Sean’s Recovery Story

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Sean’s Recovery Story

“Heroin will take everything from you.”

Sean’s story begins as many addiction stories unfortunately do: experimenting with drugs as a child too young to really understand the risks in doing so. He recalls smoking marijuana with friends on the weekends during his middle school years. Looking back now, he can see the signs of early addiction even then.

“I knew it was an issue when, come Monday morning, I wanted to keep smoking. I wanted to go to school high and none of my friends wanted to. I would spend nights trying to think of ways I could get weed from somebody else and possibly numb myself while going into school.”

“At 12 years old I was perfectly aware that I had a want to escape.”

Growing up the youngest child of a single mother, Sean was sensitive and soft-hearted in a way that was not acceptable to those around him. Though he found joy early in life through a love of football, it wasn’t until recently that he realized there was a unhealed wound from those early years, too.

“I was always seeking attention in whatever ways I could receive it — negative or positive. I had a fear of abandonment, a fear of loss, because my dad wasn’t there and it was just my mom raising me and my sister. I wasn’t even aware I had abandonment issues, but I was afraid to get vulnerable with anybody. I’m a sensitive soul, I have an extremely sensitive nature and I knew that at a young age. I was afraid of horror movies, I was afraid of crying in front of my masculine friends or my buddies or anybody on my sports team. So numbing was really a way to not allow that sensitive side to be seen.” 

While football gave him a positive outlet and taught him valuable lessons in determination, discipline, and teamwork, it also enforced those messages of toxic masculinity.

“In a sport like football you’re supposed to be tough– you’re supposed to be strong. And as men in our culture we’re taught that… As a child it’s ‘be strong’, ‘be a leader,’ and ‘don’t show weakness.’ That’s probably the number one message I got from all my friends, all my peers, all my coaches, all my role models: don’t show weakness. Don’t cry, don’t be sensitive, toughen up.”

Despite trying his best to live up to these expectations, Sean continued to struggle. Faced with the repeated rejection of his true self, he learned to put up a façade and play the part of what others expected of him. He used smoking and drinking alcohol to numb himself and help him get through the day, recalling bringing a water bottle filled with vodka to school on the first day of Freshman year just to calm his nerves.

Even so, football remained his first great love. He maintained good grades to be able to continue playing with his team mates, and even earned some interest from college recruiters. Football brought him friends, girls, and popularity. Lacking an internal validation system, Sean craved the status being the star football player earned him. 

Then it was all ripped away.

Sean broke his collarbone in his Freshman year and was unable to play football for two years. The scholarship offers dried up. His friends and teammates moved on without him. The girls lost interest, and he was left feeling like he lost it all. The pain of it left him spiraling, but he found a new way to escape: prescription opioids. Because of his injury, doctors prescribed him the powerful painkiller Percocet, which he quickly began to abuse. He describes feeling  warm, secure, and comforted when abusing the pills, leaving him to quickly develop a new addiction.

“Losing all that– I have now found the substance that comforts me, nurtures me, that makes me forget about everything that’s falling down around me and it provides safety and security while numbing.”

Hooked on a new substance, his behavior shifted drastically. He was expelled from three different schools in his Freshman year for misconduct and fighting and sent to live with his father. While his mother hoped this move would help straighten him out, he only continued to get worse until he ended up in an alternative education program.

It was here that he found support and mentorship from others he felt actually understood him. Seeing the way they had turned their lives around encouraged Sean to do the same.

That was the first time I saw my ability to transform. I stopped smoking weed at the time, got my grades up, started listening to all the authorities in my life, listening to my mom. If you ask my family that was probably the best version of me they’d seen up until that point.

Back on the right track, Sean enrolled in college and returned to his love of football. His confidence returned, as did all the external validators he so heavily relied on.

