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Most of us have a pretty clear vision of the kind of person we aspire to be someday. Whether it’s a successful entrepreneur, a devoted family man, or a well-balanced working mother, we picture ourselves overcoming any obstacle to become that person in the end. But life quickly teaches us that the road ahead comes with bigger challenges than we anticipate, sometimes halting our dreams for the future. For Zach, that life-altering hurdle was addiction.

After eight years of substance abuse, Zach was on the brink of losing everything he held dear: his wife and four children, even his job. But the realization that he needed to change literally smashed through one day, and he decided it was time to seek professional help.

In treatment at Texas’s the Treehouse, Zach found the courage and strength to not only free himself from the claws of his addiction, he also realized he had the ability to help others do the same.

Fate came knocking — sort of

Although he was physically present and his kids never actually witnessed him using, Zach said his indifferent attitude was a major culprit in his addiction.

“I didn’t think about how anything I did was affecting them. I made sure to pay the bills and made sure they had everything they needed, and that was all that mattered,” he said. “I didn’t think about the time I was spending with them or how them seeing what I was doing would affect them.”

Though his life started to fall apart, he said things didn’t really click until fate came crashing through his door — in police uniform.

“One morning, some cops came and kicked my door in,” he recalled. “They found some of the substances I was using. That was a big eye-opener for me.”

Zach turned to his parents for help finding a treatment center and officially made the first step toward recovery… but it was still a long road ahead.

His peers showed him the compassion he was seeking

It’s not easy to walk into a program full of strangers and divulge the details of an extremely personal addiction battle. Zach told us he wasn’t sure anyone could understand, let alone empathize, with his situation.

“When I got there, I felt empty and alone. I was ashamed of myself, I felt guilty, and I didn’t think anyone else was going through what I was going through,” he confessed. “I had a wife and kids, other people I was responsible for. I thought I’d go there and have people judging me.”

But where he expected criticism, he found understanding. In fact, the very first recovery peer he met immediately showed him an acceptance he hadn’t expected:

“I had just gotten out of my intake with the nurse, and she introduced me to someone. He said, ‘Hey, friend! What are you here for?’ And I told him. He said, ‘Don’t be ashamed — we’re all addicts here!’ That’s something that’s always stuck with me.

“It was mind blowing how people really connected with me without even talking to me, and just knowing what was going through my head just by me being there,” he added.

Finally, everything clicked

Zach said though he was building valuable relationships, after weeks in rehabilitation he still felt like he hadn’t connected with the program itself. A few days before he was scheduled to leave, he decided to give an AA meeting one last shot — this time, with an open mind — and the pieces finally came together.

After deciding with his counselor that he would benefit from a few extra weeks in treatment, Zach recommitted to the program. He said his entire experience changed for the better:

“Those last few weeks I wasn’t there just to be there — I was helping other people grow.”

The clarity of sobriety helped him see the importance of thinking of others. His mission now was to not only get himself clean to save his family, but to help others do the same.

“I always talked about going to school,” he explained. “I decided during treatment that I was going to go, and I wasn’t going to let anything hold me back. I knew this is what I wanted to go to school for. I loved seeing people’s faces light up while I was helping them in treatment, and I liked being able to understand what others were going through.”

Zach’s story is a wonderful example of how even the darkest beginnings can lead us to bright, beautiful new horizons. His addiction led him to being this close to losing all that mattered to him, and even to an arrest. But the police officers’ arrival at his home was an awakening experience that he became truly thankful for, as it was exactly what he needed to get the help that saved his life. Zach, like all of the recovering addicts I spoke with, offers a beacon of hope to anyone who may be struggling with demons of their own — whether those issues are related to addiction or not.

This article was written by Cecelia Johnson.

Cecelia believes strongly in the power of good deeds and recognizing great work.  She hopes her work can help to build stronger, more altruistic communities and citizens.

SUVA thanks Cecelia for her contribution.  Hopefully, veterans and other people suffering from mental or physical trauma will seek help like Zach did in the story so they can go on to lead happy, productive lives.


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