Heroes in Recovery: Excerpt From a Recovering Person

From Heroes in Recovery:

Danny Botnik:

Hi, my name is Danny Botnik, and I am a recovering addict and alcoholic. I am also a sexual trauma survivor and dually diagnosed. I hope my story inspires you to hope in another day. My goal in sharing my story is to break the chains of addiction; I hope to be a link in the change to end the stigma associated with mental health and substance abuse in our country. I desire to instill courage in other survivors so they can also ask for and get the help they deserve. We are no longer alone.

I come from a Russian Jewish family. I was born in 1965 in Cleveland, Ohio, and we moved to California when I was 3-4 years old. My middle name, Morris, is from my Grandpa’s brother’s name Moshe; my ancestors came from the sweeping immigration that took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s when many people were searching for a better life free from persecution in Russia. I loved my family and my heritage; however, I think we all knew something was wrong. My parents come from a generation of “Don’t speak, don’t tell.” I know today that addiction is a family illness and usually spans several generations. My father was a brilliant anesthesiologist, and my mother was a homemaker. She had 5 children and lost one son (Kendrick) when he died at childbirth. When I was 6 years old, our family was ripped apart by divorce. At this time I was also sexually abused by my brother with pornography all around. That night, terror and panic came over my body, and I know today I was in a state of shock from what happened—my innocence was stolen from me. I was 6 years old. From that day forward I knew the world was not a safe place.

At that time we began moving around a lot. I lived with my mother and two of my sisters, and we began to try to make sense of the divorce and start to heal—I could sense fear, worry, and the unfinished business of my mother’s own childhood and life. Abuse happened again at age 12 when my brother seduced me once more and shot me up with cocaine. Around this time I began to drink and use marijuana almost daily. I also took acid at age 12 a few times. I knew this wasn’t me, but I guess I had to deaden the pain. Little did I know that I was a PTSD trauma survivor and sexual abuse survivor, in addition to becoming an addict, all before age 12. We had a tranquil period of life when we moved to Citrus Heights, California, and we carved out a life. Our uncle and aunt proved to be a stabilizing force in our lives and I am sure to this day without their involvement I would not be alive to tell my story. (I love you guys.)

I was told by my brother not to share the SECRET, or I would die; I kept that promise until I was 28 years old. From age 8-19 things were fairly stable. My mom bought a home with the help of my aunt and uncle, and we did the best we could. I knew we all knew things were wrong, but it was amazing how we just accepted things as they were. We gritted it out and did the best we could. I was involved in sports and started using and drinking at age 12. I had a lot of excuses for this type of behavior; really I just wanted to forget. It took me along time to realize that I was between 6 years old and 12 years old emotionally from the trauma and the drugs and alcohol. I always used my charm and intellect to get me through. I just functioned the only way I knew; as far as I was concerned, my life was normal.

About this time in my sophomore year I met my best friend Mark Tucker, and he started sharing with me about becoming a Christian. I jumped in full boat and gave my life to Christ when I was 15 years old. When you give your life to Christ, you are never the same. But I was still an untreated dually-diagnosed sexual trauma victim, with severe rejection and abandonment issues. So I went about my Christianity with an addictive, performance mindset. I carried my Bible to school and was labeled “preacher.” I spoke at youth camp; I gave my testimony on radio; I felt the call of God on my life to be an evangelist. However, at my core, the trauma was gnawing at me saying, “Danny you are not God’s son; you are damaged goods, you will NEVER be enough.” So I went around life with a performance mindset. I would prove that I was good enough. Really I wanted to quit the imperious urges of toxic shame.

In 1985, I went to Arizona and gave baseball one more shot. I walked on at Mesa Community College and was the last person cut. I had not picked up a baseball in over 2 years and was clocked at 90 miles an hour. From there I started partying all day, every day. I opened a few thriving businesses. The search for success and money would make me happy, so I thought. This only fueled my addictive desire for MORE. I met a girl and thought, “Wow, I do not have to be promiscuous anymore,” when she became pregnant out of wedlock. After being separated from my son, I sank into the gripping progressive disease of addiction. I felt completely alone and isolated, having panic attacks, anxiety, PTSD, untreated major depression and the most severe pain I had ever encountered. The untreated depression would last 3 years; I just walked it off. I started my second business before age 25 and lost that also.

I picked performance sales oriented businesses and my work addiction took its toll. I have worked in over 42 health clubs in my career. I also moved over 40 times from age 19 to when I began recovery. I would move anywhere so I did not have to look at ME! Then the end came: I was bursting inside, erupting like a volcano, or a tornado as some people have called me; the disease of addiction took me to the streets of Oakland, California, with pimps, prostitutes, crack, and meth. It always starts with a little and then one is never enough. I lost everything again at age 28. I had lost so much from this when I cried, “God, this has to stop!” The darkness is always darkest before the dawn. I could have died out there or wound up in prison.

In the midst of my internal prison of isolation, fear, and shame, God heard my cry and began to intervene, and I was able to ask for help in the summer of 1994. I shared the SECRET hidden and buried so long ago. What was funny is that my first step in recovery was where all the abuse and trauma started. I entered First Step Recovery in Castro Valley, California, and I began unpacking the issues of my past—the trauma, anxiety, being dually diagnosed—and started to learn how to be clean and sober and live a new way of life… what it meant to be accepted. How would I live without drugs and alcohol, work, sex, co-dependency? These processes and ideas had been my crutch my whole life. Now I started taking the mask off and exposing the lies… these thought systems had been established but they were starting to come down. The first step was admitting that I had been sexually abused and had experienced violence in my family. I realized later that the other issues were just me trying to cope with the emotional pain, grief, loss, rejection, and losing contact with my son because of this disease. I relapsed in 1994, and in December of 1994, I went on a eight month run to die; my addictions took a life of their own. I had crossed over to where you begin to know that there is a darkness that wants to destroy you. In 1995, I went to rehab for the last time. I re-dedicated my life to Christ again in August of 1995, and it has been a slow but steady journey to wholeness. I have had great people help me all the way to being whole. I have taken several steps forward with several backwards. In the last 17 years, I have spent a lot of time working with some great therapists helping me unpack my family of origin issues.

Today I declare that there is hope, and you are not alone. The main thing is to start and make the courageous step toward a better, more fulfilling life. I have completed extensive PTSD and EMDR therapy and also received numerous prayer sessions from trusted people. Most people who know me today would have never known that I had this in my past. Also the people of my past probably thought there was nothing wrong; I was such a great actor and it almost killed me not telling the TRUTH and not talking about my past. The main thing is that I have cleared away my wreckage from the closets of my past and have begun to love myself. I realize that God had a plan and purpose through all of my life and that he uses everything for his good purpose. Today God is restoring my family; I have my sisters back in my life and have real friends. He also led me to work with the great people at Foundations Recovery Network with Rob and Lee and their professional staff. I am truly a blessed man and am grateful for his grace working in my life; I have a beautiful wife Paige and a new baby son Zackary.

I have also been reunited with my long lost son Beau, and with the help of La Paloma, he has begun his own personal journey of recovery. I do not deserve a thing; I am so glad that God restores the broken-hearted. I know it is all God’s grace in my life and that is why I have shared my story with you. If I can do it, so can you. Please start today! I sense that the journey and adventure continue. I also know—I am finally home.

Photo credit.

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