My Story

Overcoming Obstacles

After you have been knocked down, and you will be, it is essential to focus on what you are going to do to get back up, rather than on the fact that you are down.  It is crucial to analyze how and why you got to the point where you are down to better your situation in the future, BUT that same future is what should be your focus.  We all know that our shortcomings in life can be due to a variety of things.  Sometimes they are external, and sometimes they are internal.  Sometimes you have very little to do with the outcome of your experience, and at others, you are the sole reason it has happened.  No matter the reason for what has happened, it has happened!  You can overcome whatever you are up against!

After contemplating the issues I have gone through in my life, I came to a hard conclusion about myself.  That conclusion is that I am an alcoholic and that I have an addictive personality.  It took me a long time and a lot of hard lessons to get there, but the important thing is that I got there and am doing what I can to overcome those negative things and my addiction.  Before I get into the addiction aspect of my story, I would like to share my experience of how I arrived at that conclusion. 

Obviously, everyone has trials and tribulations they have to overcome.  I am not an exception.   On July 3, 2011, at approximately 8:30 A.M, one of my friends and I were in a very severe car accident. We were heading to a local restaurant to enjoy breakfast after dropping one of our friends off.  I don’t recall anything after going to sleep the previous night, but I am told we were going no less than eighty MPH.  My friend lost control of his car, going around a corner, and we ran into a tree.  The ambulance, fire department, and police were called immediately after.  After being taken out of the car via the Jaws of Life, I was rushed to the local hospital in an ambulance.   At once, the news was grave; it didn’t appear as though I was going to live much longer, which is what my friends and family were told upon arrival. 

Shortly after arriving at the local hospital and getting consent from my parents, I was airlifted to a hospital approximately 100 miles from where my accident occurred.  One hundred miles isn’t an extremely far distance. Still, unfortunately, I’ve been told by several of my family members that were pursuing the hospital I was being flown to “that it was the longest ride [they] had ever partaken.”    They were told by the medical staff that it was doubtful that I make it to the hospital and to keep their phones on.  Well, as unlikely as it seemed, my family made the drive anyway.  It is a good thing they did because I was able to survive the trip.  We were not out of the clear, however. 

Once I arrived at the hospital, I was immediately rushed into the operating room for multiple surgeries to repair the injuries I sustained.  There were several life-threating injuries such as a fractured neck, two punctured lungs, a lacerated liver, brain swelling, and blood build-up along my heart.  There were also less severe injuries, including six broken ribs and a fracture in my shoulder.  Arriving at the hospital and making it out of the operating room was the first step to my recovery.  The second step would be waking up from the coma I was in.    The news was still grim at this point.  They were still unsure if I would wake up or not, and things would get worse before they got better.  While in the coma, I developed a case of pneumonia, obtained a blood clot in my left arm, and suffered from extreme brain swelling.  Thankfully, by the grace of God, I was able to overcome my injuries and wake up from the coma five days later.

Before I continue with my story, I would like to state my reasons for sharing it.  Until a few days after beginning my story, I was unsure why exactly I was doing it.  I was only six months out of the accident and pursuing a college career after all.  I am still not entirely sure of the reasoning, but I have been pondering it over the past few nights.  The reason’s I came up with include: to help others in any way possible, to share my experience with others, and to show in the only way I can see possible my appreciation to all of those that were involved.

To elaborate on my reasons for documenting my story, I will start with my aspiration to help others in any way I can.  There is no way to reason with someone that has been through a life-changing situation entirely unless you have been through something similar.  I would like to note that I am entirely aware that I cannot identify with everyone and their unique situations.  I know that there are so many people that have gone through worse experiences and survived.  I am merely writing from the experience of someone that knows what it is like to have their world completely turned upside down.  My intentions are to help anyone that is going through or has gone through something of that sort or even just having a bad day.  My reasoning for sharing my story with others is similar to that of wanting to help others.  I believe that by going into detail about the tribulations I have overcome and still will have to overcome, I will hopefully be able to give some insight and inspiration.  Lastly, but certainly not least, my gratitude toward all of my wonderful family, friends, and God is, and will forever be, undying.  I hope to convey that through my writing because, without them, I would, in fact, not be living, much less writing!

