From: Nokesville, VA
Dog: Kai, 7 years
Colleen Thomas's Humans in recovery story
I was a happy kid, busy with soccer, busy with basketball, busy with softball. My parents were hardworking, my mom worked for the FBI and my dad was a U.S. Marshal. I never really had a rough upbringing. My childhood was great. I grew up in a good family and I was fine, there was nothing wrong with me.
I was definitely addicted to soccer. Soccer was what kept me calm, kept me out of trouble. I wasn’t depressed. I didn’t have one bit of depression or one bit of anxiety ever. It wasn’t until I got into drugs that I started feeling bad, that the depression and anxiety hit. It wasn’t fun, but soccer was definitely my first addiction. I was so competitive. I had to play every day, and I had to win. Looking back, that’s an addiction of mine, and it was hard to get away from that.
I was playing college soccer, I had just started playing professional soccer and did a couple of years stint on the national team. On December 3, 2005, I got hit head-on by a drunk driver, and I’ve had 31 surgeries. After the fourth surgery, I figured two pills weren’t working, so I took an extra one. Three worked for a little bit, but four felt better. So I started taking four pills at a time, five pills at a time, and before you knew it I was taking four to five pills just to feel normal and not feel sick.
I progressed pretty quickly. I wasn’t expecting it, I had no idea I was an addict. The first time I had withdrawals I didn’t even know what they were, I thought I had the flu or something. I actually went to the doctor for that, I had no idea. The doctor gave me something to help the symptoms, which obviously didn’t work.
So my mom called one day and was like, “You’re probably withdrawing from those damn pills,” and I was like, “Yeah, you’re probably right, actually.” So I called the doctor and told him I needed a refill, and boom, I was feeling better. It was rough.
My active addiction was really bad. I did some bad things to my family. I actually told my parents that I needed this medicine after one of my surgeries, and it was $1,500 a week. I ended up just getting gift cards at the pharmacy and just pretending that I bought the medicine. I ended up putting my parents $40,000 into debt. So I was pretty good at getting away with a lot of stuff, and I think it was because my parents felt bad for me, so they would do whatever I wanted and they wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.
It wasn’t until I got really bad that my mom was like, “You either have to go to treatment or you and your dog are going to be living on the streets.” And that was my “shit, this is for real” moment.
I was always depressed, always anxious, constantly isolating myself, didn’t want to talk to people. I’d be sitting on my couch with a gun in my lap with my dog next to me, and I couldn’t kill myself because my dog was there. Who would take care of her? I tried overdosing on pills, but that didn’t work. I just wasn’t meant to die, I guess.
So I have a new outlook on life. I’m here to be a motivational speaker. I coach high school soccer sometimes. I train goalkeepers because that’s what I played. Life is a lot better than what it was before. I don’t feel sick, I’m not run by drugs. My life is more free. I don’t have to depend on doctors or have an appointment every week. I just feel free, whereas before I wasn’t free. I was tied down by the drug, chasing the dragon. I would do anything I could to get those pills, and usually my doctors would just give me some pain pills. I could get them if I wanted them, but it’s something that I’m totally done with. It doesn’t interest me anymore. That lifestyle doesn’t interest me, how bad I felt, how depressed I was. I wanted to kill myself when there’s more in this world I could do. It was just a bad experience overall, for fifteen years.
Kai is a Staffordshire Terrier and Weimaraner mix. She sleeps all day. It was very important to find a treatment that accepted her. She was my therapy dog, so going to treatment without my therapy dog just felt wrong. Like I didn’t have my support with me.
Going to Florida with Kai made me feel a lot more comfortable, a lot more open to the idea because without her there I think I would have been scared or anxious. I wouldn’t have known what I was walking into, but she was always there for me, always there for everybody else. It meant a lot to everybody that she was there, and I saw that, and it made me happy. Making other people happy makes me happy, so it was pretty cool having her there. I’m so glad Recovery Unplugged lets people have their pets because for some people that’s their whole world and that’s what makes them happy and less anxious. That’s what Kai did for me. I wasn’t scared of going to treatment because I had her by my side. With everything she’s done for me, I owe her the world.
