When I came to Mountainside in 2004, I habitually drowned out my feelings with alcohol and drugs. It had been years since I’d honestly expressed myself. I sat in the back of the Mountainside Friday night meeting, not knowing if I would ever get that 1-month chip; wondering if the cravings would ever go away; wondering if I’d ever feel good again. Due to my substance misuse, I lost just about everything. My possessions were clothes, a backpack, and a journal. Writing was the only therapeutic outlet I had left.
Early in recovery, I watched others open up and express their feelings. This gave me permission to do the same. The interesting thing about community – and Mountainside is a community – is it allows us to see ourselves: who we’ve been and who we want to become. The more I opened up and connected with others, the more confident I became in embracing life in sobriety.
I started exploring different outlets of expression, one of them being spoken word poetry. This reminded me of my childhood when I would go to Hip Hop dances. I loved how the culture of spoken word empowered people to be authentic, healthy, and have a great time doing so! Mountainside began to show me how I could create something like this in my unique way.
It all started when I celebrated my first year of recovery at Mountainside, a night that I will never forget. Family and friends came to show their support and celebrate with me, some I had not seen for years. The room was full of peers and staff as well. My “speech” even ended in a standing ovation! The crowd’s response gave me insight into my purpose in life, and my gift for public speaking. The experience I created for others, through my story, was the same experience I loved so much about the Hip Hop culture!
As the years passed, time and again, people affirmed my passion for public speaking. They reiterated how impactful it was to hear my story and perspective. Eventually, I realized something: I could speak professionally. I could use my stories, tools, and experiences to inspire hope and connect with a broader audience.
Well, a little less than a year ago, I gave my first TEDx talk on “The Power of Community.” It heavily relied upon my experiences at Mountainside as both client and staff. It’s almost like I’ve come full circle back to being a kid at the Hip Hop dance. Except for this time, I’m the DJ!
Today, I get to speak in different venues across the country. I get to tell people, ‘Yes, the cravings go away,’ ‘Yes, you will feel good again,’ and ‘Yes, there’s hope beyond what we see!’
Mountainside and the local community re-awakened my spirit and shined a light on the gift I have to give. For that, I am deeply grateful, and what better time of year to share in that.
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