Treatment Works: My Story

By Aaron Emerson

I have been to rehab 7 times.

Yes, seven times I have checked myself into rehab. Many of those times I did it to simply get my family off my back and a couple more times because I was homeless and didn’t have anywhere else to go.

But this last time, well, I entered rehab totally broken, ashamed, hopeless and humiliated. At the same time, though, I was finally ready to do everything they asked me to do and willing to give recovery a try again.

It was a rehab in Memphis, Michigan called Sacred Heart. Based around the 12 Steps, Cognitive Behavior Therapy and family support, it is a treatment center that mainly serves low income individuals from Michigan. It is a terrific place that employs therapists and workers who are recovering addicts themselves. And, well, it saved my life.

The day I checked myself in to Sacred Heart, I had two warrants out for my arrest for stealing a credit card. I was a broken person, my relationships were all shattered and nobody trusted me.

Years prior, I had been living a life of recovery after several years of heroin addiction and it was the happiest I’d ever been. However, after I let up on how many meetings I went to and distancing myself from my recovery program, I drank some beers at a wedding, triggering a downward spiral of a couple more years of on and off drinking and drug use.

So, walking into Sacred Heart on December 8, I was humiliated that after building a life of recovery, I was now back in active addiction, facing some criminal charges. I had shared my story at area high schools and been featured in news stories about recovery. But here I was, strung out and hopeless once again.

About the only thing I had going for me that day was that for the last week, I hadn’t used drugs or drank. After the cops were called on me for acting violently after a night of drinking, an Ingham County Sheriff’s Sergeant helped convince me to check into treatment and get my life together for my daughter. I actually listened to him. The way he treated me like someone who needed help and not as a crazy criminal really gave me hope. I was used to cops doing everything they could to stick me with charges and lock me away, so when an officer who was high up on the chain in law enforcement showed me compassion and seemed to really care about me and my daughter, it triggered me to try to get sober and go back to rehab.

And since that night when Sgt. Harrison helped me instead of locking me up, I haven’t used drugs. Rehab went very well and Sacred Heart helped me get some stability in my life. When I left a few weeks later, I was sober and motivated to get to a meeting as soon as I got out.

I did and two days later I turned myself in to handle the warrants. I got a personal bond and a month later was sentenced into Drug Court in East Lansing, which provides treatment and therapy instead of jail or prison. Drug Court has introduced me to a very good support system and given me a strict, balanced life to build around.

I now have a job working 30 hours a week, go to meetings and therapy each day and am trying to be the best father I can be to my seven year old daughter. My life is extremely busy with work and all the meetings and therapy, but it is helping me. I feel like I have a very sustainable foundation of recovery. I have a sponsor and a recovery coach that I call everyday and another recovery coach that helps me and my family piece back together our relationships.

Out of all the sponsors, recovery coaches, therapists and probation officers I have in my life, I genuinely feel like each one of them cares deeply for me and plays very important but different pieces of the puzzle.

All of this wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Sgt. Harrison motivating me to go to Sacred Heart. Sacred Heart truly helped me develop a foundation to get my life back together and I will forever be grateful for that.

It doesn’t matter how many times you have fallen, it is never impossible to stand back up and fight! It doesn’t matter if you have never been to rehab or if you’ve been to treatment ten times, never give up! While in active addiction, it seems impossible to ever get sober and be happy without drugs and alcohol. That is a lie the disease of addiction tells you. The memories and hope I am experiencing today is something to cherish.

Never give up. Don’t ever be ashamed or embarrassed to admit you have a problem and need help. It takes a lot of strength and courage to check yourself into treatment or ask for help, but it is the first step to building a happy life of sobriety. Treatment works!


Hopeless to Recovery

By Aaron Emerson

Hopeless. Miserable. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Angry.

Those five words describe how I was feeling back in November. After several months of on and off binge drinking, I had relapsed back on hard drugs a month or two prior.

I didn’t even want to live. I had no hope of ever being sober and happy again. I remembered how I felt when I was a year sober: so proud of myself, sharing my story to spread hope to others and living a life of recovery.

