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Matthew Rathgeb
We Do Recover

The only difference between a good and bad day is your attitude.

Growing up, I always wanted to both fit in and stand out among my peers. I spent my childhood tagging along with the neighborhood kids, trying to feel part of something larger than myself. The first time I got drunk, I was only ten years old. It was the best night of my life up to that point. Four years later, I tried cocaine.

I became hooked on every new drug I tried from then on. I loved to drink and do drugs with my “friends.” I was known as the life of the party, but the glory didn’t last long. What I considered normal in my addiction was actually dysfunctional. I was a daily drinker and drug user until I got sober 13 years later. At 16, I dropped out of school.

I thought one day I was just going to snap out of it and stop.

My addiction progressed so rapidly that I was smoking crack cocaine and injecting heroin every day by myself for two years. I suffered terrible anxiety attacks and made many attempts to get clean in various detox and rehabs. I never knew how big the beast of addiction was. So many people I knew died from addiction that I lost count, but nothing could keep me sober.

One freezing cold day, God blessed me with the greatest gift I have ever received: desperation. I crawled into a fellowship meeting with a burning desire to get clean. I “cold turkey” detoxed in the rooms, which was brutal. I knew I had to start the work right away. I found solid support at one of the best drug rehabs in Florida, and they spent so much time with me working through the mess I made. I was riding the wave of desperation, willing to do whatever was suggested. I had wanted to be sober before, but now I had the willingness to do whatever it took to attain sobriety.

Recovering from addiction is not a battle. It’s a surrender.

I got sober by surrendering and admitting defeat. Though, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. My whole life in early sobriety was about recovery, but staying clean wasn’t easy. I did all the things I didn’t want to do, and they turned out to be the best things for me. I can’t get in shape by going to the gym and sitting on the machines. And, I didn’t get clean and attain the rewards of sobriety by sitting in the back of recovery meeting rooms. It’s about how I live on a daily basis and how I conduct myself every day that makes the difference. I had the tools and the information on addiction before, but now I use it.

Recovery is a lifestyle.

Being in recovery is an indescribable feeling. I feel free, not only from the physical torture of being an active drug addict, but my mind and spirit have been healed and replaced with a powerful, optimistic vision of life. I have been transformed.

It’s a blessing to wake up every day and not be controlled by substances or pessimistic thoughts. I get up, pray, put my boots on, hold my head high and know with certainty that, as long as I am clean and living right, all will be well.

Recovery itself is certainly its own reward. I could never envision the life I have today. I am happily married with a beautiful daughter and a son and another on the way. My children have never seen me in active addiction. I have been clean their whole lives. I coach their sports teams. I started a painting business they can be proud of.

Most importantly, I have the opportunity to help other young men recover and watch them also start families and businesses. That has been the greatest reward of all — passing on this powerful thing we call recovery. There is real hope. We do recover.

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