John C 5 Years Sober Living Success Story - Real Recovery
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John's Sober Living Success Story

John's Sober Living Success Story

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Sobriety Date: March 5, 2016
Age: 36
Drug(s) of Choice: Opiates
Alumni Interview Date: March 22, 2021

Listen. From someone who struggled for years and gave every excuse as to why the 12-step program didn’t work or thought life without alcohol and drugs would be boring… I can guarantee one thing — if you give your 100% for one year, really give recovery your all, and life doesn’t change for the better. We’ll happily refund your misery, after all you can always return to the lifestyle you had before. It's your life.

– John C.

Personal Background

My sobriety date is March 5, 2016, so I celebrated five years, a couple weeks ago.

Currently, 36 years old.

My interests… I like playing pickleball, basketball, and working out. That’s kinda also what I do for fun, you know, I never thought that I would have hobbies, and didn’t have hobbies when I was using. So, it’s pretty cool getting sober, you get to find things you’d like to do.

Recovery Background

So I first started drinking when I was 13. We were at a friend’s house and his dad gave us a little red solo cup of alcohol. And that was all kind of alcohol and we shared it. And I remember just that feeling of—feeling like I belonged to a group of people. That was my first time drinking, nothing major happened, we enjoyed ourselves like kids do when experimenting. I didn’t really have a problem until a lot later, when I got into a car accident and was prescribed opiates.

When started using opiates is when I believe my addiction started to progress. I had tried everything before and used them alcoholically. I tried a bunch of different things, alcohol and Xanax. And I figured that I got in too much trouble when I did that stuff. So I decided opiates, I could actually work and sustain until I couldn’t anymore, then that ended up starting to heroin.

Would you say heroin is what really took you on that downward spiral?

Yeah, so once it got to the point where I couldn’t afford buying pills on the streets, heroin, came into the picture, and then when I actually started shooting up… that’s when it all went downhill from there.

That’s where that transition where I was just, you know, trying to get whatever I could. And then that’s, where everything else—my life, my goals, everything that I wanted to achieve started going on the back burner, and then my daily goal in life was just to find heroine, on a daily basis.

So that’s when it really went bad and had a lot of consequences. Ended up going to jail many times and the trips to rehabs started, mainly court ordered. But none of that could keep me sober.

I just wasn’t at that point in my life where I was ready to stop using.

At what point do think addiction really took hold, where you feel that… looking back, you can see where that infamous line was crossed?

I would say around 22 is when substances started becoming an issue but I wouldn’t say I became a full-blown addict until I started using harder substances. I was probably in the full-blown stage addiction by 25.

When was the first time you went to treatment or got help of your own desire, without a nudge from the judge?

In 2014, when I first went Turning Point. That’s where me and Patrick were in treatment together. We both transitioned to the Koala House (which Real Recovery purchased and renovated for our Tampa sober living location).

That was my first sober living experience. It was good in the sense of the camaraderie and hanging out with the guys, shooting the stuff, and meeting new people in recovery. But it was not structured, you never got drug tested. It was filthy. It was a cool experience, you know, hanging out with guys all the time… but in terms of recovery, I didn’t stay sober there.

What was it like for you leading up to moving into Real Recovery?

I had about eight months at Koala House then I relapsed, met a woman, had my son, and was out of the program for another two years. And it was this time around when I got sober by first completing a 90-day treatment program and transitioning to Real Recovery after a couple other sober homes before randomly meeting Patrick at an AA meeting… which is when I found out he started Real Recovery and moved in.

I wasn’t really working a program at the previous sober living houses, one of the half-way houses didn’t let you get a sponsor, and the other was more of a flop house but things had got to the point… where I was sober but wasn’t going any where fast.

John's Journey at Real Recovery

What was Real Recovery like when you got there?

We were drug tested every week without fail. We had to go to five meetings, and we had a sheet that we had to fill out meetings on, which was very different from any of the other sober living homes I had been at.

One thing that stood out was our house meetings were more personal, especially with that small group of guys… there were 10 of us at the time. We really got to talk about our weeks, do things as a close-knit group, and I jumped into the program right away.