Well, no more. Those thoughts only made it worse. I was humiliated that I let myself get out of control again. I mean, I was sharing my story at schools and churches to raise awareness on addiction, but now I was once again strung out. How could I have let myself get back to this point again?

I had stopped involving myself in my daily recovery. I let up on my meeting schedule and stopped calling my sponsor and recovery coach. A little while after that, I drank a few beers. Next thing I knew I was drinking every single day from sun up to sun down. And that inevitably led me back into the shameful life of a hardcore addict.

So that day in November when I decided to show up to church, simply put, I was mad at myself. My church family used to be so proud of me. They prayed for me for years and saw the power of prayer pay off when I sobered up and became a contributing member of the church, helping out with the youth group. But here I was at church for the first time in months back on drugs.

I don’t even know why I decided to attend church that day, but I did. It just so happened my Dad (who is a pastor) was preaching about the power of Christ. His message that day was about how Jesus saves. How he can take the most hopeless person or situation and breath life into them, performing miracles.

As a Christian, I don’t believe in coincidences like that. The one day I happened to show up at church totally hopeless was the one time the message was strictly about the power of Jesus to transform lives? No, that wasn’t by chance. My Dad had no idea I would be showing up to church that day so it’s not like he prepared that sermon specifically for me.

I sat in that church and cried on the inside. I was broken, but here I was at New Life Fellowship listening to my Dad passionately preach about the ability of Jesus to change your life if you just lean on him. It was exactly what I needed.

After the service, I felt a faint sense of hope. I couldn’t help but think maybe I could get back on track. But at the same time, I was addicted to drugs again and wanted to get high. As ashamed I was of my life, getting high helped me cover up that shame and pain. But that day after church, I made a leap of faith.

I haven’t used drugs since that day. I made a call the next day to check myself back into Sacred Heart Rehab, a place I had already been twice. I devoted all of my energy on doing whatever possible to not use again. I prayed and broke down and asked God to perform a miracle in my life again. I wanted to be able to be happy without drugs again.

After that, I did drink some more. After I got a date to check myself in to rehab, I convinced myself to just get by until then with booze. Each day I would drink a few beers to get rid of the cravings for dope. I don’t suggest trying that at all because alcohol is not an adequate replacement to drugs and it was the substance that got me back in that situation in the first place. But I already had a date a week later to check myself back into rehab so I just convinced myself that it wouldn’t hurt.

Since that day at church, I truly do believe a miracle has happened. Rehab went very well. I opened up to the therapists there and followed every little rule they had. I journaled every day about my feelings and prepared myself to live life one day at a time once I was released.

While I was in treatment, I had two warrants pop up from the summer when I reverted back to stealing to support my habit. So once I was released from rehab, I turned myself into Ingham County and they gave me a personal bond. Last month, I was officially sentenced and placed into East Lansing Drug Court, a very strict, recovery based probation that lasts 12 to 18 months.

Drug Court has been a blessing in disguise. It has given me a very intense, structured daily living program and introduced me to a tremendous support system. They require you to go to some type of 12 step meeting or group therapy class at least once a day, drug test you twice a week, attend outpatient drug therapy, pay off court costs, find a job and report to your probation officer once a week.

Having to follow all of those requirements on top of my new work schedule can be very overwhelming. But it keeps me busy and is helping me maintain a daily life of recovery. I feel amazing. I am happy, sober and loving life.

I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for me showing up to church that day and listening to my Dad’s sermon, I don’t think I would have worked up the courage to check myself into rehab and start the process of becoming a person in early recovery again. My Dad has a real spiritual gift of preaching. The way he delivered the message that day touched me and spoke to me and encouraged me to turn my life back over to God.

It feels good to be blogging again. Sharing my story helps me a lot. If I can help spread a little sliver of hope to even one person with my story, well, then I will feel like it is all worth it. Because that’s what my blog, Hope From Dope, is all about. It’s about spreading hope, raising awareness and erasing the stigma of addiction.