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Nicholas Schoonbeck

13 YEARS IN RECOVERY
46 | ULSTER COUNTY, NY

Nicholas first reached out to me on Facebook in fall 2020. He explained how he came in across my project through mutual friends. Nicholas also told me how he has a few books he has been working on, along with a journal about his experiences. He stated that he has created his own project and plans to publish a memoir about his recovery to inspire others out there. He made it clear that it’s time to speak up and end the stigma about addiction.

 

I told him more about my experiences and how I was unsure about how willing people would be to share their recovery stories. Then, Nicholas told me about how he got sober with youth meetings and he noticed how younger individuals are so passionate and trying to have fun in recovery, which was inspirational to him. He said, “I don’t know if you could have done this before this time in history, but I’m really glad you did.”

Note

I had used opiates before in my life long addiction,

but near the end I was dating a woman who was addicted to opiates and had access to them. This changed me from a casual pill user to a full time opiate user, like so many others.

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My childhood was unique and difficult. I was really taking care of myself quite young, which led me to living on the street in New Paltz, becoming a leader of the local street scene, and my use just continued. But the other factors that contributed to my substance use, besides my hurt and anger, were mental health issues.

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I used opioids for 3 years all together.

It started slow, but then pretty quickly it became an everyday habit. It’s hard to describe what withdrawal feels like. That feeling urges you to go get more opiates.

It is like if you’ve ever had a bad flu, where you just can’t think straight, you feel sick, dizzy, and weak, but when you get the drugs in your system again, you finally feel normal, cheerful, productive and you can live again. Being without them usually means you lay in bed, too sick to really sleep, with aches and pains. It’s truly one of the worst experiences.

The turning point in my life was when I had lost everything including my family, friends, romance, job, money, and my home. I started planning my suicide, but I was nagged by a feeling that I had not really been sober since I was a teen and there was a small chance that if I tried sobriety and mental health, I might be better off and I decided I owe’d to myself to try. BUT I may not have done that if not for the physical addiction of opiates AND the offer of free treatment from my local Department of Social Services (in Catskill, New York at the time).

 

 

 

 

There was a question on the application asking if I had a drug or alcohol problem and I decided to be honest. I had no idea that would help get me sober, but when I discovered they were willing to help, I went for it.

I first found help in my recovery when applying for social services (food stamps and help with rent).

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The end of

December 2020,

I will be 13 years

in recovery.

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I originally used full time therapy, a psychologist who prescribed me psych meds, a year of every day outpatient treatment, a men’s group at mental health, and Alcoholics Anonymous  meetings.

 

I never officially followed the A.A. program, but I did adopt many of the practices and suggestions used in Alcoholics Anonymous.

These days I’m not doing much beyond continuing my psych meds to maintain my recovery, but I’ve started the process to get back into therapy. Also, I have a small group of sober support, and my eldest daughter, also an addict, who is now sober, is a huge part of my life.

Woof. There are many issues we have on the road of recovery, just ourselves, but there can be all sorts of outside conflicts too. Many addicts in recovery, including myself and my daughter, have experience with family members that are not as supportive as we would like. There are all sorts of learned behaviors and problems any of us can have, with romantic relationships, friendships and family.

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We have to learn about good boundaries and we have to analyze our behavior with rigorous honesty. It’s a long, tough process, but absolutely worth it.

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Influential people in my recovery are the individuals I have known with successful recoveries.

For most addicts, you eventually become a full time addict. Whether you’re a ‘successful’ addict, who is a person who can hold a job and maintain most relationships or you’re a full time, sleeping under a bridge, complete mess addict, you build a series of self-created facts about life and yourself. You ARE an addict, you will ALWAYS be an addict, life will ALWAYS have chaos, fights, arrests and struggle.

 

And more so, you create a myth about it that makes the struggles worth it. We who live on the street, see the TRUTH of life. Not like those lazy have-everything people. Those people who are beautiful, wealthy and brilliant. Those people are plastic, but we are TRUE people.

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We are all raw emotion and desperate for love. We are angry and wounded, but we live in the now. We are survivors. We are the best equipped to survive.

So, if you live that way for years, it’s very difficult to convince yourself that you were not just wrong about those things, but you were SO, so wrong. You have to rethink every thought, you have to analyze things, why you feel the way you feel and where that comes from. It’s huge and daunting to face that. Imagine everything you knew about yourself, all the stories, ideas and myths about who you are and what you came from – to break that down is pretty terrifying.

And starting the process to get sober is not like going to school or starting a new job where everyone there knows the right path and you just have to follow the directions.

 

If it were like starting a new job, think of it as you go to work and every employee already there has very different ideas about how to do the job and you don’t know who knows the right way.

 

In sobriety, you even start to realize that someone’s path might not be your path at all, and so much of the beginning is a process of experimentation. There is a lot of trial and error.

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You look to the solid people, the ones who stay cool even in stress and conflict. The more unwavering of your peers, you look to find people similar to you, similar stories and backgrounds, similar feelings and ideas. You look for people you can trust and that’s what helps most.

 

 

 

 

 

Staying sober often includes a group of sober support, fellow addicts that you can turn to when you’re slipping, worried or upset. They can help you stay on the road of recovery.

Seeing that other people have gone through the process and are still sober, you look to the successful because they will have felt what you are feeling and they will help you through it.

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My daughter is in A.A. and her therapist has a unique way of viewing the Higher Power ideas. For me personally, it’s not a factor, I don’t worry about God, or faith or the afterlife. I’m a very down to earth, practical man, who focuses on things I can do as opposed to, from my perspective, hoping some outside force is doing things. This personal preference does not mean that I look down on the practice in others. I firmly believe there isn’t just one perfect path to good sobriety.

 

 

 

 

Which is also a hard journey, because you have to figure out if you’re actually dodging the suggestions or authentically need a slightly different set of rules.

We are all unique, and we have a right to find a good path that suits us.

My relationship with my daughter is better than I imagined it could be since I have been in recovery. I have a real sense of peace these days and I’m not swept away by anger and pain, even when I’m mistreated. I am actively involved in the lives of 2 of my grandchildren, which is the most amazing thing.

 

 

 

 

My goal now, outside of being a good granddad and father and outside of social justice, is I want to publish my memoir. I saved so much from my life, so much evidence of my experiences and I hope it could help others — a bit like you and this project.

I think my favorite thing about sobriety is that it never gets old. You continue to grow, to evolve, to see and feel new experiences as you continue, even after 12 years.

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Nicholas Advice

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I have learned what healthy boundaries are and how to manage anger, frustration, disappointment, and sorrow. Also, how to be a good friend, a good family member and that at any point, on any day, you can stop, take a deep breath, and start again.

The advice that I would give to those still experiencing addiction would be to get involved in some kind of program of recovery. Go after sobriety with the same effort and passion you used to get high, and try to understand that if you were an active addict for a long time, it might take an equally long time to both recover and to convince people that you are recovering.

 

The advice I would give to those in early recovery would be to listen more than you talk. Be open to suggestions, give those suggestions an authentic try and do them for a while, even if you’re convinced it’s stupid or not for you. Try to understand that your entire perspective on life just might be wrong.

 

The phrase I like that sums it up well is: Your best thinking got you here (in addiction), so maybe it’s time to let some other perspective in.

Resources

If you or someone you know would like to reach out for help, here are some resources located in the Hudson Valley.