For me, I was just at this place that again, where you know, I was ready to do whatever it took.

Of course, I didn’t like the little things like the curfew and all the things that you say you’re willing to do first get sober. The same things that, then after a week you start saying “Oh, I can’t believe I got to get home at 11 o’clock.” Yeah, I did it too. You know, I remember feeling that way. But at the end of the day, it’s just those little things we need to be willing to continue to do if we really want to stay sober.

It’s the same thing with Oldtimers asking you “What am I really willing to do to stay sober?” This time around, I was willing to listen, be honest, and put in the work.

The Blind Pass meeting was right there and I made it my home group, and I ended up meeting my sponsor there who took me through the steps, and he would come over to Real Recovery and work with me every single week. It was a really great experience. And we got through the steps and life moved forward.

Was there anything this time around that you balked at (didn’t want to do, something you tried to avoid in the 12-step process) or a challenge in recovery… or were you just beat down enough that you were willing to try anything to back on track?

Yea, I think for me because I was homeless before I came to Real Recovery—I was just happy to be here, and I enjoyed the sober living experience.

I am a very social person but when I’m in my addiction, I’m usually by myself. It can get very lonely and so it was great when I got here—there’s all these people to hang out with, who you can just have chill conversations with or go out and doing something around town, sober.

The great thing about arriving at Real Recovery is that I knew the experience that me and Patrick had at Koala House (previous sober living house).

What Patrick did was take all the things that we really didn’t like at Koala House, the stuff that didn’t help us stay sober or reinforce a better lifestyle and change them. Plus the living conditions here were much better, really everything about Real Recovery set it apart from the sober living programs I had been at… smart TVs in all the houses, a clean area, a real structured program that holds guys accountable, and a strong focus on the 12-steps of recovery. The other sober houses, you know, they weren’t like that.

Were there any steps of the steps that you struggled? It’s common for newcomers to pause at step 2, 4, and 9, what was your take on the steps this time around?

Step nine was definitely the one that I had some concerns about, you know, when I had to start making amends—I was stressed about what would happen. My son was born when I was still in my addiction, you know?

My ex moved to Arkansas with my son. When I was in the middle of my day she just hit me up and said, I moved to Arkansas and I didn’t even know she knew people in Arkansas. At that time, I wasn’t at that place in my recovery where I could provide for them. So I didn’t put up a fight at all.

When I got sober, my son Jax was about 10 months old and I can remember being in treatment, and, she says—”you’re not going to be able to see your son until you’re five years sober.”

That was the number she put out there. And so, I got to this point when I was at Real Recovery… and I got a chance to actually go up to Arkansas to see my son. I had I just finished step 8. So I was on my ninth step. I had to go make my first amends with her and her mom. It was… that was a really rough one. But you know, I got through it.

Was step 9 the one where you found the most relief from or…?

Yeah, it definitely did. But, for me, the biggest step that that really made a change this time around. It’s probably a little one that people skip over, which is the seventh step and the seventh step is where I make that decision to change, right?

I don’t get to blame stuff on early sobriety, I actually have to have practice what I preach. And I look at my character defects and on a daily basis. I see—where am I fucking up and if I do fuck up… I realize I need to own it, you know?

So the seventh step, that was a huge step for me, an eye opening step that again, I got a lot of people who just see us you think of five, six and seven all together, but there’s a lot. I mean, there’s only, like, two sentences for step seven, but they’re huge.

After Real Recovery & Life In Sobriety Today

How’s life now?

After I became a house manager at Real Recovery, I did that for about two years. And then July of 2019, that’s when I got a call from Pat. And he’s like—”hey, I’m opening up a brand-new location,” and asked me if I wanted to be a program administrator for the Brandon property.

And I never thought I’d be in that position, you know, I thought that I would be in debt collections forever, because I have felonies and had been working different job, and I got all these things going so I never thought that I would have a job that I actually enjoy. Right?

I could never fathom that, and I was able to do that because of the 12-step program and recovery. It’s been the biggest blessing coming here. And being able to work with new guys in recovery on a daily basis and help people. The whole thing has just been an awesome experience.

