Recovery Rocks – Shane Watson

Shane Watson

Shane Watson

Shane Watson is a father, husband, public speaker, and recovery and prevention advocate. He currently serves as a Prevention Specialist for Scottsdale-based prevention education 501(c)(3) nonprofit notMYkid. He loves music, fitness, nutrition, psychology, camping, writing, hiking, mountain climbing, wandering, spoken word, boxer dogs, black coffee, documentaries, nonfiction books, the surreal, the cryptic, the supernatural, art, rain (especially in the desert), laughter, experience, possibility, and love. You can check out Shane’s Facebook page here.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

After having been caught up in substance abuse for several years, I reached the pinnacle of the madness. Unemployed, in significant debt, and quickly becoming hopeless, I had lost my self-respect, burned too many bridges to count, and was enslaved to addiction. I came to a point where I hated myself and consciously thought, “I’ve thrown my life away. There’s no coming back from this. I’ve done too much damage to ever repair, so I’m just going to ride this train until it crashes, which will probably be soon. I’m done.” I believed that.

The last night I drank, I went on a rampage, hurting people in the process, and leaving a trail of destruction behind me. I went absolutely berserk. Once I realized just how badly I had messed up, I attempted to kill myself. When I walked out my front door, I was greeted by a swarm of Phoenix Police officers.

The next morning, I found myself in Durango Jail, part of the notorious Maricopa County jail system. I thought I had lost everything I had left, and realized that I had become everything I never wanted to be. As the possibility of a multi-year prison sentence loomed over me, I went through horrific withdrawals in a cell that, while designed for a single inmate, was packed with four people. I was in hell, and I had bought my ticket there.

For me, “Rock Bottom” was the perfect storm of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain. I became willing to do whatever it took to change my situation, which meant that I needed to change myself, my behavior, and my way of thinking.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

My first 30 days of recovery were a pressure cooker. They started with me thinking my family was done with me. They continued with a stay in Durango, specifically in Building 7, Pod D—a psych pod. Once I was out of jail, my recovery continued in The Phoenix Dream Center, a live-in “Life Recovery School” designed for ex-cons, former gang members, victims of human trafficking, the homeless, and people who have been struggling with drugs and alcohol.

In many ways, the Dream Center is harder than jail. Our days started at 4 a.m. and ended at 11 p.m. Every moment of the day was scheduled for us and included intense morning workouts (run by a former pro rugby star), classes, janitorial work, maintenance work, labor, homeless outreach, church, etc. There were no days off. There was no sleeping in. The pace was intense, and I witnessed a handful of people who were unable or unwilling to deal with it. However, the PDC was where I first started to feel hopeful, where my mind first started to clear up a bit, and where my brain chemistry first started to recover some balance and stability.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

A number of wonderful things have happened to me since I managed to get sober. Most importantly, my daughter was born, and is the greatest gift I’ve ever received. With her, none of my regrettable history exists. I’m not some ex-junkie, recovering alcoholic felon. I’m just dad. And “Dad” is the most awesome title I can think of having. I’m good at it, and I enjoy teaching her things, showing her how to love and respect other people, and laughing with her.

Another amazing thing that’s happened to me in sobriety is the opportunity that was given to me by notMYkid, a local prevention education nonprofit. Due to my felony, 99% of employers won’t give me the time of day. It doesn’t matter that I have a university degree, years of experience, passion, energy, and a good work ethic. Once I check the “yes” box on the criminal record/felony portion of an application, any opportunity I may have had at that company is over.

However, as soon as I reached a year clean and sober, nMk was willing to give me a chance as a part-time Peer Educator, speaking to students on substance abuse prevention. I did everything I was asked to do and took on additional duties. I was relentless and determined in my efforts. Within the first three months, they made me full time. Four months later, I was given a staff position, and became the organization’s first Communications Coordinator. A couple years later, I was promoted to Manager of Parent and Faculty Education for the organization and eventually became a Prevention Specialist.

