Voices for Recovery
My name is Robert Ashford, 25, from Denton, Texas, and I am an alcoholic in long term recovery. Where most people expect on some subconscious (or conscious) level that my story would start out with a trouble childhood, with experiences ranging from law-breaking to abuse, this simply is not the case. Like many other American children of the 80's and 90's I grew up in a upper-middle class home, with a traditional family model, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Both of my parents were around and very active in my childhood, my siblings and I wanted for nothing, either in terms of the material or the emotional. My family was a regular model for the "American Dream". However, as is typical with the disease of addiction, this mattered very little when it came down to it.
My first experience with alcohol came at the age of 15, at a birthday party for a friend, and from that very first moment there was a love affair with the bottle that would only ever end in pain and sorrow. I experience my first blackout the very first time I drank, cheap canadian whiskey straight out of the bottle. After having to be picked up by my parents from the young man's families home, the ensuing punishment was severe, but not over the top. As a 15 year old boy, you would think that I would have been scared into not drinking again until I had matured and it was legal, but as I said the love affair had begun, and alcohol already had me in her miserable embrace.
Over the next 10 years I would find myself experimenting with recreational drugs, Marijuana, Ecstasy, Cocaine, etc, and while I found that my experience with those was a "take it or leave it" type (meaning that I could actually put it down come sufficient reason or force), but as with my first drink at 15, alcohol always beckoned to me, and it was not something that I could put down, for any reason, for any length of time.
I have since experienced multiple consequences for my addiction to alcohol, 3 DUI's, multiple PI's, and probation violations for consuming alcohol. Compiled with emotional appeals from numerous family members, none of these things, consequence or reasoning, would prove itself to be enough to allow me to achieve long term sobriety. I had, by the age of 20, become a full blown alcoholic in dire straights. Thankfully I had quite a head for business on my shoulders, and I enjoyed some moderate success in the cooperate world that allowed me to not only pay my legal bills, but also to enjoy a semi-lavish life style for some time; not a good thing when you are in active addiction.
I think it is important at this point to say what type of messages, in my early drinking, were portrayed to me in the mass-media and abstinence advocacy arenas. Bombarded by alcohol commercials of every type, and a societal norm that alcohol was a fun inducing "wonder drug", I never thought that alcohol could lead to any type of problems, much less an addiction that would hinder me throughout my youth. From a prevention stand point, the only messages that were conveyed was one of complete abstinence IE "Just say no to drugs","This is your brain on drugs", "MADD", drinking and driving accident commercials and posters. None of these campaigns really made much sense to me as a young teen. They conflicted with the messages about alcohol and some drugs portrayed by adults not only in real life, but also in the marketing arena. Never was the time taken to really educate any of our youth on the real do's and don'ts of successful moderation, risk reduction, and what addiction and alcoholism were. It was not until I attended my first 12-step meeting that I finally heard a description of the addict/alcoholic as he truly was. It was this definition, these people, and this way of life that has saved mine.
At the pinnacle of my active addiction, it came to where the pain of consequence, loss, and physical torture had put me in a state that I knew I was hopeless, and willing to try anything to help me survive. What had once appeared as a "wonder drug" to me was now killing me, ever so softly but increasingly faster. By the grace of God, I was introduced through a loved one, to my first 12 step meeting. I would love to say that I immediately got it, and was transformed into a vibrant, productive member of society within a few short weeks. Unfortunately, this was just not the case. After multiple relapses (4 in total), I would eventually lead myself to being arrested for my 3rd DUI in Texas, a potential felony.
I had been lying about my drinking, while in the program, which shows two major ideas: 1) That I was truly an alcoholic, and that the disease controlled my life (mind and body) and 2) that I needed serious help, but was not to get it until I was ready to ask for it and do the work to get it (I had not been working a truly honest program of recovery at this point). At this exact moment, I swallowed my pride, admitted to myself and to God that I was truly an alcoholic, and checked myself into a state-run Treatment facility for addicts/alcoholics in Fort Worth, TX.
After multiple months in this in-patient facility, I left with a throughout knowledge of the 12-step program, having worked through the steps quickly with a sponsor who forced me (thankfully) to get down to it, humble myself even further, and put the work into my program that it required to be successful. After discharging, I chose to resign from my position in the corporate world, and to move to Denton, Texas to enter into a long term transitional living program: Solutions of North Texas.
Now, at 25 years of age, I consider myself a spiritually and physically changed man. I am living daily for other people, with a lack of selfishness and judgement. I am enrolled full time at the University of North Texas, as a Social Work student with minors in Psychology and Addiction Studies, with the plans on pursuing my Masters in Counseling. I am still currently at Solutions of North Texas, actively engaged with newcomers to our program, and carrying the message of hope to individuals as was so freely done with me. I have also started the first Young People In Recovery chapter in Texas (and have since been elected as a chair on the National YPR Council), become President of the Eagle Peer Recovery program at the University of North Texas, and actively volunteer in our community. My life is not just about recovery, it is a life that I consider worth living today.
One year ago I was on the brink of collapse, pondering death and the beyond, before I was put in a position of hopelessness and despair, which allowed me to seek real help. I was given the opportunity, not of a second chance, but of the first real chance to have a meaningful life; one that focuses on others instead of myself.
Today, I am a recovered Alcoholic. Tomorrow, I will still be an alcoholic, but it will not define me or control me anymore.
Robert David Ashford – YPR – TX – 25 – Denton, Texas