You don’t often hear people use excitement when it comes to rehab, but looking back at my experience, I view those days as some of the best days of my life. I remember it all as if it were yesterday.
It was April 9th, 2013 when I was confronted with an intervention. Of course I was scared out of my mind, but I knew that I would either have to get help for what was killing me, or I would be left homeless with no one to help support me. Although the fear of what all was going to have to change was overwhelming, I looked at this as the opportunity to not only figure out how to live without drugs or alcohol, but I looked at it as the opportunity to finally start accomplishing goals that were much bigger than myself.
I remember sitting in the back of my parent’s car as we drove towards the treatment center in Gahanna, Ohio trying my hardest to focus on the positives and drown out the fears. I made a few calls to close friends, letting them know that they may not see me for a while which was tough, but I knew it had to be done. Part of me thought that I would sadly miss out on all the fun they were going to have without me that weekend, then I realized I would most likely miss out on all of the fun the next weekend too. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks that I would be missing out on all of the drinking/drug filled parties for the rest of my life…But then the other part of me thought about what I might be able to accomplish with all of those lost hours usually filled using drugs and fogging my mind with alcohol. I thought to myself, “hmm, I wonder what I could look like a year from now if I spent Friday and Saturday nights at the gym.” Then I thought about the fact that I could focus on learning about real estate and strive to get my real estate license which was always a goal of mine. Or what if I started doing the things people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates did in order to accomplish incredible things…Would I enjoy my life more 10 years from now if I focused on building my life and who I am, or would I enjoy it more if I kept parting, using and drinking? The answer is obviously obvious. This wasn’t a punishment, nor was it for just not ever using or drinking again, but this was the true window of opportunity. Right then I became determined to submit my ego completely, soak up everything the people who worked at the treatment center told me, and apply the teachings to my life.
I finally arrived at the treatment center. I was processed and was shown my room that I would be staying in for an unknown amount of time. I then was led down to where everyone else was. I remember my initial reaction being that I was nothing like the others who were attending, but I quickly reminded myself that we were all there to better ourselves. From that point on, I knew that we had a common bond, no matter what the drug of choice was, no matter what we did in our past…we were all there because we were addicted to substances that were tearing our lives apart.
Once the clock hit the hour, everyone went downstairs to a big room with seating and a stage. I had no clue what to expect. A guy dressed similarly to all of us walked up to the stage and began speaking. I told myself that I would give my full attention to the speaker not only out of respect, but because I knew he was up there for a reason. I knew that he had something in his life that I needed…sobriety.
I’ll never forget that first time sitting down and truly listening to someone else. I was never a religious person, nor did I care to be, but I will always remember when he said that it doesn’t matter who or what you pray to, but that by giving your attention to something you know to be greater than yourself, you can find peace and serenity. He said, whether you pray to God or Mother Nature or even to a rock, at least you are praying to something. The only three things I had prayed for in the ten years prior was either to help me win the lottery, to get me out of a situation, or me yelling at my “higher power” in anger for giving me such a terrible run at life. But what the man speaking said changed my life forever. He suggested to find the things throughout the day that you can be grateful for, pray in gratitude for those things and if you ask for anything, ask to help rid you of your resentments, pain, guilt and shame.
That night, I remember laying down on the cot like bed in my room, clinching my fingers in between one another and saying “thank you”. That right there was something I hadn’t done since I was a kid. When I said that, my heart finally felt emotion again. I remember thanking my higher power for giving me the opportunity to fix my life. I said thank you for my family’s willingness to risk losing me so that I could instead possibly choose to get help. I was thankful for the smiles I saw that day and for the people who worked at the treatment center trying to help save lives. As great as that was, the thing I did next was truly a phenomenon. I will never know exactly how to explain it, but what I did was ask my higher power to help me let go of all of my resentments, my guilt and my shame. When I did that, I realized that I was not obligated to feel those things anymore. I knew that I no longer had to be the person I was a year ago, a month ago or even a day ago. It truly felt like 100 pounds was lifted off of my shoulders. It felt so real that the only way I can explain it is by calling it a phenomenon. I knew my name in that very moment. I vowed to become the good person I always wanted to be. I vowed to always grow instead of hold myself back. I vowed to live in the now, instead of in the past.
