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One young man’s journey to sobriety

May 17, 2019

“Jack” (name changed to protect identity) is 23 and has been sober for 14 months. After a path that started in his teens with marijuana and acid, then escalated with alcohol, cocaine and finally crack, he was arrested for selling cocaine. He describes the arrest as hitting a wall, but one that saved him.

Although Jack is still going through court hearings and is unsure of his future, he now has the tools and support to stay sober. Thanks to his experience with the Linden Oaks at NCH Addictions Residential Program, he got clean after a 35-day stay in March of 2018.

Medical Director of Addiction Services Shalu Gugnani, M.D. who treated Jack said he had two visits to the inpatient rehab unit. The young man who once thought himself invincible came to the realization that he needed help, she says.

“Jack’s treatment the first time he visited was pretty challenging because of his level of motivation,” Dr. Gugnani says. “The difference in his second treatment is that he was willing to engage in all aspects of treatment and therapy. He was willing to make behavioral changes which led to a significant reduction in his anxiety, improved moods and management of craving.”

Q & A with Jack

Can you remember when you starting using and how it started?

I was about 15 and already smoking marijuana. That went on for the next two years, and I also experimented with taking acid. I’d been drinking alcohol, but my dad’s an alcoholic so I really didn’t want to drink. Once my parents found out I was smoking marijuana, they said I had to either go to rehab or leave the house, so I left the house at 17. 

Where did you live?

I was staying with friends and bouncing from house to house. I ended up finding a friend who would let me stay semi long term. He started introducing me to cocaine which was my drug of choice, and more alcohol. He would purposely give me cocaine to get me hooked on it. He would bring it home every day and never would charge me for any of it. Then one day it changed and he said I had to buy it. From that day forward, I did cocaine every single day from age 18 until I got clean at 22. The only way to support my habit was selling it – not in huge quantities – but selling it to get by.

What happened next?

I had tried to go to college in Iowa, trying to run away from my addiction. It didn’t work, and I got suspended from college for getting caught with drugs. After that, I stayed in hotels and basically got high. Then someone set me up to sell to the DEA saying it was their friend. I got arrested in November of 2017 and went to jail. My parents bailed me out. It really showed me that I had zero friends. Nobody really cared about me.

You had two stays at NCH. After the first stay in 2017, you started using again. What led you to really want to stay sober after the second stay in March of 2018?

Something was different inside of me. I felt that I had been very disrespectful to my parents. They had bailed me out of jail and paid for a lawyer. Something just switched. I said, “This needs to stop.” I was ready to move forward and actually get some help. I told them at court that I was going to rehab tomorrow, and I went the very next day.

Were there warning signs for you before you went into rehab?

For the longest time I was snorting cocaine, but for the last couple of months, I had been smoking it. That wasn’t me, but it became me. I felt like I wasn’t the type of person who would smoke it, but I just kept convincing myself that it was alright, that more was okay.

How did the staff at NCH help?

They showed me that people still cared and weren’t giving up on me. They reconnected me with recovery. They taught me what I had to do, and discussed the fact that this was a disease. I think that’s the biggest thing.

What was the biggest takeaway for you?

I knew that I couldn’t even drink a drop of alcohol because that would lead me right back to doing cocaine in a hotel room. The second time I knew I had to not drink ever again, or use ever again. 

Are you headed to jail?

My near future is very much uncertain, and I may go to jail. This whole time has been constant fighting, going to court every month, and not knowing if I’m going to come home.

What’s it like being young and sober vs. being a middle-aged recovering addict?

I feel very lucky, based on the fact that I’m so young and there are a lot of years that I didn’t have to go through like this. I hit that wall hard and I hit it quickly. But what’s especially difficult is that the people I know are still drinking. I felt cool to be doing what I was doing. It’s harder to stay sober because you have to change your entire life. The hardest part was leaving my friends behind.

How are you overcoming these challenges?

I’ve been going to the same Narcotics Anonymous meetings every week for the past 14 months now. It’s been going great. 

What happens when you go to a party or a place where alcohol is served?

I think I’ve gotten my partying out of the way. But the couple of times I went to a concert, I told them I was a recovering addict and asked them to put the Under 21 Xs on my hands. That made it impossible for me to drink.

What other challenges do you face as a recovering addict?

My dad is still an everyday drinker. When I first was getting clean, he stopped drinking, or so I thought. I’m able to go to my therapist and talk about it. I just work through the emotions of having a dad who drinks every day. That’s more of a struggle than anything.

What worked for Jack

Jack participated in productive individual and group therapy sessions, was open to medication management yet not entirely reliant on it and used coping skills.  His family dynamics and communication improved. He even went on to do some public speaking, sharing his story to help others.

“I was so pleasantly surprised when he came to our first alumni event and he told me about what he had been doing,” Dr. Gugnani says. “He carried himself differently and really transformed into a healthy person through recovery.”

Know someone who needs help? Call 847-HEALING. Learn more about treatment and care for addictions.