Like most adolescents, I craved a sense of identity. From the outside looking in, you would have thought I had it all: two great parents, a stable home life, made good grades, played basketball, won Mr. Senior, etc., but there was an emptiness, a void, that I could never fill.
I was always an exemplary student. Throughout school I achieved a 4.0 GPA and even received the honor of valedictorian. My extracurricular activities were seemingly as impressive. I engaged in many clubs and played sports throughout my stay at Sheldon Clark High School. Despite my high aspirations I always sought more. I was never satisfied and hated being alone. In the face of my achievements, I felt a void and was troubled by a feeling of emptiness.
This feeling of emptiness drove me to become rebellious. I grew up in church and attended frequently. However, my intelligence and curiosity craved to know the “why” to what I was told to believe. I questioned religion. My questions were met with shame and reprimand. Instead of learning more about the faith of my family, I identified as agnostic, and even atheist, for more than a decade and a half. I allowed myself to let the judgment that was placed upon my inquisitiveness to help me become jaded with organized religion, and this guided me to a position of unbelief.
In 1996 I began experimenting with drugs, but it wasn’t until the fall of 1997, my freshman year at Morehead State University, that I found the love of my life, oxycontin, something that not only filled the void (or so I thought) in my spirit, but it also gave significance to my rebellion. My concerns with religion and acceptance melted away. I had found my relief! I loved the feeling. It did what nothing else that I had ever tried could do. Drugs filled the emptiness that I felt.
Drugs never really held me back in school. In fact, in some ways, they helped. I went from Sheldon Clark High School to both Morehead State University and the University of Kentucky, earning a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in physical therapy. During undergraduate school at Morehead, I began to sell drugs to help support my increasing habit. My alcohol use was also escalating rapidly. In 2003, I started my physical therapy career continuing to use and drink, chasing sign-on bonuses to help fuel my habit. With money being good in my field and selling drugs on the side, I almost never had to go without my relief. It was years before I ever considered myself an addict. I continued to see and hear about other addicts, and I would deny that I was anything like them. I thought I used recreationally, nothing more. It was everyone else’s problem, not mine.
In 2005 I married a girl who knew nothing of my use. Shortly into it, I realized the marriage was a mistake. Fights and arguments were constant. We didn’t have much in common, and we bickered about the few things we did share. We divorced three years later.
Once she and I divorced, I no longer had to hide my use. This also coincided with the beginning of what I call the oxy rush. It was everywhere, all the time. Life as I once knew it began to unravel quickly. I came to the sudden realization that my drug use was out of control. I was half a million in debt from student loans, a house, and various other schemes. In a very short time, I had taken out multiple payday loans, maxed out every credit card that I could get my hands on, and had pawned everything I owned. Drugs had ripped away my dreams and my joy.
One day I looked around and found myself living in an empty house with no running water, no electricity, and nearing foreclosure. I even had to sleep in my car at times because I had accumulated a large amount of debt with some very bad people and it was unsafe to be home. I remember hearing a guy say in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, “I used to drink from the bottle, but then the bottle began to drink from me.” That was my life in a nutshell. The very thing that had once given me the most relief had ripped everything away from me. My goals, my dreams, my aspirations were… gone. Life was miserable, and I thought constantly about killing myself.
Thankfully God had other plans for my life. Despite knowing that my alcohol and drug use was out of control, I did not believe there was hope for me. I felt I had done way too much for way too long.
Once my house in Ashland went into foreclosure, I moved back in with my parents. Living under their roof, with their constant oversight, I was able to pick up a few pieces of my shambled, scattered existence. During this time I was able to string together about three “good” months and met Summer, and I immediately knew she was different from all the other females I had ever met, but nothing in this realm had the power to supersede my addiction and alcoholism. So as always, I hid my past from her and played the game, yet again.
We hit it off perfectly and forged a great relationship. She and I married in 2009, all while I am hiding this horrific addiction. I so desperately wanted to get better for her, but I just couldn’t. My best efforts weren’t good enough. I even tried methadone and suboxone to no avail.
