Gary Nelson, ICCDP
Program Director and Addiction Counselor
Feel Better, Live Better
It all started when I was 17 years old on a hot July day in the rolling hills of the lake country in northern Minnesota. My best friend and I planned a camping trip on the shores of Long lake located on our family’s farm. I had been trying to deal with the loss of my Mother in an auto accident 2 months earlier. The feelings of loss, grief and trauma were overwhelming. My best friend knew I needed to get away and have some fun as we always had done in the past. But this time it was different. Yes, we went fishing and caught fresh fish for our evening fish fry, and caught and released even more northern pike and walleye. Some swimming in the warm waters and what a great get away it was.
This time it was different. My friend had brought a bottle of blackberry brandy, taken from his older brother as a campfire surprise. Up to this point I had always refused any alcohol or drugs as I was an athlete, good student, went to church, and only swore when I thought no one would hear. But my time had come to say yes to alcohol, what could it hurt, it couldn’t be worse than I had been feeling the past months.
What I found was the answer I had been searching for. My feelings of pain and agony left me. It was great! The warmth and the taste were overpowering. The effect of the alcohol arrived and I knew that this was what I needed to deal with life as presented to me. I laughed and carried on as if I found my old self of being happy, and free of the feelings of loss, grief, and trauma. I knew that if I drank alcohol life would seem tolerable.
That fall I started my freshman year in college and was fortunate to have a great roommate in the athletes’ dorm as I was the freshman athletic trainer. He was the freshman quarterback recruit, a straight shooter, no alcohol or drugs. I had to hide my alcohol use from him. As the year went on I struggled with the loss of my mother, being away from my father and sisters, and trying to focus on education and homework. My drinking was the only way to make it through the college experience and quickly became an almost daily occurrence. It was the only way to keep those feelings of loss, grief and trauma at bay. I was a good person, I only drink some alcohol, I don’t do drugs.
Winter break arrived and I finally made it back home for the Holidays. I thought it would be a reprieve from college life, but I was faced with the strain that other members of my family were also facing. Then on the second night home my father died at home from a heart attack. Those feelings from the past returned stronger than ever. I had to move back home and start classes at the local community college. Alcohol was not as available. How do I deal with this?
I was an athlete, good student, went to church, and only swore when I thought no one would hear and I didn’t do drugs, until now. Within a few short weeks, I was presented the opportunity to try marijuana. What alcohol had done for me earlier that year marijuana could do even better.
The next 27 years were very difficult and my response was to escape by abusing substances. As life continued for me many changes occurred. I worked at jobs, finished college, got married, and had children. One major thing did not change. I continued to use substances to change the way I felt, not being able to cope with the feelings of loss, grief, and trauma I had experienced decades before. After the continued use of substances for almost three decades and not dealing with life as it presents itself to me I had encouragement and support from family and friends to enter a program to address substance use and how to deal with life without using alcohol and drugs.
Fast forward to today. I have now completed twenty years of continuous recovery from substance abuse. This is not just by my efforts, but the efforts of 23.5 million other Americans in long term recovery supporting me. I still spend time in support meetings. I deal with my feeling of loss, grief, and trauma better without using alcohol and drugs. I know this is a disease of addiction and when treated and kept in remission I will continue to be a better person in all the facets of my life. I still enjoy activities as a Father and Grandfather, I go to church and recovery meetings, and I swear less even when I think others won’t hear me. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use issues, please know there is hope for you. Contact: Gary@PinnacleCounselingNWA.com
“Each one of us has walked through storm and fled the wolves along the road; but here the hearth is wide and warm, and for this shelter and this light accept our thanks, O Lord, tonight” — – Sara Teasdale