It’s Amazing What You Can See When the Light Comes On

My name is Dan and my story starts out one beautiful and sunny day in March of 2012.  I say my story starts there because that’s when my life changed and became a story worth sharing.  For transparency’s sake though let’s go back to the early days.  My formative years weren’t all that unusual or different from those of many average Americans.  I came from a normal loving household with two supportive and wonderful parents.  I had an older brother who I had the usual playtime and fights with.  My early days were, for all intents and purposes, wholly uninteresting.  I don’t have any major traumas or life-changing events which I can look to and say, “Yep.  That’s it.  That’s the moment I decided to become an alcoholic.”  I wish there had been a distinct moment so I could ensure that I don’t repeat that moment in my children’s lives or so I can know how to intervene in their lives at just the right time to save them from what I have been through and now deal with on a daily basis.  But then I also look to what I’ve been through as a point of pride and of accomplishment; I look to the strength I never knew I had, or the faith which had been previously unknown to me until that sunny day in March of 2012 when I walked through the doors of The Extension.

As a functioning alcoholic I had been able to maintain some semblance of employment by working in the hospitality industry.  I was a bartender, cook, and a manager at one time or another from 1992-2012.  Towards the end of my career in restaurants, I began to drink more.  In fact, before I came to The Extension, I was drinking from the moment I woke up until the moment I passed out.  I had fallen into a hopeless state of being and I really didn’t see much point in anything.  My family had grown tired of my empty promises to stop drinking and straighten out my life, I was losing my possessions and my mind, and I had become homeless.  It was at this lowest point in my life that a friend of mine suggested I speak to the staff at The Extension.  Coming into The Extension was the best decision I have ever made.

From the day I walked through the doors at The Extension, I was loved.  I hadn’t felt that kind of unconditional love in years and I didn’t believe I deserved it.  It took some time for me to grasp that these strangers didn’t actually want anything from me but rather wanted to give me something.  They wanted to give me the gift of sobriety.  At the time, I had no idea what sobriety was, but I felt like it had to be better than what I was doing otherwise.  I had always assumed that sobriety meant being clean from alcohol and drugs; and it does mean that.  But, it meant so much more than that too and that’s what The Extension taught me.  It meant integrity and following through on your commitments.  It meant honesty in every aspect of your life.  It meant emotional stability, financial stability, and brotherly love.  It meant all of the things I had always wanted in life but never knew I was capable of.  The Extension showed me how to work towards achieving sobriety through discipline, perseverance, and dedication.  I was required to show up for classes five minutes early and I was expected to learn while in these classes.  I was expected to show compassion towards my brothers and those I dealt with in my everyday life.  I was expected to keep my bed area clean, keep my belongings in order, and I was expected to save money from each paycheck while also staying current with my monthly expenses.  I was taught how to do all of these things through classes and guidance from my counselors and peers.  I was taught the importance of remaining teachable and embracing the fact that maybe I didn’t know quite as much as I thought I did and that maybe there might be some valuable lessons out there waiting to be learned.  I embraced the culture of recovery and sobriety that The Extension offered and I set out to become the man I had always wanted to become.

While at The Extension I did some serious soul searching and asked a lot of questions.  I read all the AA literature I could wrangle out of Mr. Bert and often times I would camp out in his office asking him what he thought the readings meant.  I spent time meditating and praying in an attempt to cultivate a deep and meaningful connection to my higher power.  It was through the guidance of the staff at The Extension that I began to realize a bigger picture for my life.  One that involved service rather than taking and while this was at first a foreign concept to me, I quickly saw that the more a person gave the more they received.  I began to ask how I could give back and that’s when this program of recovery really began to take hold in my life.  It was during one of my quiet moments of reflection that I began to see a vision of what my future could look like if I were willing to utilize the tools given to me by The Extension and if I were equally willing to work hard for my goals.  I made a decision to do just that.

After leaving The Extension I began work on a college degree.  I had gone to one semester of college back in 1991, but I failed out miserably and decided college wasn’t for me.  To start this journey over again at 41 years old was daunting but I believed with all of my heart that The Extension had prepared me to handle anything that would come my way.  I began my first semester back at college at Georgia Highlands College.  GHC is a two year, open enrollment program offering various associate of arts degrees.  I set my sights on a degree in political science.  I was working full time, and going to school full time and I initially thought maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew but I kept my head down and did the next right thing that was in front of me and finished my first semester back in school in over 20 years with 5 A’s and a spot on the President’s list.  With some new found confidence I repeated this effort for four more semesters, including summers and graduated with a 4.0 GPA, Phi Theta Kappa international honor society, a scholarship for creative writing, and an award for graduating first in my class among political science majors.  I was also able to turn my time at GHC into an acceptance and partial scholarship to Columbia University in New York.  I had to pause and pray on what to do next as these were uncharted waters.  Luckily, The Extension had taught me to ask others for advice and help when faced with a difficult decision so that’s what I did.  It was that moment of pause in asking others that allowed me to see the value in staying close to home.  It was right around this time that I met my beautiful wife as well.

I married my amazing wife, Crystal, in November of 2014 and I am truly blessed and grateful to The Extension for showing me how to be a more thoughtful and caring individual.  They taught me conflict resolution skills and how to listen.  These have been invaluable tools in my everyday married life.  She has been my daily reminder to find my Grace when it’s not clear to me on how to proceed.  She has brought with her four amazing sons and my family grew to 8 people just like that!  It’s these incredible people that I live for today.  They are all special and they all inspire me to be a better human on a daily basis.  They supported me after I graduated from GHC and went on to graduate from Kennesaw State University with a bachelor of science in political science.  Since graduating from KSU I was accepted to, and just finished up my first year at Georgia State University College of Law.  I served last year as my 1L class’s senator representative to the student bar association.  I’m now in my second year of the part time evening program at GSU COL and I work full-time for an attorney who has been practicing law for nearly 40 years in Atlanta.  We are in the middle of a campaign to be elected to a judgeship on the state Court of Appeals which means I would be blessed with the rare opportunity of being able to clerk for a judge.  I have set lofty goals for myself and through this program of recovery I plan on continuing to smash those goals.

This is a life I could have never imagined before March of 2012.  This life has been made possible because of the lessons I learned through the program at The Extension.  I have used the principles I was taught at The Extension in my day to day life and that has made all the difference in the world.  I continue to go back and help out where I can, when I can; but as you can imagine, my free time has become slightly more limited!  For that I’ll be forever grateful.