The Story I Heard in Jail that Inspired Me to Walk the Path to Recovery
by Andrew Macia
“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” – Carl Bard
People often ask me about my early childhood memories. It’s not an uncommon question, and most of us have answered it on several occasions. Depending on who’s asking, I may pull out a story that will get some laughs or a cute smile from someone I’m trying to impress.
Regardless of the stories I recount, there’s always one that resonates with me; one that I usually keep hidden away. It chronicles my downward spiral into drug and alcohol addiction, and eventual incarceration, and it began when I was younger than you might expect. It began when I was just nine years old.
The horrible reality of what it was like to live in Colombia in the 80s is well documented. There was a constant fear that flowed through the veins of Colombians, always thinking that every time they opened their front door, it could be the last time they did so.
Civil unrest, public executions over turf wars, car bombs and kidnappings were terrors that parents had to protect their children and loved ones from. And so, mine decided to move to Southern California in search of a safer and calmer life for their kids – my brother and me – to grow.
Colombians are happy people. We’ll make any excuse to go out and have a good time, dance, drink, sing songs together and forget our troubles. Above all, we love reuniting with the family. That’s where I, then nine years old in Southern California, was living in the secure home my parents had worked so hard to build.
The typical whistle wetter of choice at get-togethers is the national Colombian drink – Aguardiente – or directly translated as Fire Water, and the anise-flavored liquor definitely warms your stomach and heats up the dance floor.
It was a common occurrence to have several bottles spread out throughout the party, but at this specific one, I felt the urge to be a grown-up like all the adults. I wanted to be exactly like them, watching them relax and wobble around with slurred speech after a couple shots of the stuff. My solution was to take an unattended bottle and go around the corner to try it out. The first swig made me gag. The second wasn’t so bad, and the third was even easier.
Before I knew it, I was feeling the effects of alcohol for the first time, and I wasn’t prepared. A cousin of mine instantly noticed me stumbling and brought me inside. He made me eat bread to soak up the liquor and gave me lots of water to flush it out of my system. Even though my cousin forced me to promise to never do it again, I knew as soon as the words came out of my mouth that they were a lie. In fact, I really liked being drunk. It made me feel more outgoing and less awkward, so I kept drinking it every chance I got.
I was too young, drinking too much, and eventually surrounded myself with people who offered me more ways to escape reality and have a good time. I started smoking weed at 13, and by the age of 19, I was lighting a spheric meth pipe and inhaling its contents. Those same excuses for having a good time were what got me sent to prison soon after on drug-related charges.
The amount of time I spent staring at walls in my jail cell was so exaggerated that at one point I was able to describe every crack and stain on them in vivid detail. Being enclosed in a space like that for so long made me analyze all of the mistakes I had made in my life, but above all, I was looking for a way to pass the time. That’s when I joined an Alcoholics Anonymous weekly group meeting.
Listening to varied stories of addicts trying to get rid of their vices was, at first, a way of getting hours to tick by quickly. I didn’t contribute, didn’t speak; only listened. The group leaders in the meetings were very patient people, and they knew I needed to feel more comfortable before opening up.
One day, that all changed. An elderly man stood before us – I hadn’t seen him at any of the previous meetings – he was in his mid-sixties, balding, and his eyes hid behind heavily wrinkled skin that seemed to slowly melt over them.
He had a wife, and they loved each other deeply. They met at a young age, built a life together; and it was a happy life. Through his story, he stressed the fact that he had been a different person when they had met, a different person who she connected with and decided to live with; a different person before his addiction took over.
It started slowly at first, he said, from casual drinking in the evenings before eventually hitting the bottle at noon. He pushed away all their friends and family, held grudges and became a bitter person. Even worse, he didn’t realize what was happening to his relationship with his wife and continuously turned to the bottle as a temporary solution. Years after his wife noticed where he was headed, she was still making excuses for his behavior. That was until he directed all his bottled up anger towards her. Their love for each other eroded like the side of a cliff, constantly battered by the violent waves of the sea. She left, and he lost the last person who was there for him.
As he spoke, a life-changing epiphany came over me like water dousing a fire. His addiction became part of him, and he neglected his friends and family, but also, he forced out the one who tried her hardest to pull him out of his predicament. The relationship between him and his wife was eerily similar to the ones I had with my parents, who gave up everything to move to a new country and start over for my brother and I. While they continued to work hard to keep themselves afloat, I was drowning in my own sorrow behind bars.
