Darren is incredibly grateful for his program of recovery

I am in long-term recovery, which for me means that I have not used alcohol or drugs for nearly 9 years. I am committed to recovery because it has given me and my family new purpose and hope for the future, while helping me gain stability in my life.

I am happy.  I live a rich and productive life.  In active addiction I am none of this.  With addiction comes nothing.  Although I never chose addiction I asked for it….  It wasn’t in my immediate family.  I wasn’t oppressed, I had every advantage possible, but yet I wandered towards a life of addiction by my choice to experiment with alcohol at an early age.

I was 11 when I was first introduced to alcohol. It filled a void I was unaware I had; I felt alive. Alcohol made me forget about my pain (and everything I had ever worked for). Nothing ever came easy for me. I was the one who always got the lowest grades, was least likely to succeed and was often the butt of many jokes by educators and townsfolk in my hometown. For many years I believed them. However, one day I decided that I was going to go to college and I was going to make something of my life. College was NOT easy. Since I screwed off throughout my junior and senior high school years I was substantially behind the majority of college students.  Plus, I still had my main priority in life supporting (warping) me; Alcohol. It didn’t take long for me to learn that I struggled in academic areas and now sports were no longer an option to excel but I could drink anyone under the table! Not only could I out drink anyone, I was the life of the party, life of the college, I was what I always dreamed of; what the movies told us college was (Cue the scenes from glamorous fun college life movies) ….

I fought two uphill battles at the same time. Being undereducated and unprepared for college and being drunk 90% of the time. Periodically I would sober up (when I was being threatened to be kicked out)… I tried everything; Diets, extreme exercises. I even joined the US Army National Guard thinking surely abstinence while in boot camp would provide a lifetime of sobriety… I didn’t make it very long before drinking again. (Even before being out of boot camp) I came home mid December. Mid January I got my first DWI (but was given a DUI because the arresting officer figured I had to be on something else) I had a BAC of .37 (that’s 75 proof; you could get drunk off my blood).

This scared me straight.  I finally realized why all those two-a-day work outs netted me zero muscular growth (I was barely eating, so I could save my calories for weekend drinking binges).  I realized that I could be/should be dead. I could be gone like my friend Brad. I quit cold turkey.  I attended my first 12 step meeting. Alcoholics Anonymous was a new concept to me. I knew it existed but had no idea what it involved. I found a meeting that met in the afternoons Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. My first meeting ever was on a Friday. I still remember the moment. I walked in right at 5pm, all the chairs were set up in a circle. There was one open seat so I sat in it. The man next to me immediately introduced himself with his first name and last initial (that was weird); he then asked me if I had a sponsor yet. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about… Where I came from the only time a person got a sponsor was kids when they were doing fundraisers… I thought do I really have to get people to “sponsor” me to be in this club? So I just started nodding to everything he said. The meeting itself was good and after it was over I thought I would come back (and sit somewhere else). The following Monday I arrived to the meeting at the same time and again there was only one seat available and it was next to “sponsor” guy… So I reluctantly sat next to him once more. Again, he stated his first name and last name’s initial and asked me if I got a sponsor yet? I thought really? Am I going to have to go ask people to pay for my sobriety? The meeting couldn’t start soon enough. During that meeting, two guys talked about a weekend relapse. They laughed about it and said they are starting over strong today… This really rubbed me the wrong way. I thought anyone can stay sober Monday through Friday and party it up on the weekends… That’s not sobriety; that is being a college student! I knew I could not “party” once and a while, I needed absolute abstinence. I left that meeting never to return. I could do it myself; without help. Not drinking does amazing things. I started to thrive in school. At first I was on academic probation (due to prolonged periods of poor grades while drinking).  However, since the day I stopped drinking, I never struggled with school again. I also met the woman who would become my wife.

