I want to introduce you to a young man named Britt.
Britt grew up right here in Ithaca. He came to CARS because of his addiction to alcohol.
“I have been doing very well and I have been attending every group and truly working on myself. I have 132 days sober and I feel wonderful. I was told by somebody that if I don't drink and go to meetings I will be ok. I tried that for years and I could go months on months sober but eventually would have a three day bender because I wasn't changing how I felt about myself. I have always been so hard on myself, I am learning to love myself. I focus on being the best man I can possibly be every day. ”
I am on step 8 with my sponsor and although it is hard looking back at all the wrongs that I have done, it truly is a cleansing process.
“My daughter is one month old and it has been such a wonderful experience, but also having two step daughters that I love like they are my own is a humbling experience. It teaches me to be vulnerable and trust that if I give my love to someone I will not be hurt. It has been a great experience and I truly feel like I have gotten past the point of feeling like I need to have a drink to make myself feel better. I just keep on working hard and doing the next right thing. I just want to be the best husband, dad and give back to my community in life.”
Britt’s story reminds us of the power and possibility of transformation.
Addiction is a disease of shame and isolation. At its best a family is a place of acceptance and integration. I would like to share one such story of a young man named Bryan and his family whose mutual connection and commitment through thick and thin laid a foundation for transformation.
First I want you to meet Bryan. Bryan is a successful graduate of Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) long term residential addiction treatment program outside Trumansburg, NY. Bryan is 26 and struggled from a very early age with substance use that mutated into an addiction to opiates by the time he was in his late teens. As Bryan put it, “I think this all started with my hanging out with people who were so much older than me. I was 11 and they were juniors and seniors in high school.” Bryan talks about how this all disintegrated quickly into criminal behavior to support his addiction, which meant involvement in the criminal justice system and time in jail. “I think that was all about trying to delay the inevitable.”
Through all of his difficulties, Bryan felt a strong connection to his family. This connection was what moved him at various times both towards and away from help. “I think the disappointment I was to my family was something that weighed heavy on me.” There was another side to Bryan’s relationship to his family as well. “My dad always supported me but he always had clear rules about what was OK and what was not. He never ‘enabled’ me and I tried to always be honest.” Bryan felt the key for him getting on the right road was his stay at CARS long-term residential addiction treatment program. “The program helped me learn how to express things. I used to cover up a lot. I learned to let things sink in and understand what I did and that people cared about me and that I could fix things.”
“I think the disappointment I was to my family was something that weighed heavy on me.”
When speaking with Bryan and his older sister, Stacey, and his dad John, who are partners in a local flower shop where Bryan pitches in to help regularly, you get a deep sense of their profound connection and commitment to Bryan and his recovery. As Stacey says, “Bryan is really honest with himself. He has good insight. He is a great brother too. He is the kind of person I would have as a friend even if he wasn’t my brother.” Bryan’s dad John talks about the difficult days past when, “Bryan went through the same cycle and he was just getting physically sicker and sicker.” Both Stacey and her dad remember, “There were times of driving around looking for him, hoping he [Bryan] was OK.” Both feel the CARS program really helped Bryan. John visited Bryan on a regular basis at the residential program and saw “a very structured program that was what he needed and I heard from Bryan about some of the people who didn’t make it.”
Overall, Bryan, his sister and his dad understand that their family has been and will continue to be a real resource to Bryan as he continues with his journey of transformation. Stacey sums this up when she says, “We have a big family that never let Bryan go because we always saw that good guy even if sometimes we had to work hard to see it.”
When you see Sierra you might think she attends one of the local colleges or is enjoying time with her friends and family or is taking in the natural beauty of our area with her dog, Jezebel, as she is pictured here. You would be right with all of those guesses. She is also on a transformative journey towards healing and recovery.
You see this vivacious, energetic, optimistic 21 year old young woman has struggled with substance use, abuse and addiction since she was about 12 years old. As Sierra says “I have struggled with drugs for most of the time I can remember. It has been a part of most of my life. I had to grow up really fast and help out my family. I tried to take care of my parents and myself and this started in elementary school.”
In thinking about it, Sierra thinks her addiction began before she was using drugs. “I got into that co-dependent pattern really, really early on in life. As I got into my teens I found other kids who were in the same kind of pattern. Everything was available to us and we were used to that kind of life. It was easy to use that curiosity and experience and it was easy to get into that behavior. My dad was very up front about how he wanted me to avoid problems like he had in the past, but both my parents were big enablers and I got good at manipulating them so I was thinking like an addict before I was addicted.”
In talking about her history she said it all seemed pretty typical. “It started with pot and wine coolers and it was something everyone else was doing. I had a lot of anxiety and I tried to medicate myself with pot and Xanax and alcohol. Then I got into cocaine and then I really understood I was addicted. I started stealing from my family and that got me involved in Felony Drug Court.” Sierra is grateful for drug court, “I will be moving to phase 3 [final phase] soon. They stuck by me too.”
Sierra talks about her moment of clarity, “it was when my dad bolted his windows to keep me out and bought a safe and my mom wouldn’t answer her door. Being homeless and having no place to go got me thinking this is really bad but sitting in jail really was an eye opener but it was CARS and Dorothy [Radcliff] and Ann Lewis who really worked on me to get me into treatment. The whole organization really helped me. It was incredible. The lengths they went to get me help were amazing. CARS even worked to get me Medicaid. I finally started to realize there is a better way to live. I had to learn how to live like an adult. My biggest problem was becoming complacent. I got discharged from the CARS’ residential program because of that but got into outpatient rehab and got focused on living one day at a time. Eventually I went to St. Joe’s in Saranac Lake. They had a great mindfulness based relapse prevention program. I then went to CARS’ Supportive Living Program. Now I can’t imagine picking up. I have so much I am grateful for that using is not an option. Now I meditate instead of medicate.”
As far as her future, Sierra has solid plans, “I want to learn how to live independently and especially how to manage my money. My long term goal is to go to TC3 and to get into paralegal work. I am working with Mike [Berry] from Challenge to get that going. I volunteer at the City Health Club. I want to get my feet on the ground so I may stay in Supportive Living for the first semester of school. I am also looking for dining hall work at Cornell or Ithaca College because it is solid pay and steady work while I go to school. I just celebrated a year sober.”
Sierra's story is one that embodies CARS mission of transformation. The power of her work to overcome her addiction is a powerful reminder that great hope and possibility lives within each us waiting to be unleashed by the power of connection and perseverance.
Sierra believes she learned a lot from her parents (pictured left) especially her dad. “The most important thing I learned was that my dad lost things in his life and in some ways he felt his life was delayed because of it. I think that is why my parents pushed me about school and getting an education because that was something that I think my dad felt he missed out on because he dropped out of school. They wanted me to focus on school and my future but my head was not there.”