Anytime tragedy or trauma strikes it affects the whole family. Whether from violence, death, sickness, addiction, or a host of other tragedies, the entire family feels it. There is a healthy cycle to recovery. This cycle starts with recognition or admitting that there is an issue. After recognizing it, the addict must seek help and healing; communication and forgiveness are part of this process of reconciliation and recovery.
Arnie’s story is one of a relatively normal childhood followed by tragedy to triumph after several years of struggling with addiction. Arnie and his brother were raised by their father after the mother decided to abandon them. But, Arnie had a good childhood, growing close to his dad and considering him a trusted advisor and support system. Arnie excelled in sports competing at the state level, had a 4.2 GPA, and was known as a “good kid”. One evening while in high school he went to an after party and drank. However, for the next two years he was mainly known as the designated driver, not having much interest in drinking. When Arnie entered college he found that it was “normal” to drink on the weekends; he joined in and became a social drinker on the weekends.
Always a high achiever, Arnie enlisted in the military, pursued Nuclear Engineering, and accumulated many accolades. The philosophy in the Navy seemed to be “if you work hard, you deserve to play hard”. You were left out among your buddies if you didn’t drink so after his shift he and the guys would stop off at the bar. It wasn’t a problem for him to have a few beers. Arnie always showed up to work, worked hard, and continued to excel through the ranks into leadership positions. Occasionally, he’d show up with a hangover. In 2007 Arnie was transferred to a Seal support unit where it was his job to train men in hand-to-hand combat and disburse meds for the “blow out kids”. While in this role, he suffered a knee injury, had surgery and spent two months bedridden on painkillers. As an overachiever Arnie defined himself by what he did. Not being able to define himself by his job while being bedridden, his personal life and marriage were on the rocks. He found himself in his “own pit of misery”.
In 2008 Arnie was back on active duty and deployed to Afghanistan. His life was beginning to come together when the same leg was injured by an IED. The doctors removed shrapnel from the leg, performed bone grafts, and Arnie underwent several surgeries. While recovering from his injuries, he was separated from his wife, taking “Roxies” (a form of pain medication). His wife described him as “emotionally detached”; Arnie agreed that he wanted to numb everything he felt.
Six months later his dad committed suicide.
Arnie decided if there was a God, and he didn’t think there was, God wished harm on us. Arnie looked back at the relationship he had with his dad and realized that his dad was his support system. But, he also realized his dad had struggled as an alcoholic and Arnie often wondered as a child why his father seemed to choose alcohol over his family. As Arnie struggled with these thoughts and grieved the loss of his father, he lost all faith in humanity, completely shut down emotionally, and his addiction “kicked into overdrive”. After 9 years in the military, he was discharged. Where does one go that defines themselves by their work and suddenly has no job?
Five months later, his personal life was about to dissolve. He had a 5 bedroom home, wife, two kids, several cars, a $80,000/year income, a pretty good life for someone in their mid-20s. But, he was about to lose it all.
Arnie introduced himself to people as a “sarcastic A-hole” and his life mantra was “If I’m gonna burn, I want the world to burn with me”. Realizing he failed as a son, brother, father, and husband as well as his job, he tried committing suicide.
He and his wife decided one Sunday morning that they were done; divorce was imminent. She left to take the kids to church; but, minutes after leaving she got the feeling she should go back home. Entering the home, she saw that Arnie had tried to hang himself in the bathroom. Turning around saved her husband’s life.
Arnie was admitted to a psych ward for rehab and treatment. After being discharged, he decided it was time to start fresh so he moved to Florida where he had a former-step-mom. Arnie’s grandmother died after he had been in Florida a year.
His only living blood relatives were his brother stationed overseas and his kids who lived out-of-state with his estranged wife.
Arnie relapsed, hanging out with old friends from high school. Just one beer with the guys turned into 4 or 5. Two short weeks later he was drinking heavily and kicked out of his home. Moving in with a friend, Arnie decided to contact his wife and try to work things out. He was struggling with drinking; she with pills. To the outside world, Arnie was known as “superdad”, doing everything with and for his kids. This was all a façade. After one month of being a family again, they both became heavy pill users. He started stealing to support their habit. One day fate knocked at his door. He was pulled over for going 46 in a 45 mph zone. Because he had a warrant out for his arrest, he landed in jail.
In the blink of an eye, it seemed, he lost everything.
Arnie always said you could take everything away from him but his pride. Pride and arrogance was his downfall! He used what happened to him, his hard knocks, to justify why he was using substances. Arnie was so desperate he was considering using his firearms, to harm himself and others. Being pulled over changed the direction of his life.
After 3 months in jail, fate again intervened.
This time fate was named Mark. Mark ministered to the inmates and helped Arnie enter the program at Fresh Start Ministries. Before Fresh Start Ministries Arnie had been in 5 other treatment programs, seen numerous psychiatrists, prescribed pills, and tried secular programs. Fresh Start Ministries was different; Arnie didn’t always understand or agree with their 12 month discipleship program. But, he understood how it worked. Arnie said this program “got the darkness out… moved me from hopelessness to hope”. All the “stuff” he owned only gave him the illusion of happiness. He was always looking for the next thing to make him happy. Now he’s living it.
Arnie asks, “What do you base your happiness on? What you own or people you affect?”.
Arnie arrived at Fresh Start with the paper bag from jail and the clothes on his back, doubtful and resistant. Today, Arnie knows his purpose is to be in a relationship with God, to love, and be loved. He is no longer searching for happiness; he’s living it every day. He’s no longer hopeless; but, provides hope to others every day. His identity is as a child of God.