I hadn’t slept that well in years! When I woke up the next morning, I realized that the reason I slept so good was because of my gratitude and positivity. After all of those great things happened, I realized that I was onto something…If I apply what I am taught by those who have in their lives what I want, I too, can have what they have.
I was so excited to see what else I could learn at that point. I grabbed a notepad and took that everywhere with me for the duration of my treatment. I didn’t want to miss anything. A wealth of knowledge was there…why would I not want to soak it all up?
In the days following, I started meeting more and more people from all walks of life who were also in treatment…Physicians, Police Officers, Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Students, Drop-outs, Athletes, etc. It didn’t matter where they all came from, what mattered, was the fact that they were there to better their lives. I was able to learn valuable things from each and every person. For being such an introvert, I really was working hard at stretching my comfort zone and joining those who were extroverts. I knew in my mind that it would benefit me later on to learn how to be social with people I didn’t know.
I know there were people there who didn’t want to be there. There were people getting caught trying to sneak in drugs. There were also people who were angry, but I knew that my end goal was to live my life out as a sober person even if I had to walk a lonely road for a while. I was so determined that nothing on the outside could deter me from my mission. For so long, I was the type of person who followed what everyone else was doing, but I always had wanted to learn how to be independent. This mission of living a sober life was mine and no one could take that away from me. It was such a sensation of independence that I had never had before. It was scary, but at the same time exciting.
We would have workshops that allowed us to build things. We got to work as a team on certain projects and we had opportunities to sit on the stage and read pages out of affirmation booklets. Again, I was an introvert, but I knew that this would help me in the long run so I got involved. Day by day, my comfort zone was being stretching. I would look back to a few days before and notice that I was no longer afraid of the things I was then. If I could grow this much in just a few days, where could I be a year from now?!
The twelve step program was part of the experience at the treatment center. It showed me structure which I am very grateful for. I never had any life structure up until that point. There would be meetings where people would speak about their horrific experiences in the past, but what I really paid attention to were the stories of different successes within people’s recovery. I listened to people who had built corporations, small businesses, studios, people who had written books, joined clubs, traveling the world and who were truly living the dream. That excited me so much because I had lived in the false pretense for so long that the only way you could be successful is if you didn’t screw up your life as much as I had. I realized that those who were succeeding at life, were those who learned to believe in themselves and who gained independence. No matter what obstacles they had in life, they never gave up on their dreams. They wouldn’t let anyone tell them that their goals were unrealistic. They got rid of the negative people in their lives and they went out of there comfort zones to meet those who supported them. Most of all, they submitted their ego, became vulnerable and took risks to get to where they are now. I decided in those moments to go for my dreams. I decided to not let anyone try to stop me. This was my life and I will do whatever it takes to love it and live it!
I remember about 2 weeks in, I had a meeting with one of the staff members. They told me that they felt I only needed a few more days in treatment with how well I had been doing. But I was so excited about everything I was learning and how much I was growing that I asked them if I could stay another week. Luckily they agreed, although my insurance company probably didn’t like that very much.
I spent 22 days total in that treatment facility. I met some of the most amazing people imaginable there…both staff and fellow residents. I will never forget the time spent there. One of the best things I learned, was that no matter how great life may become, I will always have an addiction to those substances which once were tearing my life apart. I deeply listened to those who had relapsed after 20+ years of sobriety. Even to this day, 100% of the stories I hear about people thinking they can moderate their drinking end up disastrous.
Those 22 days were the most eye opening days of my life. It is safe for me to say that had I not fully opened myself up to change and learning, I would not be where I am at today. Thank you to those who are part of the recovery community. Thank you to those who work in the industry. Thank you to those who listen.
My next installment will be about how I have built my life since treatment and about the things I have been able to accomplish. I hope to see you there!
One day at a time,
Austin F. Cooper