Dave Jansa | Survivor of Addiction

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I was born into a large Catholic family. Sixth of eight, we were of Irish/Czechoslovakian decent. I started drinking in high school. Addiction was prevalent in both parents’ families; it was not long before it became a problem for me and several of my siblings as well. Nobody told me I was genetically pre-disposed to addiction. 

I used various drugs for approximately 16 years. Alcohol was my gateway drug; it led me to use other drugs, it ultimately became my drug of choice. Under its influence I made poor, risky choices. My addiction played a major role in poor grades, flunking college, poor self-esteem and plenty of regrettable acts. Yet nobody told me I had a problem. To them I was likely just someone that liked to “party.” I recall completing a health questionnaire at my doctor’s office, he advised me to keep an eye on my drinking. He asked me if I thought I had a problem; I told him no. There are many that drink more than I do, so certainly I don’t have a problem, I reasoned.

I attempted to moderate my drinking, with some limited success. I have since learned that this behavior is universal among people suffering from the disease of addiction. For me, any success in moderating required a great deal of effort and energy. I began to take special notice of friends, siblings, work associates and others who had successfully stopped drinking. I witnessed the stark positive change abstinence played in their lives. I then began to evaluate the actions and resulting consequences of those that exhibited problematic drug use.

I was in my late 20’s and visiting my mother in the hospital when she lovingly told me that she believed I drank too much. I had seen and felt enough harm; I decided to abstain, for good. I never attended any support meetings or received any professional help. I was petrified of the thought of a life without alcohol. I could not conceive of it. I thought alcohol was my friend, something that made me whole, something I truly needed. With the lessons learned during previous attempts to moderate and help from others close to me, I was able to succeed. 

Early on I felt ashamed and insecure. I had to adapt to a life without alcohol, this did not happen quickly. More than one person told me that they did not believe I drank enough to warrant abstinence. Some even encouraged me to begin drinking again. But as time went on I came to embrace this new drug-free lifestyle. I felt better about myself, I started to heal and become whole again. I became proud of the fact that I did not use. My ability to abstain was a defining moment in my life. I gained the ability to observe and reason from the consistent platform that sobriety offers. I came to know that my sobriety was a cornerstone in a healthy lifestyle, something that I absolutely needed. I am so thankful that my mother had the courage and compassion to confront me about my addiction. But I was still very puzzled about what had transpired and where or if I was an “alcoholic” or “addict.”

In 2006, 13 young people were killed in alcohol-related auto accidents in the Sioux Falls area. A cry for answers rang out from our community. What could be done to stop horrible tragedies like these from happening? I felt compelled to help. This started my series of investigations and research into a wide range of alcohol and other drug issues. It led me places that I never could have imagined.

I learned that as a society we have a monumental task before us if we hope to significantly change a culture that tolerates this level of alcohol-related tragedies. I reached the fundamental conclusion that underage drinking cannot be successfully addressed by focusing on youth alone. In this society alcohol use is normative behavior and images about alcohol use are pervasive. In other words if we want meaningful change we need to change the culture. 

I learned that my personal addiction was not a mysterious illness nor was it willful misconduct. It is a true medical disease rooted in abnormalities in brain chemistry. It is a primary, progressive, physiological disease that is preventable. I took tests or screening tools used by professionals in the addiction field to learn that I am/was a late stage 1, or early stage 2 alcoholic/addict.

I was fortunate to arrest my progression relatively early. This is the part of my story that should bring hope to many people. We understand and accept early detection as a critical component of successful disease prevention; the disease of addiction is no different. During my 25+ sober years I have met and spoken with many people that found sobriety in very much the same way as I have.

Then I learned about a new organization called Face It TOGETHER® Sioux Falls and the groundbreaking work they are doing to address many of these very issues. The people at Face It TOGETHER® Sioux Falls do not underestimate the forces they are up against. With open minds and a vision toward the future they plan to peel back centuries-old layers of shame and stigma that envelop the disease of addiction. I encourage anyone interested in these issues to contact Face It TOGETHER® Sioux Falls to engage with us as we solve addiction.

*This story represents Dave's recovery journey as of 9/23/14