By Darin Barry
I didn’t know how to love. I was alone. At least I thought I was. I was lost. I was afraid. I was a taker, who was always looking for others to put a band-aid on my problems. I was a tornado in other people’s lives. And I drowned it all out seeking comfort in 1.75 liters of vodka a day. My life had become unmanageable.
I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 when I was 39. At that time, I had been sober for five years so my actions, my moods, and my emotions could not be blamed on alcohol. Trial and error with medications to find the right combination that would work for me was frustrating – all I wanted to be was like other people. I hated myself, and would often feel a lot of guilt and remorse after a manic episode. Years would pass with me, and those close to me, suffering through my illness with seemingly no hope. After many hospitalizations, countless sessions with psychiatrists and therapists, I had reached a place in my life where my illness could be managed. But along the way, I thought allowing alcohol back in my life could help manage my symptoms even better. I was self-medicating, and that road led me to the darkest places I have ever experienced. I lost everything. I lost everyone. I was homeless. So I made plans. I had asked strangers, anyone who would listen on social media, to take my beloved Isabella, my cat, because I was going to check out of life for good. I was going to take all my medications at once, and go to sleep permanently. My life had become unlivable.
But the Universe, or what many people call God, had other plans. The swill of medications and alcohol came up violently from my stomach during that snowy night in the winter of 2017. I stood outside in the frigid air in the three o’clock hour of morning heaving my guts out. I was in Camptonville, California, out in the middle of nowhere because I had no other place to go. My life was nowhere. I went back inside the trailer I was staying in feeling like I was going to die, and passed out. Then morning came. I was a shaky mess, and needed a drink. I was drinking within a minute of my eyes opening. In the coming few days, I would total my car on the ice covered roads of Camptonville, and receive a D.U.I. and a night in jail. Several days later, I would collapse in a convenience store in Grass Valley, California, and be taken, unconscious, to the local hospital where I was admitted for seven days. I had acute alcohol poisoning and withdrawal symptoms, electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, cardiac symptoms, alarming body chemistry, and delirium tremens. I would have died without medical help. There, in that hospital, I had reached my rock bottom.
The first couple of days were filled with hallucinations. I thought I was in a hotel at one point, and got up from bed, my I.V. ripping from my body, causing a bloody mess, and went to the nurses station thinking it was the hotel concierge, and asked for a room service menu. Friends and family members were there, I thought, to bring me clothes for a wedding. On the third day, I had clarity. Then hope walked through the door of my hospital room when I had no hope.
The man who came through the door had been following my story on social media, about wanting to re-home Isabella, and decided to take action by offering hope. He told me his story of recovery from the same hopeless state of mind and body that I had been in for a while. He took part in arranging for me to get into a residential drug and alcohol program upon discharge from the hospital.
All I was concerned about was the well being of my cat at the time. I had little concern about my own well being, although I wanted to finish school. This man took care of those loose ends and many more. He was being of great service to me. That stranger gave selflessly to me, doing things for me that I could not do for myself.
In the treatment center I was living in, I didn’t find a lot of teachings about sobriety that actually spoke to me. I rolled my eyes a lot during group. But, good people with good intentions nurtured my new sobriety. They held me accountable, and being a closed facility ensured I wouldn’t have access to alcohol. I couldn’t have people I knew phone in, and I wasn’t able to phone out, except for the “guardian angel” who had given me hope – . I was able to focus on my sobriety, and take a long hard look at the way my life had been going.
At Pathways, the treatment center in which I lived, we went to twelve step meetings away from the campus. It was at my first twelve step meeting that I heard a man use the word “recover.” This was counter to the teachings I had been taught in the drug and alcohol center where phrases like “stay away from people, places, and things” that had anything to do with alcohol – that we will never recover. I asked a gentleman at the twelve step meeting about that.
“I thought we never recover, and I’ve heard that word a few times.”
“Yes, we recover.”, he said.
“I thought we would never be cured, that we are always recovering.”
“No, we recover. We will never be cured, that is true, but we do recover from a seeming hopeless state of mind and body. You will find the word “recovered” used seventeen times in the volume of this book. Read the first 164 pages and call me.”
