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I Can't Live Your Life for You: Andy's Journey in Recovery

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After several trips to the emergency room and attempts to get help, Andy found himself at the end of his rope. During his last hospitalization due to complications arising from his decades of alcoholism, a nurse told him that he “had to go somewhere” and that he “didn’t have a choice."

/Guiding Light

Andy was born in East Grand Rapids into a comfortable and secure two parent home and lifestyle. “I was born into a good family, we had everything we needed,” he said. Dad always had good jobs, mom went to U of M dental school and was a Dental Hygienist. We moved around but we were always in Grand Rapids, we would get bigger and better houses…safe communities…good schooling.” He grew up with an older sibling and a had very much a typical and idyllic upbringing. In his teens Andy excelled in athletics and forged an identity for himself as a popular and well-liked young man amongst his peers at East Grand Rapids Highschool. “I played every sport…baseball, soccer, I even played football for a season…that was a bad choice.” But for Andy, playing golf became his true passion. “I played four years of varsity golf, and was the first freshman to ever make the team I think in the history of East Grand Rapids.” Andy loved the attention he got as a young athlete and relished his ability to fall in with any crowd, regardless of his age. “As a freshman in high school and with my sister being a senior, I hung out with the older kids. I had a lot of friends with a lot of different cliques, I hung out with every crowd. The Identity of ‘who is Andy becoming’ in high school developed into…as humbly as I can put it…as like a sports star. By the time I was a senior I was the man.” Although there was some partying in his formative years, it was never anything beyond what most would consider a normal amount of experimentation with drugs and alcohol in Highschool. “I wasn’t a rebel or anything, but as someone who was in the ‘in crowd’ I was gonna go to parties, I was gonna smoke, I was gonna drink, and that’s what I did. It didn’t really effect any of my school work. It was about hanging out with the right or the wrong crowd.” Andy kept his eye on the prize, which for him, was golf. “All I was really trying to do in high school was to get good grades and get a scholarship to play golf,” he recalls.

Eventually Andy was able to get into Hope college on an athletic scholarship, but quickly found out the experience was not everything he hoped it would be. “I loved everything about Hope, I made a lot of friends. But after my sophomore year I didn’t want to play golf anymore. It was the grind and I was like ‘you know what, I don’t wanna do this anymore. The game that I loved so much became so frustrating to the point that I couldn’t get better.” Andy decided to drop out of Hope college and move back to Grand Rapids from Holland. “I took my golf clubs and I threw them in the closet in the basement, and I told my mom ‘don’t let me touch this.’ And I had to figure out what I was gonna do.” Throughout that summer, pondering what his next step was in life, he received a call from a friend asking him if he wanted to play nine holes. He reluctantly agreed and re-discovered his love for golf. It was then that he made the decision to continue going to college at Eastern Michigan University, where he spent three years “wasting time, just taking electives and core classes just to be able to say I was in college.” Living in Ann Arbor, Andy found a job working at a local sporting goods store where he stayed employed at after determining to himself that “school wasn’t for me.” As Andy journeyed turned 21, all of his friends began to move away and into their own respective careers and he found himself increasingly secluded. “I got an apartment by myself…complete isolation…and that’s when the drinking started.”

A common saying among men and women in recovery is that alcohol is a drug that wants to get you in a room alone and kill you, and in Andy’s case it was no different. “My drinking started at seven o’clock every single night. Then as the years went on it changed to five, then to two, then to one…on my off days it was ten in the morning.” Andy’s progression with alcoholism followed an all-too-common pattern, where one fails to see how serious a problem they have on their hands until it is far too late. “I had no awareness of what my life was turning into, because I was content. I was making a lot of money, I was just going with the flow.” Andy continued on with this until he was 27 and his alcoholism hit a “turning point.” The “content-ness” to which Andy had become so accustomed to was shattered when the woman he had been dating for five years decided to break things off with him. “She said to me ‘I can’t do this anymore’…and that was the hardest thing up to that point in my life that I had to deal with because we had talked about marriage and where we wanted to live and how many kids we wanted.” Shortly after that Andy lost the job he loved selling golf equipment because of his drinking. “The owner didn’t really fire me, he just said to me ‘you’ve gotta do something different,’ he didn’t offer any help or explanation or anything like he just that he couldn’t have me here anymore.” It was at this point that Andy’s alcoholism crossed the threshold from “functioning” to full-blown chronic unmanageability. “I just sat there in my apartment and didn’t shave, my health rapidly went downhill, I drank everyday, I had no direction, I took unemployment…it was bad.”

