Two weeks ago, at the gym, I met a man who had lost both feet to frostbite after getting lost while snowboarding. He was a professional hockey player who had become a professional snowboarder, until suddenly this happened. There was nothing about his appearance or personality to indicate that he was disabled. Had he not told me about his prosthetics, I would never have known. I spent some time reflecting on the courage it must have taken to adjust to living without feet.
I began wondering what it would be like to experience such a radical transformation — and I realized that I had been given a gift. I recognized his situation as an opportunity to experience life in a more meaningful way. I wondered what doors had opened for him when he was forced to give up athletics and live life differently. I didn’t know if he saw it that way, but after the experiences I’ve had in my life, it was how I saw it.
When I gave up drinking, more than four years ago, I was forced to consider what my life meant. Where would I focus my energy? How would I spend my time? At first I thought I would keep living the same life and simply remove alcohol. I had no idea that the process would not simply clean up my current life but in an unexpected and dramatic fashion, give me a completely new one.
The party started in my late 20s and I loved it. Between nightclubs and bars, I really found a niche. I lived for the weekends. I lived in Tucson but spent most weekends in Scottsdale, San Diego, Las Vegas and anywhere Southwest Airlines flew nonstop. I knew the club owners and doormen and had a large group of friends that joined in on the fun. Alcohol and partying were the foundation of my life experience for 10 solid years.
In the summer of 2009, negative consequences started to significantly affect my life. Relationships with my family and friends had deteriorated and I was beginning to isolate rather than engage in life. The party was over; alcohol had become a crutch rather than an indulgence. The recovery process began that July, when I received a DUI that made the local news. Alcohol, the one thing I turned to for comfort, entertainment and distraction, had turned against me and was threatening my life and livelihood. I had started missing work and because of the negative publicity from my DUI, my franchise business was threatened with being shut down. There I was, 38 years old, lost and faced with giving up alcohol and the lifestyle that I lived for.
At first I thought I could rely on my passion for fitness and action sports for recovery. I soon realized that this was the same escapist behavior I had indulged in when partying. While I remained abstinent for long periods of time, I was miserable and still seeking something greater. Finally, in October 2010, I sought treatment and was willing to listen to the people who offered to help me change my life. To become balanced, I would need to heal my mind and spirit, not just my body.
Today, I have faith and live by principles instilled in me by my family and the Tucson Hebrew Academy many years ago. I had learned about God through Judaism but I was missing a working relationship and faith. I developed gratitude and learned to love the journey of life, even the difficult times. Most important, I was open to change and found a purpose in my life beyond just having a good time.
For 10 years, I was the guy everyone called when they wanted to party. Today I’m the one they call when they need help getting sober. What that means to me is indescribable. My life is balanced today and I get to help others find their way too. People still call when it’s time to have fun. I spend my days helping people learn to have a good time living life without drugs or alcohol.
Thinking about my new friend from the gym, I wondered how he dealt with the reality of losing his feet. It felt unfair to compare his tragic accident with my situation, but I saw that in one important way, they were alike: I, too, had no choice in the matter. If I wanted to keep experiencing life in any kind of meaningful way, I had to accept my life without alcohol.
I was curious how he handled it and last week, I ran into him again outside the locker room. It’s been 10 years since his accident. He told me about the eight days he was lost on the mountain waiting to be rescued. He talked about facing death and coming to terms with dying. He admitted that he had been high when he got lost and that his life had been heading in the wrong direction fast. It turned out that we had more in common than I thought. We both made some poor decisions that forced us to see the beauty in changing directions and experiencing life differently.
Doron Sears is a drug and alcohol counselor living in Malibu, Calif. He owns and operates Doron’s House. He performs interventions and provides counseling for families in crisis. He can be reached at 424-835-1435, [email protected] or www.doronshouse.com.