Recovery Corner – From gutter punk to columnist


Patrick Kempfer, Opinion Editor

As of June 7, 2015, I have been clean for six full years. The events leading up to the moment of waking up in a solitary jail cell, detoxing from drugs, and simply astounded and in all ways exhausted from the throes of addiction need not be detailed. We all have some knowledge of what that looks and feels like, even though our individual circumstances may differ. What is worth detailing is what has happened since that sunny Sunday morning, 6 years ago in Madison, and how those events now shape my life.

After a few days in jail, I appeared at my initial appearance before the Court Commissioner, and to my surprise, was offered an opportunity to go into residential treatment. I was fashioned with an electric monitoring bracelet on my ankle, of course, but this was necessary in order to help me eventually come to know the meaning of accountability.

It was a rough transition, and I was nearly kicked out several times due to my inability to behave in a socially acceptable way. My years of counter-culture lifestyling had conditioned me to act without regard or concern for others’ safety or comfortability. Nevertheless, I was given many chances to correct my behavior, and allowed to complete the 30-day program, and remain in the facility until a bed opened up in the transitional living house associated to the treatment facility. I stayed at this coed recovery house for four months, securing employment, establishing myself in the local recovery community, and maintaining a service position as secretary and GSR of the 12 Step meeting that took place back at the residential treatment facility. Incidentally, that meeting was the conduit to which I came to know the community of recovering people, those who showed me a new way to live.

From there, I was afforded the chance to move in with a sponsor for a brief time, and then with my mom and grandmother for a little more than a month, so that I could save a little more money for my own place: a single room in a boarding-style house, filled with degenerates, potheads, and one very unruly toddler. Because of the dysfunction of the house, I focused more on the recovery community as a place of identification and sanctuary.

Over time, I realized I was worth more than “getting by” with menial labor and fast food jobs and decided to return to school. I succumbed to the cliché of pursuing a career in substance abuse counseling, and earned a license as a substance abuse counselor–in training.

Having been exposed to a life outside the shadows of 12 Step anonymity, I began looking for ways to carry the message of hope beyond the rooms, and into the minds of the masses. I have been involving myself in recovery advocacy, the destigmatization of addiction, and the normalizing of open, active recovery.

I speak at middle and high schools, community gatherings, and city council meetings. I have remained active in 12 Step service, taking on many different roles and tasks, along with sponsorship, so my approach to school has been mostly a halftime commitment, in order to keep my recovery a number one priority. I am currently working my way through the Journalism Certificate Program Curriculum, taking classes like Newswriting, Photojournalism, and Documentary Storytelling, so that I may tell the many stories I have collected over the years, and the ones I am making up as I go on in this amazing life.

At this time, I hold coordinator titles in several recovery advocacy organizations, and have been appointed the chapter lead in a national organization, where I will soon get the chance to collaborate with similar individuals from across the country in a national leadership conference. Additionally, I have been asked to coordinate an effort to collect information, consolidate said information, and piece together a comprehensive list of recovery “safe zones” in the county.

Today, I live an absolutely amazing life. Today, I am overcome with gratitude for all that I have been given. Today, I am a contributing member of my community. Today, I am a better son, brother, friend, employee, mentor, and lover. Today, I have more than I could have ever imagined for myself. Today, I am six years clean from alcohol, all illicit drugs, and have not used tobacco or nicotine in more than two years.

Today, I am alive because I had done all that I could do with active addiction, and I was willing to try something different, and it all began one chilly Sunday morning, in a cold jail cell in 2009. Never would I, or could I, have guessed that my life would become what it is today, but it has. It has only been possible because of the faith of others in me to accomplish something more than what I once was; the opportunities presented to me by the mysterious powers beyond my comprehension; the gift of desperation; guidance over desire; and a sheer tenacity to reach out to the stars, for I am one with this universe, and I intend to make sure the universe knows it.