In last month’s Change Anything column, we published an inspiring story from Michael Vitali. This month, Michael shares the specific strategies he used to overcome his addictions.
I started smoking cigarettes when I was eleven years old. Since then, I’ve abused every drug on the market: speed, heroine, meth, LSD, prescription drugs. You name it—I’ve been addicted to it. My pursuit of temporary freedom started me on a twenty-year downward spiral in which I alienated my family, lost friends, sabotaged my career, experienced homelessness, and served multiple jail sentences.
After years of denial, I finally admitted that I was an alcoholic and drug addict, and realized I could not continue my current lifestyle without suffering the consequences. When I was released from prison, I started making changes I knew would be necessary to get my life back on track. To change my life I knew I had to make changes in every area of my life. Here’s how I succeeded.
Personal Motivation: Love What You Hate—In prison, I found myself saying, “This is not your life!” I cried to God for help and made a commitment to never lose control of my addictive personality again. After my release, my sponsor gave me advice I’ll never forget: “Anything you put before your sobriety—whether it’s your family, friends, or job—you will lose.”
I remind myself of these experiences often and make my sobriety my number one priority and focus. Whenever I see people drinking, I say to myself, “Drinking is not for you. You can’t handle it. It’s not an option.” I try to focus on what I really want out of life, and that picture doesn’t include drugs or alcohol.
Personal Ability: Do What You Can’t—I began attending AA meetings three times a day. I also engaged in group therapy and counseling. In these sessions, I learned about chemical dependency and the techniques needed to live a joyous and substance-free life. Specifically, I learned how to relate to other human beings, basic life skills such as making coffee and cleaning, and most importantly, how to control my anger and emotions through talking through my problems rather than taking drugs and alcohol.
I also went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. I started a successful career doing leadership development for an organization that provides housing and treatment for youth with behavioral and emotional problems.
Social Motivation and Ability: Turn Accomplices into Friends—I stopped hanging out with my partying friends—or rather, they stopped hanging out with me because I only wanted to go to AA meetings or out for coffee. My friends from AA became my support network. I learned from them how to behave and interact with people again. In fact, one of my AA friends offered me my first post-prison job.
I also called my sponsor daily to report on my progress and receive encouragement. My mother sent “I Believe in You” cards to me. They simply said, “Dear Michael, I.B.I.Y. Love, Mom.” Among other things, support from friends and family motivated me to stay straight.
Structural Motivation: Invert the Economy—I recognized the physical and psychological costs of my bad behavior and decided I did not want to lose control again. The fear of returning to prison constantly motivated me to stay sober.
Structural Ability: Control Your Space—After prison, I moved in with my mom. I knew she was the only one who would get all of the drugs and alcohol out of the house. In college, I lived alone so I could maintain control of my environment and be less stressed. I never went to bars or parties where alcohol was served, and I always made sure I had a car or a bike so I would be able to get to my AA meetings.
I have not had the compulsion to drink or take drugs in twenty years. I use my past experiences to constantly improve the quality of my future. The changes that have taken place in my life are difficult to put into words. When I reflect on my life over the past few years, I can honestly say I like what I see. What was once dark, foreboding, and full of despair has become a joyous and rewarding life.
Editor’s Note: Similar stories of inspiring change will be featured in our upcoming book about personal change due to be released Spring 2011. If you have an inspiring story of personal change, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and include “Change Anything Story” in the subject line of your e-mail.