It’s hard to imagine myself drinking or using again. It’s been so long since the last time I got drunk or high that it seems like an alternate life. The old me is a far away, distant memory. No more hangover headaches punishing me for the previous night. That past life of alcohol and drugs is gone and I’m so much happier for it.
My battle with addiction started as a battle with depression. I started having depressive thoughts in 8th grade and, over time, those thoughts slowly ate away at me until my depression became all-encompassing. I began to self-medicate. Alcohol was my biggest demon. It had a grip on my life and wouldn’t let go. I knew I was hurting myself; I was self-aware enough that I could step outside myself and watch as I destroyed friendships, failed classes, lost college basketball scholarships. I watched myself through a haze of alcohol, weed, prescription pills, cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens… basically, anything I could drink, smoke, or snort that would make me momentarily forget that I hated myself and wanted to die. And sometimes, in the darkest times, I used because I was trying to die.
November of 2019 marks 16 years since the tragedy that set me on my course to recovery. In that time, I’ve attended countless AA meetings, participated in cognitive education courses, and fulfilled each requirement set in front of me by the State of Colorado and the Colorado Department of Corrections. And while each class or session I’ve attended has provided a brick in the foundation for my lifelong path of recovery, nothing has had more of an impact than the tragic night that set everything in motion. That night was the most eye-opening, life-changing, rock-bottom night that I can imagine, even though I can’t actually remember it.
I woke up in the hospital after a 24-hour blackout to the news that I had driven drunk, caused a car accident, and killed someone. This news was unbelievable, and yet, I knew it was true. I was alive, and an innocent man was dead; I was the same, and yet everything was different. My path to recovery started the day I found out the news.
My prison sentence felt like an impossible task. Ten years to a twenty-four-year-old might as well have been a lifetime in those cells surrounded by negativity and criminals. Shock and fear at the gravity of my situation kept me sober through sentencing. I was given the opportunity to volunteer for the Colorado Department of Corrections Military Boot Camp Program, a grueling 90-day program, that, if I completed it, would shave time off my sentence. I was devastated, depressed, but boot camp gave me a goal and a purpose. My sobriety began the day of sentencing and it was fortified through my daily routine during boot camp. I was lost, but by the end of the boot camp program, I was starting to find myself again.
Flat out, boot camp was the best thing that could have happened to me at that point in my life. I truly believe that it took me from a punk-ass impulsive kid that made horrible choices to the man I am today. The military accountability, the workload and routine of the program, shifted my mind set. The structure I learned in this program gave me the tools I never had had. They are the tools I use today to continue my sobriety.
I was released to a halfway house in 2007 and continued the rest of my sentence until 2014. I remained as part of the Department of Corrections prison system as ISP (Intensive Supervision Program) inmate status, then completed my sentence on parole. Not once did I ever have the desire to drink again.
I re-enrolled in college and was unbelievably fortunate to find a small college basketball team that I could play for. The support of my teammates and coaches (in addition to the random house checks from my parole officer and nearly daily breathalyzers and UAs) helped me maintain my sobriety. I’ve had a lot of issues with the Department of Corrections (DOC), but I will be the first to say, the DOC system held me accountable. It was strangely comforting to know that if I relapsed and got caught, I would go back to prison. I could never envision my life being surrounded by razor wire and guards again.
More than the risk of recidivism though, was the simple knowledge that I took a man’s life. That catastrophic reality replays countless times throughout my thoughts, EACH and EVERY DAY. Every day I’m reminded of the devastating consequences of drugs and alcohol. There is no greater or harder forced path to sobriety than what I caused. I pray for the victim’s family every night and throughout the day. My 15 plus years of sobriety is significantly influenced from the pain I caused, the life I took! No prison sentence can bring back the man, the father, the husband and grandfather I took from their family. My sobriety is built on the reality of the pain I caused. I never want to go back to my life before the accident. Drugs and alcohol destroy lives. My sobriety means everything to me, and I will never drink again.
Ethan Fisher is a keynote speaker, president of Life CONsequences a non-profit that needs readers’ donations to provide mental health and drug and alcohol awareness programs for students across the country.