Many who struggle with addiction die or go to prison. Yet, sometimes miracles occur. These are the stories of those miracles
Estil Wallace Talks About Getting Sober at The Solution
I was introduced to recovery in Durango Jail, and one of the things they suggested is if I didn’t have a safe place to go, I should find a halfway house. The word sober living was not really used very much yet, and I went to The Solution, 4210 North Longview. I checked in there, as you know, with one change of dirty clothes, a pair of bolt cutters and a kitchen knife in a backpack, that was in early July of 2004. Billy Block was the manager back then. Missy checked me in, she was the assistant manager, Chrissy was the other assistant manager.
And when I checked in there, I was coming straight from jail. And prior to that, I was living on the streets. So for me to just sleep in my own bed every night, like you mentioned, sleeping behind a locked door that I had the key to, being able to have a hot breakfast every morning and have a hot dinner every night, and work, and have those basics, those essentials, felt pretty good. I was obviously very uncomfortable being new to recovery, being new in sobriety, ’cause the trouble is when you’re newly sober, what we’ve done, what you’ve done to yourself basically is take away your coping mechanism for everything, right? It’s how I deal with good times, bad times, Tuesday mornings, Wednesday evenings, everything, is to get loaded, use drink and use drugs. So, taking that away, it’s pretty uncomfortable.
And what I learned to do, what I was taught to do, during the eight months I lived at The Solution, was I was taught how to sit and be present through those moments when I was uncomfortable, when I wanted to run, when I wanted to leave, when I wanted to do anything but the responsible task in front of me. No matter how small, or particularly the large ones, it was a lot of fear, a lot of things I didn’t want to have to do, reparations I didn’t want to have to make. It wasn’t that I was unwilling deep down in my core, and I think that’s the disconnect, that is not often talked about enough with addiction. It’s not that I wasn’t, I didn’t have the qualities of a good person deep down, I just hadn’t been able to match up my actions with those core values.
You know, prior to recovery, I thought I was worthless, I thought I was a piece of shit. I thought I was not worthy to share the same air as you or Billy, or any of the people that helped me or any of the people I knew in early sobriety. I didn’t think I was worthy. And I was shown, one circumstance at a time, one repaired relationship at a time, that my life was worth salvaging and it was worth living. And that I could have, no matter how small, a positive contribution by helping out with chores, by doing my chore on time, by putting in a full eight hour workday, by dropping a clean UA.
I was at task, so I had to like, so it wasn’t just, hey, pee in a cup. It was like, I had to get on a bus, I had to walk past, I had to walk through the hood, get on the bus, go down to the task place, stand in line with other people that, many of them have drugs, pee in a cup, get back on the bus, make it home. So all of those early, you think about how difficult it is for a person who’s destitute, right? Financially, just completely impoverished, in an environment that’s built around recovery, to just make it through a 24 hour period. And they offer a lot of support, but it wasn’t a typical treatment center, it’s a halfway house. So there’s rules, there’s structure, but you definitely get enough rope to hang yourself. You’ve definitely got enough freedom that you can fuck it up pretty easy.
But with love and support, and thank God tolerance, these guys that were residents there at the same time, had more time than me, my sponsor, my sponsor’s friends, the people I met in meetings that had, when I was new, they had six months or a year. They pulled me, one step at a time, hey man, you want to go have coffee with us after the meeting? And I was like, I have this, they’re like, you don’t have nothing to do, don’t you live at Solution? I’m like, yeah. So like you just got to be home by nine, come on new guy. And so many little kindnesses like that, pulled me through those first few five, six months.
Having no idea what type of an adventure recovery was going to be, I think like many people who enter recovery, I was very suspicious. I was very skeptical. I didn’t know what to expect. I had preconceived notions and one by one, as I began to trust in relationships, my sponsors, then with my roommate and with a another friend I knew from the street that was getting sober at the same place at the same time, one by one, I started to have these relationships where there was actual trust.
We could have honest conversations and I could share my soul. I could share the pain and the suffering I was going through and they got it, they got it at a gut level. They understood what I was going through. And I began to have genuine friendships with people that didn’t want anything from me, that just wanted to see me do well in life. That just wanted to see me become a productive citizen. They taught me how to help other people, and then that nurtured that same fire in me that wanted to help people, and to have their best interest in mind, and to try and help them for no particular reason other than just to see them succeed. And it creates this cycle where the new guy comes in and in a short time, he’s not really the new guy anymore, he’s helping the new guy.