So the story continues.  As I stated earlier, I was in a coma from the time of the accident until awaking on July 7th.  That is my grandfather’s birthday, and in his 64 years of life says that “that was the best birthday present [he] has ever received!” Although everyone was delighted that I had woken up, there were still some doubts about what my capabilities would be.  This became evident to me a couple days later after hearing an “amusing” story.   After a nurse had realized I was awake, she immediately brought my parents in to see me.  After entering, the nurse told me to squeeze my parent’s hands.  I did that, and she continued by telling me to smile for my mom.  I did that, and the nurse gave me the third task of telling her how many fingers she held up.  To this question, I responded by sticking out my tongue!  At the time, my mom did not think it was funny and worried that I had become mentally handicapped.  Now, however, we can look back at it as one of the many trying times that we found some fun in.  I do not remember this, and the next week that followed was foggy as well. 

 I spent days in the intensive care unit before being relocated to another room.  Of this time, I don’t remember that much.  I do remember that after waking up, I was scared and, for some time, did not know where I was.  Communication was hard because I had a  tracheotomy.  My vision was extremely impaired, and I could not distinguish between colors.  I am told that I mouthed the words “where am I?” after waking up.  Some of the other questions I am told I asked are; how are my tattoos?  How is my face?  Did I turn 21? And how are the Packers doing?  It is evident that I was scared, but from the moment I woke up, I decided that no matter what came my way, I was going to have a positive outlook and do my best to overcome it. 

From what I can remember, those days I spent in the ICU were unpleasant.  I was not allowed to eat, and my only source of water came from the squeeze of a sponge, which I could not have often for fear of choking.  My family and friends made that time much better.  I wasn’t allowed visitors at all times, but when they were there, they comforted me extensively.  I can remember, at one point, I was wary of my appearance.  I did not believe anyone that told me that my face was fine, so my aunt brought in a mirror for me to see.  Although I could not hold the mirror up or clearly see myself, I was comforted by the thought, and for that, I am thankful.

I cannot express enough how much comfort I got from my family and friends.  I was very afraid and confused during this period.  Without their support, it would have been hell!  I also found comfort in God.  I can remember praying alone countless times and praying with friends and family frequently as well.  I was uplifted by these experiences.  I encourage anyone going through a hard time, life-threatening or not, to look to your God for an answer.  You will not be disappointed.  Throughout my life, I have believed in God.  This experience brought me so much closer to him, however.  I have come to believe that there is a purpose for everything, and God will not put you through a trial you cannot overcome.  It is my hope that my experience is an example to people of this.  God wanted me to survive this experience.  He gave me the necessary tools to do so.  It is evident, at least to me, that it is a miracle I am alive.   

To understand the magnitude of how I felt after my accident, I think it is essential to know what my life consisted of before the accident occurred.  I will start with life around seventh grade because everything before is irrelevant to the.  Seventh grade is the grade that I started lifting weights.  Weightlifting quickly became a passion of mine, and I continued to do it up until my accident and after, as you will see.

Along with weightlifting, football was a huge part of my life as well.  Seventh grade is also the grade that I started to enjoy playing sports.  With football, I did not excel right away.  After a year of experience and dedicated weightlifting, I became pretty good.  I played running back through my middle school and high school career.  During my freshman year in high school, I tore my ACL, MCL, and lateral meniscus.  Rehab for that was excruciating, but I was determined and was able to return for my sophomore (undefeated) season.  The rest of my high school career was a fantastic experience.

During my senior year, before graduation, I was invited to play at the U.P All-Star Game that summer. I was offered the opportunity to continue to play football at various colleges.  So I decided that I would play in the all-star game that summer and enroll at Wisconsin Lutheran College for the fall semester.  I arrived at the Warrior summer football camp in 2010.  I enjoyed my freshman year of College tremendously and was developing into a college football player.  I entered the following summer with high aspirations for football and school.

Years later, I still struggled to find something I could live for, something that made me feel alive!  This unfortunate realization came to me sitting at a camp for people with disabilities I was a counselor at. The camp director asked everyone to answer some questions; one of them was, “when do you feel most alive”?  Two years prior, I would have said football.  That is what I excelled at and what I was known for by many people.  There is nothing like being a part of a football team. There is nothing like breaking a big run for a touchdown or making a touchdown-saving tackle.  The feeling that is acquired after winning a game and knowing I contributed to that win, for me, has been a hard feeling to replicate. I knew I was never going to go on to play professional football.  I also knew that I only had three more years to play, and then it was going to be over.  I was going to cherish those last three years, though.  I was going to live for the game while I still could, and then, when it was time, end on my terms. 

That wasn’t the case, though, and I have strived to find something to replace that feeling.  It would get worse before it got better. Still, with time I eventually found something I could be as passionate about as I was the game of football.  Obviously, the accident has somewhat altered my future plans and abilities.  I am looking at all of this in hindsight, and the outcome could have been much worse.  I am actually pleased with my life right now and thankful to be alive.  There were times after the accident when that wasn’t the case, however.  We will get to that, but for now, I will continue the story where I so rudely interrupted myself. 