I always derived my internal meaning through the external. Now at 32 I know it’s the opposite, but what football brought me at a young age was status. It brought me women, it brought me friends, it brought me comradery. It brought me hard work, discipline and taught me all of these things, but that wasn’t the reason I loved it. I loved it because of the status and the women and being popular. I loved that. I didn’t realize that what I really loved was the comradery: being with my brothers and going through a battle and having to overcome something and being a leader. The one thing football taught me was to be a leader.”

Then, right as it seemed everything was finally back in place, devastation struck again. In his very first game back on the field, Sean broke his collarbone for a second time.

“It literally felt like I lost my wife or my girlfriend forever. Because all of my meaning had been derived through that status and through that identification with ‘I’m a tough football player. I’m popular and I can do anything.’”

Distraught and directionless, Sean quickly slipped back into old habits, abusing Percocet once more. He recalls realizing he should inform his doctor about his previous substance abuse issues, but choosing not to. However, even without that information, the doctor refused to refill his prescription after the pills dried up. Previous experience dealing with withdrawal left Sean desperate for a solution and he found one.

“That point is what led me down the darkest road. I started seeking heroin, I started seeking those drugs that give you the same feeling and won’t let you be sick. But they will literally tear your soul out and take everything you’ve ever known and you’ve ever valued– that status, making my parents proud, the girl, I lost all of it.”

“Once I lost all that I had no meaning. And that’s probably the scariest place a human being can get, when you have no meaning.”

In the grips of deep addiction, Sean lost his drive and passion for life. He recalls the darkest point in his life, saying:

“Heroin addiction looks different for everybody, but it is a dark, soulless pit where you are willing to step on anybody, even yourself, your morals, your values, you’re willing to hurt your family or anyone else around you just to get reprieve or even feel normal.

When I was taking pills I was taking them to escape. By the point that I got to heroin it was no longer to escape. It was to maintain, to just be able to wake up in the morning. The sickness and the crawls that you get up and down your spine, the feeling of not sleeping and your demons coming up in your brain and tormenting you all night. The darkest memories I have are those nights in heroin addiction at 4:30 in the morning and I haven’t slept for three or four days and I’m homeless in Miami on the beach knowing that I had such a great life that I had given away just to feel normal. It was just to feel normal.”

Like many others living with addiction, Sean’s recovery journey is anything but a straight line. He entered treatment multiple times only to leave against medical advice after a few days, driven by the bone deep need to get high. Even knowing the pain his addiction caused his family couldn’t draw him out of the darkness.

“My mother would cry every night calling Mike [Boland]  to come find me because I’d left this facility. The thing that means the most to me in my life is my family and knowing that I had no ability to stop that… that’s what heroin does. It gives you no control.”

Lost, in pain, and suicidal, Sean recalls the exact moment everything changed.

“At the end of that dark hole, my last prayer was ‘either kill me or use me. Either take me off this Earth, or use me.’ And the next day Mike [Boland] flew me down for the last time that I was here, October 1st, 2016.”

Now four years later, Sean can look back on his journey and those dark days and find value in his experiences.

“Even in that darkness I was a leader. I still had a good heart. The amount of people I saved from overdosing when everybody around me wanted to run and leave them. The darkest moments are where I found the person I truly am.

Still, recovery was not an easy road for Sean; undoing decades of trauma and unlearning harmful coping mechanisms never is. He recalls spending the first week of treatment sleeping and refusing to participate in groups, rebelling and angry even as he recognized his need for help. The tipping point? One moment of earnest connection with Michael Boland, the man who brought him in. Boland had maintained communication with Sean over the years even when he wasn’t ready to commit to treatment.

“At a time when nobody cared and nobody sees you except the destruction that you’re causing, he had the ability to look through the chaos and see my heart and see what I had to offer this world. In those moments when I think back, I didn’t have any belief system in myself and I didn’t believe that I could get here, but I trusted him. I trusted his belief system. And he saved my life. This place saved my life.

Harbor Village has helped Sean rediscover his light and purpose through recovery. We’re here for you, too. All it takes is one phone call. 855-306-8054.

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