Dom M Sober Living Success Story - Real Recovery Solutions
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Dom's Sober Living Success Story

Dom's Sober Living Success Story

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Sobriety Date: January, 30, 2019
Age: 30
Drug(s) of Choice: Alcohol
Alumni Interview Date: March 25, 2021

I was attending meetings, had a sponsor, was going through the steps, and for once, was listening to my father’s advice. But alcoholism/addiction is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.

– Dom M.

Personal Background

Hey, what’s up? My name is Dominic M. I’m 30 years old. My sobriety date is January 30, 2019, I celebrated two years sober at the beginning of the year.

Some things I like doing, first, I love playing video games. I have a bunch of consoles; I play PC a lot as well. I’m an artist, I like to work with different mediums including digital media or physical art like your traditional painting, drawing, and stuff.

Recovery Background

I am originally from a small town called Scranton, Pennsylvania. There’s really not a lot to do there.

My first conscious drink, outside of when your parents might give you a small sip of champagne on New Year’s Eve was, in high school at the age of 14, though it wasn’t frequent in the beginning the consequences started immediately.

For me, it wasn’t a lot of fun, ever. But it was just, it was something that I knew I wanted to do was, you know, live this lifestyle of using and doing things. So I fell in with the people who were doing drinking or smoking weed and so I surrounded myself with likeminded people, which eventually transferred into my recovery because I learned that it works both ways today [as far as finding out that alcoholics and addicts are still the fun characters, we can be but without substances].

When it came to drinking and partying, my use was abnormal from the start. I went to rehab my senior year of high school, which should say something about how things escalated in the beginning. Though I managed to pass high school and went on to attend a local community college where I studied illustration and painting. My using continued to escalate to the point where drugs and alcohol were more important than getting good grades and establishing a career. School wasn’t working out and before long the only thing I had left was the substances. For the next few years, I traveled down a lonely road of building towards a better, more successful future, and then I would tear it all down to restart once again. 

At one point I decided to move to Orlando and attend Full Sail University to study game art and computer animation which is a huge industry today and something that I thoroughly enjoyed. I was able to meet a lot of great people, make friends, and felt this time would be different. But again, as I started to gain new levels of success, my addiction progressed and just like before I basically destroyed all that I had worked for—relationships, jobs, material possessions, status, trust, and my security.

I ended up failing out of Full Sail University. This was a really dark time because I didn’t know what to do after that. I had to move back in with my family in Pennsylvania. When I looked around to reconnect with all my “friends” from high school… it seemed like everyone had careers, they finished college, they were doing well, had nice cars, and all the things guys my age were “supposed” to have. And here I am, a college dropout who is back home with his parents.

Depression really took hold, alcohol and drugs were the only solution I had left to numb the pain. By this time, I was essentially drawing pictures at home and calling myself an artist.

That’s what it looked like to everybody. Even though in my mind, I was still so wrapped up in thinking about what I was going to do, to achieve, and thought that art would be my ticket to success. I just thought, well, maybe I’m a misunderstood crazy artist like Van Gogh. But honestly, I was deluded and sincerely believed at the time that the minimal effort I was putting in would produce grand results.

So, you know, alcohol and drugs completely took hold of me at that point. I was lost in my own life. I was completely consumed. I didn’t know which direction was up. People were distancing from me at this point. It felt like I was looking at everybody else through this glass window, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with me. Life got really difficult and depression exacerbated the usage.

The consequences started rolling in at that point.

But I was fortunate enough to have parents who kept trying to prop me up. They would help me get a car, an apartment, go to another college and the results were the same because I continued to live the same lifestyle. I ended up smashing a few cars, more than one DUI, I went to jail a couple of times.

Of course, each time I was under the influence. It took me a long time to put those pieces together. And just kind of understand. In hindsight it’s easy to see, everyone else saw it but I wasn’t able to tell myself—“You’re ruining everything because you just won’t stop.”

Initially, I was introduced to the program of Alcohol Anonymous through my father who has in the program for decades. He’s always been leading me in the right direction and telling me the answers from the perspective of somebody who knows through experience.

But as a father figure, I never wanted to believe him. I never wanted to listen, I was always pushing him and others away. I was obstinate. I wanted to do things my way. And of course, I did my way right up until I couldn’t anymore because I was going to die.

After being introduced to AA, I got clean for varying lengths of time but wasn’t able to “stay stopped.”

Of course, I went back out, crashed more cars, failed more things, lost more friends, and put everyone around me through hell. I eventually managed to put together over a year sober when I was 25.

