If there is one thing I learned when recovering from addiction, it is that the path you have to climb is long and hard. The steps are not straight and most certainly don’t always go up. The pathway to a successful recovery is a twisted one that has no actual end. It is always ongoing, but will get better one step at a time. With this in mind, I would like to share with you my own winding path through recovery and towards sobriety and entrepreneurship.
From Addiction to Entrepreneurship: My Recovery Story
I avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.
– Charlotte Brontë
Becoming an alcoholic
My parents moved from Latin America to California when I was 5 years old; that was back in 1993. Our origins are important, since, as Latinos, we often grow up surrounded by parties and booze — alcohol is almost an obligation when you gather with friends or family. This of course doesn’t mean that all Latinos are alcoholics or anything of the sort, but just that such gatherings are fairly regular.
I can clearly remember the first time I got drunk. I was just eight years old, and it was at a family gathering. Alcohol was being passed around to all the adults, and I, naturally curious, asked if I could have some. They said no, because I was too young. But as the party kept going and everyone got too drunk or busy to pay attention to me, I took my first drink. I didn’t particularly like the taste, but it felt somewhat empowering. So I kept going.
At 18, I met cocaine and meth at a college party, and my journey towards the worst chapter in my life began.
A little later in my life, when I was 14, I encountered marijuana. Trying it was a bit frightening. I was young and stupid, and because all the cool older kids were doing it, I had to do it too. I started and could not stop. At 18, I met cocaine and meth at a college party, and my journey towards the worst chapter in my life began. It hit a milestone when I was 23 years old, and I was incarcerated in Colorado on drug-related charges for two and a half years.
I will not go into the sordid details about the hardest and ugliest parts of my addiction story; they are very similar to anything you might have read. Even though it was difficult and it taught me many things, the important part of my story, and of my recovery, is what happened next.
The Anonymous support groups
I first heard about Alcoholics Anonymous when I was in jail. At first, it was something I was doing just to get out of my confinement. It was better to hear unimportant things (I thought at the time) than to be stuck in my little cell.
That was the moment I realized that I had addiction and life problems, for real.
About three months after I started attending, another inmate told his story about having hit rock-bottom, in which he explained how he ended up with the rest of us. He started drinking and lost control. One day, when he was very moody because he didn’t have a lot of money, he had a violent argument with his ex-wife. He took his car and smashed it through the wall of an empty store. He woke up in the hospital and two days later, he was locked up.
He knew that if that hadn’t happened he could have ended up hurting his wife, or even taking his own life. He realized then that he had a serious problem and that, ironically, jail was giving him a second chance.
It was hard to hear. I was so sure that I had everything under control, and that it was only the others there who had problems. I hadn’t yet grasped just how deep my own problems were. That was the moment I realized that I had addiction and life problems, for real.
The many faces of addiction: the workaholic
After I got out of prison things did not get easier. I struggled to find a job, and despite attending Alcholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings on a regular basis, I was relapsing; addiction was still a big problem. Life seemed unbearable, so I decided to check into a rehab center in Colorado.
When I finished my rehab process, I felt great, and thought that I was ready to face the world and get on with my new sober life. I was sadly mistaken, however, and relapsed after only a few months. I was fresh out of prison, not knowing what to do. I had no other choice but to concentrate on something else to avoid going back to alcohol or drugs.
I moved to northern California and got a job selling cheap perfumes. I started at 5:00AM every day and visited flea markets, gas stations, shopping centers and even streets, also selling the cologne from my house. I learned how to speak to people on the street, and how to interest them in my product so they would buy it. It wasn’t long before I started making some money, which got me feeling positive and confident. I was sure I could become the best salesman around.
Trading a drug or alcohol addiction for a work addiction was simply walking the same path with a different name.
My focus helped me improve, and soon I was teaching other people to sell the perfumes successfully. I had my own office and was working overtime, but had an effective little business going. I had become obsessed with being successful. But it wasn’t in a healthy way.
I was still attending (although not often) my AA and NA meetings, and my sponsor at the time, Steve, seeing how much weight I’d lost and how much I was losing myself (again), gave me a book to read called ‘Psychologically Unemployable’, by Jeffery Combs.
With that book, my sponsor wanted to show me that passion was not the same as obsession, and that trading a drug or alcohol addiction for a work addiction was simply walking the same path with a different name. This made me extremely sad as I realized I was still an addict by heart. I sold my business and decided to move back to my parents’ house in southern California.
Moving back with my folks was the best decision I could have made; in them, I found help and support through my depression. Over two months later, I found an NA/AA community and started attending the meetings. I also found an amazing sponsor. I started to work at Target just to pass the time and help pay the bills.
My sponsor saw potential in me, and being the amazing guy that he was, he made a compromise with me: he would keep working with me on the condition that I signed up for some classes at the local community college. They could be anything, so long as I liked it.
This didn’t make sense to me, and I was really not interested at first. I just wanted to keep at staying sober, do my job, and pay the bills. Nonetheless, I forced myself to go to the nearest campus and get into the only class that caught my attention. It was called “Introduction to Website Development (HTML).” Websites and computers held my interest at one point of my sober life, so I felt it was worth it to give it a chance.
In just three months, I had filled my bedroom with books about designing websites. I spent hours at the computer doing research, reading, learning, and coding. Then I thought how amazing it would be if I could create a company from the skills I was learning.
I learned to be successful while enjoying life and not letting work rob me of important moments.
Long story short, here I am today, almost six years later. I have worked hard while keeping my life in check, and I am the co-owner of a successful coding agency. My team feels like family, and, I was able to give my brother a job.
Even though I have been sober for five years, I still attend meetings almost religiously. I got used to the amazing feeling of being sober. It became a part of my daily life and gets easier with each passing day.
As to my company, I learned to be successful while enjoying life and not letting work rob me of important moments. Part of success is not losing yourself to your job; you have to love your life and enjoy it, and love your job so it is not a nuisance. I learned that my business was very similar to my sobriety: one step at a time I had to build it, and one step at a time I had to savor it.
It’s about more than just myself
When you are going through recovery, you are taught that the first and most important thing is yourself. Everything you do, every step you take, every task you complete, has to revolve around you and your recovery, and this is very important.
However, after a few months, or perhaps years, of working through your recovery, you come to the realization that the whole process is bigger than you are. You will come to help others, you will build and educate a family, you will love your job, your family, your spouse; you may even be the next biggest entrepreneur. Believe me when I tell you, maybe now you don’t feel very inspired, but everything happens for a reason and the path you took towards sobriety will pay off, big time.
Don’t give up, and thank you for taking the time to read my story.