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The Gift of Recovery: An Alcoholic’s Journey

Oct 31, 2017   Writing the recovery stories is a real privilege. Every time I get to know my co-workers a little more and my understanding of recovery grows a little deeper. Today was no different. I had the opportunity to spend time with Spencer Meng, Admissions Specialist at Granite Recovery Centers. Every morning Spencer’s office is the first one I stop in on and the last one as I leave. Typically, Spencer is one of the first people in the office and almost always the last one to leave. What he does… I asked Spencer to begin by explaining his role. “Well if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction you give us a call. I am the first person that a potential client or loved one speaks with if they or someone they know is struggling with alcohol or other drugs.” Spencer stated. “So, may I call you if I didn’t know what to do? If my loved one was struggling and I didn’t know where to start; may I call you for that?” I asked Spencer. “We definitely provide guidance and sometimes we are just a lending ear, which I love. I had someone call the other day. There was a language barrier but I believe he was a pastor at a church and he said that he recognized that a family had a loved one that was struggling and he didn’t know where to turn. I walked him through the process of what to do and how to reach out to the family. I gave him my direct number, if he needed more help. That is what this is all about for me, as a man in recovery, helping the next person who is struggling. Regardless of if we can help them directly at our facilities, it is about helping that next person, and that is what the 12 Steps are all about.” Spencer continued. “That is why I am so passionate about what I do and I love doing what I do. I showed interest when I was still in phase two at The Granite House, I wanted to get into admissions. And Eric, (CEO) and Curt, (COO) politely told me, to just finish out my program at The Granite House first.” “You weren’t quite ready yet.” I quipped. “No. But I was eager to start helping others.” Spencer said. How he got here… “Well that leads me to my next question Spencer. How did you get here?” Spencer smiled. “I started to abuse alcohol and drugs in high school. My first drink was when I was 14, New Year’s Eve, in my parents’ cabin in upper Michigan. I didn’t really start to get into it until high school. Two weeks before I went to college, my girlfriend at the time, died in a car accident. I said I wasn’t ready to go to college. My parents sought professional help and the professional said it would be best for me to go to college to distract me. I went to college, it distracted me, but not in the right way. I joined a fraternity and the disease just got worse. I somehow graduated college after five and a half years, with my BA in English composition. I thought I would be a teacher. I stayed on the college campus after graduation for another year. I moved to Atlanta and became a DJ and I got into that whole scene of the club life and after parties. I was a DJ until about 2 am and then would go to an after party until about 6 am. I would sleep for a few hours, get up, DJ a pool party until about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, sleep for a few hours, and then get up and DJ at night and the cycle continued.” Spencer told me this went on for three and a half years. I was tired just hearing that he kept this up for so long. Spencer continued. “That was when everything really started to get out of hand. At one point I hadn’t spoken with my family in about a month. My father, my brother, and brother-in-law flew down and spoke with the leasing office to break down the door and I wasn’t there. It is just an example of how this disease does not just affect the individual, it affects all of those around them. My family knew I was doing something and it was out of control. But then they found me and I said, no everything is ok. That is the problem. A lot of times families are not educated to this disease, they do not understand what is truly going on. They want so badly to help their loved one, that they think letting them do what they want to do is the best thing for them when it’s actually hurting them. In 2003, I was in my apartment with a friend. They had a huge bottle of vodka, they drank about a quarter of it and I drank the other 3 quarters. I was sitting there at about 1:30 in the morning and I said, ‘I think I have a drinking problem.’ They looked back at me and sarcastically responded, ‘Ya think?’” Spencer went on to explain that he had an epiphany and called his sister for help. Less than a week later his entire family was at his door, his mother holding a manila envelope. Spencer had watched the show Intervention so he knew that letters were in the envelope and he just said to them, “yes.” He went to a rehab for thirty days. Less than thirty days after leaving he relapsed and was quickly drinking as much or more than he was drinking before he went in. Spencer went back to the same rehab, and after 30 days he left. He got a job at a hotel, within 30 days of working he was promoted to Front Desk Supervisor and his disease progressed. The downward spiral… I asked Spencer to clarify for me how he continued to drink and get promoted so quickly. “My work was good. But the addiction was creeping back up. I have always had a good work ethic. But the disease was more powerful, because I did start drinking on the job. It progressed to the point where I was drinking a pint of Vodka while at work. One night I left. I was so drunk, by the time I was about to get home, that I pulled over to take a nap. I woke up to a police officer tapping on my window. I had pulled over 3 blocks from my house. The car was running. The officer asked me where I lived and I was so intoxicated I had no idea. I got out of the car, like he asked, and in a full suit immediately fell to the ground. I got up and I just put my hands behind my back. He did a breathalyzer and at the time I didn’t know why but the officer said we need to get you to the hospital. They breathalyzed me again at the hospital and the nurse looked like she had seen a ghost. I blew a .365. She asked me how I was standing and I said, ‘tolerance’. I lost my license for five years.” “That is good.” I replied. “You lost your license for five years.” “Well, you would think it would be good but in an alcoholic’s mind it means I get to ride around on a bicycle and not worry about being pulled over and could just be wasted 24/7. Which