I research several behavioral health topics and create presentations for parents, school faculty members, after school program mentors, and camp counselors. I recruit, hire, and train Parent and Faculty Educators, who are primarily behavioral health professionals and current or former law enforcement officers. I do parent, student, and school faculty presentations on substance abuse, and I do parent and faculty presentations on bullying, depression/self-injury/suicide, and Internet safety

I travel around Arizona doing speaking engagements, sharing my personal story intertwined with teaching healthy coping mechanisms, communication skills, and prevention techniques. I’ve had the opportunity to share my story with students and government officials in Boston. I’ve spoken to groups as small as two people and as large as 1,000. I’ve done as many as seven one-hour presentations back-to-back. I’ve had the chance to address the Pinal County Drug Court, sharing my story and thoughts on the way government and the courts view addiction. I’ve presented at Grand Canyon University, Arizona State University, Paradise Valley Community College, and a number of corporations, Including American Express, Cox, and Insight. As of January 30th, 2016, I’ve done 193 presentations to an audience of over 14,000 people. Approximately half of my presentations have been given to students, and the other half to adults.

I also do TV, radio, web, and print interviews as one of the organization’s representatives. I’ve done around 45 interviews in the last three years, and I still love doing them. I am grateful for all the opportunities notMYkid has given me.

Finally, through my work with notMYkid, I was also able to take a very intensive weeklong training last fall to become a provisional ASIST suicide intervention trainer. I’m looking forward to facilitating some ASIST workshops in the future, and equipping as many community members as possible with the tools and knowledge to help individuals who are considering suicide.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

I’d let myself know that it genuinely can and will get better, and that all is not lost. I’d tell myself to save a lot of time, trouble, and heartache, and put the brakes on immediately. I’d explain that there is indeed a career and a purpose for me out there after all. I’d tell myself that all those thoughts I’d been having about how worthless I was were all lies and to not believe them.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

I’ve learned that all my experiences, even the horrible ones, have some kind of value and purpose. What I went through equipped me with a whole lot more wisdom and empathy, both which have been incredibly important in helping others. I’ve learned that I can indeed be very dependable, professional, and effective if I’m doing something about which I am truly passionate.

Finally, I learned that I wasted a whole lot of time, not only with drugs and alcohol, but by doing things that I did solely because I thought others expected me to do them. No one can live your life but you, and if you make decisions primarily to please others, you’re likely to end up miserable. Find what you love and do it, or make it happen.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

I’ve been able to do a ton of traveling, and have it all be very positive, productive, and memorable. Back when I was drinking and using, all these trips would have been unproductive, chaotic, destructive, costly, and I would have likely remembered only bits and pieces of them. Life is more fun when you don’t have to have it filled in for you after the fact by asking other people what happened.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

“To keep what you have, you have to give it away.”
I live it daily, and it has been, and continues to be, an amazing blessing.

“Progress, not perfection”
This one is so important to me. A big part of what kept me drinking and using was an “all or nothing” mentality and perfectionism when it came to myself. If I made a mistake, my mindset would be, “Well, I messed up again, so it’s all lost. Why try?” Nothing is ever truly going to be perfect, so I decided to stop driving myself insane attempting to achieve perfection. Make today better than yesterday. Don’t worry about tomorrow.

“Don’t quit before the miracle happens.”
Had I ended my life that night, I would have missed out on the most happiness I’ve had since childhood. I would have missed out on meeting the most amazing person I’ve ever known (my daughter). I would have missed out on finding my place and my purpose, and working my dream career.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

In a word: humility. The people I’ve met in recovery know they’re flawed. They know they’re not perfect. And they know that’s okay. They can admit when they’ve made a mistake. They have no problem saying “I’m sorry,” or owning their mistakes.

They also have no issue forgiving or welcoming someone else who has made mistakes as well, even huge ones. People in recovery, at least the majority I have encountered and chose to be around, generally try to avoid judgment, taking someone else’s inventory, or being focused on trying to keep someone else’s side of the street clean. They realize that a person’s past is exactly that: the past. They know that people can, and do, change. They accept you for who you are.

I wish I saw more of that in the rest of the world.

Check out Shane’s cool Youtube channel.

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