Shortly before graduating college I learned that I had a genetic heart condition; the same heart defect that killed my father. The day I was supposed to receive my diploma I was on a hospital bed having surgery on my heart. I had a defibrillator implanted in my chest to help protect me from fatal arrhythmias; scary to think that things like alcohol really could have killed me due to a severe heart defect.  Thankfully I no longer used drugs or alcohol…  By receiving a Bachelor’s Degree I did what most said couldn’t be done. I attained a 4 year degree in education. As hard as it was, as much as much as alcohol tried to kill me, I persevered; I accomplished a huge milestone.

Looking back I realized I survived a tumultuous life. My father died when I was 17, two years later my best friend Brad died while driving drunk. I made it through Army boot camp, graduated college and went on to a successful career helping others in social service non-profits.

I would love to say THIS is my success story…. But the story doesn’t end here. As we know, Slick never rests; never goes away…

Nearly 10 years after my last drink I was in a bad marriage. After graduating college my wife and I had our only child together. Shortly after her birth our lives together got worse. She smoked marijuana and when she had marijuana we got along; but when she was out it was miserable. Life became like walking on egg shells and as time went by it only got worse. It was also around this time when I decided I was not an alcoholic. I was now a successful member of the community. I owned a home and cars. I was a board member for several organizations and active in my community. I talked myself into a lie that in college I abused alcohol, but wasn’t addicted to anything.  The alcoholic inside me told me that as a mature and respected member of the community I certainly wouldn’t abuse alcohol again. The first drink I had after that long absence started the worst years of my life. My first night drinking after nearly 10 years of abstinence I drank 24 beers. So much for not abusing alcohol…. The next morning I thought that wasn’t a very good thing and decided I better stop. When the hangover that was telling me to stop wore off, I decided a good beer would be great… By the next weekend I had drank some alcohol every day, usually a 6 pack (I told myself that was respectful).  However, the next week that was not good enough; I would have to stop at a bar daily and drink a few beers (6-12) before going home and drinking my 6 pack so I wouldn’t draw attention to my increasing obsession to alcohol. Soon that also wasn’t enough; I was now drinking nonstop and my tumultuous marriage was moving towards divorce.

Although my career was at its peak, my family life was dwindling fast due to my alcoholism. I knew I needed help if I was going to save my marriage. I checked in to Hazelden for in-patient treatment. Hazelden opened my eyes to a whole new world. While waiting in intake I was given a stack of books; The A.A. and N.A. Traditions and Big Books as well as Twenty-Four Hours a Day book. I quickly learned what “sponsor” guy was talking about! I also learned about “keep coming back” and how those that stumble are always welcomed back; its progress not perfection. I started working the steps and completed a 5th step. As my final days in treatment approached I remember thinking I was going to be the “rockstar” of recovery! I was now equipped with tools and knowledge. Nothing would stop me. While in treatment my counselor Chuck met my wife. He knew of her marijuana use and our problems. He also knew she was not supportive of recovery as a journey but rather just wanted me not to drink. Shortly before leaving treatment I met with my counselor and he advised me “There may become a day that you have to decide if you want to stay sober or stay married”... I knew I was going home to a hostile environment but thought I could manage it.

When I returned home our struggles continued. My wife demanded that I stay sober but didn’t want me to be away from home to attend meetings or other sober functions. She refused to stop using marijuana in my presence and our marriage crumbled. I pushed for marriage counseling and when she finally agreed she walked out on the therapist when he told her she had to stop smoking marijuana. Our marriage could not be saved through counseling. Not when she valued marijuana over me and our family. Chuck was right. I was at a point where I needed to make the decision. Stay in a hostile marriage with a drug addict who doesn’t support my recovery or leave. I couldn’t stomach leaving my daughter so I thought I could do both. The verbal abuse and her continued addiction to marijuana was more than I could take sober and because I was skipping meetings to appease her and I honestly felt like I didn’t fit in those rooms anyways... I remember listening to a man at a meeting talking about how he just got out of prison from his use. He lost everything, his family, his possessions, his credit, everything… I remember thinking I’m not like him! I am a respected member of this community, I have a great job, I have great credit, I haven’t lost my family, I have never been arrested… What I should have added to that thought is YET…

Being isolated from support and in a disastrous relationship once again I turned to alcohol. Once I started drinking again I could not stop and wasn’t courageous enough to go back to meetings (I didn’t fit in anyways). As I continued to struggle she demanded I leave our house. 

