How I Got Sober: Matt B.

By Matt B. 01/25/17

Acqua’s program is best described as evidenced-based because they recognize that the 12 steps aren’t for everyone.

How I Got Sober: Matt B.
Matt B found recovery at Acqua Recovery.

After developing an addiction to painkillers and eventually heroin in his late teen years, Matt B., now 26, has been clean and sober since February 18, 2015. He received treatment at Acqua Recovery in Midway, Utah and now works as an Outreach Specialist for the facility. This is his story.

Early Signs of Addiction

I was born and raised in southeastern Connecticut in a middle-class family. I had a lot going for me. I was a three sport athlete: basketball, baseball and football were what occupied my free time year round. I started experimenting with alcohol in seventh grade, eventually adding marijuana into the mix when I started high school. I tried the “usual” party drugs around this same time: ecstasy, cocaine, LSD and mushrooms. When I was a sophomore I had my wisdom teeth extracted and the oral surgeon prescribed Vicodin; that was the first of many experiences with painkillers. I remember vividly the euphoric effect that first Vicodin had on me; it took me out of reality. I didn’t touch any form of painkillers again until my junior year when I injured both my shoulders playing football and started back on Vicodin; it became my go-to drug. I’d take it before and after games and during the weekend without anybody knowing. For the remainder of high school, painkillers were what got me through my athletic seasons.

Senior year graduation was the first time I tried Oxycontin by snorting it. This was when things started to take a turn for the worse, and I began to lose the ability to manage my use of painkillers. Xanax soon followed and became a major player of my addiction as the combination of Oxy and Xanax became my drugs of choice. Despite this, I was on my way to play D2 football on a scholarship. I took a brief hiatus from using knowing that I was going to have to provide a clean drug screen to play NCAAF. This was when I started to become sick from withdrawals. My shoulders hurt and I experienced daily pain both physically and mentally. But I knew I couldn’t go back to using painkillers. I went to the team doctor to discuss options and he suggested shoulder surgery. That would mean being red shirted for my first year of college football. It was overwhelmingly discouraging news and not what I wanted to hear; this began my downward spiral back into drug use and partying. I ended up withdrawing from that university after my first semester and returning home to attend community college. I was abusing drugs and knew I needed to be home where I could get support from my family.

Drug Abuse Fueled By Tragedy

I returned home and confided in my dad that I was struggling and began counseling. Then on May 2, 2009, my whole life turned upside down when my dad passed away very unexpectedly from a heart attack. That explosion catapulted me into full blown addiction. My dad was my best friend, confidant, idol and go-to-guy for advice. I didn’t know what to do about my dad’s death but I did know painkillers and benzos would help, or so I thought. I ended up using heavily for the next couple of years.

In August 2011, my drug use was out of control and my mother recognized that I needed residential treatment and gave me an ultimatum: either go to treatment or leave her house. I know she was coming from a place of love. I was using her grief and the shock of my father’s death to my advantage; doing whatever I wanted. It was during this time that I started using Opana instead of Oxycontin. In September 2011, I entered a 30-day residential treatment in Utah for the first time with a dual diagnosis of opioid and benzodiazepine dependency coupled with severe depression. I finished the program and returned home and stayed sober for about 45 days.

One night during Christmas break I got together with a couple of my buddies who were home from college and I took Percocet and drank. I remember thinking to myself that this was okay and I could handle this mentally. The “I can handle this” mentality hijacked my mindset and would turn out to be the downfall of what was to come. I honestly thought that I would be able to drink, take Percocet and not use the next day. Instead, I used for two days in a row non-stop. On the third day I told myself that I was going to die if I didn’t stop using and stopped for a week. Then my hijacked brain said, “You only used for two days and were able to stop for an entire week. So, you can use on the weekends and party and be fine.” I became a “weekend user” for about two months but I was miserable. All I could think about during the week was getting to the weekend so I could use. Eventually, my weekend use pattern evolved into daily use. My daily habit resulted in me blowing through my paychecks, my savings, taking money from my family and selling anything of value to get money to use. This is when heroin entered my life. It was way less expensive and a lot more accessible than prescription pills. I started snorting and smoking heroin daily. It was a whole new ball game for me; I couldn’t believe I was using heroin, but I knew it made me feel good and I could afford it. Every morning I would wake up and have to use heroin and benzos to avoid withdrawal. This was a very dark time in my life; having to hide this monster of a disease and feeling alone, scared and hopeless but still being optimistic that there was hope because I had been to treatment before.

In 2013, I made an honest attempt at a Suboxone maintenance treatment program. I was going to a doctor but I was manipulating the test by indicating that I was only on Suboxone. My life was a mess. I had dropped out of community college and was working a construction job, which eventually evolved into me being hired as a general mechanic maintenance worker in a union at a local casino making good money. Making good money meant I had more money for drugs. It was an everyday struggle for me to keep all my stories aligned so I wouldn’t be caught in a lie. During this time I kept trying the Suboxone program and also began individual therapy, day programs and even entered an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). I really wanted to get clean. And, although all these different types of treatment had their strengths, nothing was cohesive; the treatment was too compartmentalized—it wasn’t working and I knew it.

