Sober For Christmas

By Aaron Emerson

What a remarkable difference between the 2017 and 2018 holiday seasons.

Truthfully, last year was a time I wish didn’t exist, and in a way, it kind of doesn’t in my mind because it was such a blur. Looking back, my memories of it are foggy and depressing. The only parts that stick out are the horrors of my bottom.

Last year was spent drinking large amounts of alcohol and taking Xanax to come down from long cocaine binges. By the time November and December rolled around, my four year relationship was coming to an end, I was facing felony charges for stealing credit cards, and my life was literally saved by an Ingham County officer who administered Narcan up my nostril. 

The day after I got home from the hospital after the overdose, though, I made one of the most important calls of my life: to Sacred Heart, a substance abuse treatment center in Memphis, Michigan. The near death experience got to me. It really hit me that next day how close I was to not existing anymore. My daughter almost spent the rest of her life without her daddy. 

I checked into Sacred Heart with two suitcases of clothes and two warrants for my arrest. I was broken, ashamed, embarrassed, but perhaps most importantly, desperate for change. I completed their program in three weeks and the day after I left I turned myself in to Ingham County. My recovery coach Phil Pavona went to my court hearings advocating for them to put me in a treatment court instead of prison, as I already had a couple felonies on my record. 

Thankfully, I was placed into East Lansing Drug Court in Judge Larkin’s program. It’s been one of the most cherished blessings of my life. Not only has it given me another chance, it has also hooked me up with an amazing support system and other friends in the same boat as me. We all go to group therapy, meetings and court together and are a crazy but tight-knit bunch. 

It hasn’t been all smooth-sailing. I have drank alcohol a couple different times this year, even going to jail for a month back in May for a violation. But my life is a night-and-day difference. I’ve had a solid job for a while, I haven’t used drugs in seven months, I’ve gone to a couple schools with Phil to share my story to kids, and have developed a regular weekly parenting schedule with my daughter. 

So this holiday season, I can’t help but look back on last year and compare it to where I’m at now. When I’m having a rough day, that alone can springboard me into a place of gratitude. I am free, sober, and in recovery this Christmas season, trying to give my daughter an amazing holiday. 

I bought her an “Elf on the Shelf” set and its been extremely fun getting up with her each morning to find the elf. I actually have money saved up to get her some Christmas gifts. That’s a pretty big difference than last year when I was in rehab on Christmas Day. 

The gratitude and joy I am experiencing this holiday season is sometimes overshadowed by the fact that Andrew’s family is going through their first Christmas without him. One of my best friends died of an overdose in February and I know his mom had a rough first Thanksgiving without him. It breaks my heart. I know he is at peace now, though. His suffering is over this Christmas and the bondage of his addiction is no more. 

Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. I love the Christmas movies, songs, decorations, presents and the whole Christmas spirit. I’m just so blessed I am not only alive to experience it this year, but am also sober. 

From the officer who saved my life, to the treatment center who helped stabilize me, to Phil Pavona convincing the courts to give me help instead of jail, to the amazing friends and support I’ve met in Drug Court, and lastly, to my daughter and family who I’m thankful to be with this December, it all came together perfectly. 

Baby steps. They add up. Trust the process. It works if you just do the next right thing and are willing to take suggestions. This last year has had its ups and downs. Though there have been times I never thought I’d make it through sober, I am here this Christmas season and so happy to be able to share my story. I just hope I can make a difference. I know for a fact that if somebody as hopeless as me can find recovery, anybody can. 
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Day 77

By Aaron Emerson

The other day I saw a quote that said, “I couldn’t find the light at the end of the tunnel so I lit that bitch up myself.”

How fitting. 77 days ago, I was thrown in jail. I was embarrassed, ashamed and numb. Jail is not a place that fosters an environment for recovery. It’s still the same old, dirty place that I remember from years ago. A week after getting placed in Post 1, a guy in the cell to the right of mine was jumped by two other inmates for a measly four dollars worth of commissary. His jaw was broken over three ramen noodles and a bag of chips. What can you say? It’s a place full of savages who are not well fed by the three provided meals. If you are a white boy in jail who orders a big store bag, you better be ready to scrap on a moment’s notice.

Though I slept most of my time away and wasn’t in there very long compared to my past stints, the incarceration and following stay in rehab was exactly what the doctor ordered. I never thought I’d stand in front of a judge at a probation review hearing and say a sentence mixed with jail and treatment was what I needed, but that’s exactly what I did a couple weeks after getting out.

People in my support system have noticed a change in me. I’ve been through this countless times, but I can honestly say I’ve never put this much effort and energy into my recovery. While in jail and rehab, I vowed every single day that when I got out I would do ANYTHING possible to stay sober this time. The 45 days away from home woke me up and helped me realize how fast life goes. It instilled a desperation within me that I’ve never experienced before.