After being separated from my family and home for only a month I got another DWI, luckily I did not lose my job. I lied to myself that it was just a lapse in judgment.  After losing my family, home and finances I vowed to make changes immediately.  Two months later I was arrested for a probation violation.  I spent the next 3 days in jail; through both my daughters and my birthday.  The pain of calling my daughter on her birthday from jail was immense!  I almost could not bear the thought of what was going through her mind. I knew I had to change. Again I was spared by my employer and given another chance.  However, rather than make the change I promised myself, God and family I decided I just needed to drink smarter.  So I drank alone.  My solitaire drinking endured while I assiduously destroyed my life.  Shortly before Christmas in 2007 I was fired from the best job I had ever had.  I watched my career evaporate before my eyes.  Everything I had worked for was now gone, no family, jobless, hopeless, I turned to alcohol to delivery me to my fantasy land where everything was ok.  I developed into a man without cares, I didn’t care if I lived or died.  I drove intoxicated with my daughter, brought her in bars with me, and drank with her at my house.  The only care I had was satisfying my alcoholic desire.  

At age 34 I had my first heart attack due to my chemical use and it only “scared me sober” for all of 3 days… January 11th 2008 changed my life forever.  I was driving my daughter to my girlfriend’s house when I was pulled over for erratic driving.  I was arrested for my 3rd DWI with breath an alcohol level of .36 (4 times the legal limit) and with my daughter in the back seat.  I will forever see her crying her eyes out as the officer placed us both in his backseat; me in handcuffs.  

While in jail, I decided I was at rock bottom… But then I remembered I thought that before. I realized then that for me, true bottom was death and I was heading there rapidly. I knew that without serious help I would either intentionally or unintentionally kill myself or others, or even worse harm my little princess!  I could not believe how much I have damaged that little girl; my whole world.  

I went to treatment again. I already knew the steps, but I needed a safe place to be while I stabilized. When I left treatment I knew that I had to make some changes. I had been to numerous in-patient and out-patient programs at this point and still didn’t particularly feel confident in support groups. However, this time leaving treatment was different; now I would be closely monitored by probation. Previously I really wanted to be sober; I just didn’t want to put much effort in it.  I went through the motions, without taking it seriously. I soon found out that probation was taking it very serious. I had to attend at least 3 support groups a week. This made me hate meetings more than I already did. So, I faked it. I forged meeting cards and isolated myself and stayed sober only out of fear of getting caught through random testing. Then I got caught forging meeting cards. I went to jail yet again. At first I thought it was ludicrous, I had problems with drinking, so why would I have to go to jail for not going to meetings even if I wasn’t drinking? Jail was what I need though. While in jail I came to a couple of realizations… First, I was on probation for the foreseeable future and secondly, they would now scrutinize my attendance cards now that I have been caught forging them. So I decided if I had to go to meetings I would make them count. I decide I would get a meeting list and go to a meeting and if I didn’t like a meeting I would take a sharpie to it; it was dead to me. Normally, I would have quit after one bad experience; one bad meeting, but now I had to keep going to meetings so I just kept trying. Then one evening I attended a meeting I actually liked! There were a couple of guys that really related to me; and they were funny. I talked with them after the meeting (something that I previously never did) and decided I would definitely come back to that meeting. The next meeting they invited me out to eat afterwards. A bunch of us went and it was more laughing then I had done in years! They told me every week after the meeting they all go to a restaurant and eat and laugh. I made this my home group. For the next few months I never missed that meeting. I honestly didn’t care what was being said in the meeting (although as time went by I was more and more involved) I simply went for the fellowship that followed. Something strange happened though… As time went by I started going to other meetings; meetings that I had once crossed of my list and I now enjoyed them! What changed? Me! I now had a network of people in recovery, I had a program of recovery. During my early experience with support groups I was arrogant, very grandiose, above everyone.  I felt as if I didn’t belong because I was different (by that, I mean I thought I was better than everyone or my situation was unique). However I have learned that I am no better or different than others, I may be different in my tastes, my desires, or interests, but we are all people and we are addicts.  My addiction is no better or different than anyone else’s situation.  Along with that, I have learned that I really enjoy those around me, even the ones that I feel (or felt at one time) that I was different from.  This has helped me feel part of a family.  I am friends with a lot of people in recovery and I don’t care what their circumstance is or was, or what others may think.  I look at them for who they are.  

