Recovery Blog post–Nick deSpoelberch’s Vigil speech

On Wednesday, August 30, 2023 at NCPSG’s 7th Annual Community Addiction Awareness Vigil, Nick deSpoelberch shared his story of addiction to opioids and his recovery which now has reached a decade. To view the video recording click here, and see below to read his testimonial in full. Thank you, Nick, for being so open about your recovery!

Hi everyone. I’m here with you all today because 10 years ago a police officer in Wilton woke me from an opioid overdose and saved my life by arresting me.

“School Dean Arrested with Heroin,” is one of the headlines everyone saw the next morning. Those headlines happened because addiction is a very real thing.

This is how it happened for me.

I grew up in Rowayton, the middle son of three boys, and have lived most of my life in Connecticut. I had intense anxiety as a child, long before I became aware of my father’s drinking. Once his drinking got worse, I felt an extreme fear and anger that needed an outlet.

The Mystic, Rumi, once said, “Many people run from a snake and meet a dragon,” and I think that’s a good way to summarize my story.

Due to some intense struggles I had growing up, I focused my energies on helping others. I worked for five years at an inpatient psychiatric hospital, and got a Master’s in counseling. These things helped me function and transcend my struggles. I became a school administrator at an elite Jesuit high school in Manhattan.

But none of those high-functioning achievements could insulate me from a martial arts injury and a prescription for opioids.

Taking the pills as prescribed slid slowly into abusing those pills… which slid into depending on those pills to function and to get out of bed. And then one day – the pills were all that mattered.

To watch myself transform into a zombie – who puts a chemical ahead of his children, his wife, and everything valuable in life – was spiritual torture.

Especially because I knew I did it to myself… and because I knew it made me just like my father… who I swore I would never become.

The legal pills led to illegal heroin… and to becoming a man who woke up in the morning, stared at the bathroom mirror and had no idea what was staring back.

I prayed some nights not to wake up the next morning. It taught me that there are some things very much worse than death… and one is being enslaved to your own brain and the narcotic controlling it.

Then a police officer did his job, and did for me what I could not do for myself. He dragged all of my darkness into the light of public knowledge, headlines, and consequences… and there was nowhere left to hide.

Since that arrest, the only thing I can take credit for is honoring the promise I made: to pass on what was passed on to me by other men and women who survived their addiction… and picked me up when I had no strength left to survive.

The theme of tonight’s vigil is “Families Empower Recovery.” I am today proud to be like my father, who is in recovery himself. We have attended meetings together for 10 years, and we’ve had intimate moments of connection that addiction almost robbed us of ever sharing.

I found my father in the search for myself… and his example helped me find sobriety when my oldest son was four years old.

The timeline of dysfunction, and the avalanche of pain that my using caused everyone around me, came to a halt.

Despite a highly public arrest, loss of career and income, and an utter loss of trust, my wife Erin never gave up on me or made me feel unloved.

My three children, who are here tonight, give me three precious reasons to never take a drink or use substances again. I look in their eyes now and feel joy beyond what any chemical could ever deliver.
My most important role now is to be a loving, stable and gentle presence in their lives.

I am now a person living in recovery. I am a husband. I am a father. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Stamford. For more than six years, I have had the honor of facilitating the New Canaan Parent Support Group. I am also a trauma therapist with the Fairfield County Trauma Response Team, which provides therapeutic support and trauma education to first responders.

I would not be any of these things without the gifts recovery has given me. And while this evening is certainly about prevention and celebrating recovery, it is also about paying our respects to those we have lost.

In the years I have been attending this event, I’ve put up 11 pictures of friends or clients on the memorial wall behind me. They were, every one of them, talented, intelligent, and full of potential, and they lost their lives to addiction.

It is meaningful to remember them and to help prevent others from experiencing the premature loss of wonderful people. Over the past two years, I wrote a book telling my story, to express a positive message to people who are suffering.

It occurred to me that what came closest to killing me was the belief that I was not worth the fight. The idea that I was not good enough to deserve a free and powerful life was a constant companion on my journey of addiction.

More than alcohol or opioids, doubting my own self-worth is what drove my self-destructive behavior.

Many of the individuals to whom I pay tribute on that wall struggled with the same crippling doubts and shame. The most powerful thing I can do now to honor them… is not only to survive addiction, but to embrace recovery and believe that my story is worth sharing… even if only with a small number of people.

Too many of my friends whose photos I put on that wall didn’t have the chance to tell their stories in recovery. Their stories were worth sharing and so is yours.

I would ask everyone here, to share your struggles – regardless of what they might be. Share them, because you never know who you might help.

There are people you might not have met yet who are going to hear your story and find the solution and the hope they desperately need. But only if you overcome your doubts and share your story.

We live in a world full of negative and frightening news and messages. Paul Reinhardt, the community of families in recovery from addiction, and everyone here tonight – we get to be part of something beautiful and life-giving.

Being here tonight, being a small part of the wave that is
lifting up people in this community, is a great honor, and I thank you and my family for getting me here.