Breaking out of marijuana’s box

When I was growing up, I was taught that a man should act a certain way. My childhood brought a lot of pain and chaos, but I was not able to express my emotions properly, so I stuffed the hurt inside.


My social indifference led me to begin using marijuana at age 10. It buffered me from the pain. By the time I was 12, I was an alcoholic. At 14, I was using practically every drug. I was 24 when my mother tragically died by suicide, then at 29, I found meth. Drugs and criminal behavior filled the hole in my heart.


Any mind-altering substance really affects the way you develop. For me, marijuana and other substances hindered my ability to see outside the box; they limited my perspective of the world. Fear became my dominant emotion, expressed through anger and deceit. That combination made me volatile.


From my teens into adulthood, I was in and out of jail—school was the furthest thing from my mind. When I was sentenced to probation for a felony charge, I immediately failed probation terms because of drug use. As a result, my probation officer sent me to treatment at Arapahoe House.


As a felon, I believed there was no opportunity for me, that everyone was against me. I was certain treatment would not work, but I did everything the Arapahoe House clinical staff told me to do. It was the only way I could prove they were wrong about me. I intended to follow all of their instructions and show them that even without drugs and alcohol my life would not get better.


Unintentionally, I proved them right. After treatment, I didn’t go to jail anymore, I didn’t live in toxic environments anymore, I didn’t explode anymore. And that was just the beginning. I was 39 years old and still a kid.


One of the first things I did when I got sober was help care for my disabled father. I wanted to get to know the man I had condemned for so many years. When I sat down and spoke with him, I realized that everyone has their own demons. In recovery, I could see beyond myself. My capacity for compassion and empathy expanded.


For the first time in my life, I could be genuinely being present and reliable for others. I launched a practical needs group to connect Arapahoe House patients to jobs and housing. I also co-chaired the crystal meth anonymous hospitals and institutions group. All in all, I volunteered for seven years.


Then, one day, Arapahoe House staff encouraged me to apply for a job. At first, I was concerned about losing everything I enjoyed about volunteering, yet the outcome has been amazing. Now, I’m an addiction technician, offering patients the tools and skills needed to challenge their destructive belief systems, which I used to have.


I take pride in my professional life. Before treatment, I hadn’t finished high school. Now, I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree and plan to immediately begin a master’s of social work program. I’m focusing my education on mental health, with an emphasis on post-traumatic stress and grief therapy.


I’m so grateful for Arapahoe House. I know that without treatment, today I would be in jail or dead. May 19, 2018 will be my 10 years of sobriety, after using for nearly 30 years. I hope one day my number of years in recovery will surpass the number of years I self-medicated.