I’m excited about being sober today. I’m working daily with two different sponsors and a recovery coach and am going to meetings once or twice a day.  Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, I’m getting involved in my faith more than ever before, too, going to church each Sunday and hanging out with other people in recovery. I ask God for strength each morning and thank him for sobriety every night. This last Tuesday, at my last Drug Court review hearing, I was promoted to Phase 2. My probation officer and outpatient therapist had amazing things to say about me, and for the first time in my life, a judge is telling me she is proud of me and encouraging me to keep it up. The last judge I had called me an animal and threw me away for a year, not offering any treatment after I relapsed on probation.

As I wrote in a blog last week, the hardest thing I’m doing today is working through my PTSD, something I’ve never done before. I don’t want to imply that everything in my life is all rainbows and butterflies. It’s not. It’s hard. It’s challenging sitting down with a therapist to talk about my feelings and PTSD. I still experience depression and anxiety, too. Things are not perfect, but I’m content. I’m at peace today.

I don’t think I could have gotten to this point if I wasn’t violated for my probation and put in jail. As mad as I was at myself at the time, it motivated me and, yes, forced me to make my own light in a tunnel full of darkness and pain. Sometimes it takes what it takes for an addict to get sober and fully embrace a fulltime recovery lifestyle. It can be so frightening for a hardcore addict to think about staying sober for the rest of their life. That’s why it’s so important to develop a mindset of living one day at a time and doing everything that we can within those 24 hours to stay sober. Some people get sober for the first time and embrace recovery forever. Others have to relapse countless times and experience a great amount of pain before they fully surrender. What matters the most is to continue trying, never giving up. I am truly seeking to learn from this last relapse. I am keeping that pain in the front of my mind, remembering it at all times, enabling me to experience gratitude on a daily basis. Life is not perfect today, but it is good! I have discovered the light that I never could find in the tunnel of addiction.
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Back To Business

By Aaron Emerson

So, where to start? It’s been quite a while since I have written anything on my recovery blog. I have still been writing – mainly in my journal – but unfortunately I haven’t taken the time to post any of my writings on here.

The main reason for that – actually, the only reason – is that I have not had access to a computer or the internet. Jails and inpatient treatment centers don’t usually cater to people looking to log on to a laptop to tell their story.

Enough with the sarcasm. This is serious, after all. Recovery is life or death. Looking back on my behavior that seems inexcusable in my current sober mindset, well, sometimes I have to throw in a little humor to keep me sane. I don’t know. I guess I am just a little ashamed that I relapsed again.

Thankfully, this relapse didn’t take over my life or take me down a road of theft and using everyday. It got cut off right when it started, thanks to me violating my probation. Just a few days after I relapsed, I was put in the Ingham County Jail, where I stayed for three weeks until a bed opened up at Sacred Heart Rehab. I then completed treatment there yesterday after 21 days. All in all, I was gone for roughly 40 days or so.

I am so happy to be back home with my daughter. In treatment, I felt a lot of feelings I have never felt before. I dealt with some trauma that I’ve never truly handled in a healthy way and I came to terms with the fact that I’m a single man for the first time in several years. Lastly, I sat in my room each night awakened to the fact that my addiction has a significant impact on my daughter.

It’s not that I have never realized that a seven year old girl is going to be hurt when her daddy is suddenly behind bars. But I took a cold, hard look at where my life has taken me, and neither me or Melody are getting any younger. While I was gone, I turned 27. I’m not a fucking kid anymore and my daughter is growing up quickly. Beating myself up for relapsing was not good for me, so I did kind of switch my thinking pattern to more of a motivational thought process when it came to my feelings of feeling like an inadequte father.

The bottom line is that I have to get this shit right. I’m looking at this new chapter of recovery like it’s my last chance. First of all, I don’t want my daughter to grow up with a father in active addiction, and second, the thought of dying from this disease has really hit me harder since I buried one of my best friends this year.

So, here I am, back out and in early recovery again. I have 42 days sober and, one day at a time, I am working on myself and my recovery with everything I have. I’m not gonna get into what led to my relapse because at this point there is no fucking excuse. A therapist at Sacred Heart in one of his lectures told us “there are no relapses anymore, you either use or you don’t. You have all the tools to stay sober, so going back out is a decision, not a lapse anymore.” That kind of hit home. Nobody is gonna feel sorry for me anymore and I am not gonna feel sorry for myself. The fact of the matter is I’m pissed at myself for using again, but in a healthy, motivational way to get my shit together.

I am very, very grateful to be alive and sober today. I’ve been through so much at this point in my life that it is almost impossible to not feel gratitude to simply be breathing today. My family came over last night to celebrate my birthday a few days late and it was great being with them. I have an amazing support system and a beautiful daughter. Life is good and I’m going to start appreciating everything God has blessed me with much more than I ever have. This is it, I have to get this. And today, I’m sober. Thank God.
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