My Addiction Story
It smelled like an old cabin. It looked like a room you might see in church camp. I laid in the bed looking at the ceiling. Is this a dream? What the hell is happening?
I had imagined many times that I would be found out and everyone would know about my secret. None of my scenarios ended with me sitting in rehab. Nothing can prepare you for the feeling of knowing you have let everyone down and that everyone knows you are a fraud. How the hell does a person end up like this?
Hello, my name is Brian Howard and I’m a drug addict and alcoholic. I would like to share my story with you in the hopes that it will help someone. My story doesn’t begin or end with fireworks, and that’s part of the story. Not every drug addict is going to look the way you think they should or act the way you think you they will be acting. My younger years were spent as a military kid. After divorcing my biological father, my mother remarried. My new stepfather would turn out to be an alcoholic.
Rather than go into all the stories from that chapter, I will just summarize by saying it was a stressful childhood. My mother divorced him when I was 12 and married the man that is still my step-father. It is said that children in alcoholic/ addicted homes learn not to talk, trust, or feel. This manifests in different ways, but I know the impact is detrimental to future relationships and coping with life as a whole. Experiencing alcoholism at a young age didn’t cause me to become a drug addict, but it was an integral part of my understanding how I interact with the world. I first got drunk at age 12 with my best friend. This is particularly disturbing to me now that I have a 12-year-old son. We would sneak alcohol from time to time after that, but nothing significantly negative happened. In high school, I was a fairly typical high school guy. I liked baseball, girls, and acting cool while drinking beer with buddies. Other than being caught by the cops and having to pour out our beer in the park, or the occasional hangover, nothing of consequence happened. In college, played baseball. Still pretty normal for a college-aged male. Going to class, going to practice, going to parties, chasing girls…. and my first blackout drunk. I didn’t think much of it. I was offered marijuana on occasion and would avoid it in most cases, but not always.
During my freshman year, I dislocated my shoulder. As you would expect, I went to the hospital, had it popped back in and went home….with pain meds. I didn’t know it at that time, but this was an introduction that would later come to haunt me. I took the pain meds according to the prescription. I remember noticing how great I felt. My senior year of college, I was diagnosed with melanoma. I had surgery to remove the area on my ear, remove lymph nodes in my neck, and had radiation afterward. Other than being scared, I made it through. However, I still needed to finish one class before officially graduating. I took the class while living at home to recover from surgery and radiation. I was still prescribed pain medication and took them periodically because they seemed to help me study. This was the beginning of my relationship with opiates that would be a force like nothing I had ever experienced. At this point, I wasn’t an addict, but I had already begun abusing them by not taking them “as needed”.
“It didn’t say as needed when you need to study or just feel better in general. I wasn’t in pain but convinced myself that I needed them. It never entered my mind that this could be dangerous. After all, it was prescribed.”
After graduating I moved to Dallas for work. I found myself unhappy and unfulfilled. It wasn’t long before I was experimenting with other drugs to fill the gaps in my life. Alcohol, marijuana, opiates, meth, cocaine, and others. I was able to keep my job, friends, and finances in order. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to get involved with these types of drugs, but there really weren’t any problems… yet.
While living in Dallas I met the woman that is now my wife. She was in college in Oklahoma so I spent a good deal of time driving back and forth. I managed to cut the drugs from my life because girls like her don’t date guys like that, and they sure as hell don’t marry them. I didn’t tell anyone about the drugs I had experimented with for fear of judgment, and because I still didn’t think it would be a part of my story.
A few years later we were married and expecting our first child. I started having trouble with my shoulder again. I decided to have another surgery before our son was born. Once again I was reintroduced to my old friend. Opiates. This is not the doctor’s fault. I believe they were doing their job and trying to manage my pain. However, I was able to get a refill that really wasn’t needed. I was off to the races. I found the answer to all my problems, all my insecurities, and all my fears. The next years of my life consisted of decline, confusion, desperation, and internal torment. My wife wondered who she had married. I had hidden my addiction so well that she didn’t know what was going on. She just knew something wasn’t right with me.
Looking back, she would tell you that the signs were there but she didn’t know what the signs were. I used most of my energy finding ways to buy pills, lie to doctors, or steal what I needed. It is torture to know right from wrong and feel like you have no choice but to do wrong in order to not be sick. In no other scenario would I choose to steal. But when I was in active addiction few things would stop me from getting what I needed.
Withdrawal is hell. At night, I would lay a towel down on the pillow to keep from soaking it in sweat. I would need to change shirts in the middle of the night but would be too cold to get up to change. I would eventually end up in a 90-day inpatient rehab facility
“Nobody wakes up saying Today I think I’ll begin the process of becoming a drug addict. I sure didn’t.”
Yet there I was sitting in rehab with a 3-year-old son and pregnant wife at home. I was a Jerry Springer episode. Days earlier I was working as a territory rep handling the state of Oklahoma for a company. I can’t say I was killing it at work, but it was still a far cry from sitting in rehab. I knew I need to make a change so I buckled down and tried to make the best of the experience.
While there, I lost my job and wasn’t sure what life would be like at home or if I would be a part of my family. I ended up having a valuable experience in treatment and eventually went home to my family and found another job. I held it together for a couple of years. I was sober but still not happy. I did the minimum and minimized my addiction as much as I could.
Everyone didn’t need to know about it, right? Well, there’s a saying. We’re only as sick as our secrets. My secrets were slowly killing me. I ended up relapsing and proved to be an alcoholic as well as a drug addict. This time my wife was done. She planned to scour the bank account to see what I had been spending on drugs. She quit after the first month she reviewed. $4,000 in a months time was enough to tell her what she needed to know. In anger, she told me she wanted a divorce and that I was not going to drag her and the kids through hell. I couldn’t blame her. I didn't want to hurt them either.
I won’t go into all the details but I moved out for a while, then slowly began rebuilding. I now tell my clients one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned: People can’t hear your words because your actions are screaming too loudly. I had to get honest, quit minimizing, and get to work acting like the person I wanted to be.
Over time, my wife and I were able to form a healthy relationship that has now turned into a marriage that I hope others can experience. Eventually, I found my purpose in helping others and decided to get my Master’s degree in Substance Abuse Studies and got licensed as a Licensed Alcohol Drug, and Mental Health Counselor. My personal and professional experience led me to create a program that I believe offers something that is missing in the treatment world.
OneLife Treatment is a 6-month outpatient program designed with the idea that long-term recovery is more likely to occur when people are re-engaged in life, not just free of drugs and alcohol. Today, I believe I am on the planet to help people in similar situations. While I regret the pain I put people through, I am most thankful for where those experiences led me.
Brian Howard MA, LADC-MH is a Licensed Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Counselor at CorAspire Mental Health and Wellness Center. He has experience diagnosing and treating drug addicts, alcoholics, as well as family members impacted by addiction. Brian received a Master’s degree in Substance Abuse Studies from The University of Central Oklahoma. Brian is the founder of One Life Treatment. One Life Treatment approaches treatment in a 6 month outpatient setting utilizing technology, individual sessions, and educational classes/groups. One Life Treatment believes in a whole life approach to treatment that encourages engagement in multiple areas of life such as spiritual, social/relational, emotional, physical, purpose/service, and financial.