This time I was a clinical technician at the same rehab I attended. After the year mark, I remember thinking—“I’m sober and like talking to people who are having problems. Maybe this is my calling, I can help other alcoholics and addicts who are struggling with addiction.” Helping others made me feel rewarded, made me feel good, and paid the bills so it seemed like a no-brainer. It’s funny how even sober, we’re always trying to find ways to “feel better” on the inside by using external stuff.

I was attending meetings, had a sponsor, was going through the steps, and for once, was listening to my father’s advice. But alcoholism/addiction is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease.

Eventually, the same thoughts came back—I thought I was too young, that I only needed more experience. I needed to go back out and test the waters, do more research and confirm that I truly am an addict/alcoholic. Naturally, I thought—“This time will be different” and “I learned enough that I can successfully moderate my drinking/using now.” What a load of shit that was.

I will say if you’re reading this and thinking the same thing… good luck but I hope you can realize that it’s just the disease of addiction trying to convince you “you’re different” and give you an excuse to pick up. Hundreds of thousands, probably millions or tens of millions of addicts and alcoholics have thought the same thing, picked up, and returned to a living hell or worse for your parents—death.

My Last Run (relapse) and Nearly Dying

One night on the way to my parents for pizza night, I crashed dead center into a large tree going 50–60+ MPH without a seat belt. Now, I don’t remember much but I do know that I was launched into the windshield headfirst severely lacerating my head. I had brain swelling, was intubated, and was put in a medical coma for a few days. The doctors didn’t know if I was going to make it, all my parents could do was wait out a nightmare and fear the worst—while here I was blissfully unaware in my coma of the wreckage going on around me.

Waking up was surreal, everything flashed before me. It took a minute for things to sink in and I don’t think that I really grasped the entirety of the situation until my head cleared.

So here I am, my car was totaled, I couldn’t get to work and was let go, my body was a mess and my mind wasn’t any better… worse probably.

Everything just came to a crashing halt, I fucked up again and the only thing I could look at was the “why” of how it happened again.

Believe it or not, there’s something about getting ejected through your windshield, nearly dying, and waking up in a hospital with your parents crying while a doctor informs you that your blood alcohol level was 0.3+… that… oh and another DUI… will give even the thickest skulled alcoholic a sudden pause to reflect. The “why of it?” My drinking and substances.

My parents were done, I mean finally done. Frankly, at this point, I was too. Everything had to change.

As soon as I was healed enough, my parents and I flew down to Florida. We looked around for a sober living place, found Real Recovery, and during intake, my parents were saying things like — “Look, we’re not going stay around, we can’t enable him anymore, we’re not going to help him. We can’t keep him sober. We’ve tried. Please help us” to Jon, the program administrator for St. Pete.

Jon was reluctant because at the time because my UA was still coming back positive. But he saw the desperation and willingness. I was beaten down so badly that I truly was willing to do anything. Thankfully, I was able to move in, something my family and I will always be grateful for.

My Journey at Real Recovery and the 12-Steps

How was your experience at Real Recovery?

No lie, the first week was fuzzy… I was still detoxing and trying to, like, understand that I was in Florida. I was still just trying to figure everything out in my head and come to terms with the situation. But when my head finally cleared—I jumped right into the program at Real Recovery. I jumped right in the center of everything with the “gift of desperation.”

I kept an open mind, my way hadn’t worked so I was willing to listen to the guys in recovery who went through similar experiences as me, especially those with years of clean time.

My roommates were awesome, thankfully, a couple of them had cars. I put myself out there from the start. I’d say “Hey, where are you going? Take me with you.” And I’d jump in the car with them. I didn’t know where I was going or who they were sometimes but it didn’t matter as long as it was about recovering. And for, weeks after that, I went with the guys wherever they went to meetings, and I met guys at meetings and started building a sober support network.

I needed new friends and I started understanding at that point, what “real friends” were—the guys I met at Real Recovery were there for each other to help do the right thing. That’s probably why I could never have good friends before because I was never doing the right thing so nobody was going to help me to do the wrong thing.

But now, there were all sorts of awesome guys around, that were trying to lift each other from all directions. And it felt like I found where I was supposed to be. I found, like, where I was meant to be. Here is this place where these guys are just like me, they’re helping me, and I feel part of something greater than my own selfish desires. The sense of camaraderie was and still is really something powerful.

I was actually blown away by the receptiveness of the people in the community at Real Recovery. I started branching out and meeting everybody and all the apartments and the personalities were fun and the community was really cool. Plus they had a good size pool area where everybody would go down to hang out, you’d see guys throughout the day either jumping in the pool, talking, playing cards, or eating around the barbecue, you know? They had events to bring the guys together.

So I met the guys quickly because I wanted to be involved. I wanted to make new friends because I had nothing for a long time. One thing led to another and by doing the next right thing and taking the advice of others helped transform my whole mindset.