is pretty much what I did for the next 5 years.” Spencer replied. Spencer did go to rehab one more time. He got out and started drinking again. He started using crack cocaine for a bit. He failed a drug test at the hotel he was working at and got fired. Spencer easily found a job at another hotel, the next town over. He continued to drink. “At this point I was drinking every waking moment. And in May of 2013, I was waiting for a ride and the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance because I had a seizure from alcohol withdrawal and malnutrition. I was in the hospital for a week. I didn’t have any friends; a neighbor came to bring me clothes and that was it.” Secrets can be exhausting… “All this time, I am telling my parents I am staying sober 6 months here, I relapsed, but sober again and going to meetings. My parents had no idea. I would see my parents for dinner once and awhile but never long enough for them to know.” I asked Spencer to clarify how is parents could not know when he was with them. “I would pound a few beers before I went so I wouldn’t have the shakes and then stay far enough away.” Spencer stated. “Would you drink during the meal?” I inquired. “I would drink non-alcoholic beer, which has some alcohol in it. That was my way around them smelling alcohol on me. I did this often, even at family reunions. I would chug a real beer and then come back outside with a non-alcoholic beer.” Spencer went on to say that he told his parents he had a CAT scan and the seizure was not related to alcohol. He even convinced himself that the doctor was wrong and really all he needed to do was eat more. Of course, when Spencer got out of the hospital after his first seizure he bought more alcohol, not food. On July 11, 2014, Spencer headed home to Green Bay, Wisconsin for a family reunion. While there Spencer kept busy trying to keep his secret and doing his dance between chugging beer when no one was looking and sipping non-alcoholic beer when everyone was watching. On Saturday, July 12, Spencer went tubing with his family. When he got home his sister told him how horrible he looked. He tried to blow it off and take a shower. Spencer said, “after showering, I went to my parents’ backyard and the next thing I knew I woke up and my brother, who is an RN, was in front of me. Apparently, I was sitting next to my brother and father and had a seizure and my brother caught me so I didn’t crack my head open. That shocked everyone.” “Did you keep drinking?” I asked. “I did.” Spencer did a little more. That evening he presented to his parents a one-year chip that he had bought off eBay. As Spencer was telling me this I tried to hide my smile. “It’s okay Sarah, you can laugh! It’s that crazy.” The next morning Spencer’s parents brought him to the hospital to be sure everything was okay after his seizure. Spencer told his nurse that he had a seizure in Florida and he signed a release for his medical records. “When the nurse came back in she stated, ‘You said you had one seizure before correct?’ I responded ‘yes’, she said ‘try eight, this was your ninth seizure in 15 months.’ The look on my parents’ faces at that moment, (Spencer paused choking back tears), is definitely one I never want to see again.” A commitment to change… Spencer voluntarily committed to 45 days of treatment on July 14, 2014. 25 days into his primary treatment, he was presented with options for extended care. Spencer chose the Granite House in New Hampshire, he said he did this largely because of the 12 Step work The Granite house offers. Spencer did well at The Granite House, eventually becoming the phase 3 house manager. After months of pleading to join the admissions team, in January of 2016, Spencer became the Granite Recovery Centers’ Admissions Coordinator and now an Admissions Specialist. “One of the things that is great about recovery is you turn from being the black sheep in the family to someone who is celebrated. Life is good. The old Spencer is gone and I thank God for that every day. It’s simple. I get on my knees in the morning and ask for his help and I thank him at the end of the day. I have a beautiful fiancé, a loving family, and a great job; my life is pretty darn good today. I have come a long way from three and a half years ago.” Spencer stated. On when to make a change… “Spencer, while you were an active alcoholic, you still maintained your job, and even got promoted.” “Yes.” Spencer replied. “But, I could have done better.” “Spencer there are people out there who have not had a seizure or lost their license but are drinking to an access or using drugs. They may be secretive about their use, they may or may not be feeling the physical and emotional symptoms. What would you say to them?”Sometimes you may not think you have a problem until you start speaking with someone who has admitted they have a problem. Often you are justifying and that is what I did for a long time. I like the metaphor of your bottom is like an elevator, it doesn’t really matter which floor you get off on, as long as you are willing to take the steps back up.” Spencer went on to add that on page 31 of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous there is a poignant excerpt: “Here are some of the methods we have tried: Drinking beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums-we could increase the list ad infinitum.” “That is an important point Spencer, everyone’s low is different.” “Absolutely I have had people call me and say, ‘I have lost everything, I am homeless so I want treatment.’ I have had others who say, ‘I haven’t lost everything, but I don’t want to get there.’” Spencer went on to say there are many ways to reach out for help, and reaching out does not mean you are committed to anything. What does recovery feel like? “Spencer, in a word, what does recovery feel like?” “A gift.” Spencer explained, “At night when I thank God for getting through today it is because I have been given this gift of sobriety and recovery. Sobriety, you can be away from a drink, but recovery and practicing the principles, and living a life like a man in recovery, it is a gift. The gift that I get to give. That this journey gives to others. The happy tears that my parents have now. The gift of being a true son.” Thank you, Spencer Meng, for being so open and honest. It is an honor to work with you every day.   Contact us today to find out how we can help you or a loved one find life and hope in sobriety. Our dedicated and knowledgeable staff are ready to help. 866-453-5930.

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