This is the third in a series of articles written by peer recovery specialists at the Harford County Health Department that will be published in September, which is Recovery Month.

“How would a cat spend the last of his nine lives?”

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“What would you do with your time if you knew it was all borrowed?”

I find myself asking these questions more and more as time goes on. Though that may seem strange, I promise it’ll make sense in a minute.

There aren’t many things I know for sure in this world. In fact, probably the only thing I do know is that to keep the life that I have today intact, I’ve got to give some things away. Be it time, energy, resources or experience, the essence of my life today has to revolve around helping others.

Being of service was never on my agenda. In fact I made it a point to share as little of what I had as possible. Opioid addiction will do that to a person. I started with my drinking and drugging career around the tender age of 12. As kids, me and my friends thought it was pertinent that we try all the things that older kids were doing as soon as possible, become acclimated to it, join the ranks of the cool and popular, and be worshiped for our fearlessness. It was at this time that alcohol and marijuana became a staple of my daily diet. What I had come to learn was that the rumors were true! Yes, alcohol tasted terrible. Moreover, it was every bit as fun as it seemed to be.

Even having this revelation, it was a few years before my antics would really catch up with me. What I found through experience was that as long as I was properly medicated, be it by a few drinks, a few pills, or a couple puffs; I could be anyone I wanted to be. I could be the energetic, lively and charismatic life of the party. I could be calm, cool and collected under pressure, the man to go to when things got weird. I could be romantic, flirtatious and womanizing. I could be everything and anything I thought you wanted me to be (so long as I had my medicine).

This worked wonderfully throughout my high school years, and early into my first days in the workforce, where jobs that required a strong back, a weak mind and many hours labor were almost a side thought; as I breezed through each shift floating, almost on auto pilot. Days went by fast, with many trips to the port-o-pot to break up the day and refuel, stepping out and wiping the powder from my nose nonchalantly, explaining away the frequency of my bathroom visits with, “must have been what I had for dinner last night."

By the age of 19, without my conscious effort, most all of my friends had fallen away. Even the diehard fellows I had known for years had learned it was best to avoid me, or had simply moved on. One in particular that stuck out was Doug. Doug always had my back, and always made sure I ended up home safe, even if that meant following me home when I had snuck my keys out of his house and made my grand escape down Trimble Road, so drunk I couldn’t remember doing it. Doug got smart and joined the service shortly after graduation. I remember many times wishing I had went to the recruiters with him and got out of Harford County while the getting was good.

No such luck for me yet, though. By the time I reached 20, I was a full blown heroin addict and well into the depths of my addiction. Staying at my girlfriend’s parents’ house, I lied and manipulated my way through life, whenever I thought that my solution to life’s problems was in danger. Slowly but surely I found that I was simply running out of answers. Every excuse I could cook up was over used, every lie I could tell fell on deaf ears. More and more, I saw a look on my loved ones faces that gave me the distinct feeling they were looking at a stranger. I was short on money and time, and my habit required a lot of both.

A day came where my dear mother called me up and called me out. After seeing her probably three times in as many years, I found that her love for her son had never wavered. Days later, I was loaded into the back of my father’s truck and transported to the place that separated me from my old lifestyle forever. Leaving in the middle of the day, I left without saying a word to anyone, to include my then-girlfriend. After a sleepless, delirious night on my fathers’ couch (where I heard him cry out loud for the first time in my life), I was taken to an inpatient treatment center far from home. What I encountered there were other patients and staff all too willing to help me however they could, and make me feel welcome. I found that for the first time I was surrounded by people that were very much like me and that I did not feel alone.

After 28 days, having been physically detoxed and mentally prepared to pursue a life free from the prison that is substance abuse, I was taken to a recovery house here in Bel Air; a house famed for its stringent rules and no-nonsense approach to early recovery. Scared and in a new place again, I set out, clumsily and fearfully, determined to give this whole “abstinence” ordeal one honest try. What I found along the way was that the more I helped others, the more I helped me.

Sobriety taught me many lessons that first 6 months. I discovered again that I am an emotional creature, and that I could no longer avoid those emotions. I also found that fear and pride go hand-in-hand, and neither were of any use to me anymore. I worked the front register and drive-thru of a local fast food restaurant, handing out sodas and bags of food to local townspeople, many of them I knew from high school and many more I became acquainted with over time. I lived and worked alongside other young recovering men, and learned to appreciate the fellowship and camaraderie that comes with pursuing a common goal.

These days I find myself being of service to others in new, unexpected and more rewarding ways than ever before whilst in my tenor here at the Harford County Health Department. I spend most of my mornings at the local detention center, in an effort to make the resources we have here more readily available to those inmates who need them. I go to the psychiatric unit of local hospitals and speak in groups with their community in order to do the same thing. Along with that I work on an individual basis with many of our outpatient clients, trying my best to share my experience in early sobriety with them, and connect them to whatever resources they may need.

They say that faith without works is dead. Having seen miracles in this new and unexpected chapter of my life, I’ve learned that sometimes the work comes first, before the faith reveals itself. That is why I’m always working towards that goal of helping those that need it. If your reading this and your living in that dark and all too familiar place I was two-odd years ago, understand this; there is a path forward for you. There is hope for the hopeless, and there is love for those that feel loathed and lost. Reach out for help and grasp on to whatever is offered, regardless of how thin and flimsy it may at first appear. We do recover.

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