After crashing and burning again in 2014, I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the best moments in my life happened: my turning point. Summer kicked me out of our home. I remember it like it was yesterday. She said, “Matt, I love you, but you have to leave. I can’t help you anymore. I just can’t.” It was such an emotional time. I had made her as sick as I was. That’s what addiction does. I was so beaten, battered, and tired. I hated myself. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. Too much deceit. Too much shame. Too much guilt.
So you may be asking yourself, where did he go next? Well, I went back to my parents. They were there yet again to help pick me up. Like the story of the prodigal son in the Bible, my parents were always there for me, waiting and knowing that one day God’s goodness would prevail, and I would come to myself. They were there to dust me off and set my feet in the right direction. Thankfully they never gave up on me, even though they should have.
I came to my parents house determined to find a new way to live, even though I didn’t even know what that meant at the time. I just knew that it had became clear that I could not beat this thing on my own. I had to have help. I was able to check into Belle Grove Springs within 48 hours of Summer kicking me out of our home. On the way to Belle Grove Springs I used. We were less than 5 miles away, but I had to have one last fix. The disease didn’t want to let go of me. It never does.
I was withdrawing for the first couple weeks that I was in treatment. It was horrible, but the prayers and comfort of the staff and clients got me through. To this day, it’s hard to explain what happened at Belle Grove Springs. It’s something I could have never predicted or even thought was possible.
We left the first evening to go to church, and I immediately started plotting on how to get a cigarette (back then Belle Grove was tobacco free) while we were out. Then something happened that had never happened before. Even though I could have smoked, I didn’t. Although this may seem small, I decided to not play by Matt’s rules but consciously chose to submit. This instance was very much a turning point in my passage to recovery. What followed was an incredible journey.
The amount of brotherhood in the house overwhelmed me. I was finally accepted for who I was. I could learn from people that had walked the same path that I was walking. We were all there for the same reason, and we were all fighting the same battle. “I” had turned to “we.” At Belle Grove Springs I learned of God’s love for us. He loves us so much that the only normal and logical response to that kind of love is a surrendered life, a life lived for Him. I learned that God is not just our judge, but most importantly He is Father — and that everything that He does is from the heart of a Father — that Jesus came, not only to save us, but to reveal to us who the Father was.
I realized something at that house. Christianity was not the set of rules and judgment I had decided it was. The staff, and the students showed me the free and unconditional love of Christ, which is bigger than all problems. Christ showed himself through my brother’s in recovery, and the staff that loved me while I couldn’t love myself. Through this love I found that there is a better way; no matter how deep, hopeless, and lost, anyone can get a new life. During my stay at Belle Grove Springs, God led me to give up my career as a physical therapist and into the addiction field. I signed on as a graduate assistant and was hired on full-time at Addiction Recovery Care. I am no longer part of the problem, but I am part of the solution.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Just because my life looked successful, didn’t mean that it felt that way. I had money, a relationship, degrees, went on vacations, and had a great job, but it all meant nothing with drugs. My identity now is in Christ, and he satisfies the void I once tried so hard to fill. I often think about the harm and pain I caused those around me that I loved, but I know that I can only move forward with who I am today, not who I was.
My parents unwavering support and constant prayers were instrumental in my recovery. My wife was my rock, and she still is. She began to educate herself on addiction. She had never been through it personally, but she sought to understand what I was going through, and God gave her the supernatural ability to do so. Her simply caring enough to seek this knowledge meant more to me than she will ever know.
Matt and Summer in 2016.
If you have a person addicted that you love, don’t give up on them. It’s hard, but love them through it, and remember love is sometimes tough love. Hopefully my story encourages those who are affected by addiction. If I can recover, anyone can.
Matt Brown completed the residential program at Belle Grove Springs, and today is the chief of staff to the CEO at Addiction Recovery Care.