In February 2015, I hit bottom. I was spending every dollar I made on heroin and benzos; taking out weekly loans against my paychecks, which was resulting in climbing debt. I’d had enough of trying to keep up with the lies and deceit. I was sick. I was tired. And I knew I would die if I didn’t get treatment. I reached out to my clinician from Utah. Fortunately, at this time I was still on my mother’s health insurance. He told me that he was associated with a new treatment facility, Acqua Recovery, but that the facility wouldn’t be opening for another month or so. I decided to go to Utah and enter a different facility until Acqua Recovery opened. When it did, I became their second patient.

Relief in Treatment

From the moment I walked through the doors of Acqua Recovery, it felt like a family to me. The staff was dedicated to providing me with individualized care and looked at me as a person, not a case study. They welcomed me with open arms and open hearts, meeting me where I was and not expecting me to meet them where they thought I should be. I ended up staying in Acqua’s residential program for 90 days, continuing on to Acqua’s IOP and then to their aftercare program.

I came to Utah with a blank slate; not an easy decision, in fact a scary decision, but I wanted to live. Right before entering treatment I almost overdosed and I knew I didn’t want to become a statistic; deep down inside I knew there was more to life for me. All I needed was a fresh start. So, I decided to stay in Utah where I now reside. I work hard on my program every day; I go to my staple meetings, work with a sponsor and seriously consider all the suggestions given to me by people who have walked the same path. I found a home in AA but Acqua doesn’t dictate that to anyone. Acqua’s program is best described as evidenced-based because they recognize that the 12 steps aren’t for everyone. There are a variety of pro-recovery meetings available at Acqua that include Addicts to Artists, Addicts to Athletes and Refuge Recovery (just to name a few).

A New Career in Recovery 

Acqua has a policy that you have to have one year of continuous sobriety before being eligible to work there. I was hired on my one-year mark and became part of the marketing and outreach team. Part of my job includes answering phone calls, visiting people in detox, participating in community outreach and educational forums, and working with Acqua’s alumni program.

The staff at Acqua is a critical component to the success of the program. We go above and beyond to create a sanctuary for healing. At Acqua, we like to use a hashtag: #sanctuaryforhope.

Acqua’s facility is located on 12 acres in Midway, Utah. There are multiple waterfalls throughout the property and a three-acre pond that helps feed multiple streams that add to the landscape. Acqua has a lush garden, utilized mostly for its fresh produce. We follow a “pro-recovery diet,” which is very nutrient rich and is also 75%-85% organic. Most people entering treatment are malnourished and haven’t been eating or hydrating properly so the sooner we can get their bodies properly nourished, the sooner they can begin retaining the information they’re being given. The days a person spends in residential treatment are precious so the faster they start efficiently retaining information, the more they take away when they leave. The holistic wellness approach is a significant part of our program that includes diet, yoga, daily activity, mindfulness and meditation.

Acqua Recovery is involved in sober softball and volleyball leagues. Acqua helped me recognize again that I can have a blast without drugs and alcohol. We strive to place a great deal of emphasis into our recreational therapy program. In doing so, we reintroduce people into everyday activities and hobbies. The result is seeing passions come back to life. There seems to be a trend within the recovery community that everyone is very passionate about something that they lost along the way; whether it’s music, art, athletics, reading or business, most addicts lose the spark and passion through their addiction. Sports were such a huge part of my childhood all the way into college but as soon as drugs entered my life, my passion was gone. There was no longer a drive to play sports or do anything that I loved because I was consumed by my addiction.

Now that I’m sober, I’ve added a new passion to my repertoire: photography! With this passion, my position at Acqua Recovery has allowed me to manage the company’s Instagram account (@acquarecovery). I enjoy hiking to secluded and serene spots to take pictures. I started playing the guitar a little bit again since becoming sober, too. I tell people all the time to never say no before you give something a chance. Trying something new builds confidence and self-esteem. One of the things we do at Acqua is rock climbing. When I get to witness someone who’s never rock climbed before set a goal, tackle a wall and achieve or exceed the goal…there’s no better feeling in the world for me as an Outreach Specialist.

Staying Sober Today 

In my job I’m always speaking with other people struggling with the same disease I have. These daily conversations are a huge part of my recovery. The people that I talk to about their addiction tell me I’ve helped them gain the courage they need to enter or remain in treatment. But the reality is they help me more. I stay sober today by really taking an honest look at myself and my behaviors. I think about the relationships where I caused hurt and the bridges I’ve burned but I concentrate on putting an honest foot forward to mend whatever is broken and do whatever I can to make things right again. In doing this, I’ve created new paths and patterns of behavior that help me handle life situations that once would have baffled me and/or rendered me seemingly without options.

After my father died and my drug use was catapulted to a whole new level, I closed off the raw emotions of my grief. My defense mechanism was to build walls as tall and strong as I could. By building walls throughout my addiction, and not letting people past those walls to help me, I eventually became trapped inside myself. When I stopped using drugs and alcohol and I began feeling those emotions, I was very protective of them. What I learned was that you need to experience your emotions. By not experiencing your emotions you end up remaining trapped in the shame and guilt of your addiction.

The best piece of advice I can offer someone about addiction is to reach out for help. Remember, it took courage to take that first drink or experiment with that first drug. Use that same courage to reach out and get help. Twenty seconds of courage is all it takes.

Want to learn more about Acqua Recovery? Reach Acqua Recovery by phone at (888) 879-1352 or by email. Find Acqua Recovery on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Photo provided by Matt B.; used with permission

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