Kevin Kirby | Survivor of Addiction

I am a survivor of addiction and my disease has been in remission for 11 years.

About 14 years ago, my life was a living hell. I was constantly depressed and anxious; uncomfortable in my own skin. The infamous four horsemen of terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair were my everyday companions. Things that used to interest me meant nothing. I could feel absolutely alone in a room filled with people; even with my own family. 

I had no idea what was wrong with me but I knew it had to be something really bad. I thought I was crazy. I knew I was empty. I felt like I had a hole in my soul. And I was absolutely convinced that nobody had ever felt that way before. About the only thing I knew for certain was that nobody, absolutely nobody, would ever know these things about me. I was convinced that if anybody did discover these things about me that only I knew were true, they’d abandon me.  

My life of shame and fear manifested itself in a whole host of behaviors to make sure nobody ever knew my secret. I was a perfectionist, a people pleaser, an enabler, a caretaker. You name it, I was probably it; if it meant that you would never know the real me. My outsides didn’t match my insides. I became absolutely preoccupied with acting one way and feeling another. It was an exhausting, lonely, dark existence. And yet, I had no idea that alternatives existed. This was my reality; the only one I knew.

The only thing that gave me any relief from this daily charade was alcohol. For a while, I was able to successfully juggle my awful self-image with just the right amount of alcohol to keep the whole house of cards from tumbling down. As my tolerance increased over the years, it took ever-increasing amounts of alcohol to produce the desired remedial result. Eventually, the amount of alcohol I had to consume was so enormous that there began to be consequences. 

It no longer sufficed to begin drinking after work. First, my morning drinking was confined to weekends. Then, drinking began to be an all-day requirement. Consuming alcohol had long since ceased to be a pleasurable activity. Now, it was my medicine. I didn’t want to drink.  I had to drink. All during this time, the feelings of depression and anxiety were worsening. Eventually, I was even taking medications for depression and anxiety. They didn’t work. My world was getting darker and smaller all the time. I saw no way out. Any relief provided by alcohol was getting shorter-lived and, eventually, it quit working entirely. I was hopeless, helpless and suicidal.

By outward appearance, I was a guy who had it all; wife of almost 30 years, three great kids, nice home, lots of toys, wonderful life-long friends and stature in the community. But inside, I was dying.  As bad as things were, the thought of being treated for alcoholism made them even worse. I was overcome with yet more shame. “What would people think?” “I’d have to wear the scarlet letter of ‘alcoholic’ the rest of my life.” “How could I let my personal weakness damage my family and the organizations I was working with at the time?”   

In mid-2000, I went to treatment for alcoholism. I was shocked by what I learned immediately upon arrival. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t unique. I didn’t suffer from depression. I didn’t have an anxiety disorder. I didn’t have a hole in my soul. I found out for the first time what was wrong with me. I had a treatable, chronic disease called addiction. All these myths I believed about me and all these behaviors I adopted to make sure nobody ever found out were but symptoms of addiction. Everybody there was telling my life story. I can’t to this day do justice to describing the sense of relief I felt to finally know what was wrong with me. 

Thus began my journey of recovery from addiction. Like the vast majority of people dealing with addiction, my recovery was anything but a smooth progression. In the roughly 2 year span between entering treatment the first time and the last time, I had numerous near-death experiences, countless detox, emergency room and intensive care admissions, several more treatment facilities, a couple of behavioral health stops along the way, a work farm and a monastery. 

My family was scared to death for me and of me. Like many, it was oftentimes one step forward and two steps back during those long months. I really wanted to get well but brief periods of episodic care simply didn’t cut it. At some point in late 2002, when I was utterly whipped into submission, sick and tired of being sick and tired, some of this recovery stuff started to sink in. Thank God I lived long enough for that to happen. I’ve lost many friends along the way. They were just as committed to getting well as I but they didn’t make it.

My experience with this disease has taught me how little it really has to do with drinking alcohol.  I had a drinking solution to my living problems. I suspect that if I’d simply quit consuming alcohol and not entered a program of meaningful recovery, my life would have even been worse, it that’s possible. Recovery has taught me a lot about things like faith, surrender, acceptance, gratitude, open-mindedness, willingness, trust, humility and honesty.  I’ve learned how wrong I had been about who I was and what I was.  I was my own worst critic and I had no idea that it was OK to be broken and to ask for help. 

Today, life means something; something much bigger than I ever could have imagined in the past.  Recovery for me hasn’t been about returning to some happier point in my life.  It’s been about discovering a way of life I never knew existed; one fueled by meaningful relationships and filled with hope, humility and gratitude. 

Recovery has also given me an unshakeable serenity of purpose to carry the message to others and to practice the principles I’ve learned in ALL my affairs.  What that has looked like in recent years is applying the secular skills I acquired over my lifetime to help fix some of the things that are fundamentally broken in the field of addiction. 

It is almost beyond my comprehension that there are 23 million Americans living the awful life I left behind.  My purpose is to reach those who suffer and to deliver to them a portfolio of services that can get them well.  It’s as if every experience I ever had has prepared me for this moment.  I run out of words to adequately describe my sense of gratitude for this opportunity.