After leaving the ICU, I was told by a nurse, “now the training begins.”  She was right; the Monday after I left the ICU, I began my recovery, which consisted of six therapy sessions a day, six days a week.  I would be woken up every morning at approximately 5:30 by a nurse taking my blood.  After that, my occupational therapist would come in around 7:00 and help me wash up and put clothes on.  I wasn’t able to fully clothe myself or shower on my own until about a week before I left the hospital.  Then I would get breakfast around 7:30.  After that, I would begin the day with my first therapy, which was ordinarily physical.  In physical therapy, we would do things to try and get my limbs and joints moving the right way.  At first, keeping my head up was a challenge, then sitting up, then standing up, then balancing, and finally walking. It took me about a month to finally be able to walk again, that was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever felt.  I can still remember walking with a nurse thinking she was holding onto me and she told me to look in the mirror. I saw myself walking without any guidance.

After physical therapy, I would go to occupational therapy.  At occupational therapy, I would do things with the ability of my hands and fingers; I would also do exercises for my shoulder.  At the beginning of the therapy, I had to identify a fruit, pick it up, and put it in the basket.  I can remember not being able to do that and getting so frustrated, as frustrating as it was I continued to do it until I finally was able to.  Another memory I have from occupational therapy is when I was finally able to touch my pinky finger to my thumb.  It was moments like that, along with the encouragement I got from family and friends that kept me going.     

After occupational therapy, I would have speech and language therapy.  In this therapy, I would do things to test my cognition.  To begin with, they would tell me a category like “bird,” and I would have to list off as many birds as I could think of.  I also did some math problems, word problems, and organizational problems.  I can remember becoming extremely irritated when I couldn’t figure out a simple problem that I knew I used to know.  After that therapy, I would have lunch and do the three therapy sessions again after lunch, then have dinner.  My family was by my side throughout the whole day, and I would have friends visit daily.

There were big moments on the rehabilitation floor that I will never forget.  I will always remember when I was surprised when former Green Bay Packer running back, Ahman Green, came to visit me.  I will never forget when my brother and grandfather were trying to slide me up on the bed, and my brother pulled a little too hard, which really upset my grandfather, which at the time, I thought was hilarious.  I will never forget when I took my first step alone, or when I was finally able to shower.  Most of all, I will never forget the comfort I got from the love and care from my family and friends.

Being in that position made me think deeply about all the things I do daily that I take advantage of, like showering, walking, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, shaving, watching TV, reading, writing, going to the bathroom, sleeping comfortably, etc…  Although I would never want to go through it again, and I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, I wouldn’t take it back now that I have gone through it.  After approximately a month of rehab, I was finally able to walk out those hospital doors for good.  That was one of the best feelings I have felt in my life.  I will never forget it, down to stopping at Wendy’s with my Grandparents on the way home. 

I remember the first night home from St. Vincent hospital.  So many thoughts were going through my head, and I was so ecstatic to finally get to sleep in my own bed.  I knew I was in for a long recovery process; however, this became extremely evident after trying and failing numerous times to position myself in bed and cover-up.  After I finally accomplished the goal, I was actually not that disturbed.  I was looking forward to doing whatever I could to get back to being myself.  I understood that it was not going to be easy, but nothing in life worth fighting for is!  The next day I went to the gym and began my own kind of recovery. 

Before I got in the accident, I weighed approximately 185 pounds.  After the accident, when I left the hospital, I weighed around 150 pounds.  I was a football player and a weight lifter.  I took pride in the way I looked and performed on the football field.  Needless to say, I was devastated about the way I looked and my lack of coordination that I worked very hard to achieve.  So I wanted to get back to my previous weight as soon as possible.

Naturally, my solution was to go straight to the gym.  I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking, but I can’t imagine that I was very confident in my abilities.  In all reality, I was probably very self-conscious in the place that I used to be so sure of myself.  Regardless, I was determined to better my situation and was willing to be embarrassed to do so.  I know now that I should not have been embarrassed at all, and that no one was going to judge me negatively. Still, it is hard to think that way when you go from being able to bench-press 340 pounds to barely being able to bench press the bar (45 pounds) successfully.  My cousin accompanied me to the gym that day.  He is a very strong individual himself.  I overcame my shame in my lack of abilities and kept on trying.  On that first day back at the gym, I wanted to show my cousin that even though things weren’t the way I wanted them to be, I was willing to do whatever I could to get as close to what I wanted as possible.  I had no idea if I would ever be as strong as I previously was, but I knew there was only one way to find out. 