That community, that close knit community, at that particular place at that particular time, my whole life grew out of that. I checked in there with nothing, with a backpack with garbage in it basically. And I met my wife there, which sounds funny at the outset. So let me clarify this. For those of you kiddos at home that might be in a sober living or treatment center, I didn’t start dating another client. Wendy was the manager when I was about two years sober, she was the manager, and she and I had become friends. She was one of my very few female friends in recovery, ’cause of my sponsorship lineage, we’d go to men’s meetings and we do men, we do stag.
So she was one of my few female friends. She worked a hardcore program. She was awesome lady, and she and I were buddies. And I was over there, and by chance met her oldest daughter. And we started dating after a while and we just kept on dating. We got married, we had three beautiful children. We’ve had an amazing marriage and amazing life together. We’ve been married, no fronts, but almost 10 years. Will be 10 years in November.
I couldn’t find work in the beginning, I think is worth noting. The way I supported myself, when I checked into The Solution, I went to the office every day and I sat in front of Billy and I said, hey, Billy, I’ve already been out looking for work. I’ve put in resumes at this place, this place, this place. In the meantime, do you have anything that I can do around here to help out? So that you know that my heart’s in this, even though in my head, I’m like, we should just fucking leave. But, I didn’t have any other options. And Billy would find something for me to do, some chore to complete, something to paint, some fence to fix, some wall to put up, something to repair. And everyday I would go look for work, I would come back by noon and ask him what I could do, and he would put me to work doing random stuff.
I got to tell you, I don’t know. I wish I could go back and actually see video footage of when I actually got a job. Because in my mind, it’s foggy. Somewhere in that first month or two, I did get a job and I started moving furniture, but Billy floated me for a long time, weeks. And he did it based off his own judgment, that I was serious about recovery. Even though, I didn’t know anything about recovery. And I think that’s the beautiful part, that’s the faith part, that’s the God part. I know that word scares some people, it scared me when I was new. But I think that’s the critical piece, and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.
There’s a moment where, what we understand as humans, comes to an end. The big book talks about stepping from bridge to shore, and that’s faith. There’s a point where I’ve put all my chips on the table, and the people that I think have nothing but the best in mind for me, are telling me I’ve got to do this thing, but I don’t know. I have to trust, if I’m going to take this step. Otherwise, I have to go back where I came from. And that tender, tenuous, beautiful moment, it’s a tipping point for most people.
I shudder to think what would have happened, what my life would be like, if I hadn’t taken that step, if I hadn’t just surrendered and said, okay, I’ll get my meeting slip signed. I’ll call this guy every day. I’ll do the chores. I’ll show up on time. And it wasn’t like they asked anything crazy of me, but it felt like a lot. And over time, this big overwhelming set of work, that feels like work, really becomes, like you said, almost cathartic. It becomes therapeutic, watering the grass, doing the chores, showing the new guy around, helping him find stuff, taking the new guy down to the 99 cent store, helping him get the soap and the towel, and the things that he needs.
God, my life is so much different. And I had a spiritual awakening around six months. I was still living there and I was sponsoring new men at another house, at another house down in the crack neighborhood. And the day it happened, the day it happened it didn’t feel like I had won the lotto. It didn’t feel like I had won a gazillion dollars. It felt like my life had genuinely been saved. It felt like, for the first time as an adult, like I wasn’t going to fucking die alone. It felt like I was going to make it. Like I had been taken from the gates of hell and placed miles away where the flames couldn’t reach me, and I was going to be okay. I might not ever be great, but I was going to be okay. And coming from the place of shame and self hatred that I was at, to know, have a benevolent sense that I was just going to be okay, was like, it’s better than winning lottery. It’s better.
That was in December of 2004, and the obsession, the desire, the need to drink, to do drugs, to hurt myself, to hate other people, it all vanished. 95% of that vanished in one afternoon. And it’s never come back, not in 16 years. The craziest shit ever. In 16 years, I’ve been free to reclaim and live my life. A life I didn’t know was possible. I’m indebted eternally to 5A.