Recovery Blog Post – Jake

A warm and pleasantly unexpected wave of relief set in as I was ushered into the back seat of yet another police vehicle. While this type of counterintuitive neurobiological response was not foreign to me, it still surprised me every time. In moments like that you have clarity, something concrete is happening. No need to fear what may come. It has arrived. In these moments, the immense and perpetual task of convincing myself that I am in control is impossible. Just for the moment you can let the delusion subside as proof takes the focus. This moment felt different than previous times.

The tangible evidence that my relationship with substances was fundamentally flawed had grown steadily over the years. Only when coupled with enough pain was I ready to give up the struggle and try a different way. On this day the damage finally surpassed reasonable doubt. It took nearly half my life to reach this verdict, but I was ready.

I grew up in Guilford, CT, the only child of two very supportive parents who provided me with an abundance of love and enrichment. We lived in a coastal community with plenty of families with kids. These were my first friends, and we enjoyed a real sense of community in the neighborhood. As the ‘Cove Kids’ neared high school we started to experiment with substances. A decade later some of these same kids would leave voicemails on my phone expressing deep concern. I still have them saved.

The notion that my relationship with substances would prove catastrophic was quietly present in the depths of my heart for years. This truth was defended by a painstakingly curated system of rationalization and combined with outward projection of confidence and capability whenever possible. Professionally, we sum this up in a word, denial.

Masterful mental agility and constant struggle to maintain this façade supported my efforts to protect the truth. If I could check all the boxes, who can say there is a problem? If I could only continue to be a good student with a range of extracurriculars and be a (mostly) enjoyable guy, then how could it be true that I am an addict? I was certain both could not be simultaneously true. Today I understand that to be incorrect. It took a lot of experimentation and determination to arrive at this understanding.

The dichotomy along the way is somewhat baffling. I finished college in 4 years and was a leader in the classroom, being very active in and well prepared for nearly every class. I kept a meticulous schedule, balancing daily lacrosse activities with studies and assignments, and planning my time down to the hour. However, for each day, I would anchor this schedule around what time I wanted to start using or drinking and back out from there. Wednesday was a party night at my school. I never missed and always planned to avail myself no later than 7pm. I was very close with my professors, but they didn’t know that I also had to miss some school to attend a long weekend intensive DUI offender program my freshman year. I could confidently go out drinking the night before a big exam because I carefully prepared my time that way. If I could maintain the illusion, then I could maintain the denial. At this point, it was still relatively plausible that enough discipline could effectively avoid continual sabotage.

Actively undermining my positive traits by clinging to, and attempting to control, a self- destructive relationship which routinely produced devastation to myself and those who love me was exhausting, heartbreaking, and illogical. I did it because at one point it gave me great relief.

Being diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten was a shock to my system and henceforth produced a belief that I was somehow broken. This perception inspired a pervasive fear within. As a family, we tried to remedy this deficit with structure and love in abundance: learning centers, sports, music, and all the help and support from my parents imaginable. I was able to measure up in each of these areas. Yet that fearful self-doubt was persistent within. Eventually I discovered drugs and alcohol reliably eased that fear, working fast and every time. This was incredibly valuable to me.

Throughout my use, the personal consequences escalated annually. As did the anguish my parents experienced. They never gave up on me and always loved me despite the terrible things I did in my use. I stole from them, I lied to them, I fought with them. They watched as I lost opportunities, and they felt the fear and powerlessness of seeing their son losing a high stakes battle. I never truly articulated to them why I used substances and I’m not sure I could have. Eventually, I didn’t want to continue using but I was convinced I needed to.

It was ten years ago that I dropped drugs on the floor of the office at work. This was seen by my supervisor who discretely called the police. I was fired and arrested at the same time. Prior to this point one of these occurred like clockwork every year. This time, the charges illuminated the extent of my use and I no longer needed to hide. The relief I felt while entering the police car that day came from the realization that I couldn’t deny the truth any longer, and that I was ready to accept help. Days later I entered a treatment facility and began my next journey.

Over 45 days of inpatient I took a deep dive into clinical concepts of recovery and learned about the disease of addiction. I agreed to enter a sober living upon leaving. There I began to put some of these learned concepts into practice. I got connected to a recovery community and saw how others happily lived this lifestyle.

As I grew in recovery, I got to know myself. My family and I became truly closer than ever. Recently, we celebrated together as they watched me marry the love of my life, knowing that they helped shape someone capable of being a loving partner, someone who knows joy. They are not ashamed of or afraid of my past. We are proud of how we’ve arrived here, and we are enjoying one another.

Ultimately, my experiences have influenced me for the better. Recovery is the foundation on which I’ve built a full life. Through my work with Mountainside, I can shed light and hope in dark places. The knowledge gained both before and during recovery allows me to listen to a family going through a complex and painful struggle, to understand them, and to offer guidance on the path forward. I recently spoke to undergraduates from my alma mater on a panel discussing transitioning into professional life. My professors know my story. The friend who left a concerned voicemail for me in 2014 spoke at our wedding as my best man. I get to feed his 6 month old at least once a month. We hope to have our own someday and make some happy grandparents in the process. At times, this seemed all too unlikely. I am grateful for it all.