Faith and perseverance pushed me through that first day back at the gym.  Unfortunately, I am not perfect, however, and was not able to persevere through one thing during that point in my life, alcohol.  As stated before, I was willing to do virtually anything to improve my situation.  One thing was no longer attainable; however, football.  I know how ridiculous it sounds that I was worried about football after surviving what I had.  I should have just been thankful for that!  I was, I was very grateful and still am, but that is not to say I was happy about losing what I had worked so hard to obtain.  If you are dedicated to anything at all, you understand what I am talking about.  You live for that thing; your every decision is made only after considering how it will affect your commitment to what you love.  Unfortunately, I was not disciplined.  I decided that drinking was ok.  I told myself that I deserved it, I worked all day, and it was Independence Day weekend after all.

That decision ultimately led to me losing what I loved.  I accept that fact.  I played a significant role in the outcome of MY decisions. There are plenty of things I could have done that maybe would have spared me so much pain.  I could not have drank the night before, I could have refused to let my friend drive after drinking the night before.  I didn’t use proper judgment, and it has cost me deeply.  Everyone makes mistakes in life; it is what you do after you make the mistake that defines you as a person, in my opinion.  I would like to think that I am doing well after what happened to me.  I know I am, but not in every area of my life.

Shortly after returning home from the hospital, I became depressed.  My family and I knew this was likely to occur; in fact, we were told that it most likely would.  I was even prescribed anti-depressants only a week after coming out of my coma.  Depression runs in my family, and there is evidence that depression is genetic.  Alcoholism runs in my family as well and is also hereditary.  I  believe that alcoholism is a learned behavior that can either be rewarded or punished.  I suppose I saw it as more of a reward than a punishment growing up.  So it is evident that these two disorders can be comorbid.  Alcoholism can lead to depression and vice versa.  My life after returning home at first consisted of two things, working out and rehab.  But, as I alluded to earlier, I was depressed about what had happened and was also too proud to admit it.  Ignoring depression, in any case, is not healthy and can lead to very negative effects and outcomes.   This became the case in my situation.  Rather than admit that I was in pain and needed help, I turned to alcohol to try and suppress the pain.  The initial decision to turn to alcohol was a problem in itself, both internally and externally!  Unfortunately, it led to more problems down the road as well. 

I was writing this particular part of my story on October 8, 2013, I was a junior in college with three semesters left and a 2.7 GPA.  When I finished my first year of college in 2011, the spring before the accident, I had a 3.0 GPA. After the accident, I missed the fall semester and went through therapy.  I returned for the spring semester in January of 2012 and finished the semester with a 2.4 GPA.  Some may question my somewhat hasty return to college.  Rest assured, the decision was not made without some intense thought and excruciating counseling.

Before I returned for the spring semester, it was evident that I had a problem with alcohol.  This issue was addressed when considering my return.  Ultimately, I decided one of the reasons I drank was because I was not being productive.  I felt that if I were able to move on with my life and continue on my previous path, I would be able to nullify the problem.  This was the case in some aspects, but in others, it was not.  My lack of production was one of the reasons I drank, but there were plenty of underlying reasons as well.

My problems are not an excuse for my drinking habits but are essential in recognizing the reasoning behind them.  Ultimately, I returned back to school, but the college life brings its own difficulties.  On top of the stress of school itself, my recovery problems brought anxiety as well.  I can remember the first class I attended upon returning to college very distinctively.  It was like being a freshman again, except I had a tremor in my hand and was nowhere near as self-assured as I had been the first time. 

Taking notes was nearly impossible because I was barely able to write with my dominant hand (which had the tremor), I did my best with my left hand, but it was not as efficient as it needed to be.  Another class period I remember from that first semester back was one in which I was delivering my first speech since the accident.  I was good at giving them in the past, and although I got a little nervous, I was able to perform quite well.  I underestimated the anxiety this time, and due to my visible shaking in my hand became very nervous and became unsure of myself.  I survived the speech, and day after day, month after month, endured class periods until the semester was over.  In hindsight, I believe that going back to school was the right choice.  If I had not gone back, I am not sure what I would have done with my life.  I would like to think that I would have returned for the following semester, but I am not sure that that would have been the case.

