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The Story I Heard in Jail That Shaped My Addiction Recovery
By Andrew Macia
I had a happy childhood. I was shy and somewhat awkward, but happy. My parents kept my brother and I safe from sorrow and pain when we were young. They moved to America to create a better life for us. My brother and I were born in Colombia in the 80s, and while Colombia is very beautiful, at the time cartels and civil unrest made it amongst the most dangerous countries in the world. Shoot outs happen in broad daylight with murders and abductions being an everyday occurrence. We left and moved to Southern California. A move to Southern California meant that we could be safer and feel more secure than in our native war-torn Colombia.
Colombians love to have a good time. We find any excuse to throw a party, gather up family and friends, eat good food, replete with lively music and full-flavored Aguardiente. If you’ve not heard of Aguardiente, or Fire Water, it is a popular drink in Colombia that is basically a pungent-flavored anise alcohol drink.
At one of these family parties my life took a disastrous turn. I had just turned 9 years old and I felt that the world was mine for the taking. I was always encouraged to go after what I wanted, that I could be anyone or do anything. What 9 year-old me wanted most was to be a grown-up. I noticed how adults would always drink Aguardiente and afterwards they would seem relaxed and have more fun. When I asked to try some in the past I received a harsh lecture, but that didn’t stop me. Later in the evening I was able to get my hands on some without being seen. I didn’t like it, but I liked feeling grown-up, so I went for more. While the adults were dancing, I sneaked over to the alcohol table. Because they were not paying attention, I imbibed so much that I got drunk. Yes, even innocent 9 year-olds can get drunk. My cousin found me and pulled me back to the other kids. He gave me food and water and told me never to do it again. This time he covered for me so my parents would not get upset, but he said he would tell them next time.
It wasn’t the last time. To be honest, I liked being drunk. When I got drunk, I became a new person, a boy who felt more uninhibited and confident. After a while, alcohol wasn’t cutting it anymore. I started smoking marijuana at 13 and I was on meth at 19.
Before long my choices caught up. I faced a two year prison sentence for drug related charges. Looking back now, I don’t know why I didn’t try to change sooner. At the time I didn’t believe I had a problem, I was just having a good time. After all, my friends were drinking at parties. They didn’t have any problems and neither did I.
I went to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous in prison just to get out of my depressing cell. I didn’t share or even speak for the first few months. However, one AA meeting everything changed. An older man spoke up. He was rugged and intimidating, it was plain to see from the way he carried himself he had felt some of the worst life had to offer. I never heard his story before and it made a huge impact on me emotionally. He related that he and his wife were in love, with a happy life they enjoyed together. But his addiction was making the marriage cramped and crowded. She made excuses and tried to help him to the point where she started blaming herself. Eventually she couldn’t take it anymore and left him. The one positive person in his life had just walked out on him, leaving him to reflect on his choices and direction.
That reverberated within me. My parents mean the world to me. They gave up everything to protect my brother and I. As my life plummeted so did my relationship with them. But they hadn’t abandoned me yet, and just thinking about losing them was enough to make me change my life before they were gone forever.
After I was released I found a job. It wasn’t much, just selling cheap perfumes and colognes. However, even perfume salesmen can find success at their jobs, and I started working harder and got promoted. Before long I was training new hires from my own desk at my own office. I became a workaholic, trading one addiction for another. Working long hours, I found myself with a new exhilarating addiction that was more socially accepted, but still emotionally draining, and I relapsed.
It hit me hard. I started drinking, I started lying, I knew it was wrong and I hated myself for it. I fell into depression and didn’t know how to deal with it. I hated myself for wasting the money I had earned. I felt guilty when I lashed out at my parents because they supported me. I couldn’t even bring myself to look in the mirror. I was drunk or high, sleeping during the day and barely eating. My conscience and addiction were at war as I kept hearing the old man from prison. I didn’t want to hurt my parents anymore. I didn’t want them being disappointed. I had to end it all.
Hard as I might try, I will never forget what happened next.
After my lease ended I couldn’t afford my own place anymore, so I moved in with my parents. My parents keep their prescription meds locked up in their room, but I saw my dad put the key in the closet in one of his old coats. I pretended to be asleep while waiting for them to leave. Once I heard the car I went for the key. “It will all be over soon, this will all be over soon” I kept telling myself.
I never heard the door open. My mother ran into my room and slapped the pills out of my hand. I remember her holding me and rocking me telling my father, “I told you something was wrong. I knew it, I could feel it.” For the first time, I looked at both of them and said, “Mama, Papa, I need help.”
I was admitted into a rehabilitation facility in Idaho, a facility with caring staff who saved my life and gave me new hope. They made me work through my problems, my guilt, self-hatred, and anger. I wrote letters to everyone I loved and cared about, even myself, I asked for forgiveness from everyone I had hurt, including myself. The caring staff members helped me to realize that I had much to gain by going clean. I was actually becoming motivated to do something with my life.
After I got out of rehab, I joined both local AA and NA groups. At one of these meetings I met my sponsor, who is now my closest friend. After my parents and rehab, he is probably the biggest reason I am still clean. My sponsor put it to me bluntly: either I pass a college course, or I get a new sponsor. I pulled myself to nearby college and looked at the courses. I had always been interested in tech and internet, so I chose an HTML course.
Going to college and learning a new skill put me on a whole new direction. Because of that course I now had skills and knowledge to do something with my life. I started spending my time reading books on coding, http, digital media, everything. The room I tried to end my life in was now where my new life was taking form.
Eight years have gone by since I almost made that fatal mistake. Eight years since I took my last drink, or my last hit.
I’m living in Colombia again, where I am the proud co-owner of a digital marketing company. I’m in the country I was born and doing what I love. I’m happy, healthy and clean. I get asked if I ever get the urge to relapse and my response today is: no, but I don’t know about tomorrow, so I have to take it a day at a time.
Colombians love to party, so on a Friday night, when people are out drinking, I do feel tempted. Parties are especially difficult for me, and I am tempted to drink with my friends. But the pull of my supportive loved ones is far stronger. I have found many ways to enjoy myself without drugs or alcohol, so now I can dwell on more positive lifestyle choices.
When I first returned to Colombia, it was difficult. Each morning I would get up and take situations one at a time, constantly reminding myself of how I didn’t need drugs or alcohol. I would attend meetings almost daily, and I Skyped several times a week with my sponsor to keep focus. I started becoming active. I would hike up the mountains and enjoy the beautiful view. I became a coach for a boys soccer team. I started focusing on improving other people’s lives as well as my own. Gratitude is key, and I am grateful for all the influential people who have helped me. Grateful to wake up to a new day filled with opportunities.
Now I am strong enough to focus on my blessings instead of my problems. If I hadn’t experienced everything I did, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Although I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, my journey from addict to success taught me much about life. Coming out of depression and despair, I can now reflect on the painful moments and smile thinking about those days. I am one of the people who made it out of a debilitating addiction, and I can now enjoy each day in my beautiful Colombia.