Graduation Day - eric whaley

Eric Whaley

Eric Whaley
Chicago, IL

Eric has just graduated from Above and Beyond’s Intensive Outpatient Therapy Program and he has many reasons to be grateful. He credits God, Above and Beyond, and his newly found sense of humility to maintaining his sobriety.

The Boulevard referred Eric to Above and Beyond months ago, but that is not where this story begins. It starts when he was younger. At fourteen he began smoking cigarettes and drinking wine. When he went to high school he progressed to beer, vodka - any alcohol - really, smoking marijuana, popping pills, and dropping acid.

Eric grew up in a single-family home of six. He took to the streets looking for a father figure. Instead of finding what he was looking for, he adapted to what he found: a world of gambling, drugs, and alcohol. Although he was still going to school, he stopped attending regularly and didn’t graduate. He took jobs that would allow him to continue to get high, but they didn’t usually last long.

Around the age of 26 he started drinking cough syrup and using other drugs like Valium, crack cocaine, and heroin. By then, he couldn’t hold a job, keep an apartment, or stay out of some sort of trouble. That wasn’t enough to get him to seek help and get sober. He kept using because he didn’t think he was an alcoholic or a drug addict. He thought he could manage it – exchanged one ‘fix’ for the other, made trade-offs, used one more and another less.

Finally, after being incarcerated a few times for drug offenses, losing more jobs and apartments, Eric realized he did have a problem and began to start his journey toward recovery.

Eric went into rehab, and although it didn’t work at first, he did get a ‘spark’ each time. “I didn’t know it then, but that spark was giving me some information that I could use down the road to get sober.” He attributes his five or six failed starts to his former way of thinking. “I didn’t think I had a problem. I didn’t want to think I had a problem, and I wasn’t doing it for myself.”

Although he was attending meetings, he still wanted to do his own thing. “How could a grown man be told what to do and how to do it? I was self-centered and selfish and that would just lead me back to using again.”

Then at critical point last year, on his way back from getting his paycheck from yet another temp job, Eric wasn’t feeling right. He started sweating profusely and realized he was having a heart attack. He caught the bus home and just wanted to lie down. To illustrate how powerful the grip of his addiction was, on Eric’s way home he was already thinking about getting ‘him one’ and he was going to do it. It was easy. Along a pathway to his house there was a particular spot that always had drugs to sell. But when he got there, he asked for some but they didn’t have any. As he recalls his story, his voice breaks, tears well up in his eyes and he credits God for intervening on his behalf. “If I would have gotten that bag, I would have gone home, used and probably killed myself because I was in the middle of having a heart attack.”

With no drugs in hand, he simply went home to lie down. After not feeling any better, he caught a bus to the hospital. Eric was having a heart attack and ended up in intensive care for 7 or 8 days. When he was discharged, he went back to using, not as much as before, but he was “dibbling and dabbling”. Still using for weeks.

At some point thereafter, on his way home from doing work for relatives, he started feeling funny and had to lean against a wall relying on a friend to help stay upright. He went back to the hospital and again ended up in intensive care, but this time he had a stroke. Although that devastated him and along with what he had previously been through: a heart attack, a clogged artery in his right leg, earlier surgery for blindness in his left eye, it didn’t stop him. He got hold of some Fentanyl and almost ‘fell out’.

After losing yet another place to stay, Eric went to a friend’s house (a father figure-type), but a smoke house just the same. Since he didn’t have much mobility, he started to give up, as he couldn’t do the things he used to do. He mostly watched TV all day. He used when he could, but because he didn’t have any money, one thing led to another and he got ‘put out’. For the next two nights, he slept in a park. On the third night, a friend mentioned that they should go back to rehab. He agreed, but this time, he wanted to do it for himself.

So, earlier this year, he walked into Above and Beyond, with a purpose: to get and stay sober. It didn’t click in the first few meetings, but eventually it did. He smiles when he reminds himself exactly when it did – his ‘aha’ moment. Eric credits Dan, Terry, and the entire staff for their unwavering support and, most important, Rational Emotive Behavior Training (REBT) and the skills that he learned while attending the program. He credits himself too, as he should – for doing the work and knowing he needs to continue. He also learned that he could have fun without using, something he really didn’t think was a possibility.

“All situations aren’t going to go my way, and before; I would use if someone pissed me off, if I encountered somebody I didn’t like, if I was bored, hurt, lonely, etc. But now, I have tools. I still go to meetings, because that is what I need to do. At those meetings, I see other individuals just like me. I already knew I was an alcoholic and a drug addict, so I wasn’t confused. I just needed to surround myself with individuals who weren’t using. I go to any meeting I can, for me, not just to fill out a sign-in sheet or because I’m told to, but so that I can stay on the right track.

I have graduated – but I am still going to come back because I need to and maybe, just maybe, I can help someone else. Above and Beyond helped me get outside of myself, taught me about giving back, one addict helping another – it might be indirectly - I might not even know it’s happening. And, although I can’t get my youth back, I can help inspire and positively impact the youth of today.

I wish I learned these concepts a little earlier, but it’s OK – I’m right where I am supposed to be at this particular time in my life. I got my GED and want to take more college courses, and I would really love to study forensics, but I am taking it one day at a time, not putting too much on my plate so that I don’t get overwhelmed. I may not be 100%, but I’m getting better and for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m doing pretty well. I am a changed individual, grateful for what I have and trying not to complain about what I don’t have or what isn’t going my way.

Before Above and Beyond, I was powerless – but now, I am powerful! It’s not all peaches and cream – but my worse day sober is better than my best day getting high.”