I’m sitting on the front patio of Calvary. It’s 7 a.m. My soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend dropped me off unceremoniously. There’s a bubbling fountain in the middle of the area; birds land on the top, shaking their feathers free from moisture as they drink and bathe. I watch them absentmindedly in a fugue state. I don’t sleep much due to the nightmare chemistry experiment that I’ve been conducting on myself for weeks at this point. Bath salt, Xanax, suboxone, kratom, marijuana, oxycodone. I can’t keep track of the list anymore and resign myself to ingesting just about anything in a visceral effort to keep my demons at bay.
No one’s speaking to me. I know this “relationship” with the girl is over, but I don’t want to admit it. I have no business being anyone’s partner or friend at this point in my life and I’m proving it to myself even still with my inability to make the right choice in virtually every situation I find myself in.
The entire reason I’m sitting at this particular treatment center now is a result of conversations on the phone with a man named Mike Speakman. I’ve never met this man in person. At some point in the past my parents got involved with a support group called PAL. It’s small. It’s one meeting weekly hosted at Calvary by Mike. Mike has designed a program (and eventually writes a book) to help parents like my own who’ve found themselves unwittingly in this very situation. Through their participation they grow close with him. They trust him. He is inspirational and encouraging in his words and brims with positivity. By trade he’s a substance use counselor with many years of experience working in treatment. After some time spent here in these meetings, and after growing increasingly stressed with fielding my calls, Mike tells them to give me his phone number; to direct me to him when I attempt to reach out. The pain of hearing my desperate attempts at emotional manipulation over the phone have grown to be too much and he graciously offers to help with the burden.
They give me his number. I don’t call initially. In these days I spend an inordinate amount of time driving around in my Nissan Xterra getting high in parking lots. I literally have nothing else to do and nowhere to go when my girlfriend is at work.
Maybe it’s the pain. Maybe it’s the brokenness. Maybe it’s how scared I am of the fact that almost no part of me even wants to get better. Maybe it’s because I have no one else to talk to at this point but it’s on one of these nights, sitting in my car in a Wal-Mart parking lot that I decide to call.
Mike answers. I learn moving forward that he always does. He’s kind to me. He has a gentle, grandfatherly voice that’s still somehow firm and commands your attention. Something about him makes me want to tell him every single thing that I feel right then and there, and I proceed to do so for the next hour, intermittently bursting into tears and sobs. He listens. He encourages me. He has a positive response for every negative rebuttal I throw his way. He talks to me about his own life and struggles as a younger man. I try and explain to him all the reasons why I think I’ll never get better, and he tells me I’m wrong. He tells me he believes in me. He gives me clear cut and simple instructions on the steps I can take if I choose to do so. He tells me I can do more with my life and improve and that I can find purpose, meaning, and growth in all of this and a part of me is deeply comforted and inspired. Inside me there’s a spark.
This is the first of many calls I have with Mike.
I stop calling my parents. Even through the haze of the drug fueled fog that surrounds my every waking moment I know inside of me it hurts them when I call. I’m not in contact with anyone else in recovery so I just call Mike; he bears the brunt of my insanity and encourages me still. For free. No one is paying him to provide me counsel and yet he does.
From that first introduction he urges me to seek treatment and gives me the admissions number for Calvary. I sit on it for a week. Things grow exponentially worse in that short time. I have an episode where I stop breathing briefly after ingesting a bottle of prescription cough syrup mixed with Xanax. I get caught stealing from my girlfriend’s stepfather. I have a falling out with my one “friend” – a screaming verbal altercation that leaves me breathless and I’m crumbling. I do drugs and smoke cigarettes endlessly in these people’s garage and this is all that consists of my life. Even I know this is unsustainable.
So, I call Calvary. Not fully sold, not even “ready” (whatever that even means) but out of desperation and because this gracious new person in my life told me to and I don’t know what else to do. A few days later I’m packing my meager belongings into a ratty backpack and an industrial sized garbage bag and my girlfriend’s solemnly dropping me off on that front patio.
Mike, and by extension, PAL, helped bring me to the front door that day. While I wish I could say that was the end of my journey in active addiction, it wasn’t. There was more pain to come. More suffering I needed to endure to understand and internalize fully that I could not, under any circumstance safely use drugs. And that treatment stay wasn’t all for naught. I learned vital coping skills and was introduced to community based and peer support and the utter importance of community in early recovery. Even through my continued relapse I retained those principles and carried them with me. Even through the continued trips and falls Mike and his words, were in my head. Their continued influence seldom left me despite whatever dark alley or recess of the mind I inadvertently or purposefully stumbled down.
Mike didn’t have to put himself out there for me the way he did. He didn’t have to sacrifice his time for me and my emotional needs in those moments. Those moments where I desperately needed someone to tell me what to do, to guide me, to see me, and to hear me all without judgement. He didn’t have to hold space with the drugged out, miserable, victim mentality and emotionally taxing person that I was in those days.
But he did. It speaks to his emotional intelligence, his knowledge, his empathy, his willingness to serve, and his overall upstanding character, that he did all those things freely, without reservation. He was a staple for me in those years – a pillar of strength my spirit drew upon, and a stellar example of God’s power to use his people to affect change in the lives of others. Years later, when I entered treatment for what would be the last time, Mike was the person I reached out to. At my lowest, blackest, most miserable day, his kindness and wisdom rallied my wits and helped set me upon the first steps of what would become a beautiful new life. He was there at the beginning, and the end.
The story of my life, and my family’s, may have read differently today if he weren’t a co-author and editor during those pivotal years. I hope my own words and actions may be as helpful and loving to others, as his were to me, all those years ago.
Here’s to you Mike.
With love, peace, and gratitude,
Sean, In Recovery