How did feeling like you were never quite a part of your family contribute to your drug use?
Not feeling [like] a part of something as intimate as your family affects your overall relationships in general. [Because of this] it was difficult for me to feel a part of anywhere; I always thought I never fit in, which ultimately led to me finding relief in drinking and drugs. It was almost like a security blanket. I was comfortable alone doing my thing, getting high. The relationship and connection you get through doing drugs and drinking, was the only relationship that I found to be important.
I was filled with anxiety, self hatred, [and] depression; never comfortable in my own skin. I had a new tool - which was Oxycontin - to not feel at all. It was amazing to be able to just turn off and tune out the whole world. It was what I was looking for. It was the reason I would get blackout drunk. It was the reason I'd take as much Xanax as I was taking; just to not feel at all. It felt like the missing puzzle piece. It felt like I didn't have to deal with the world, with life. I could just tune out.
What was your self-esteem like when you were younger and how did it influence your decision to use drugs?
My self esteem was low. What I was looking for back then was to be normal. I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin. I hated myself. I hated when I looked in the mirror [and saw] this sweaty fat kid. I was good during football because I was able to do something with this energy that I had. Outside of that, I had nothing to enjoy or live for. When I found drugs, it was my new identity. My self esteem was . . . I hated myself.
What was it like dealing with your substance abuse issues while working on Wall Street?
It was like Jekyll and Hyde. Deep down inside, I knew I had this substance abuse issue that I was feeding. I was drinking like a fish and doing pills just to maintain a normal outside [appearance]. There were times that I would be withdrawing at my desk or needed to take an Adderall in order to get through the work day, but no one knew what was going on in my mind. I was hiding this lifestyle; living a lie. People saw the performance [and that] I was doing well. They saw me excelling at work, but they didn't know what was going on behind the scenes.
It felt normal at the time. When you're in the moment I don't think you're internalizing; because that would compound any feelings of guilt, shame, or remorse for doing what you're doing. I was just trying to keep up with my drug habit and feed it. I don't remember thinking much about it at all.
What was the turning point? How did you know it was time to reach out for help?
The jig was up. I hated myself just enough and I had seen enough people die through heroin overdoses, that I knew that a change needed to happen for me to live the life that I had always envisioned. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was at that point [where] there was a brief moment of willingness to get help. My family had a little bit to do with it, but ultimately I was just so sick of running around feeding this addiction [with] every dollar, [and] every piece of energy. I couldn't do anything without having to worry about this wet blanket that [I was] feeding just to get through the day. Putting on this facade and hiding [so that] all my loved ones [would] not know deep down what was going on was a lot of work.
I just wanted to be like a normal person. [It’s] why I went to college. [It’s] why I worked in finance on Wall Street. Being in suburbia, you see this normal life: the white picket fence, McMansions with the Mercedes in the driveway, the golf membership, the NetJets account, people with children, with real careers, with loving families. That's what I wanted. That was the overall goal. But I knew I couldn't get there doing what I was doing.
How did Caron help improve your quality of life?
Caron saved my life. I couldn't do it alone. I tried to kick using drugs and quit drinking. There were promises that I made to myself: “today's the last day”, “I'm not going to fill my Adderall prescription”, “I'm never going to get an Oxycontin again”, “I'm not going to drink beer today”. But I couldn't do it alone. When I got to Caron, there was change. There were people there that were happy and willing to help. They were able to give me the foundation that I needed to learn how to live a sober life. Caron [got me] through the withdrawals and the detox, and then they [taught me] the basics: how to live like a normal human being without alcohol and drugs.
Without the tough love of my counselor, the alumni, and hearing the stories of people that had gone through Caron and gotten their lives together, there was no hope for me. I knew that if I had gone to a regular treatment center here in my hometown, I wouldn't have gotten what I needed, which was the family program, the education, identifying with upper middle class people that didn't have severe bottoms, that didn't need to overdose five times, [or] lose their families. They call it a high bottom. Caron was able to provide the community and the fellowship that I needed in order to have this glimmer of hope to live this normal life that I had been striving for.
Why do you think it's important that people think of addiction as a disease, not a moral failing?
As a disease, it needs to be treated as such. One of the most important things that Caron outlined in the beginning was that “this isn't a ‘you’ problem, it's really a ‘we’ problem, and that only ‘we’ can do this ‘together.’” I tried many times to get sober on my own but it wasn't until I had a community and an education of what addiction was that I was able to one day at a time, live a sober life.
How did Caron's family program help improve your relationships?
The Caron family program was instrumental in getting my nuclear family to work. They had my brother write a letter to me, which outlined his resentments toward me, and the reasons I needed to stay in treatment, which really outlined how I affected the family dynamic.
I was able to take a step back and see that my addiction and alcoholism molded my family to be enablers. A counselor said that I'm “my father's kryptonite”. [I was able to] take a look at the dysfunction that my addiction fed my family.
I don't think I would have had an understanding of my mom being the enabler, the supporter, and turning a blind eye, [nor] my dad's resentment toward my mom and how my dad had wanted me to get help. It was able to give us the awareness of the problem and then an outline of the solution; how to mend these relationships, how my dad was a control freak, how I'm very much in the middle of this family.
One of the counselors looked at me and said, "Andrew, you can be the healer of your family. This is your opportunity to bring everybody together. You're the first step to having your family go in the right direction." He couldn't have been more on point. That was just the beginning of the healing of our family. My recovery has healed our family.
We've gone through a lot since then, and everything seems to make us stronger. It's only because of the information I was provided through the family program to dig deep . . . the layers that had been worked through with the love and care of a professional, is really what it was.
How is Caron still involved in your life post-treatment?
Post-treatment, Caron's like a second home for me. The alumni program is amazing. Amy Durham and her team have made me feel like I am a part of the Caron family. To be able to talk to and share my experience, strength, and hope with people that are coming out of treatment and people that are in similar boats . . . helping other people is the juice of Alcoholics Anonymous and of recovery. Caron is able to provide a platform, a steady stream of newcomers who have a chance at a second life, just like I did in 2016.
Most importantly, it provides a community. The Caron community is strong. It gives me a sense of importance. Running marathons and raising money for the scholarship programs [are] super important parts of my life.
Lastly is the ongoing education. They send out Zoom meetings and meditation meetings. Through quarantine, I had to lean on Caron to get me through because there were no real life AA meetings. The community and the family provided through Caron is second to none. In recovery, the opposite of addiction is connection. The more people I connect with the healthier my sobriety is. Without having learned that at Caron, without hearing the alumni come back and speak [during my] treatment at Caron, I'm not sure I would have made it.