Finding Hope — And Sharing It
If the young people closest to you have so far avoided addiction, it’s tempting to tell yourself that it only happens to “certain types of kids”—surely not that popular middle schooler you just dropped off at baseball practice.
Listen as Jared M. shares his story.
I had a great childhood. I was popular in high school, played sports, and always had tons of friends. My parents brought me up on music. They grew up with the Grateful Dead, The Beatles—that whole era. They have taken me to shows since I was young, so I actually experienced music first clean and sober, and it has been a big part of my recovery.
The first time I got high, I was 13 years old and in middle school. That’s the first time a substance changed the way I felt, and I thought it was amazing.
I have an older brother—a very good brother who never put drugs on me—but because he was older, I knew a lot of older kids, and I thought it was cool to hang out with them. Some of them smoked marijuana, and after hearing them talk about it, I finally decided to try it. In middle school, I’d get high or drunk with my friends every now and then. But by my freshman year in high school, “every now and then” had become a regular thing.
During my sophomore year, when I was 16, I was introduced to narcotics, and my drug of choice was opiates. My friends and I would get high before school, during school, after school—or skip school altogether. The drugs kept getting harder and more frequent. Soon I was using hard drugs on a pretty regular basis.
All of high school was a disaster. I put my parents through a lot, and they didn’t know what to do. My friends who went into treatment would come out and start using again. After I got clean, I understood why. You aren’t done until you’re done, meaning you won’t stay clean until you’ve experienced enough pain to seek help. Even though my parents tried all kinds of therapists and anything else they could think of, I was good at cheating on drug tests, manipulating them, and making them think I was fine. Maybe they were in denial as much as I was.
When I graduated high school in 2009, they sent me to The University of Alabama. Later, when I was in recovery, I talked to them about that decision, and they said they really just didn’t know what to do. They hoped that sending me to college might make me grow up and mature, that everything would work itself out somehow. Going to Alabama didn’t cause my addiction. I came to college with a problem. It just progressed after I got there.
I pledged a fraternity and was using opiates—OxyContin—heavily on a daily basis. And this is what’s really important about my story at this point. I tried to quit. I tried all different ways to quit on my own, to just put it down, but I never could do it. I was completely powerless.
My freshman year at Alabama, I got a .5 GPA for the fall semester and a .462 my second semester. I managed to get a B+ in summer school, and then when I returned to Tuscaloosa the next fall, I got a 1.1—that was my GPA when I was using.
During my sophomore year, I started shooting up. That’s where it had taken me. And my parents cut me off because that’s what they had been advised to do—cut me off so that I would eventually hit bottom and agree to go into treatment.
To support my habit, I started dealing and stealing. Eventually, that caught up with me. The police picked me up at my fraternity house. Rock bottom had finally come, along with five felony counts and two misdemeanors. My parents bailed me out of jail—and I stayed high that whole next day. Why? When you’re in the grip of addiction, you don’t have a choice. My whole life ran on the obsession-compulsion to use drugs. I still hadn’t gone to treatment, so when I was sitting in jail, all that mattered was how I was going to get out and use. I was hurting. I was physically sick. I was still trying to fill that hole inside of me with drugs.
The next morning, when my parents found drug paraphernalia in my pocket, they got me into Bradford. After about a week on detox medicine, I started to feel human again. When I finished treatment and came to my first 12-Step meeting, I saw other people who had used just like I did but were now clean and happy and okay living without using or drinking. I found hope there, so I kept coming back.
When I went into treatment, everybody advised me against going back to Alabama. But my girlfriend at the time—we’re engaged now—was still in school there, so I visited her every weekend. Eventually, I heard about Johnny Maxwell and his vision for a Collegiate Recovery Center (CRC), and I started going to the dinners he hosted every Monday night. Getting a degree from Alabama had always been my dream, and with the CRC, I believed it was possible.
Now I’m a senior majoring in public relations, and I’ve kept my GPA above 3.5 every semester since I got clean. I’ve made the Dean’s List almost every semester since I came back. When I graduate, I hope to get a PR job, either in sports or music, but I’m just taking it one day at a time and trusting God with all that.
One thing I’ve learned is that I can do anything as long as I stay grounded in my recovery. I found out that some of my favorite jam bands, like Phish, support recovery and provide a couple of free tickets to whoever works the recovery table at their shows. Every year, I get together with a group of my friends in recovery and go to shows. In 2012, we went to Bonnaroo (a huge festival in Tennessee), where there was a vending tent called Soberoo. We had two meetings there every day, and about 100 people came to each one.
Before the CRC, my friends who left school to go into treatment never came back. Now we have fellowship and so many great resources that just weren’t available when I first tried to get clean here.
The only way we can keep what we have is by giving it away—by helping someone who is still suffering. So I try to share the hope I’ve found with kids who are just coming in and trying to stay clean. I tell them we sometimes try to complicate long-term recovery, but it’s really simple: You have to change everything. I had to completely learn how to live again. You have to surround yourself with people who are clean and sober and who are committed to recovery. Get a sponsor and work steps. Build yourself spiritually and find your connection with a higher power, with God. That’s where the solution is.
Thinking back on the time when I was using, I see that I was just looking for any person, place, or thing to fix me on the inside and change the way I felt. Today, by doing positive things in my life, I’ve filled that hole inside. I finally have a purpose in life. To be able to help other people is a beautiful thing.