Posted on September 27, 2018
The first-ever AA meeting I went to was in prison, and I didn’t speak. I didn’t stand up, didn’t say my name, and certainly didn’t tell my story. I did one thing though - I listened. I listened to other inmates telling the story of their life before that day. And, in my own way, I allowed myself to hope that my story was unfinished, that there was more to my being here, and my being alive than this.
At that point in my life, for what it was, I had no idea if there was any more to my story, anything that would one day be worth telling, to be worth sharing. As a famous writer once said, “It is the tale, not he who tells it.” So, here it is - this is my story, my tale.
My name is Andy and I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict.
I guess where your life begins is a lottery, and mine began in the murder capital of the world - Medellin, Colombia. The daily homicides, violence, and fear prompted my parents to get us all to the U.S., and, by hook or by crook, they managed it. I swapped streets filled with drug cartel murders and shoot-outs to ones bathing in the southern California sunshine. My childhood? Nothing to complain about and nothing to predict the path I would eventually follow.
If you know anything about Colombians, you know they love to party, to rumba, salsa, and fiesta with the best of them. One such occasion (I was about 9 years old) stands out. All the family was there, along with our American friends and neighbors. The aguardiente, a strong Colombian alcoholic drink with an anise taste, was flowing. I managed to sneak my first ever shot from a worse-for-wear uncle, and I was gone - I loved the taste, the relaxed feeling and the glow it gave me. I loved the escape, and, yes, I fell in love.
As I grew, so did my desire for that escape, that high. At 13, I smoked my first joint, and, by 19, I was hooked on meth. And when you reach that point, you’ll take and do anything to stay on the rollercoaster ride, to keep that buzz going and going. Cocaine was no longer my party drug of choice, it was breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And it was no surprise to my saddened family when my sorry self-was threw in jail at the age of 22.
My initial sole purpose for going to AA and NA meetings while incarcerated was simple - to get out of my cell. For the first couple of months, I never contributed, never answered any questions, or even spoke. But, like I said at the beginning of this tale, I listened.
Every so often, someone would share something that hit a nerve or that I could really relate to and understand. One day, this old guy stood up and shared his story of alcohol addiction. One look at his face told you all you needed to know about the cards he was dealt, even the kind of card games he played in. There had been a woman, one who loved him dearly, had tried to help him with his addiction, nursed and comforted him when he’d been beaten, and made his excuses for him.
He woke up from a blackout one day, and she was gone. No note, no clothes in the wardrobe, no makeup on the sink. The only person who ever had his back had made her choice. Anything but this.
Why did this resonate so hard with me? My parents, who I love dearly. He spoke of this woman with the same regard I thought I gave them. Yes, it didn’t take very long to see that I had done very little in my life to make them proud of their son. This man and woman had risked everything, probably even more than that, to get their children away from a city riddled with violence, hate, corruption, and murder.
And how had I shown my love? This. Booze, drugs, prison. If you can put your recovery down to one moment of clarity, that was mine. From then on, in my meetings, I started to speak up and to share.
I’m an agnostic - I can’t believe in a God I have no experience of. Did that cause a problem when considering the existence of a higher power during all those jail-time meetings? Quite simply, no. That old guy I mentioned above? He’d had the Big Book printed out by a friend outside, and he gave me Chapter 4 of it to read. When I had finished it for the third time, I tried to give it back. He wouldn’t take it.
I have never found God, let’s make that clear. I have, however, found a spiritual belief that is the higher power, my higher power, that I need to continually help me overcome my drug and alcohol addictions every single day.
Life in prison got easier. Every day, I would read more of the Big Book (my Mom visited me with a copy as soon as I summoned up the courage to tell her about the meetings I was going to), and I was trying my best to work the 12 Steps. Funnily enough, I started to fear my release date.
To summarize, I got out, got a job, did very well, made some money, and relapsed to the point of near death. My parents got me into their car and into a rehab in the next state over. I have no doubt that they saved my life with that decision.
Rehab gave me exactly what I needed to help me begin my alcohol and drug addiction recovery. With the help of daily AA and NA meetings, the whole 6-month experience gave me the opportunity to begin again, to deal with my demons, deal with my fears, and deal with living my life in a different way.
When I left, the first thing I did was find a sponsor. He pulled no punches - he only agreed to be so on the condition I went back to college, studied hard, found something I was good at, and that I could make a positive life from. I liked the whole concept of simple communication (telling a story people could relate to) and I chose digital marketing. He also said I had to attend one meeting a day for the next 90 days, and gave me a little diary to record them in. I did as he asked.
Nine years down the road, and I’m back in Medellin, a successful entrepreneur running a successful digital marketing agency. We have a lot in common, this city and I. We’ve both grown up considerably in recent years, we’re a lot safer to be around, and we’ve learned. We’ve learned that you can make fundamental changes for a better way, and you can change your direction with hard work and a new attitude. Most importantly, I feel at home here. One day, my parents will join me (my brother already has), and they will live in a house I bought for them, and simply enjoy being back home themselves.
So, that is my tale - a Colombian immigrant child, a drug addict and alcoholic, an ex-convict, and a successful digital marketing entrepreneur and businessman. Most of all, I’m this - I’m another person in recovery, who, with the help of loving parents, drug rehab, the ongoing support of both my AA and NA meetings and the friends I have made there, will stay this way - in recovery. The only other option for me is one I will not entertain.
One last thing. If you, like me, are an agnostic or have trouble with the higher power element of fellowship meetings, let me say this. If you are an alcoholic or an addict, there already is something in your life more powerful than you. Find a better one.