Last month, I marked a significant milestone in my life as I celebrated 30 years of sobriety. Those who have known me since my early years can vouch for the fact that I was indeed a wayward youth. Though I never got into significant trouble, by the time my twenties were in full swing, it became clear that I was a young man in need of an intervention.
Happily, I got sober in my twenties and have remained so ever since. Thank goodness for not-so-small miracles. For many years, I was hesitant to talk about my past, and equally hesitant to admit to being in recovery. Fear of judgment drove my choices.
The reality of my world today is that I am not the person I once was and that chapter of my life is now far behind. However, I have remained very active in the local recovery community since I first got sober. And, in what amounts to a “whoever would have thought it,” moment, being a sober person in recovery has made my brain injury journey easier. In fact, it literally saved my life.
In my early years of sobriety, I learned that support group meetings save lives. Just “being” in the presence of others who shared my challenges made me feel less alone. Better still, there are knowledge pools in which to swim when people of shared fates are together. During the process of getting sober, meetings became an oasis for me.
It should come as no surprise that when I sustained my traumatic brain injury in 2010, one of the first things I did was seek out a brain injury support group. Fate looked kindly upon me again as a new brain injury support group had recently formed less than a mile from our home. I was one of the original members and eventually took on the role of co-facilitator. That group is still a part of my life today, and I have made lifelong friendships through my participation.
In early sobriety, I also learned that everyone is a teacher. I would stare wide eyed at people with 10, 20, even 30 years of sobriety and wonder how they did it. Many became mentors to me, showing me that a long and meaningful life of sobriety was indeed possible. They showed me more by example than instruction.
As I began to meet more people within the brain injury community, I connected with other survivors who had lived lives changed for decades. One of my early TBI friends was a 40-year brain injury survivor. Much like the old-timers in the recovery part of my life, the TBI old-timers showed me by living example that I could actually create a new life, one that was meaningful, one that could bring happiness to me and those around me. They gave me hope during a time when I desperately needed it. How can I not be grateful for their showing me the way?
One of the core tenets of sobriety is that you need to “give it away to keep it”—altruism in its truest sense. Over the years, I have been blessed to show many others how to live a sober life. It is rewarding at a level that I can never really fully describe. I carried this same concept into my brain injury recovery. A close friend once shared with me for years: “You can’t worry about your own lot in life if you are trying to help others.” Indeed.
With that in mind, I got to work trying to help others, letting them know that, although different, a meaningful life can indeed be crafted after brain injury. My original expectation was to perhaps help a few people at my local TBI support group, but that door continued to open wider and wider with time and commitment.
My early journaling after sustaining my TBI became my first book. Metamorphosis, Surviving Brain Injury was published in early 2012. From there came invitations from across the US to speak in a keynote capacity at neuro and medical conferences. A small community I founded on Facebook, TBI Hope & Inspiration, now numbers close to 40,000 members. Never did I expect that being struck by a teenage driver back in 2010 would lead to such events.
But the take-away is this: As I continued to do all I could to help others, somewhere along the way my life got better. Not a little better, but a whole lot better. Don’t get me wrong, I have not fully recovered. I have brain injury challenges that will be with me for the duration. In this moment, I accept that that is simply life on life’s terms. Dig deep enough and you’ll find that everyone has challenges. I’ve learned to coexist with my brain injury challenges as they are as much a part of me as the color of my eyes.
As more time passes, I can see with greater clarity that the early foundation that I laid on my sobriety path would, in turn, give me the tools necessary to navigate the waters of life after brain injury. And oddly enough, I am grateful for the very painful years that defined my twenties as they helped me develop skills that I’ve been able to use on my brain injury recovery path.
Lastly, if you are a person in recovery who has sustained a brain injury, you can stay sober, and you can move forward with your recovery. I’m living proof.
For more information on substance abuse and substance abuse treatment, go to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA).