“Will the chinese flute music interfere with the recording of this?”
Meet our Supervisor of Outpatient Services – Victor. Victor has been a pillar of stability and recovery here at Pax House since almost our inception. He celebrated 10 years of sobriety this past fall and has counted success story after success story of clients he has counseled over his time here. We got a chance to sit down with him and talk about his own journey in recovery.
Describe to us what life was like before drugs and alcohol –
“Victor before drugs and alcohol… I’m thinking 15 years old, 14 or 13. It was the mid-80’s. I’m feeling weird, puberty is in full swing, and I’m feeling like a loner, a loser. Girls were not into me. Physically I felt unattractive and women confirmed that. I needed braces. I had pimples. Pompadours and Aqua Net. I only had two or three friends and we would hang out. I didn’t play sports and had no real structured activities. We played video games, watched kung-fu theatre, tuned into WWF, and liked anything horror related. Life was simple and weird.
I was the youngest kid in my family. My older siblings were getting into a lot of trouble and I mostly stayed quiet and flew under the radar. There was love in my household, but there was also a lot of violence and stress. My siblings and I all looked for ways to escape. My sister got married young and moved out while my brothers got deep into their own addictions. Before drugs and alcohol, I escaped through television and video games.
I had very low self-worth. I didn’t have many relationships, no real sense of community, and no strong sense of a higher power. I wanted to feel a part of, but most of the time I wasn’t.”
Tell us about your first experiences with drugs and alcohol –
“Growing up we had a lot of family functions at our house with alcohol. Family would let me have sips of their drinks over the years but I don’t recall whether it did or did not have a strong effect on me. The first time that really sticks out to me was going to a house party that my friend’s older brother had. I remember the keg, the red plastic cups, and the Southern Comfort. I remember smoking non-filtered Lucky Strike cigarettes and I felt cool. The anxiety and the low self-worth that was always taking place in my head suddenly fell away and I felt apart of with this house full of older kids who were partying.
That is what I first fell in love with. That feeling of freedom, of acceptance, and being ‘cool’. The freedom from my own negative thinking and perception of myself. Of course I acted a fool. I drank too much and passed out in the backyard. I felt terrible the next day, but I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to do it again. Immediately that became my hobby and the focus in my life. I continuously tried to recreate that night. Really what I was trying to recreate was that feeling of acceptance and of connection. I wanted that again, and again.”
What did the best days of your active addiction look like?
“From that first house party, I quickly surrounded myself with a group of friends that wanted to drink and use the way that I wanted to drink and use. We started experimenting with a lot of different drugs from weed to hallucinogens, and always alcohol. My parent’s marriage was falling apart and my older siblings had left the house at this point, and so I didn’t have much supervision throughout the rest of my time in school. I can see now the natural progression of my addiction. It started with house parties and hanging out at the park just on the weekends to drinking and using throughout the week after school and in the evenings. I would grab beers out of the fridge and hoard roaches from the ashtrays at parties just to make sure that I would always have some way to change the state of my mind. Getting loaded quickly became a priority.
We began using meth, computer dust spray, and LSD. I’d listen to the Doors and Led Zepplin, going to concerts, and just spending a lot of time in garages and at friend’s houses. For a long time, this was my life and I was happy in it. Before any sort of consequences started to come in, I had a lot of fun. There were no cops, no gangs, no car accidents for a long time.
In my 20’s I found myself in an apartment by the beach and engaged to a good woman. We had a dog and I was working with a good friend of mine. We would drink and use cocaine with my friend and his wife. Going to shows and working a job that was easy. I had used meth on and off for years. But at this time in my life, that was probably when I felt the most adult and reasonably stable while also being able to drink and use the way I wanted to. It was once that relationship started falling apart that the other consequences starting coming in.”
What did it look like when the drugs and alcohol stopped working?
“Towards the end of that relationship with my fiancé, the secrets started catching up to me. I had started hiding how much I was drinking and using from my fiancé. When that relationship ended there was a lot of pain, shame, and regret – which led to more alcohol and drug use. That was when my alcoholism really progressed. I became a shaky drunk, drinking and using drugs throughout the day. I had been using meth more until my main connect moved away. I became angrier.
That fiancé and I got back together briefly and during that time I had gotten into an accident while intoxicated. I fled the scene and parked my car around the side of a bank. I called that fiancé and convinced her to come and bail me out, take the hit for who was driving. I remember thinking at that time, that this was a bottom. Having her do that for me was something that showed my complete lack of values and character as a man. I was ashamed of who I was at that time and the lengths I was willing to go to, to preserve myself and my alcoholism.
After that there was no more partying. My alcoholism at that point progressed to a necessity. It got really ugly from there. The alcoholism began to require much more pretending and denying just to convince myself that I didn’t need to change. Part of me knew that what I was doing wasn’t okay, but I really believed that my drinking and using was never going to change, so I believed I needed to figure out how best to manage.”
How did you get introduced to recovery?
“Ultimately my active addiction came to a halt with a betrayal. I ruined the friendship I had with the guy that was employing me while I was intoxicated. I betrayed his trust which led to a physical altercation at his home one night. I remember waking up the next morning and going into the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror. I saw bruises and dried blood on my face, tears in my shirt. Standing there I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I couldn’t continue going on the way that I had. I had been to some AA meetings prior to this as ordered by the courts. I had also known of Alcoholics Anonymous from my older brother getting sober a number of years earlier. So in that moment, when I realized I couldn’t drink anymore and needed to change, I knew where to go.”
When did the obsession to drink and use leave?
“I am very lucky. The shift happened quickly for me. I remember how profound the initial days and weeks of sobriety were for me. I was sitting in a meeting after the first week of sobriety and thinking that it was amazing that I had not picked up a drink in seven days. And then 14 days went by. And then months. I had come into AA so embarrassed and ashamed. I was starting to experience health problems from my lifestyle and I hated the person that I was. When I came into the rooms I wanted recovery so badly that every day in early recovery meant a lot to me.
I heard stories that I could relate to. I heard people talk about the things they had done in their alcoholism that I had done. And I noticed that guilt and shame weren’t eating these people alive like it was eating me. I wanted that. I wanted to learn how to live in acceptance and peace from where I had just come from. I wanted what they had, so I did what they told me they did. It worked.”
Describe to us how your life is different today –
“Life is beautiful today. First and foremost, today I have self-worth. I used to be so concerned about what other people thought of me and today I’m not. Today I do a lot of great stuff. I went back to school, I am of service to others, I am a good husband, and I am a good father. I am a good person and I believe in that today. I have value. Not every day is sunshine, puppy dog tails, and rainbows; but most days are. I live with a lot of gratitude today and a lot of peace. I have a strong relationship with a higher power. I don’t have the same God that I had as a kid, but I have the same feeling of faith and belief that I had. Today my heart tells me that this way of living is truth. My faith guides me, shapes me, and lives with me.
I used to live in a lot of fear. I don’t live in fear today. I believe in beauty and in gratitude today. My sense of comfort and freedom is strong. The ability to be happy on a regular basis and in acceptance of my life circumstances is important to me. The most important aspect of my recovery is being of service. Going on panels, working with sponsees, holding commitments; helps me not to forget where I came from and what it would look like if I stopped doing these things. I keep service work close to me and as a result I produce a lot of gratitude which pays off handsomely. I treat others well and I have a lot of people in my life that outpour a lot of love back to me. This is the best life I have ever known.”