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I was a drug and alcohol addict by the age of 17. I smoked pot almost every day, drank, and abused OxyContin and benzodiazepines. To my parents and sister, Natalie, it was clear that I had a serious problem. I didn't see it that way, though. I just thought that I liked to party.
Even though I was in denial about my addiction, my family started to take action. My parents sought answers from professionals and tried to find ways to prevent me from using. They drug tested me at home and demanded that I follow their rules and be accountable for my actions. Eventually, they got me into a local outpatient adolescent treatment program.
These early interventions helped me—somewhat. My thinking changed from "I don't have a problem, I just like to party" to "Well, maybe I have a problem with pills." So I left the outpatient program in May 2001 truly believing that I could give up the prescription meds, but still smoke weed and drink beer and be fine. I vowed to control my alcohol and pot use. But after only four or five days, I was back to my old habits and taking the pills again.
Two months later, on July 14, 2001, I blacked out during a drug-induced haze and crashed my car into a tree. I was bleeding and missing my two front teeth, but I fled the accident scene. In the meantime, my parents received a late night phone call from the police. "We found your son's car totaled on the side of the road and there is blood inside," the officer said. "But we don't know where your son is."
Soon after, the police picked me up in the center of town and brought me to the scene of the accident where my parents and an ambulance were waiting. I begged my mother to sign me out of the ambulance for fear of going to the hospital and having everyone find out what was in my system. She looked at me, held her ground, and responded, "Greg, no. Not this time. You need help." Waking up in the emergency room and seeing my family in tears made me realize, for the first time, that I was not only hurting myself. My addiction was tearing my family apart.
I agreed to attend to a five-day inpatient program, but my goal wasn't to get sober. I felt I owed it to my family to at least go, and I feared legal charges from the accident. It was there, though, that my family, sister, and a social worker held a meeting with me that I will never forget. They wanted me to go to Caron Treatment Center in Pennsylvania and spend a month at an inpatient chemical dependency rehabilitation program. I didn't want to go. What changed my mind was when Natalie turned to me and said, "Greg, I'd rather you go to jail than come back home, because at least that way I'd know you were safe." That hit me hard.
I entered rehab without a true resolution to stay sober because I still didn't want to stop using. But walking into the treatment program and seeing people my age—who sounded like me and felt like me—affected me greatly. My thinking that "I'm too young to have a problem" was smashed when I saw that I was no different from the others there. I began to realize I might not be as in control as I thought.
My big breakthrough happened about fifteen days later. During a therapy session, a counselor looked me straight in the eye and asked, "You really think you are going to leave here and go live in a college dorm and stay sober?" "Sure, no problem," I replied, same as I always had. But after leaving her office, I went back to my room, sat on my bed, and felt a sensation in the pit of my stomach that I never experienced. I'd spent the last several years thinking I was right, always believing my own lies. This time—for the first time in my life—I knew I was wrong. I could no longer deny that my beliefs and actions got me to this place and that my ideas were not going to get me out of this. I needed to ask for help.
For the remainder of the program, I sought guidance from my peers, counselors, and family for what my next steps should be. My realization that day changed everything—I no longer believed that I knew how to get or stay sober. After my month in rehab ended, my parents guided me to enroll in a 90-day halfway house program for men. The treatment and peer support I received there further laid a great foundation for my recovery.
I haven't had a drink or used drugs since July 15, 2001, but my journey continues. It's one thing getting sober and a whole other thing staying that way through college and into my twenties. Two things have helped me make this possible. Support from other sober young people initiated my recovery, gave me hope to the possibilities of living drug-free, and sustains my sobriety. And, of course, my parents—they did not cause nor could they cure my addiction. However, my success in overcoming it is very much because of them and the support they provided me. They continue to help me make healthy choices, and I owe everything in my life to them.
Greg Williams, now 26, is co-director of Connecticut Turning to Youth and Families, a statewide organization strengthening prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. Using peer-to-peer support they help adolescents and families with drug and alcohol problems connect with others who have lived through and recovered from the nightmare of addiction.
Originally published in June 2010 on FamilyCircle.com.