The Evolution of Recovery and a Younger Me, Part 1
By Travis Pipes
Travis has successfully completed intensive inpatient treatment geared towards dual-diagnosis substance abuse recovery as well as a life-changing 12-step program. He’s a member of the mental health organization ‘CNQR’ (Courage, Normalize, Question, Recovery pronounced ‘conquer’) which promotes elimination of stigma alongside suicide prevention awareness. He was a featured speaker at the 2017 ‘Many Faces Of Mental Illness Conference’ hosted by Siouxland Mental Health at Iowa State University extension. He recently appeared alongside Kris Walker on her blog talk radio show ‘Mental Health News’ discussing his lived experience, viewpoints on mental health and writing as they apply to topics such as stigma, recovery and image in sports and wellness. Travis currently resides in Wisconsin. He’s a published sports writer and studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Visit these websites to read more of his work:
It was May.
The sixth month in a continual downward swing of the 2013 calendar year continued. It wasn’t shaping up quite like I had imagined. I’d struck out on literally every job interview that I’d lined up. Couldn’t get through phone screens without slurring my speech and later getting called out by recruiters for being off. Regularly missed important deadlines and had my editor tell me to take a break starting in week six of the NFL season. I wouldn’t be published again that year.
I was devastated. But I wasn’t.
I’d come to accept the anguish and defeat of those events as my normal.
And yet somehow I’d found peace with the terminal sense of it all. Thirty three years old and at the point of no return.
I couldn’t imagine using anymore. And I couldn’t imagine not.
The nightmarish crossroads of a life spun ridiculously out of control was a violent domestic situation among strangers in the room across from mine at the San Francisco Tenderloin flophouse hotel I’d been staying at.
In the predawn city stillness I was frozen in fear, overcome with loneliness and panic. Painfully aware of how close I was to following through with my plan to stop the pain by stepping in front of a city transit bus.
In a moment of clarity I made a phone call to Kevin Hines- a man who loved me more than I was able to love myself then- and who had incredibly survived his own suicide attempt off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000.
In answering my desperate call for help he showed me that people do have the capacity to listen and that I wasn’t alone.
I hung up the phone, resolved to check myself into inpatient hospital treatment at Merritt Peralta Institute in Oakland, California. In doing so I had a real opportunity to recognize some things about myself and rediscover the hope that is so essential to life.
I no longer wanted to use. I no longer wanted to hide. I no longer wanted to run from what I had to face. I no longer wanted to hang my head in defeat.
I wrote a letter to myself after shooting the gauntlet in that place on the 91st and final day of my program.
At the time I felt like it was an appropriate last activity since I didn’t have the chance to formally acknowledge or say goodbye to the drugs which had essentially robbed me of everything I had created in life and left me teetering on the brink, looking purposefully towards death and the relief I mistakenly felt attempting suicide would bring.
Truthfully, I was angrier than I’d ever been. Grateful, to be sure, for the life treatment had granted me. But still I harbored a seething resentment unlike ever before.
So I wrote it.
A simple four word soliloquy to my former (and only) companion, lover and mistress.
I think about that moment a lot, sitting in that place with my head held high, content in knowing I bid farewell on my terms. Finally at peace in having the last word and taking ownership of my situation as best I knew how.
Armed with a fresh perspective on the challenges of my addiction and a cautiously optimistic mindset I set out to try and live. I folded that letter and tucked it into my pocket.
In the months and years since I got clean from meth I confronted the place in my head that had made those dangerous decisions so easy and so attractive and seemingly so right.
College, I love you.
But I don’t always have to like you.
In saying that to myself as I’ve worked to make amends I’ve also considered exactly what I’d tell a younger version of myself as I ventured off to seek out my path in the world.
I wondered how I’d approach me at that first intimidating keg party in college when I wanted mostly to go home and not really to use cocaine. I’d tell myself there’ll be other women, better ones who love you and not the idea of this fast and dangerous life they praised.
I wanted to put my arms around me and whisper it’s definitely a good idea for me to take a break and despite being so in tune with everybody else’s needs to make time for his own.
I’d quickly, steadfastly point out that the goal isn’t to seek acceptance among fast, new friends and follow through on that incessant, desperate need to fit in.
I’d point out the beauty of life and the commitments we make to others and how being present is what matters. And that I was good enough not to have to lie at every turn to find that empty approval.
How would I explain to an 18, 19, 20 or 21 year old me that the best relationships were the ones forged in trust, honesty and integrity?
It was a fact I’ve always denied myself…
As the cliché goes, college was all about maximizing the “best time of my life” and continually built on a foundation based on what I thought others perceived about me. I had a misplaced sense of security.
I didn’t pay enough attention to me.
What I know now is that life is full of trial and error. I learned to project. But I didn’t always have to lie. The key to escaping my childhood trauma was to get lost in the big city and within myself. Or so I thought.
By stumbling into the world of drugs I quickly found that escape, initially, was the easy part. It’s always been easy to cut and run.
In living on the edge I became the life of the party. Always smiling. Having a great time. I worked tirelessly to convince myself that I wasn’t just okay, I was living the fucking dream.
Despite a frequently over drafted bank account and a naive sense of immortality, I avoided what was really going on within me.
Inside, I was disconnected. Depressed. Full of anxiety and fear. And a sense of hopelessness that crept in whenever I wasn’t hammered or high or day dreaming about both.
And I was afraid to talk about those things. I thought it showed weakness.
So I kept on, night after night, blacking out, numbing out, risk taking, burning bridges—the works.
But life isn’t about living in the past. That’s the biggest lesson here. I’ve found that to be very true.
So as summer unfolds and yet another academic year lay just over the horizon I often think about what that younger version of me and the message of hope I want to instill.
Truthfully, a large part of life- not just my personal recovery- is in the lessons learned. I check in with myself regularly and practice self-awareness that supports a healthy lifestyle. I pay attention. And I ask questions more than ever.
And in doing these things I think what would Travis circa 2001 do when faced with the kinds of emotional challenges that exist in the world?
There are four key areas that I believe are critical to remaining focused not just in school but in life.
In part two of this series we’re going to dive deeper into the four key areas below that I believe are critical to healthier living mentally well.
Much like the declaration of majors, new friendships, classes, and homework of college, I feel we need to stress choosing positivity and a willingness to talk and remain hopeful rather than negativity and hopelessness.
The four key areas:
- Purpose – What gives me a sense of fulfillment and joy in life?
- Community – Who are we connected to that supports talking openly and honestly especially when things are tough?
- Integrity – What are we doing to be of service to others who need help? Do we demonstrate honesty, loyalty and compassion?
- Action – Am I willing to put the effort into living better, mentally well?
The common theme here is the restoration of hope in the journey. I’m a testament to that.
Hope is the one thing that kept me going, especially early on in recovery. Feeling that it’s OK to talk was so important for me. And being able to rely on people I trusted was essential.
It’s also imperative to appreciate that life, as it has been in treatment, will probably always be a winding road. Filled with plenty of unforeseen challenges.
But also full of opportunity.
Next time we’ll discuss how to not only embrace these ideals but also practice self-care with the goal of achieving success in all aspects of life.
Remember you do deserve to be happy. You’re good enough. And you are amazing.
Until next time.
If you need support now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or, text “START” to 741-741 to get help 24/7 from the Crisis Text Line.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal, and not those of the Jordan Porco Foundation. The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as mental health advice from the individual author or the Jordan Porco Foundation. You should consult a mental health professional for advice regarding your individual situation.