You see in the past, there was always something, some reason or excuse as to why I wouldn’t take other people’s advice before. But now I started listening, people would say stuff like “we know going on with you and we know from experience what works in recovery; you’ve done it your way and look how that has worked out… so why not try it our way, try something new and give the program a chance.”

Before, it was always my way… it was maybe I’ll take a little bit of what you have to say or half of that but it does come back to what they say in the Big Book (AA)…  “half measures availed us nothing,” and it was true. I always came up short and then I would blame it on the program. I’d say “the program is flawed, it doesn’t work.”

Then I started really listening to the advice and suggestions people offered; I shut up, humbled myself, and kept an open mind… and things started working out.

My life started getting better quickly, quicker than I expected.

I got a job that I started holding down and had good standing at because I was showing up every day on time, putting in good work. I reestablished a work ethic within me that I never really understood that I had. I just thought I was naturally slow and lazy. Until I got sober and things started just progressing quickly… I felt like I could think faster, move faster, and I guess my brain was healing because I was more productive than I had ever been before each day.

As far as recovery, I got a sponsor within the first week. I was networking with other sober guys. I went to meetings every single day for the first year even on the days where I was tired or “not feeling it.”

I didn’t take a day off from recovery because it was working. My sponsor would pick me up to hit a meeting or work on the steps. His approach was very thorough which was good because it really opened my eyes. I did work through all 12-steps including step 12 and starting sponsoring newcomers.

Sponsoring others and all the service work I was doing was huge for me. Looking back, I had always wanted to help others but couldn’t because of my using, and here I was sober for a year, recovering from a hopeless disease that has enabled me to help other men just like me… just live their best life and get better, you know? Like, everything did a complete 180° and more compared to life before.

Around a year sober, I enrolled at St. Petersburg College (SPC) to pursue a degree in human services so I can work within the field of addiction and help others. That’s what I’m passionate about today.

After Real Recovery & Life In Sobriety Today

I’m back in school now. I’m working a full load online, five courses. I work on the weekends, two days a week at a restaurant, the same job that I started at. I go to meetings almost every night. I still call my sponsor and meet up with him regularly. I’m working with other guys, sponsoring men who are new to the 12-step program.

I’m also a house manager for Real Recovery’s St. Pete location. By the grace of God, Jon and Patrick allowed me to step up and take some responsibility. I feel like I’ve helped so many people through the process and I continue to grow as a person each too.

My experience at Real Recovery is also helping my future career as a psychologist. I’m learning so much and who knows what’s next, but I know I’m grateful for my sobriety today and everything that others have done to help me along the way.

One of the gifts of the program is that my life isn’t just the 12-steps, I live the principles of the program each day because that’s what keeps me sober but I don’t just go to meetings. I have friends inside and outside the program that I’m close with.

If anything, being sober has helped me gain everything I wanted and stuff that I hadn’t considered possible… I have the material items that I used in the past to make myself feel better but today they are just tools to enjoy life or serve a purpose. I don’t use materials, titles, or status to pump myself up or put on appearances today because my self-esteem is grounded in something greater. I have a purpose today.

I’m still a huge gamer. Thanks to the support of others and the hard work I’ve put in, I grateful that I can afford a beast of a gaming setup that can run all the best games on the market. I have friends in the program and online that I actively hang out with while we tear it up online.

I have a good relationship with my family now and continue to make my living amends along the way.

Life isn’t always rainbows and sunshine today but it is infinitely better than before.

What was the hardest or most challenging step for you?

The most challenging thing early on in recovery was taking other people’s advice. Step-wise, the fourth step was the most difficult for me.

I knew that I had to do it. In some respects, I had been trying to block out and forget about the past so I could “start a new life.” Then the fourth step hit and I had to start digging through the past… think about what I did, who I wronged, who I heart, and the wreckage addiction has caused in others and my life. All the resentments I’ve accumulated over the years, you know.

Step four definitely took a toll on me but looking back it’s because my mindset and approach going into weren’t the best. It made me miserable, I went to work upset some days because I would obsess throughout the day about the past and what I had done.

Until finally I opened up to my sponsor about what was going on in my mind and we talked then eventually laughed about it. I was working myself up all day and overcomplicating things. He told me: “Look man, compartmentalize, come home, sit down for 30-minutes, think, and then when you’re done, put the pen down, close the book, turn your frickin’ mind off. Don’t think about it the rest of the day.”

So that’s what I did, and it made it a lot easier. Step four was hard but extremely fulfilling to get through.

What step did you find the most relief from?

Five was definitely the most relieving. It relieved such a huge amount of stress to show my sponsor and just have the reaction be from another person after telling him my truckload of garbage to hear, “it’s alright man.” I was like… Really? That’s it?

