*This post was written by AF, a 22-year-old student at CSU Channel Islands, born and raised in Ventura County and passionate about keeping the youth and other members of the community safe, informed, and responsible.
Brandon is only 24 years old and has almost 2 years time of being clean and sober. His story, while not necessarily relatable to someone like me who has never had addiction issues, still struck me because of all he has gone through in his young life. It is challenging to achieve sobriety at any age, but to realize there is a problem and take action while your brain is still not technically done developing (which is supposed to happen around 25 for males) is a great and respectable accomplishment.
Brandon’s history is both short and long. Short because he is so young and his journey with drugs and alcohol is not the 30 or 40 year addictions that you may hear from older adults. But his journey is also long because he has gone through so many struggles to reach sobriety.
Brandon’s history with drugs and alcohol began with cigarettes at 11, just because he was curious. He soon became curious about more things, and his drug use got more severe when he was 12-16. He had little to no prior knowledge of harder drugs but during this time he had the attitude of wanting to try everything. He even searched through piles of cow manure for hallucinogenic mushrooms in the cow pastures of North Carolina with some friends. He tried marijuana at some point but did not like the feelings of a loss of control and paranoia it gave him, but he still used and even grew some. He and his friends would steal alcohol in order to get it since they were underage. A few years later, he began using ecstasy. It was a way to escape who he was, but it was not real. He was not happy. His drug and alcohol use became a way to “be okay” with who he was, but in hindsight, it did not help.
Brandon spent some time on the East Coast and after moving to California he turned to drugs and alcohol with the motivation that it would help him fit in and “be cool”. He found a party crew in California to hang out with. Now, many of these friends are in jail or dead.
At one point in his younger days, he was sent to a wilderness detention center on the East Coast for a year. There, he learned some valuable lessons and gained tools to help him fight his addiction and live a healthier life, but he ignored these and continued with his drug and alcohol use. Brandon had tried to go through other recovery processes before as well, but he didn’t feel like he belonged at the meetings.
Once alcohol got its grip on him and he reached a point where he NEEDED to drink, Brandon recalled how neither 1 nor 1000 drinks were enough. He felt a spiritual hole that he tried to fill, and no matter how many drinks or drugs he tried, it was never filled. Instead, it only led him to dead ends, suicidal thoughts and actions, and mental instability and depression. He has stayed in mental hospitals before due to these issues and others. When you have these problems, you might think drinking or doing drugs will help make you feel better, but it only makes it worse.
Brandon prioritized drugs and alcohol over his education. He completed high school but was never dedicated. He never went to college. He wasn’t involved in healthy extracurricular activities like sports. Now, he works, but he wishes he was more dedicated in school because he would have more opportunities. But, he is making the best of his life now and he is trying to learn more skills such as welding to make him more well-rounded and attractive to employers.
Unlike Daniel from the last post (whose parents were not involved in drugs and alcohol), Brandon’s mom and many other family members have had/still have addiction issues. Being around this and seeing this made it easy to get involved in this behavior and added difficulty in recovery. His family wasn’t encouraging his use, and in fact cautioned him sometimes when he was getting crazy. But like many others, he was a rebellious teenager who didn’t follow advice in general but especially not from his parents. He’s not blaming his parents for his addiction, but it shows how important environment is. If you are a parent or older sibling, younger members of the family can be heavily affected by your behaviors.
The biggest influences responsible for Brandon becoming involved in drugs and alcohol were the people around him. While there is little choice involved in who is family, there is more choice in who are friends. Brandon spent a lot of time with older kids who had more access to and experience with different drugs and alcohol. Many of his old friends have been in bad accidents or are in jail or dead now, so he considers himself lucky to be a living member of the free world.
While using, Brandon felt like everything was about him and he didn’t care about others. He didn’t want to face the consequences of his behavior. He was egotistical. He was lucky to have never hurt anyone. Between drunk driving and all the fighting and chaos that happen at every party, it was a miracle he came out of this alive and in one piece.
