As a new patient at Bradford Health Service’s Warrior Lodge addiction treatment facility, Adam Owens focused on the differences between himself and his peers.
He was 23 years old with a bachelor’s degree, and even though his addiction had put him through the wringer, the stories of the men who sat in therapy groups beside him were nothing like him.
“Some of the guys were older, and I remember hearing some of their stories and thinking, ‘I didn’t do that. I didn’t have that consequence,’” he says. “But then I remember one of them looking at me and saying, ‘And you don’t have to.’ That was a real pivotal moment for me — realizing that I didn’t have to go down that road. That’s when I decided, ‘If it only gets worse, let me see what this thing is about.”
“This thing” is almost 15 years of recovery and a life he never dreamed was possible when he first checked into treatment. He’s 38 years old, married, and the father of a 5-year-old son who is his pride and joy.
“My son has never seen me drunk or high, and I am grateful for that,” Adam says. “I have friends from all over the world because of recovery. I am respected in my field and was able to go back to school when I was 31, graduating with my master’s at 33. In college, I went from a 2.2 GPA the first time to a 4.0 the second time. I spend time with my family and have coached my son’s T-ball team.”
That he’s able to be a part of life instead of existing in its shadows is something he traces back to his time in treatment. Like many addicts and alcoholics, however, he didn’t arrive at Warrior Lodge brimming with optimism.
“I went to get people off my back, to smooth things over in relationships, to have a place to sleep,” he says. “I had an apartment, but the lease was up, and there was no power. When I got there, I started listening to people who had experienced what I had gone through, and I realized, ‘Wait, they feel the same way I do.’ That’s what I got from it — they made me feel as if recovery was possible, that I could have fun in recovery, that I could be happy in recovery.”
After completing treatment, he was able to establish a firm foundation for making the right decisions. He moved in with a friend’s family, but despite going to meetings and staying clean, he was unwilling to follow the rules and got kicked out. It was then that he drew on the lessons imparted at Warrior Lodge and reached out to his sponsor.
“I said, ‘Man, I think I’m just going to go get high,’ and he said, ‘Do me a favor: Say a prayer and ask your Higher Power to take you where you need to go,’” Adam says. “The next 20 minutes are a blur; I just remember I showed up to a sober living facility 20 minutes later. Had I not picked up that phone and called my sponsor, and had I not been doing the right thing up to that point, I would have gotten high. At that moment, I realized that I didn’t want to go back to using.”
That particular incident taught him a valuable lesson: that life has a way of falling into place by keeping his recovery first.
“I would tell someone in early recovery that it gets better and that the work that they are doing is the key to a good life today,” he says. “I tend to remind the guys I sponsor that getting clean and sober is honestly pretty easy today … but staying clean and sober is the hard part. I encourage people to keep recovery first no matter how long they have been clean and sober, but especially early in recovery.”
It’s not a change that happens overnight, because like everyone else in recovery, Adam didn’t become addicted in a day. Despite his educational and vocational success, the end of his run in active addiction was disastrous.
“My last night, I made a fool of myself, and the few people that loved and tolerated me walked out on me because of my behavior,” he says. “I drove home drunk, and I had no recollection of how I got home or if I had hit someone. It was time to get help, and I decided to reach out. I ended up in the ER that night and was at treatment the next day.”
Today, he’s an Intensive Outpatient Program counselor in Bradford’s Birmingham Regional Office. Now he finds himself dispensing some of the same advice he received nearly 15 years ago.
“The stubbornness, the denial, the putting their feet down and saying they don’t want to do it — man, I get that because that was me,” he says. “But I had a patient tell me the other day, at the end of group, that I make group enjoyable. And I just said, ‘I appreciate that because I love what I do, and I love being with you guys because you’re me.’
“That’s what I love about this process — getting to watch them grow. I get emails from former patients who reach out to let me know they’re celebrating eight months clean or two years clean. I enjoy being able to have that connection with patients the way the staff did with me.”