Of course, we read some more, shared, and got on our knees to pray, and I feel like I had a spiritual experience at that point. It was as though I was just letting all that baggage go and to finally allow new positive stuff in.  I felt like a vacuum dumping out the dust and the dirt and the grime that my life had sucked up, and then after being emptied—I was a new vessel ready for whatever else was next.

You’re doing the deal; something is clearly working. What does your daily routine look like?

Well, I have a daily routine and a weekly routine.

Keeping a solid routine is very important to me today. Because it keeps me in a flow. It also lets me know where I’m at.

I usually get a good amount of sleep, so that I’m not tired or struggling the next day. I wake up, take a little time, meditate in peace, and get some quiet in before tackling my goals for the day. I pray a little bit to my higher power, ask for some strength, for my day to go well, ask for the power to stay sober today, and the willingness to stay open to learn new things—just a brief message to the universe, like a positive affirmation so that I start my day at peace and summon the energy for the day.

From there it’s the usual, make sure I eat something healthy so my brain has energy and go tackle what needs to be done for the day.

During the week I do schoolwork. On the weekends, I do the same thing I wake up earlier. Try to get that moment of peace, take a shower, eat, go to work. You know, I work for like 11 hours straight. So I really have to like summon peace on the weekends because it’s hectic working at a restaurant.

Come home, relax, maybe take a nap, go to a meeting call my sponsor and unload if any problems happened that day. Or if everything’s just going, just a little check-in. You know, maybe share at a meeting, talk to some new guys, share some of my strength and hope with somebody else.

Ask other people how they’re doing. I try to do that daily. Just ask other people how they’re doing try to get me out of myself. And the more I do that, the better I end up feeling.

I pray before I go to bed at night. Try not to eat too late, maybe get some physical exercise in so I can relieve some stress. I mean that’s really what I strive for daily. Not every day is like that, of course, some days are more hectic. I have to skip some things or take more of other things. But I try to always have mediation and peace throughout my day.

What does your recovery routine look like? Are there things you do daily to stay on top of your game? Weekly?

Tips for Family Members Seeking Help for a Loved One

Your parents did their very best to help you throughout the years, is there anything you’d tell a parent who is looking to help their son?

Good question, I talk to a lot of parents who come in for their son, and it’s almost like I’m talking them into leaving their kid there sometimes because 80% of the time the son doesn’t want to be there if the parents bring them in. They’ll say “this isn’t the place for me” and downplay the consequences of their addiction. And most of the time I just tell them—what’s the worst that’s going to happen? It can’t be worse than what’s been going on, give it a try.

You won’t find a more receptive group of individuals trying to better their lives than you will here. So he’s in good hands. The accountability is top-notch. Most other facilities don’t check in nightly at certain times, or drug test as much as we do.

The weekly accountability is a huge thing because we’re almost doing like a counseling session, to be honest. The number of meetings we require is reasonable. We push in all directions towards a better life, we are not a place where residents can just flop and not better themselves.

We’re going to ensure that if you stay here and you want to get better, you’re going to be working, you’re going to be going forward, you’re going to have a good sponsor, you’re going to be going to meetings, you know, that residents are making progress in each area of their life.

We’re going to make sure they become a better person if they want to be and I don’t see why you wouldn’t want. The program is not an adult daycare.

Also, enabling someone who is struggling with alcohol and substance abuse only allows them to keep digging a deeper hole. It’s tough for parents but it can help speed up the process of hitting that bottom that will help a person become willing to try a new way instead of repeating the same cycle.

Considering Sober Living for Yourself?

Is there anything you would say to a guy looking at sober living who might be on the fence or unsure?

Listen… if you’re on this website and reading this page, you are heading in the right direction. What’s the worst that can happen if you stay here for a week, a month? Think about the location you’re in man, it’s almost like a vacation where you’re going to rebuild your life.

You can’t beat it.

The people here are great. I can’t say enough about the community at Real Recovery and how cares and looks out for each other. You’re never going to feel like you don’t belong. There are about 20-50 guys at each location of all ages and all types and from all walks of life that so there’s going to be somebody that you relate to in the facility. You know, and the more you dig, the more you search, the more you’re going to find how you relate to most people.

…and of course, there are always people doing things—we hang out, we watch movies, we have pizza nights, we played video games together, we chill by the pool, we work out together, we go surfing. There’s always something fun to do; it’s not just some sterile environment where we go to meetings, get a sponsor, work the steps, get a job, shut up and go to sleep.

We’ve learned how to have fun, man, it’s a fun time to learn how to live and do things that you love to do without being shackled by that old lifestyle.

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