As I stated previously, my issues with alcohol would continue to hinder me.  The summer after my first semester back, in 2012, I obtained an operating while intoxicated citation.  That incident was critical in my development as a person.  After it occurred, one of two things could have happened.  I could have continued to ignore the fact that I had a problem, or I could accept it and do something about it.  As I have stated before, it is not your mistakes that define you as a person, it is what you do after you have made the mistake!  If it were not for the things I’ve been through, I would not have the knowledge or insight I have gained.  Because of that, I am grateful even for the events in life that have caused me distress.  I overcame them, I believe you can overcome your obstacles as well. 

It was time for me to focus.  I understood that the issue I was dealing with took time to overcome.  I knew that if I was able to remain disciplined and overcome the obstacles I was facing, I would eventually succeed.  I decided that I was going to try to focus on the positive things in life and that I was not going to quit.  I reminded myself that I had decided to try to better myself, and any decision of the magnitude was worth doing the right way.  I still had high aspirations for myself and planned to succeed. 

So, that’s what I did, I focused, or at least tried!  Not much went right leading up to my anticipated graduation, however.  I decided I was going to try and wean myself off of the anti-depressant I had been prescribed to after my accident.  It did not go well at all, and I felt myself slipping back into depression.  On top of that, I found out I would not be graduating when I had planned because I had missed a foreign language and a literature class as part of my requisites.  My engagement was also broken off, and someone ran into my car and totaled it during this time as well. 

Needless to say, I was not in very high spirits.  There were points during this period when I felt like giving up, but like in the past, I persevered and was set on overcoming  obstacles that I had been faced with. With the help of family, friends, and faith, I was able to muster up enough energy to make it through my final semester and graduate in May of 2015.  Five years after starting college, and four years after my accident, I have finally reached the goal I set out to achieve. 

I always thought that after I graduated college, my life would become more manageable.  Well, that was not the case.  In fact, my life became much more unmanageable.  It was around this time that alcohol started to really become an issue for me.  Looking back, I believe that the issues started to manifest after the accident I was in.  Following that accident, they just progressively got worse until I hit rock bottom (multiple times).

 After graduating from college, I got into a graduate program.  During the first year of that program, things went smoothly for the most part.  I had a job as an insurance agent, I had a girlfriend, and I was doing well in school.  During the second year of the program, I got a job at a residential facility for individuals with addictions.  I was working the second shift.  I was also doing internship hours at the same facility under a different role.  Slowly, but surely, I started to develop the effects of burnout.  Instead of addressing them healthily, I began to drink more and more.  Eventually, my girlfriend ended up breaking up with me, which only added to the frustration, anxiety, and depression I was experiencing.  I kept drinking and began drinking after school and work.  I eventually ended up receiving another OWI.  

So, I lost my job and ended up having to go to jail and wear a monitoring bracelet for about four months.  I was devastated.  I thought for sure I was going to lose my spot in my graduate program as well.  I didn’t, however, and was determined (again) to graduate.  I quit drinking for about two months and was even going to AA meetings.  I got another internship position, met another girlfriend, and was on track to graduate again.  Things were looking up!  After a couple of months without drinking, I got complacent and decided that I had everything under control.  I didn’t think I had a problem at that time and began drinking again.  It seemed like the addiction came back with a vengeance.  I drank hard during that time and ended up doing and saying things that I would have never done or said soberly.  Things that ended up costing me another relationship in the end.  But before that, I did end up graduating from graduate school with a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology.  I graduated in August of 2018.

A month after graduating, I accepted a job as a therapist closer to my family.  This would mean that I would be moving away from my girlfriend at the time, but I thought that things would work themselves out.  I maintained my position as a therapist and did the long-distance relationship thing with my girlfriend for a few months, and things went smoothly.  Eventually, however, I became uncomfortable with the long distance.  Again, rather than facing the issues at hand, I began drinking more to suppress them.  And again, I ended up losing everything.  My girlfriend and I ended up breaking up.  I started to drink even more.  I wasn’t drinking before work as a therapist but ended up getting my third OWI one night after work.  I ended up losing my job and going back to jail. 

This time I had had enough.  I had been to jail several times, I had lost a number of relationships, I had lost two jobs, I lost time, money, respect, dignity, and freedom.  All of these losses were related to my addiction.  I needed to do something different.  My life was completely unmanageable, and I was powerless over my addiction. After I got out of jail, I went to an inpatient rehabilitation facility for 45 days.  During that time, I was able to fully accept the fact that I had a problem.  I finally decided that I not only needed to quit drinking but that I wanted to.  Today you can too!

This concludes the My Story part of my goal for this website. Going forward I will be submitting blog posts with the hope that they will help! I genuinely hope that they do!