This continued on until Andy got a call about a seasonal job selling golf equipment in Boyne Mountain which he accepted. The change in scenery got him out of a rut temporarily, but his problems followed him. “It was fun, it was great actually…but again I was isolated, they put me up in a room at the resort, and once again it was just me and the four walls with zero accountability.” Andy’s extensive knowledge and skill with regards to golf opened up doors and opportunities for him through which he was able to bounce around from job to job at various courses and shops. He eventually ended up living and working at a pro shop in Bonita Bay, Florida, where he worked for ten years. However, Andy’s alcoholism followed him there, and he began drinking on the job and “taking advantage” of his employer whom he considered to be a friend. “One day, my boss called me in and he asked me point blank ‘are you drinking’ and I said ‘no,’ and then he reached under his desk and pulled out a cup that I had left behind the counter at the driving range and said to me ‘I’m gonna have to let you go.”

It was at this moment that Andy attempted for the first time to get help and checked himself into a substance abuse rehabilitation program in Florida. “I was there for two months, and I had a brief moment of clarity in sobriety and I remember thinking ‘I got this’ and I left.” It didn’t last long, and he quickly found himself again drinking every day. Through out this time, Andy believed his problem was his own secret and that no one else was aware of how severe it was getting. This changed however during a visit to see his parents and his father asked him to have lunch. “I remember I came home one weekend and my dad told me ‘we’re gonna go have lunch, there’s this place called Guiding Light.” Andy quickly realized this was his father’s way of telling him that he obviously needed to get help. “I had a sit down with Brian Elve (Program Director of Guiding Light Recovery) and we talked for half an hour and it was a good talk, but I wasn’t in it, I was just there. At the time I felt like I didn’t need the help, I talked to him about how manageable my life was and how great everything was, you know, living in Florida…it was all a complete lie.”

The unfortunate truth for men and women struggling with addiction is that they are often not ready to truly accept help until they have become sufficiently desperate. As many in recovery will tell you, until the pain of staying the same becomes the greater than the pain of changing, there will be no change. Andy flew back to Florida and continued on his way until the bottom fell out. “I went back to the same old stuff and a number of hospital visits later in a time frame I can’t remember. When I left the hospital the last time, the nurse said to me ‘you’re going somewhere and you don’t have a choice.’ And my dad flew me back to Grand Rapids and he told me ‘you’re gonna call Brian and you’re gonna ask him for help.” Andy stayed with his father for a week and began the process of getting into the Guiding Light Recovery program, which had recently began accepting intakes again. “I called Brian and said ‘this is Andy, I don’t know if you remember me’…and he cut me off and said ‘I do,’ and I said ‘Brian I need some help, I’m here in Grand Rapids…I’m broken…I don’t know what to do.”

Showing up at the doors of Guiding Light did not mean he was out of the woods yet, as Andy had to pass through a series of exploratory interviews and a probationary period for the Recovery program to determine whether or not he was a suitable candidate…he barely made it. “I was sitting in the conference room getting interviewed by Brian and the staff and at one point Brian got up and said to me ‘you’re a liar and a manipulator and I don’t think we can help you’ and he walked out. And I went into an office and called my dad on speakerphone and I told him ‘dad, I didn’t get accepted’ and he told me ‘well, do whatever you have to do, do whatever they tell you to do, because, guess what, I’m not comin’ to get ya’…and thankfully they allowed me to stay.”

Andy was accepted into the Guiding Light Recovery program on November 5th 2021 and hasn’t looked back since. “There’s happiness now, there’s a joy that I have again that I had lost…and I don’t want to lose it again,” he says. Since coming to Guiding Light Andy has found a new lease on life. He has a solid program and routine of working on himself and his sobriety. He has a good job again working in golf sales at a place where he loves and looks forward to coming in to everyday. He has healthy friendships with men and women in recovery. And despite his initial reservations, he has his own apartment at Iron House (Guiding Light’s sober-living housing in Kentwood). “I had resistance at first to moving here, I don’t know why, but I did. But then after my first weekend here, by Sunday I was like ‘why didn’t I move out here sooner?” By moving out to Iron House and following the suggestions of the Recovery program, Andy is following in a long line of success stories that have come out of Guiding Light. 76% of clients that move to Iron House stay sober over a year. “I was so close-minded to actually seeking help looking back it’s amazing what this place has done for me. It is a place that stands by the principles what is set down when you walk through those doors, which is basically ‘if you want this, it’s up to you.’ Everything from the leadership of the program, to the building downtown, to Iron House, everything is in place for your future…and a lot of people that walk through those doors don’t know what their future holds. And the opportunity given to me and to others to make something of yourself is something you cannot put a price on. Coming here was the most important thing I have ever done and I am so very grateful for the opportunity.”

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