Recovery from drug addiction is a lifelong process, a process that I’m determined to make the most of. After beginning as an alcoholic, then turning to pills and escalating to heroin, my body and mental state have been through harrowing pain. Because of the love and support I received, I survived to transform my life.
A deep descent
My descent into addiction followed the same path as those of millions of other people who struggle with substance dependence and abuse. After stressful days working in the securities industry, I came home thinking, “I need a drink.” The alcohol provided short-term relief, but I built a tolerance quickly and soon couldn’t drink enough to calm my mind. I needed something more powerful and turned to pain medications.
Then, the drugs and alcohol ruined my physical health and I nearly lost my life. Job stress and excessive alcohol consumption caused a Mallory-Weiss tear in my esophagus. I nearly bled to death and slid into a coma. As I recovered, I felt unbearable pain that doctors treated with Oxycontin.
As with alcohol, Oxy soon wasn’t enough, and I turned to heroin. While I had managed my life as a functional alcoholic, I found it was impossible to be a functioning Oxy and heroin addict. I lost my business, my money, my pride and my self-esteem.
Against my religion, I attempted suicide.
The best thing to ever happen
God, though, had plans to keep me on Earth. Miraculously, an ambulance came by as I lost consciousness from an overdose and was dying. They pumped me full of Narcan, a nasal spray that counteracts an opiod overdose, and saved my life.
Having almost lost my life to addiction twice, I understand the vital importance of treating addictions before it’s too late. The stigma against addicts discourages them from seeking the help they need to quit. Often, the withdrawal symptoms are so painful and dangerous that quitting without medical intervention becomes unrealistic. To save lives, those who stigmatize addiction must learn to understand not judge.
I put off treatment far too long and ended up in jail. Most of my friends abandoned me at that point. At this new low, I pleaded with God to give me a second chance at life, and two blessings came into my life: a sponsor and faithful friends who changed my life and made me who I am today.
Billy, my sponsor, all but adopted me. He visited me in jail and taught me to take responsiblity for my recovery while showing genuine compassion. Billy knew nothing about my experience as a financial planner, but after I recovered, he welcomed me as a business partner and supported my second-chance in the finance industry.
My new friends were there for me and encouraged me to get treatment and see it through. I dedicated my life to kicking my addiction and enrolled in a 12-step program. The other option was death.
Take it from me: Nobody who has lived through the pain of dope sickness (withdrawal) ever chooses for it to continue. That’s what makes addicts continue using no matter how much they wish to stop.
Confronting my addiction gave me purpose in life, and the experience of succeeding didn’t just make me stronger. It made me bulletproof. I’m so thankful for the people who refused to give up on me and helped me through the biggest challenge of my life. As a survivor, I feel the need to help others suffering from the same disease.
My work with recovering addicts gave me a purpose in life while healing and strengthening my soul. In addition to sponsoring younger recovering addicts, I’m passionate about speaking to high school students about the dangers of addiction, how to keep themselves clean and why there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to drug addiction.
I also believe strongly in emphasizing that it’s possible to turn adversity into positivity. Though being in jail was the low point of my life, the addiction recovery program I engaged in while serving time at the Middlesex House of Corrections in Billerica, Massachusetts, taught me how to turn a bad situation into a life-changing opportunity.
In 2015 I spoke at a conference hosted by the Heroin Education Awareness Task Force (HEAT) program, an addiction education and treatment initiative two very compassionate Woburn District Court employees created. Understanding that people do recover and how it works saves countless lives. The key is to reach people before it’s too late and help them understand that recovery is a lifelong process that makes you a stronger person. My journey has taught me who I really am. It’s filled me with compassion for others and allowed me to reconnect with God. I now appreciate the gift of life. Billy, my committed friends and the 12-step program helped me strengthen my business, family, pride and self-esteem more than ever.
Recovery from drug addiction is a lifelong process, a process that I’m determined to make the most of. After beginning as an alcoholic, then turning to pills and escalating to heroin, my body and mental state have been through harrowing pain. Because of the love and support I received, I survived.
Ryan Skinner is founder and co-owner of Summit Financial Partners and author of Taking Stock: Protect Your Wealth and Create Reliable Income for a Happy and Secure Retirement. Visit Ryan’s website to learn more about his addiction work and his mission at ryantakingstock.com.