And so life now, man—I get to see my son; I finally have rights to see my son, which you know, I just now celebrated five years sober… and she said that I’ve never seen him. But now my son comes down for the summers and for holidays.

I recently got married… the wedding got canceled three times due to COVID. But we finally made it happen on Valentine’s Day this year. We’re going to Hawaii next month for our honeymoon. So that’s awesome.

Towards the end of your stay at Real Recovery, were you nervous about moving out? How was the transition?

Yeah. was that recovery for two years, which at the time was a lot.

I could never imagine myself being at a sober living for two years. But, you know, being able to help people and work, it was comfortable there. I wasn’t sure what to do when I moved or when the right time to move out was, you know, I always thought I’d move out and rent a place with one of my guys from Real Recovery. Figured it’d be a smart way to transition and be independent but still keep that camaraderie plus it’s cheaper, right? And that was kind of the goal.

But one of the big things that happened when I had a year sober is that I met, my now, wife. We dated for a year, and then she wanted me to move in.

I wasn’t sure about that. I knew I wanted to move out with somebody from the house, but she is also in recovery. So we talked about it for a long time.

I remember at one point, I was gonna move out—then I told Pat, I wasn’t ready. I ended up staying another three months and made it happen.

Looking back, how I handled that was the biggest difference between any time before at other halfway houses… I talked about it, you know, my MO with every other halfway houses is that I wouldn’t tell anybody, I would just start getting this plan together to move out. And I would make an impulsive decision.

Whereas this was a six-month process where I was like— “Hey, this is my goal.” This is how much money I want to save up before I move out. These are the things I want to have accomplished already. And I did every single one of those things.

Plus I talked to staff and I talked to Pat and I said—’Hey, what do you think about this? I talked to my sponsor… these were all things that were foreign to me, like, normally, I would just do what I wanted to do. That was the biggest thing.

Sobriety and being in a structured environment taught me that because I, I do well in structure. I’ve always done well in structure. And when I get out of that ‘safe’ environment and structure, that’s where there’s a healthy amount of fear at play. So you those healthy anxious thoughts of —

hey, when I leave this, and I'm not going to have that drug testing over my head anymore, am I going to be able to do this?

Am I being honest with myself?

…and you never know until you actually do it? Right.

Those are the things I did that, now, I know helped keep me sober. I moved out when I was ready and at a solid place in my recovery. But the key is—I stayed involved.

One of the things you hear from guys in my house that want to leave, especially those that leave impulsively, though… they’ll say— “Oh, you’ll see me at meetings, and I’ll come back…” and 99% of those guys you never see again, you know? Whereas for me, it was like I never left. I stayed involved with my network.

Is that what you would say is the biggest thing that really helped—staying connected to the program and building a strong support network?

Yeah, the big thing is having that network, right?

All my best friends today are people that I met at real recovery, like my best man in my wedding, all my closest friends are people I met in sober living, and then some other people I met at meetings, and that’s my group.

If you don’t have people, if you constantly just trying to have this secret part of your life, in my experience, it just doesn’t work out.

I built this group of people that were all going through the same thing that I was, I never felt alone. I could always talk and then the other thing for me is service work.

For me, that meant my first three years of sobriety, I did a meeting at a detox every other week. That’s what my sponsor told me to do, and we brought a meeting into detox every two weeks. And, you know, a lot of those times I did not want to do it. But it’s one of those things that whenever you leave, you always feel good about. And that’s something that I’ve taken into today.

A lot of my service work now comes with sponsoring guys, I try to actively at least sponsor two to three guys at all times. Because I am selfish.

The thing about sobriety is like, life gets really good.

In my experience, I see with a lot of people, when life gets good, it’s very easy to think that that had everything to do with you and you put everything sobriety and program wise on the back burner and your life comes first. And then it’s just it’s a slow decline, you know, so, keeping this thing fresh is really, what has been important to me.

We have those times where you’re just not feeling it, but being able to take a honest look at yourself and say—”Alright, why am I struggling? Why am I doing that?” That’s where a sponsor comes in. That’s where your network comes in, like running ideas off people.