Through the fellowships I have in my program of recovery I have finally started to learn gratitude. In the past I faked it. I knew that I should be grateful, but I just honestly didn’t. I now know how lucky I am. Many, many alcoholics and addicts didn’t get a second chance. None of are guaranteed a second chance, let alone three or four chance. I could very easily be dead or permanently incarcerated due to my use. I look at life with gratitude and I am very grateful, grateful for my life, health, sobriety, for my daughter and my family.

I have acceptance. In the past I was caught up in a purgatory about the things I lost, the respect I lost, and how I would never get it back. When I did think about my future I wanted everything I previously had, but I wanted it now; I couldn’t see beyond the tunnel vision. I had to start over in my career, working thankless jobs at far less pay then I was accustomed to. But by the grace of God, through support meetings I learned that there was nothing I could do about my past, and what I was doing at the current time was positive progress and if I continued things would get better.  No matter how long it took, it would be better than that terrible time when I was in jail.  I realized I may not have everything I want right now, but I am achieving, I am moving forward and not backwards and that is success. 

I know I still have a lifelong journey in recovery but I am happy where I am in my recovery.  I also know from my past that I cannot get complacent in my ways. But if I practice everything I have learned from the recovery community I will be fine. The recovery community enhances my wisdom. Wisdom is what makes the Serenity prayer easy to follow; wisdom to know the difference between change and acceptance.

For me, recovery is a process of change where I constantly try to improve my health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach my full potential. It’s more than just meetings and/or abstaining; it’s living a life to its fullest. I am happy where I am in life and incredibly grateful for my program of recovery.  

Currently I am a nationally recognized public speaker with a high proficiency of peer-to-peer support services and has been involved in nonprofits for nearly 20 years. 

I have spent the majority of my career in the substance abuse and mental health field. I have spent many years as a peer to peer motivational speaker on mental health and substance use disorders. Currently I have spoken to over 40,000 youth and adults on suicide prevention, substance use prevention and recovery at schools, churches, treatment centers, jails and prisons and community organizations in the Midwest. I am a regular speaker on recovery at Hazelden sharing his personal recovery from alcoholism, promoting the message that recovery works and that there are many pathways to recovery. I speak and train on substance use prevention at schools for grades 5-12 as well as various colleges. I speak as a mental health advocate and suicide prevention sharing my own journey through mental health and suicidal ideation during active addiction to illustrate the dangers of the deadly combination of substance use disorder and suicidal ideation.

I have served or currently serve on many boards serving substance use prevention (PATH Coalition – Proactive Approaches To Health) substance use recovery (Transcendence Foundation), (Southern Minnesota Recovery Connection), (Steele-Waseca County Drug Court) and the mental health community (Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program of Minnesota) and (MACMH – Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health). I have enjoyed starting support group meetings ranging from A.A., S.M.A.R.T. Recovery, and mental health support groups to offer more diverse options to those in recovery.

In my free time I enjoys spending time with my family and friends as well as reading, cooking, traveling, weight lifting, coaching youth sports and the Minnesota Vikings.