He gave me the text of the twelve step program, and I read it that night. It told of the authors alcoholism, the alcoholism of others, and how they recovered from it. My new found hope was honed by a whole chapter devoted to a solution aptly named, “There is a Solution.” I had new faith in hope. In a nutshell, I was given a program of recovery that involved cleaning house, trusting God, and working with others. The recovery center allowed calls in and out for twelve step sponsors. I called him.
Upon graduating from the program, I stayed in a temporary housing program in Nevada County, California called the Insight Respite Center that was a peer support program. My guardian angel who helped me so much after my near death experience, found me once again and offered a place to live, and a job.
My life was like a country song in reverse at that point; the dog came back, I got the truck back, I got the people in my life back, I got employment back, I gained a home, and I stopped drinking. (Although in my case, the cat came back, and I never had a truck.) But I didn’t get my life back, and that is a good thing. Why would I want the life back that brought me such misery? No, what I received was a blueprint for a different life; a new life. I came to know what it was like to be happy, joyous and free.
After establishing a new home, and getting on my feet, I went through the steps of a twelve step program with my current sponsor Justin. I also, through doing a lot of make-up, and going through tutoring, was able to graduate from school and earned my certification as a peer support specialist. The light came back into my eyes, and those around me at the time took note.
I was and am someone new. I was in touch with the God of my understanding. Fear, frustration, and anger were gone from my life. Problems that used to baffle me were easily addressed by my newfound clarity. I had mended the relationships with friends and loved ones I had tossed to the side in the midst of my drinking.
I had begun to focus on others. I found great happiness when I helped a man in the same desperation I had lived through by sharing with him my story of hopelessness, and then the solution I found. I wanted to experience those moments over and over again. Watching the lights come back on in a drunks eyes is like having a front row seat to watching God work, and I wanted to experience that over and over again. Through helping others, I had learned to love others. And this new knowledge, of being able to truly love others by selflessly giving myself to them, was extended to all of those around me – not exclusively to other alcoholics. My loved ones where happy to have a new Darin in their lives.
And what have I done with my new life so far in my newfound happiness? I give back to others what has been so freely given to me – that is the root of my newfound happiness. In the program I strive to be of service to other alcoholics through sponsorship, through being the facilitator of a weekly meeting, being the speaker at drug and alcohol programs, and through journalizing my experience, strength, and hope in social media, press, and radio (I still keep the identity of the twelve step program anonymous*).
In the realm of behavioral health, I have become an active part of the homelessness solution by becoming the house manager, and peer support specialist, in a clean and sober, dual diagnosis house for the formerly homeless. This experience has been one of the most rewarding of all in my lifetime. The house is a newly formed residence I co-created with a with an amazing social entrepreneur who is devoted to helping the homeless. I formed the house culture by writing, and facilitating the weekly house group where house members come together to learn how to support each other, and how to help themselves. I invite guest speakers to teach life skills, or to offer support with addictive behaviors. I’ve had the pleasure in watching the formerly homeless, addicted men and women, with behavioral health disorders, gain self esteem and better their lives while helping their peers. I have assisted them in finding employment, in obtaining clothes for job interviews, led them to clarify their goals and helping them towards the fruition of those goals. I’ve helped to set them up with behavioral help professionals, and medical and dental services. I go to food banks, and fill up multiple vehicles with groceries to fill the kitchen of a ten member household. I seek and obtain donations that our program members need to succeed, like a computer for job searches. We as a household are giving those who come into our fold, the next rung in the ladder to self sufficiency And I, and the other house members, don’t just give them housing, we give them a place to call home.
Helping others has become the bright spot in my life. I have gained a host of friends, and enjoy their fellowship. I have come to know a new joy. The congratulations for my fulfillment of happiness, goes to my Higher Power, the God of my own understanding – the one who I only had to seek, not find in order to recover. I am leery of those who claim to have found God. I never had to find God to recover because he found me.
These days I see God in everything and everyone. I see God in those who have supported me by helping to pull me out of the deep abyss of despair. I see God in those I have the pleasure to help.
An old friend of mine who lived in my hometown, Roger Hodgson, formerly of the band Supertramp, wrote the lyrics “See the man with the lonely eyes, take his hand, you’ll be surprised.”
I get that now.
* The traditions of the twelve step program that gave me the gift of sobriety dictate what we be anonymous about it at the level of press, radio, and films. That doesn’t prevent one from contacting me to find out what that program is. If you or a loved one suffers from alcoholism, please do.