with tears in my eyes. Tears of sadness that I will no longer be able to share my most intimate feelings and fears with you and also tears of joy that I was able to spend some of the most important times of my life with you. Tears of loss because I understand how rare people like you are, and also tears of gratitude because I am a better man having met you. Tears of heartache because my soul hurts for your family and your girlfriend, and also tears of strength that I know you would want me to have during this terribly difficult time.

I love you Shane. I always have and I always will. Best friend I’ve ever had.

Recovery – The Change Stage (#9)

Around the three month mark of my sobriety things started to change. The days were more manageable, and the nights were no longer cold, dark and lonely. The tough times I came face to face with in the beginning turned out to be the foundation on which I built my recovery. They say that success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out, and I couldn’t agree more. The problem was, I forgot what it meant to put in effort everyday to accomplish a long term goal. Drug addiction is all about instant gratification. My days spent in agonizing withdrawal were washed away once the drug dealer showed up at my house. The pain of the previous hours were an afterthought because I knew I would be okay, if only for a few hours. Thoughts of hard work were non existent and I lived my life for the next high. Years of my life had passed me by while I was just a lingering onlooker. This time I was actively participating, and this time things were progressing differently.

It was up to me to assume responsibility for where I was in my life, and more importantly why I was there. It was only when I stopped looking for someone to blame that I became the true author of my own story. I looked at myself in the mirror and accepted the fact that I was a 26 year old heroin addict and had been for nearly a decade. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t able to live my life like the other 26 year olds that I went to college with. I came to grips with the fact that my story was different than all of theirs, and comparing how my life had turned out up until this point was of no benefit to me. I found integrity, and assumed responsibility for who I was. I did all of this while living in a halfway house and sharing a single bathroom with five other people. None of this would have been possible with out it.

This part of my life is what I call the change stage, because without the willingness to change, none of it would have been possible. This willingness did not rest solely upon my shoulders, and it was more about letting go and letting God help me find a new version of myself. I was in and out of treatment centers for years, due in large part to the fact I lacked the willingness to do what others recommended of me. A major stumbling block was that I could not find it in me to believe in something bigger than myself. The concept of God or a Higher Power in my life was something I had given up on during my Catholic School days. I disagreed with how my teachers treated both me and my brother, and I thought if there was a God, he had abandoned me a long time ago. I realized that something had been watching out for me all along. Something had been carrying me during my darkest moments and I was finally willing to believe.

As drug addicts and alcoholics, we never see ourselves on an even playing field with anyone. We are either better than or less than – never equal. Just as it was difficult for me to find the willingness to let go of the old and let God bring in the new, it was also difficult to let go of my pride and ego. After my many attempts at sobriety, I realize how my lack of humility kept me from working on the real issues I was facing. I would compare myself to everyone around me and tell people I was different because I never went to prison and had multiple college degrees. At the same time, if anyone were to pay me a compliment I wouldn’t know how to react. I was so unhappy with myself that I couldn’t even find it in me to believe them. I needed a few servings of humble pie, and got them in bunches during my first year of sobriety.

People stuck in the grips of addiction are selfish beings. We are self-seeking and self-absorbed. Telling me that the world did not revolve around me was a very hard concept to understand. Before we can understand how to fully amend this behavior, we must understand the concept of brotherly love. Sobriety teaches us how to do right by other people regardless of who is watching. Sobriety teaches us how to forgive those who have wronged us. After all, forgiving someone doesn’t make a person weak, it simply sets them free from the bondage of resentment. Sobriety forces people to take responsibility for their actions and find a way to make them right. Sobriety is about understanding what we are and what we are not, while offering help to the people around us whenever possible. I had to learn to love those around me while I was learning to love myself. After all, the fastest way to find yourself is by losing yourself in the service of others.

The beginning my recovery was about honesty, hope, faith and courage. Without these four things I wouldn’t have been able to stay sober long enough to work on changing the person I had become. It was up to me to grow in my next nine months of sobriety, and this growth was contingent on my integrity, willingness, humility and brotherly love. It took personal integrity to assume responsibility for who I had become and willingness to let go of the old and let God bring in the new. It took humility to free me from my selfish pride and arrogance. Lastly, it took brotherly love to truly teach me about compassion. I was finally able to remove the blinders that were covering my eyes and obscuring my view.