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I had been a freelance graphic designer in Las Vegas for a decade when, in 2004, I’d lost approximately 60% of my business in the first half of the year because of the changing dynamic of casino ownership on The Strip. I struggled to recover for the next six months. By the beginning of 2005, I’d lost my business and my home.

As it turned out, free time and depression were not a good combination for someone like me. I was never a teetotaler. Contrarily, “work hard, play hard” was more my motto. Since I had nowhere to be in the morning, I took to the nights for distraction. And Las Vegas never closes. For that reason my city might seem peculiar to others, but not to me. It’s all I know.

The drinking felt good.

It honestly made me feel better. My favorite bars became my refuge. They removed the depression and feelings of failure, even if only temporarily. I didn’t feel so broken. And I wasn’t alone.

In addition, this nocturnal, alcoholic mischief only heightened my love affair with the night. There’s something I truly love about the very late night and very early morning. It’s an interesting feeling, like having a secret that you share with only a select few. The cloak of night gave me a feeling of anonymity and that was liberating.

Then things escalated.

Up until the loss of business and home, drinking was generally only a weekend thing for me. My consumption was social but I was no angel: other substances were around. But again, I relegated those activities to the weekend only. Unfortunately without the daily structure of a professional life, everyday felt like the weekend. What began as something to ease depression was now growing into something very destructive.

For three years the alcohol abuse continued and the drug use grew. Two nights a week turned into three nights. Three nights turned into five nights. Frequently entire weeks would go by where I’d inhabited that same corner seat at the bar, “Bill’s seat” it was referred to with a chuckle, and drank for many hours, sometimes 10 or more…because the bars never closed and my pockets were full of interesting things. It was like the briefcase in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. On any given day I’d have a small assortment of things: mostly stimulants and ecstasy, but other things made their way around. And if I wanted something I didn’t have, I could make a phone call or perhaps just lean over and whisper the request into a helpful ear.

I was a rain dog.

I had lost control of my life. Only the people I partied with actually knew the extent of the things I did. As while sober, I was a very happy and fun-loving person when I was drunk or high…only more so. No one could tell that I was swayed to alcohol and substance abuse by way of depression. And my addictive personality only spurred my behavior. “If some is good, more is better” is a humorous maxim, but not as it pertains to a poisonous lifestyle. After three years, I’d lost perspective, I’d lost direction, I’d lost my life’s balance and I’d lost my entire savings.

Then something wonderful happened.

One afternoon my cell phone rang. It was an unknown phone number. I never pick those up. As I stood there and watched the phone ring, I anxiously wondered who it might be. I assumed it was one of my creditors. They were getting nervous (and rightfully so). Moments later the phone indicated a voicemail had been recorded so reluctantly I checked the message.

The voicemail was from an old acquaintance. Quite literally a friend-of-a friend sort of thing. Through the grapevine he’d discovered that I’d been freelancing, although he didn’t know about my “fall from grace.” The call was to see if I’d consider giving up the freelance life and come work on his staff as a graphic designer for the large company at which he worked. It was music to my ears. The universe had shown pity on me and reached out its hand. I saw this as a sign and used it as an opportunity to get back my life.

A friend was going through some tough marriage and health issues simultaneously. In addition, she was mom to two very small children. She was struggling to keep it all together and it seemed like things just kept piling up on her. But she had three very important things in her corner: her very strong religious faith, her mind (intelligence and positive attitude), and the overwhelming desire to be a great mom for her children. With them in mind, as she was getting her story off her chest and into the world as a form of personal catharsis, she wrote this:

In fact with them around, theres no other option but to keep on keepin on.

I dont want to just survive this,

I want to come out of this kickin butt in life.

I want to be the dopest phoenix they ever saw.

So if ever they find themselves in a similar place of trials and pain,

I can be an example of the goodness that comes from rising above it all.

I fell in love with those words. She was speaking from a true and honest place. I’ve kept the dopest phoenix in my mind as a sort of symbol to keep on keepin’ on and to rise above the adversity I’ve struggled with in my past and for whatever may come in my future.

It’s taken a few hard years but I beat that destructive life. Having a job has given me a daily structure so I stay out of trouble. The people I work with are very creative, educated, quality individuals, so going to work everyday is a pleasure. For the last four years I’ve been clean from drugs and my alcohol consumption is again contained. Now I only go out for social drinking two or three times in a month. I’ve developed a savings account. I have redirected my addictive personality to reading, to listening to audio books and lectures, and to otherwise filling my brain with learning and discovery. I’m again researching and studying art, art history and my favorite artists as, after all, the fine arts were my chosen field of study in college.

All of these are things of which I’m quite proud and very grateful. And I was able to turn it all around with the strength of my own mind, and the faith in knowing that I am a good person. But it took a sign for me to finally open my eyes. That phone call was an opportunity that changed my life. And I made the decision to change. That is key: one must firmly decide to change.

I got lucky. Or maybe it was fate, whatever one believes fate is. But I hope that others who find themselves in the depths of depression, can also find a sign that helps them open their eyes as well. They need to be aware of the amazing person they are and realize the potential within them. The world needs everyone’s talents.

Posting this is part of my catharsis. I’m hoping that perhaps this story is reaching a reader in need, so that they might take this as their sign to firmly decide, and then take the steps to change their life too.

Photo credit: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/weather/hurricane/storm-center-blog/sfl-rain-before-a-cooldown-20111017-001,0,1310772.photo

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