What follows is the third guest blog post in a series planned for the month of September — both National Recovery Month and National Suicide Prevention Month.
National Recovery Month, formerly known as National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, is a national observance aimed at informing people that addiction treatment and mental health services can enable those with a substance use or mental disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 3,000 people commit suicide every day, about one million per year. National Suicide Prevention Month is designed to raise awareness that suicide is preventable, improve education and spread information about suicide, and decrease the stigma of suicide.
In light of these co-occurring observances, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steve Cantrell is trying to break the stigma of asking for help. No matter what issue you may be facing — substance use/abuse, finances, depression, anxiety, fear, guilt — there are so many programs available for help, both in and out of the Coast Guard. Don’t suffer in silence. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Written by an active-duty Lieutenant and Coast Guard Academy graduate, who wished to remain anonymous
I started out my drinking career much like that of any other 20-something-year-old in the military, or so I thought.
I partied at the port calls, drank with friends on the weekends, and had the occasional weeknight drink. I made it to work on time and had no legal issues. All and all I felt like it was all in good fun.
However, one thing I didn’t take note of is for me the party just couldn’t end. I continued drinking long after everyone had stopped or even sometimes gone to bed. It was a recipe for disaster, and it wasn’t until I found myself in a very volatile relationship with another heavy drinker and occasional drug user that things began to spiral.
My actions moving forward from there were completely my fault, as I didn’t heed the advice of my friends/family or pay attention to the warning signs. I began to problem drink and I craved to be in that space where I just didn’t have to feel anything. Eventually my drinking and subsequent poor decisions lead to a DUI and other close brushes with law enforcement.
I lived an exhausting double life for more than two years, trying to hold together my professional career, friendships and relationship while I skirted the line of serious consequence or near arrest.
One day I hit a wall. I was so mentally and physically broken that for the first time I actually knelt and prayed for some help. I consider myself agnostic and in that moment I knew I just needed anything bigger than myself to show me a different path.
Ironically that very next day, a fellow shipmate sat me down and talked with me about their concerns. It was all serendipitous as I had made an appointment for self-referral as well that same morning.
There is one aspect of stigma to receiving help that I’d like to address and that is important: Addiction is a medical condition and, as with any medical condition, treatment options are coordinated on a need-to-know basis. When I finally asked for help, I received treatment and my command was extremely supportive and understanding. I was lucky, and it all seemed to align. I was finally taking action to become a better version of myself, which in fact was just the old me.
I was admitted to outpatient treatment in November 2011 and, for approximately nine months, I attended weekly meetings trying a new way of living. This new path spoke to me and I continued service as a leader of a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for the following two years. I have also carried that service over to the Coast Guard offering feedback in developing policy concerning drug and alcohol use, as well as helping develop a support program for Coast Guard members and their families.
Before committing to this new way of life I was overweight, lacked confidence, felt alone and unreliable. I’m not saying that these character defects don’t still exist in some way shape or form. My problems are all but gone, however they do not overpower my sense of purpose and I now confront them head on as I attempt to better myself. My life has become much more manageable, and all of the little goals in life that once seemed so distant are dramatically closer and achievable.
This new way of living for me isn’t a complicated one filled with questions, what-if scenarios or religion. For me, it has been about living a life of service to friends, family, and to those who struggle. It has also been about being a person of action. Living this way has afforded me so much more as an individual. I now have a wife and son. I’ve reconnected with many of my old friends and have achieved many personal goals that I couldn’t have in a previous life.
By no means do I intend to preach to people about how they are living their lives. However, if you for a second think perhaps you need a change or are unsure, I recommend giving sobriety a shot for just a bit. And do what works for you! If you like it, stick with it – what’s the worst that could happen?
I am forever grateful for the support I received by many people on the path to recovery and only hope that I can return that favor by being an inspiration and part of someone else’s story in finding a more peaceful and happy way of living.