When I got out of prison, I made a promise to myself to rectify my choices and turn over a new leaf. I got a job selling cheap perfumes and colognes. That position was a way to divert my energy from drinking or getting high again and focusing on something productive. I got good at it; so good that I became a workaholic. I climbed the company ladder and eventually landed my own office with my own desk, training new hires for their entry level sales positions. Work overshadowed every aspect of my life, and then something horrible happened. I relapsed.
Giving in to my cravings was a whole different story this time around. I didn’t like doing drugs and getting drunk, in fact, I couldn’t even stand the sight of myself in the mirror. I had lost all motivation because I couldn’t keep the promise I had made, and I felt pathetic. I hated every bone in my body, and that self-loathing pushed me to waste all my savings on more drugs and alcohol to fill my system. I lost a significant amount of weight due to lack of nutrition and substance abuse. Then, the lease on my apartment was up and I moved back in with my parents.
There I was, back in the same position as when I went to prison. An addict living with his parents. I wasn’t getting high at 9 am to have a good time, I was doing it to get away from myself. That’s when my life took another turn.
I convinced myself it was time for my negative thoughts and self-hatred to end. My parents kept a prescription cabinet locked up in their bathroom. One morning, I hid and watched my father hide the key in his usual spot. I then tiptoed back to my room and pretended to sleep, waiting for him to leave the house with my mother. As soon as the door downstairs shut, I went over and unlocked the cabinet. My mind was on autopilot, and I was chanting to myself as I shook out the contents of various prescription bottles into my hands, “this will all be over soon, this will all be over soon.”
I was so focused on my decision that I didn’t hear the front door open again. I was so tired of being a failure that I wanted to be satisfied with one last high. My heart was thumping so hard in my ears that I barely heard my mother run into the room screaming. She slapped the pills out of my hands and they scattered all over the floor.
I collapsed, and she cradled me in her arms just as she did when I was a little kid, with the same love and affection as she looked back at my father in the doorway and said to him, “I told you something was wrong. I knew it, I could feel it.”
Sobs exploded out of me, and for the first time I admitted, “Mama, Papa, I need help. Please, help me.”
Soon after, I was admitted to a rehabilitation facility in Idaho. It was there that I learned to cope with my situation, to understand my hatred and anger, to embrace it, and then to let it go. Part of the acceptance stage was to embrace that relapse didn’t mean failure. Then, I was to write letters to everyone I loved and also to myself, apologizing for my choices. That, in turn, made me realize that there were many people out there who loved me back. Taking charge of my life was a necessary step to getting rid of my addiction once and for all. I was recharged with motivation to make improvements.
I met my best friend and sponsor shortly after being released from the rehab center through the AA and NA groups I had joined in the area. His decisive manner towards staying sober was an enormous push towards my success, and because of him, I was able to stay clean. His ultimatum was clear: I needed to pass a college course of my choosing, or find a new sponsor. I’d always had an affinity for computer technology and the Internet, as those were the only things that interested me besides drugs and alcohol. So, I signed up for an HTTP course, which gave me the tools to make something of myself. Then, I filled the shelves of my room with books about computers, digital media, and coding instead of empty baggies and beer bottles.
Over eight years have passed since that moment of desperation when I almost took my own life. I have moved back to my home country, and co-own a website development agency. I’m back with friends, enjoying the steps I’ve taken to having a stable life, and most importantly, I’m clean.
Nowadays, my addiction is like my shadow. It’s always there following me, trying to pull me back into the dark times I crawled out of. I’m often tempted to have a drink, especially when I’m out with friends, reminded of my booze-fueled adventures. I’ve had to accept the fact that the feelings of wanting to indulge in substances will always be attached to me, like a ball and chain. But living as a recovering addict is about learning how to carry that load with you, and making it part of your life without letting it get a hold of you again.
I’ve focused all my energy on so many different daily activities that I sometimes don’t even think about getting high or getting drunk anymore. I exercise every day, play basketball with my friends, go on hikes in the mountains and let the sun soak into my skin. I’ve stopped focusing on the past and the decisions I made because those can never be changed. What I have been focusing on is my current situation. I wouldn’t have made it to where I am today if not for the events that led me to this moment. Now, I’ve rebuilt my relationship with my family, friends, my work fulfills me and I enjoy waking up every morning.
What motivational stories have you heard that put you on the right path? We’d love to hear some. Comment below!
Andrew Macia was born in Bogota, Colombia, but raised in Los Angeles, California. He spends his time helping others with their recovery and growing his online business.