Being in isolation because of coronavirus these past few weeks has been really tough. I’ve had some anxiety and some panic attack moments where I’m afraid I might give this to my parents or get it myself. It’s scary out there, but Kai keeps me calm. I don’t have to worry about feeling anxious or depressed or having that doom on my shoulders because I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I watch TV with her or take her to get out of the house for a little while. I’m just lucky to have her. I wouldn’t be here or made it if she wasn’t with me. I wouldn’t have made it. I wouldn’t be making it through this, I would have lost my head by now. She’s helped a lot.
I’m happy now, I love myself now. Whereas before, I didn’t care what happened to me. I probably would’ve gone out just to get exposed to coronavirus because I didn’t want to live. I couldn’t live without soccer, I didn’t know how to live without soccer. That was my life. It was how I made money, my connections, my network, my friends. Once all of that is taken away, you have a lot of time on your hands to think about how it was taken away. I was just in pain. I could still feel it if I think about it. I had no idea how to get over it, I couldn’t tell my mind to stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I had no identity. That day that you’ve trained for your whole life was just taken away. I got addicted to drugs, didn’t want to live.
Now I’ve been through Recovery Unplugged, I’m clean. I’ve been clean for a little over nine months. Life just has a whole different meaning. I’m here to help people, I’m here to help my parents. I’m here to be a speaker, to speak to kids like me. I know I can be a speaker and talk to these people, give them hope, help them realize there are other things that they’re good at. Shit happens, and life doesn’t turn out your way sometimes.
I wasn’t able to forgive the driver that hit me until a few months ago. I was with my therapist, and she was like “You’re not going to heal if you don’t forgive this guy. He’s been taking up space in your mind for the last fifteen years and if you don’t forgive him and move on you’re going to feel like this for the rest of your life.”
So I wrote a letter to him saying why I was forgiving him, and then I forgave him. I went and sat at the corner where the accident happened with my best friend, and I just sat there. I just took it in, realized it happened, it’s over, I’m past it. I just felt so calm when I was done. I felt like a totally different person. My outlook on life changed, I was positive. It was crazy how quick it worked. I’ve changed a lot.
I would tell someone still in active addiction two quotes. “You’ve made it through 100 percent of your bad days,” and “We’re never lost if we find each other.” The opposite of addiction is connection. When you share your life and what’s happening with other people, you can connect with a god of your understanding, a higher power. Just keep up the fight, keep up the hard work. We’re going to make it through this. We have to. After six months this is going to be one hell of a story you get to tell everybody. You made it through the 2020 pandemic and you stayed clean. That’s going to be really important to share with newcomers and people that aren’t making it through this, that aren’t making it through this.
I still go to three face-to-face meetings a week. We follow the CDC guidelines, we wear masks, but it’s a live meeting where we get to see people, hear people, you get to talk to them. Just not being in the house and going somewhere knowing you’re going to get that connection. For people who are really quarantined or working, I FaceTime, I text, I Zoom all day long. At least we can talk for a little bit and try and calm ourselves down. I reach out whenever I can. It’s something important to me, something that takes precedence in my life. I reach out to the next person, see if they’re all right and if I can help them I help them.
What I would tell families is that if your loved one is using, be patient. You can’t tell an addict to stop when they’re not ready to. If anything that might make them use more because they known you’re unhappy with them and that you don’t have a lot of confidence in them. Be patient, be there for support. Talk to them. Ask them if they’re depressed, if they need to go for a walk. Just ride in the car with music and dance. You have to be patient but still understanding and supportive. It’s difficult because I’ve been through it, I put my mom and dad through it. They stuck by me though, and that’s the important part. They never gave up on me.
Music always makes me feel better, it’s the highlight of my day. I can always FaceTime my sponsor and dance with her after she’s done with work. I know that she’s struggling with this too, she’s stuck inside all day because she’s immunocompromised. So I bring her groceries, toilet paper, and all the stuff to her house because she can’t ride with me. So I FaceTime with her and get her reaction.
Music has been a huge part of my life since I left Recovery Unplugged. Carl’s Meditation Mondays have been a big help. I never meditated before. I even told Carl while I was in Lake Worth that it was stupid. But by the time I got to IOP and he was playing the violin, it calmed me down. So now I meditate every single day.
I never really paid attention to lyrics in songs before I got to Recovery Unplugged, so it’s been good. I’m glad I was reintroduced to music. Between my dog and the music I can’t go wrong. That’s why Kai came with me to Recovery Unplugged. I just needed music and my dog.