Brandon realizes now that he has an addictive personality. Had he known this earlier, he would have known it was especially dangerous to take the first drink those many years ago. I am what they call a “normie” which is someone who can have one drink and stay in control and not need to drink. People with an addictive personality often have problems drinking like a “normie” could.
Brandon used to be a very angry and confrontational person. When he first got to the sober living house, he was yelling and cussing at people. Now, he has learned better conflict management skills to peacefully and respectfully resolve issues.
He would go to work hungover and angry, and not care about safety or performance. He could barely maintain a job but he really did not care. He would be so tired at work and he would tell himself that he would go to bed early that night, but the drugs and alcohol were too powerful and he would stay up all night again, continuing the cycle.
He cared more about drugs and alcohol than work or a place to live. He has been kicked out of several places but most of the time, drugs and alcohol were more important than a bed. Eventually, after being kicked out multiple times and facing a real threat of homelessness, he decided to come to the sober living house that he is currently in. His mom was staying at this house for a while as well for her recovery, and he knows the son of the man who runs the house, so he was able to get into the house. Even then, he didn’t really want it and made excuses. He knew deep down he was tired of the life he was living and did want to get better and so he finally surrendered and joined the programs seriously and stuck with them.
In AA and NA, you have a sponsor and fellow addicts in recovery that have gone through what you’ve gone through. Brandon believes that these are the people who can help addicts, not a random counselor who has no first-person experience with addiction. Brandon has found some real help in these programs and with the people in this sober living home.
As a young sober person who has a lot of friends who are still in their young and partying days, he has faced some challenges. He still cares about his old friends but can’t hang out with them too much because of their habits, but they respect his choice. Some friends ask him for help if they think they have a problem but they’re all talk and no action. Brandon realizes he had to go through what he went through to learn about who he is and be the person he is now, but he would gladly help a friend if they wanted to avoid going down the path he did because he does not recommend it.
Overall, Brandon really surprised me. Having someone about my age talk to me about things I can’t imagine have experienced by this point in my life was eye-opening. I was especially moved by how he was mature and responsible enough to make the decision to stop using at such a young age. Especially since I had already talked to addicts who say how decades can disappear in a flash and can never come back. Brandon recognized a problem before those years disappeared and has SO MUCH time ahead of him to life a healthy and TRULY happy life, not one of empty feelings fueled by drugs and alcohol.
After talking to Brandon, he brought me into his room and had me look around and asked me if I thought his room was clean. Besides his bedding being a little undone, his room looked good (definitely cleaner than my room was that day). It seems silly, but he showed me inside his dresser drawers to show me how his clothes are folded. He told me that when he first got to that house, before he was totally dedicated to his sobriety, he did not care to keep his room clean and clothes folded and put away. Something as little as folding his t-shirts in a drawer means that he cares. He cares enough about his life and himself to clean his room. It seems like such a little thing to some people, but it shows the progress that Brandon has made for his sobriety.
For someone so young, he has great insights. Brandon still does not feel magically perfect. One of the reasons he used drugs and alcohol was because of certain character traits that he could not accept and fully face. Through the programs he is a part of, he has learned to accept them.
Looking back, Brandon wishes he would have been more dedicated to school and sports or other extracurriculars. These things truly help people stay out of drugs, partially because you are surrounded by good people. Brandon wants to caution the readers of this blog to be careful who you hang around because bad influences can make or break your life. He knew that by hanging out with troublemakers, he would become one too.
Brandon told me that the day you stop using drugs and alcohol is the day you really start living. He told me that while you think you’re drinking to achieve some sort of happiness, what you feel is not real happiness. It’s empty. It’s fleeting. He also knows now that all the alcohol and drug use is not cool and does not make you a better person. You do not feel better. People die and get killed over these things, and it’s not worth it. He can appreciate and value life now. He can actually remember activities like going to the river with his family. He knows now that not only can you have fun without drugs and alcohol, but life is so much better without them—it’s real.