All this month, MDC will be sharing different individual’s journey in recovery for National Recovery Month. This week, Webster Bailey, shares his journey. Thank you Webster for sharing and all you to do help those in addiction and recovery.

Early in my freshman year of high school, I began experimenting with alcohol and pot. My drug and alcohol use quickly became pretty regular and, as you might imagine, I ended up getting into trouble at school over it. My family used the opportunity to educate me about the risks of substance abuse. I remember my mom and dad emphasizing my family’s history with addiction – how my dad was an alcoholic, his dad was an alcoholic, and so on. Unfortunately for me (and my parents), I wasn’t able to grasp the point they were trying to make. What I heard them say was, “You are doing exactly what we expected you to… you are right on track. Keep up the good work!” What they meant was, “This type of behavior is even more dangerous for you than it is for others who don’t have a family history of addiction. You have to stop drinking and drugging now or you will for sure end up in a really bad spot someday because of your alcohol and drug use.” Looking back, it has become clear to me that my drug and alcohol use in high school, coupled with my family history of addiction, put me on a direct path toward destruction and full-blown drug addiction.

I was able to “hold things together” enough to graduate high school and I even went on to college. Because I was focused more on living the “college lifestyle”, it took me 6 years to graduate with a 4 year degree from the University of Tennessee. My focus during college was on partying. I was at the center of social circles, both on campus and off that emphasized the use of alcohol and drugs. I was a regular at many of the bars on Cumberland Avenue and I spent plenty of time in various fraternity houses on campus. My manipulation skills became sharpened and I learned that I would almost always get a decent grade as long as I went to class and got to know my professors. So, I made regular practice of getting to class a few minutes early and striking up small talk with my professors, I’d even go by to see them during office hours to further build the relationships. What they didn’t know was that I actually didn’t need extra help, I was using their goodwill and desire to helps others against them. I also built friendships with students that were committed to doing well in school and they would share study guides and other advantageous materials with me.  I don’t think I consciously knew what I was doing with these manipulative behaviors, I think they almost came natural to me. Like they were ingrained in me. Needless to say, I passed all but one of my classes at UT while completely addicted to drugs and alcohol.

From there, I entered the workforce and got a decent paying job and to the outside world, I seemed to be on the right track. Fast forward a bit, to 28 years old. I’d been hopelessly addicted to pain pills for close to 3 years at that point. I had to snort pills about every 4-5 hours to keep from going into withdrawal. I hated the way my drug use was controlling my life. In fact, I’d tried to stop using several times over the years without success. There were many times when that I remember crying while crushing up a pill because I didn’t want to use anymore, but I had to in order to not get physically sick. Eventually, I’d had enough. I showed up at my parent’s house one afternoon and told them what was going on with me. I told them that I couldn’t go on living that way any longer. They was shocked, but they also knew that something hadn’t been right for quite some time. So, in that sense, they were relieved that I came to them for help. They helped me find a treatment facility that could detox me safely and get me headed toward recovery from addiction.

The details of the beginning of my recovery are too long for this blog post, so I’ll skip over those and focus a bit on what recovery is and what has been like for me…

Recovery is about Action. Recovery is about Change. 

For me, recovery is about becoming the man that I believe God wants me to be, which is ultimately who I want to be. Recovery is about becoming the husband, the father, the brother, the son, and the friend that I always dreamed of being. In active addiction, I wanted the world, everything around me, to change.  I thought that I knew better than everyone else and I tried to fix everybody’s problems. I tried to tell everyone around me what they should be doing and how they could improve but, I never wanted to look at myself or at how I could improve. In recovery, I’ve come to realize that I don’t know what’s best for anyone else. I know now that I can’t change the outside world, I can only change me. And, I can only change me if I’m willing to recognize and accept my need for help from God and his children (other people). When I find myself unwilling to listen to the observations and suggestions of others, that’s a red flag for me. It lets me know that my mind and spirit are closed and I’m operating on self-will, not God’s will.

I came to understand in recovery that one of the major emotional stumbling blocks I had was low self-esteem. I had to learn how to accept myself and feel good about myself, without the use of drugs and alcohol. I needed to develop healthy self-confidence and self-esteem. In early recovery,  “getting clean” gave me a positive sense of self in needed. After a year or so, that feeling wore off and I had to do some more emotional work.  I had to learn how to “live clean”. I figured out the “garbage in, garbage out” rule. I had to change the music I listened to, the movies I watched, the books and magazines I read… literally everything about me had to be cleaned up, not just the drugs, they were “but a symptom”. I believe that, as an addict , my thinking is flawed, and if I’m not in touch with the reality of my disease, those flawed thoughts become the “normal thoughts” rather than the exception. So, that tells me that all of my actions and interests will either fuel my addiction or my fuel my recovery. I had become willing to change anything that might stand in my way. I wanted something new and wonderful out of life. Something told me, deep down, that recovery, and the new way of life I was discovering, would offer me everything I needed to be whole. It has. Recovery has already offered me more in 10 years than I could have ever imagined.

I’m now 10 years clean and sober and the richness and fullness of my life is beyond anything I thought possible. I am a husband, a father, a son, an employee, and a volunteer… I am proud of who I am.

I talk about my recovery nearly everywhere I go as a tool for prevention. I used to be very private about my recovery until I realized that I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide. I am responsible for using my story as a tool to reach others who are struggling with substance abuse and give them hope for a better tomorrow. I believe that I am using my recovery to fuel the fire for recovery in others. I believe that by sharing openly, I may be preventing others from having to go as far as I did down the path of addiction.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, talk about it. Ask for help. Don’t be ashamed. There is no shame in helping yourself or someone else.

Yours in Recovery,

Webster Bailey