Perfect On Paper, Struggling Inside

Many people exit active addiction with the feeling that they’ve escaped the gates of Hell. Michael celebrated six years in recovery on February 16. Getting help for his addiction to alcohol and gambling was the first step in a long process of rebuilding his life on the solid foundation of honesty, health, and service.

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Above all, Michael says, his recovery has given him the gift of peace.

Many people exit active addiction with the feeling that they’ve escaped the gates of Hell. For Michael King, Facing Addiction with NCADD’s National Director of Outreach & Engagement, the battle was just beginning.

Michael celebrated six years in recovery on February 16. Getting help for his addiction to alcohol and gambling was the first step in a long process of rebuilding his life on the solid foundation of honesty, health, and service.

Michael said, “When I entered early recovery, I left an absolutely massive pile of wreckage behind me. At the time, this was sometimes overwhelming. I felt like the mountain of mess would possibly be too high to climb and would wonder what the point even was in trying to live a different life. For nearly 1 ½ years, I had been embezzling money from my employer in order to feed my addictions. I came to the point where there was nothing left of my own and nothing left to take.”

Shame played a huge role in Michael’s illness. When he finally got help from trusted loved ones and entered treatment, he was terrified of the mess his life had become. His substance use disorder and gambling addiction were a stark contrast to the success and acclaim he enjoyed in his public life. When Michael hit bottom, everything looked perfect—on the outside. He had a career in the political arena in which he was respected and climbing, his final job being to serve as the Executive Director of the Washington State Senate Democratic Caucus. He owned a home, was married, had a daughter with a son on the way. On paper, it all looked great. Internally, it was a very different story. Michael was plagued by feelings of inferiority and lived in a constant state of anxiety and fear and dishonesty. He was deeply ashamed for everything he was doing, for the impact it was having on people and causes that he felt so deeply about.

He said, “Of course, this all led to even more drinking. My life was in a vicious cycle and I really felt completely hopeless. I’d always feared dying more than living. At the very end for me, that changed—I was more afraid to wake up in the morning than by the prospect of having it all end.”

Yet, it was clear that he needed to change. After 28 days in treatment, Michael started rebuilding his life from the ground up. He took recovery one day at a time, and spent the first nine months just trying to put one foot in front of the other. Anonymity, or even privacy, wasn’t an option for Michael. His actions in addiction led to major news coverage—so his “bottom” was a very public one. He was charged with eight counts of felony theft, and was sentenced to a two-year sentence in Washington State on what is called a DOSA sentence (Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative). This meant he’d do ½ time incarcerated, and ½ on community custody.

In spite of the overwhelming consequences of his actions in addiction, Michael stayed the course and continued doing the next right thing. The first year of his recovery included serving his sentence. It also changed his life forever—in beautiful and powerful ways. He said that all of the experiences he went through, despite the pain they caused, were a blessing in disguise.

“With the help of a dear friend, I got a job bussing tables in a restaurant. I went from Director of the State Senate Democratic Campaign Committee to bus boy – that was a lesson in humility!” he said. “I watched my son be born when I was 5 months sober. By staying sober, one day at a time, I’ve been able to help other people, be a loving, responsible and attentive father who gets to share custody of his two kids, with them spending 50% of their time with me. I’ve gotten to find authentic love and enjoy all the wonders of a new relationship with an amazing partner. I’ve gotten to find myself professionally and mix my love of community organizing with recovery.”

Above all, Michael says, his recovery has given him the gift of peace. He experiences serenity now, which is something he never felt before. He said that once he got the courage, open mindedness, and willingness to try something new, the payoff was extraordinary. But he also learned that part of what goes along with that is responsibility—a responsibility to take advantage of recovery to tackle the other challenges you may face.

Today, Michael’s dedication to his recovery has given him the gift of a clean slate and a sense of self-worth that helps him help others find their path, as well.

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