Another Heroes in Recovery Excerpt From a Recovering Person

Heroes in Recovery does a great job of showcasing recovering people and highlighting their recovery.

Robert Ischinger:

I remember growing up with an alcoholic father, saying I would never become an alcoholic. Many years later I had to admit to myself that I had become a junkie instead. I, like many alcoholics/addicts always felt that my life was not good enough and that somehow it should be better. I would feel this way even when things appeared to be good but I had that “hole in my soul” that I heard so many people talk about in meetings.

My drug and alcohol usage began in college. It was the late 1960s when doing drugs seemed somehow glamorous and accepted. I drank a lot on weekends, but since I could stop and didn’t have to have a drink to get me going in the morning, I was sure it was not a problem. When a roommate introduced me to pot, the drinking subsided. But I started smoking pot every night. LSD also became part of my life and none of this seemed wrong or harmful, even though my grades were going downhill and I was becoming isolated from everyone except the people I knew who did drugs.

All this helped me to avoid a big problem in my life. I am a gay man. I came of age at a time when homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. Since not only would I not become an alcoholic, I also would not allow myself to have a mental disorder. So I got married. For many years I had career successes and was able to live as a married man and a father. I thought I had filled that hole. As time went on the hole began to grow again. I became discontent with my career and my family life was no longer enough to allow me to feel satisfied. I realized that I had to be honest with myself about my sexuality and then honest with my family. My marriage ended and I was alone.

I began to drink every night, and quickly found pot again. Since this was now the mid 1980s, I also found cocaine. I loved it, but it was expensive and I had to keep doing it to keep the high going. 
About a year after my divorce, I met a man who became my partner for the next eleven years. He introduced me to crystal methamphetamine. I LOVED IT. We would occasionally do drugs on the weekends and at times more often, but we always seemed to keep the usage in check. 
He died of AIDS in 1996. I was alone again and the crystal meth epidemic in the gay community had begun.

It was easy to find meth, easy to meet people, easy to not be alone. Meth began to fill the void I felt when my partner died and then it seemed to fill the hole that I had periodically been trying to fill with all sorts of other things. It succeeded in helping me to think that I was mentally doing well. That I could work better and socialize better. I was convinced that all was well. I had friends. I was meeting all sorts of people. But my life was also becoming darker. I was becoming ineffectual at work. My money management skills were non-existent. 
I eventually lost my job. I was evicted from my apartment. My car broke down and I did not want to spend the money to get it fixed. I began a downward spiral that lasted about 2 years and did not end until I was I was empty enough to admit I needed help. In that 2 years I lived with friends and fooled myself into thinking that I was not homeless since I never slept on the street. I spent all the money I had received from my partner from a life insurance policy along with a large legal settlement. It all went to drugs.

On February 20, 2004 I found myself broken and alone. I was living on a drug dealer’s couch, worrying about the day that I might come home and find my belongings piled on the street. I went to a Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting that night. The meeting was at 10:15 PM on a Friday night. I walked into the meeting scared, nervous and thinking what am I doing? I was shocked to see a room full of gay men who were joking around having a good time without meth on a Friday night. Could this be possible? Did people really gain recovery from this drug and be happy? I stayed for the meeting but was anxious to get out before I had to speak to anyone. There was a part of me that said, “You have to do this.” But the big question in my head was, “HOW?” My whole life was as the Narcotics Anonymous readings says: “Our lives revolved around the getting and using and finding ways and means to get more.” How could I ever work again? How could I find friends? How could I have fun? Would I ever gain back my integrity? 
I went home and the next day, a Saturday, I used up the rest of my drugs figuring if this was the end, I didn’t want to waste them.

The next day Sunday, February 22, 2004, was my first day of sobriety. It is the day that my current journey began. I went to a meeting that night, met a few people who encouraged me to “keep coming back.” The next night I went to another meeting, having heard a message that if you make this a way of life, you can gain recovery. That night I asked a man to be my sponsor. I did this because I had heard in the meetings that if you wanted to get clean you needed to “work the steps” (whatever that meant) and you needed a sponsor to do this. 
The next day I spoke with my sponsor who told me I should go to two meetings a day for the next 90 days. While I thought this was extreme, I was desperate for change. These people told me that if I did what they did, my life could also change. For the time being the people I met at meetings were a “power greater than myself.” 
I had all sorts of questions about God and His will for me. How does one “Let go and let God?” Did I want to believe in something that I was sure most of my life did not exist? For the time being I was told all I needed to believe was that there was something other than myself that could help me. I could believe in that. Shortly I started to compare a higher power to The Force from Star Wars. It worked. I went to at least two meetings a day for the first 90 days.

Somehow my life started to change. I moved from the drug dealer’s couch to a sober living home. I got a job. I was able to feel that there were some changes that were beginning to happen. I could begin feel better about myself. I was no longer lying to my family about why my life was in shambles. I was becoming responsible again. 
I soon began to work the steps. I could not understand how these things could help me to stay clean and sober but all these people I was meeting and all the people I heard speak at meetings said that if I wanted to change my life I needed to do this. So I became open-minded and willing. As I worked the steps, something strange began to happen. I began to feel better about who I was as a person. My sponsor pointed out that my chief character defect was a core belief about myself: “I am not good enough.” As I took that in, I began to realize that my whole life was based on this belief. I struggled to prove to myself that this was not true, but it always crept back into my consciousness. When I was entirely ready to have this removed from me, I asked my Higher Power to remove it. A few weeks later I called my sponsor to say that I thought that my character defects were still with me. He laughed and said, “Honey, they will always be there. The difference is that now you get to act on them and not let them continue to negatively impact your life.”

Life was slowly getting better. I was promoted at work to a department manager. I was able to buy a car. My family was able to again depend on me. I was gaining back my integrity. 
At about the two year mark, I was offered a job to be the weekend manager at a residential treatment program. I had to move from full-time to part time at the job I had. This also allowed me to investigate going back to school to be a drug and alcohol counselor. Several people suggested that instead of getting a counseling certificate, I should go to graduate school and get a Master’s degree in clinical psychology. Of course since I was not good enough for anything in my life, my disease screamed at me, “Who do you think you are that you could go to GRADUATE SCHOOL?” Earlier in life I would have listened to that voice but I had learned to question it and ignore it. I applied, was accepted and started school about 2 and a half years after I got clean and sober. That was October of 2006. In June of 2008, I received a Master’s degree in clinical psychology. I remember thinking after I got clean that I would miss the euphoria that I would feel when I got high. It was such an intense feeling that I almost mourned the loss of it, being sad that it was a feeling I could never experience again.

On graduation day I remember waiting in line to walk into the auditorium where the ceremony was happening. I remember walking in hearing music and a thunderous roar of applause and yelling from the audience. I remember feeling my heart start to race and becoming welled up with emotion. As I was walking down the aisle I saw my 88 year old mother, my sister, and my daughter smiling and applauding. Then I noticed my daughter had tears running down her cheeks. My emotions welled up even more and tears were running down my cheeks too. I thought of all that had brought me to this point. Through all the pain, the suffering, and the hard work, in that moment I knew that I WAS GOOD ENOUGH and that I NEVER had to feel that way again. The euphoria I felt in that moment was far better than ANY high I had ever felt with drugs.
 Today I work as a therapist at Michael’s House in Palm Springs, CA. I get to work with men in early recovery every day. Last year one morning I walked into my office and under the door someone had slipped a piece of paper that said, “To Robert.” It was a quote from Albert Schweitzer. It read, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
I am grateful for those in my life who have rekindled my flame and am humbled by the thought that perhaps my story has rekindled someone else’s flame.

Photo credit.

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