Struggling to Cope
Dealing with the divorce of his parents and struggling with being the only boy out of five sisters, Sam began using drugs and alcohol in his early teens. “I really leaned heavily on this new world that I had discovered in drugs.”
Sam started socially drinking and smoking marijuana frequently. “It was a lot of fun at the time and it seemed so innocent.” He suffered from no serious consequences and “progressively started doing other drugs, from hallucinogens to prescription drugs to the party scene. And I started taking ecstasy and all that…I never thought I was doing anything wrong.”
As a skateboarder and amongst his friends, drugs and drinking were a part of the social culture that Sam was accustomed to. “I never thought that what I was doing was going to lead me in to digging myself in to a hole that I couldn’t dig myself out of.”
At 14, he developed a habit and system of stealing liquor from grocery stores. “I’d just walk in, wearing a sweatshirt, you know, stick alcohol in my pants and walk out. And I got away with it, a lot of times. I could not believe I was the 14 year old who was doing that.”
But Sam’s seemingly foolproof methods of stealing came to a crashing halt one day. “Something felt kind of off about it, walking in there.” He felt like people were watching him, but dismissed the paranoia and headed for the liquor, just as he had been doing for the past year or so.
When Sam began to walk out of the store, he realized he was being chased and yelled at by four “linebacker-looking” men. His bike was parked right in front of the store and he sprinted to it, hoping to get a running start and pedal away.
One problem: there was a sweatshirt draped over the handlebars of the bike. “The sweatshirt slips in to the front tire of my bike and it stops the front tire”. Sam consequently flipped forward on his bike, the glass bottles of alcohol smashing beneath him as he landed on top of them.
Sam didn’t stop though. “I was just fight or flight and I took off running. And I got away, I thought, but it was a long walk home.”
He was about two miles away from home, which felt a lot longer to him walking than it did riding a bike. “I had a lot of time to reflect on the person I was. And my parents didn’t raise me to be a thief, or any of that, and just real ashamed walking home.” But Sam also realized something else amidst his walk. “I realized that I had my dad’s cell phone that day, and I didn’t have it on me. I realized that it flew out of my pocket.”
Intervention for a Better Future
When Sam arrived home, he found his dad and a few of his sisters, along with their husbands, in the kitchen. Noticeably shaken up from the incident, Sam was “freaked out and on the verge of tears”. He tried to slide past their questions about where he had been and what he had been doing by going to his room.
But Sam’s family followed him inside (“it was like an episode of ‘Intervention’ or something”) and told him that they knew everything that had just happened. Since Sam had his father’s cell phone that day, the men at the store picked up the phone from where it had flown out of his pocket and immediately dialed the contact “Mom” to explain that Sam had been stealing alcohol. But since it was his father’s phone, the “Mom” that was contacted had been Sam’s grandmother. She was distraught thinking that Sam’s father had been the one who was caught stealing. “It probably nearly killed her.”
The guilt of putting his grandmother through the stress was completely overwhelming to Sam. “The weight of that just put me out for a little while. I didn’t even want to use, I didn’t want to get drunk, I was, like, wanting to start flying straight again, to prove to my family that I’m not this dirtbag kid.”
But the feeling of wanting to stop for good didn’t last long. Sam started abusing prescription medications heavily to the point where he was both physically and mentally dependent on them. Since the pills that Sam was using were mostly opiates, he said it seemed logical to “graduate” to using Heroin.
And once he began down that road, he was quickly addicted. “I couldn’t help but think, where did my life go? I had all these things I wanted to be and I wanted to get an education and get a good job and have a family and before I knew it, I’m just a dirty junkie who’s willing to do anything to get high again, and it’s a harsh truth to swallow.”
Moment of Awakening
But even with these moments of awakening, “little looks in to reality” as Sam calls them, he couldn’t stop the cravings and desire to go out and get high. Addiction had consumed him fully, often leaving him thinking “My life is over and I haven’t even lived yet, I’m still a teenager. I’m 17. I’m still in high school. And my life is over.”
Sam needed a way out, and he knew he couldn’t do it alone. “I got to a point where I was willing to get help…and thankfully I was out of options and was willing to listen to someone else and actually seek out some help. Because I spent all this time thinking that there’s no going back from the things that I’ve been doing, there’s no life after this for me. And I get in to recovery and I find out how big of a lie that is, that I’ve been telling myself for all this time.”
Sam went in to rehab with an open mind and willingness to get better. “It was an amazing feeling. I didn’t know that there were people out there just like me. And I had a moment right there where I couldn’t exactly explain how I was feeling because I finally had hope in my life.”
4 years and 3 months later, Sam is in recovery, sober and most importantly, happy.
“I built a life for myself in recovery. Instead of walking around with all this guilt about how bad a son I am, and how terrible a brother I am, and what a terrible person of society I am, I get to walk around knowing that my dad is proud of me, and my sisters are proud to call me their brother, and they can actually depend on me to do what I say I’m going to, and I can actually show up for life and have a little self-worth. I’m happy to be Sam today…it’s like life just started once I got sober.”
Sam’s journey has been anything but easy, but he has learned that there’s life after addiction, one that is good, and in simplest terms, possible. “You don’t have to live your life controlled by a substance. There’s a life free of all that that’s worth living.”