I’ve had an opportunity to watch hundreds of guys try to get and stay sober, those that try to do it on there own and don’t get connected with a group of real guys, they don’t make—at least that’s my experience. Yeah… it’s awkward at the start, trying to make friend but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, you know?

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

Yeah. I try on a daily basis to wake up and start with a prayer. It’s not always a big flashy exercise— a simple “thank you for keeping me sober last night,” or a simple pray that we’ll have a good day but I always try to keep that contact though.

Then for me, what’s always been big is some sort of exercise in the morning. That’s been in my routine since day one, the physical part is key to feeling good.

Then I come to work and I get to really deal with people in the program. I have that luxury here, you know, but one of the biggest things is I can’t make Real Recovery my sobriety. I got to have a separate program for myself.

Just like when I got out of Real Recovery, structure was always big. I have a schedule of meetings I go to every week. Having a home group is important, right?

I have to have a set meeting I go to every single week, so that when I don’t showing up to that… people are really going to notice and be, like— “hey, John’s not here.” And that is a big thing, getting a home group somewhere that you are 100%, no matter what, you’re going to go there every single week, you know, you can make your other meetings in as they go. But that’s been important to me, having a home group, my core group of people that see me every week and also having a service commitment at my home group.

Tips for Family Members Seeking Help for a Loved One

Is there anything you’d say to a family member—a mother, father or spouse, that might be reading your story and looking for sober living or treatment for a loved one… any tips?

Well, let me say this to the families, so I had a unique experience, my mom is a therapist. And so my mom actually started a group due to me called Parents of Addicted Loved Ones. I get to go speak there and see the other side of it, the parents’ side—where they’re dealing with the addict… and you know, that’s a whole another side of it.

So, a lot of times when I talk to parents, they want their children to come in here. The biggest thing I tell them is not to enable their son or the person; if somebody always wants to get help, this is the place that you would help them by getting them in here, don’t give them money and do all that. But if you want to help them attempt sobriety, this is a good place to start.

Considering Sober Living for Yourself?

If someone were reading this, and they were considering getting help or moving into Real Recovery, what would you tell them?

When potential residents are at checking out the Brandon location and you can see they’re just like—”yeah, this looks good. I don’t know if I’m ready.” Is there anything that you would tell them?

Yeah. Definitely. I’ll ask them — “hey, well, what’s your life like now?”

They usually share stuff in their story, like, how bad how bad it is [actively using]. Then I share a bit of my story and tell them—”what’s the worst is going to happen? You give this a shot, you actually stay sober, and life gets really good.”

And the great thing about this is like—”hey, if not, you know we’re more than happy to refund your misery,” right?

That’s what happens when we, addicts and alcoholics pick up… we’re more than happy to try again, and see if your way works out any better.

But I guarantee you this, the thing that Real Recovery does better than anybody else is, and what makes us different is that we actually hold people accountability. Knowing that you do have drug tests does keep people sober, right? Not always, but you definitely take that chance, and it makes you think—‘if I relapse, I’m going to be homeless.’

But more importantly, is the community here, right? And when I have guys around where I can just walk out my room, and I got two or three other guys there and I can just say— ‘Hey, man, I’m having a shitty day.” And I can be able to say that to somebody. They’re like—”hey, I get it, man. I get it.”

We have 55 guys here that are all going through similar situations. But we’re all in different phases of our sobriety. So, you know, we come outside, there’s always somebody playing basketball, there’s always somebody doing something, we have meetings on property.

You just have that community, it’s a lot different than if you’re just living at your mom and dad’s house. You don’t want to talk to your mom and say: “Hey, Mom, I feel like using.” She’s not going to respond well… she’s going to be like— “WHAT? Why do you feel that way?

Whereas, here—we f#cking get it. “Yeah, bro, you feel like using. I get it.” I get it is this is what we’re used to doing. And so now we have to learn a different way to do shit. And that’s what’s recovery is about, doing things differently so we can get different, better results, and have a better life.

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