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Dan Cronk shares his process of becoming sober, the supportive community he found at Sandstone Care, and the journey that brought him to where he is today.
Rowan: Hi, guys. Rowan here, with Sandstone Care and happy Halloween. That’s why I am dressed like a skier from the ’80s. At least, that’s what I think I’m dressed like. I’m here with Dan. Dan, can you introduce yourself?
Dan: Hi, I’m Dan. I graduated Sandstone earlier this year. It was actually New Year’s Eve was my last night at the Rally Point house. So, yeah, that’s me.
Rowan: So how long have you been sober now Dan?
Dan: Let’s see. My sober date was August 21st of last year. So, what’s that? A year and what? A couple months now?
Rowan: And how does it feeling now, that thing?
Dan: It feels really, really good.
Dan: It’s ups and downs with life, but overall, when I compare it to my using life, it’s a million times better.
Rowan: Awesome. I’m glad to hear that.
Dan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Rowan: I’d love to just hear kind of a snapshot of kind of what drove your use, and just kind of understand a little bit of the backstory of what sought you to try to find recovery in the first place.
Dan: Okay. So I’ve had anxiety issues my whole life. I got panic attacks when I was a very young child, to the point like I couldn’t stay anywhere outside of my house for … Well, anywhere overnight at all.
Dan: Without having a severe panic attack. And that anxiety was more so the social anxiety aspect of that kind of led me to start smoking pot because it made me feel included in a group and I started that when I was like 14 or 15.
Dan: Pretty much overnight, like I’d say I started and then a month later after starting smoking pot, I was using it every single day. All day. I did that until I was like 22 or 23. Before this point, I had never really … Like, I drank alcohol and gone to a couple parties, never really cared for it. Something switched in my head, and for some reason, I wanted alcohol after that.
So I stopped smoking the pot, and I switched over to alcohol. What I found was, with pot, when you’re smoking that all the time, you can kind of still function. And you can get through your daily life. It’s definitely hindering you in a lot of ways, but being a functioning pothead is a lot easier than being a functioning alcoholic.
Dan: So, let’s see, I’m 29 now. So 22 to 28, a good six years, I was a pretty heavy drinker with on and off spells. I drank for a year, be off for a month, drink for another three months, be off for a month, just off and on with my family and friends trying to encourage me to clean myself up. During this time, I lived with my parents pretty much throughout that entire time until like the very end when I tried living alone, which didn’t pair out, or you know, hash out well because they ended up … Like, I stopped responding to them, they came and found me just passed out and overheating in like a room, and it is a whole mess.
Rowan: Yeah, was caring for them.
Dan: Yeah. Went back to Bear House again. This is about a month before I came to Sandstone, and I ended up putting myself in the hospital twice. I had a BAC of .40.
Dan: So that’s what? One, two, three, four, like five times the legal limit?
Dan: And that’s like, that’s coma or death for most people. I actually, because I’d been drinking for so long, my tolerance was enormous. So I still remember that. I was conscious for most of it.
Dan: Your body acclimates to whatever alcohol or drug you’re using. And so I think that was the real point where I was like, “Okay, if I don’t change something, I’m going to die.” Maybe I wouldn’t physically die, but spiritually, I would be dead. My family would be done with me. I’m going to lose everything.
Rowan: Did your family set that boundary? Or was that just your perception?
Dan: It was my perception. Nobody, like I’m sure my parents would have let me stay at their house forever, and kind of like drug me along with that. They would have been miserable having to do that, but they would have done it because they cared about me.
Dan: And that’s always a hard line for family. It’s like you want to help, but you don’t want to enable, and that line is so hard to define. At least when you don’t … Like now, I feel like I can really definitively define that line, but before I came here and talked to other addicts and had some counseling, it’s gets really blurry as to okay, what’s helping and what’s enabling.
Dan: That was the point where I really, really did want to change and had no idea how. I tried going to AA, I tried some like IOP with Kaiser, which for anybody that doesn’t know is intensive outpatient, which is just like you go in a few times a week for like an hour and a half, like kind of group therapy things.
So I never tried anything inpatient. It was basically kind of like the last ditch effort. And I just went online and started researching different places. Sandstone ended up popping up, and reading about the counseling, did some work. It sounded really appealing to me that there was still freedom given to you, even while living at Rally Point, you still get to live your normal life, go to work, it’s not just being locked in a facility.
Dan: Because what I had heard from other people who had gone to those programs, or that had family that had gone to those programs, you go and get locked up, then you come out. You no longer have that support system at all, and now you’re back in the real world with real problems, and shit hits the fan, so to speak.
Rowan: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: It’s hard to deal with if you haven’t had counseling to kind of deal with it at the same time.
Dan: So yeah, my parents were nice enough to actually pay for it out of their pockets.
Rowan: That’s huge.
Dan: Yeah, it was an amazing gift. And so I really came into this with the attitude of, I will literally do whatever anyone wants me to do because this is it. If I don’t fix something now, I know I’m not going to make it.
Dan: So yeah, coming in, my house manager’s Ben and Walter, were just amazing guys. As lord of the counselors here, I had a lot of good times with Jon, and Brannon as well. Yeah, I mean the whole staff here, I mean yourself included.
Rowan: Thank you.
Dan: For some reason, it was always great coming in. It’s still great coming in. I like being here. It’s actually the coolest thing about this whole experience was that I come back and I’ll see some of the guys that are at the house with, and it’s like seeing your best friend, and I really do miss those times. Even though I’m talking about four months and most of these guys I only saw for two of those months, but still, the connection you build is so strong because you have such a similar foundation.
So both building those relationships at Rally Point, and then also having the structure of Ben and Walter over the house managers and really being able to see them, you know, some people who have some time under their belt, who are really happy guys doing cool things with their life. It’s like, “Wow, I want that.”
Rowan: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: I want that. And I think those two things, having the camaraderie at the house and being able to see those guys, were really changing in terms of my commitment to staying sober. I mean the idea that being sober doesn’t have to be boring. It can actually be better than anything else. You can have a better life than a normie.
I know that sounds really … Like if I think about listening to myself talk about this, from a perspective of somebody who’s still using, and it’s like this all sounds corny bullshit, and I get that. I totally understand that it’s impossible to actually get this feeling until you commit yourself to something. Commit yourself to a program, whether it’s here at Sandstone or somewhere else, you need to form a community. And I think that was the biggest thing that I lost. I think that was … Either Jon or Brannon said that. It was something like, “Community is the opposite of addiction.”
Dan: And I wholeheartedly believe that because I was so isolated in my drinking. I think the feeling of being alone was the absolute worst thing about it. You still have people around you, but everything you’re doing is in your own head.
Dan: No one’s really getting to know you because you’re constantly having to hide everything.
Dan: And once you start lying, it’s a snowball effect of, “Okay, well I lied about that, so now I have to lie about this,” and then that also breeds a sense of, “Well, who cares? I’m lying about everything, why does it really matter? And if people believe me then I get away with it. So might as well just keep on that train.”
Rowan: And there’s a little power trip in that too.
Dan: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, getting away from being a liar all the time is one of the most liberating things. And even now, I still have to catch myself. It’s little stuff that you don’t realize … It doesn’t seem like a big deal, a tiny white lie to your parents, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but those things, they put up walls between you and other people. And so the whole point is that when you’re living an addict’s life, you’re constantly putting walls around you until you’re in a fucking little box. Sorry, I don’t know if I can curse on this. I don’t know if that’s okay.
Rowan: That’s okay. It’s okay. Continue.
Dan: You put yourself into a little box, and you’re all alone, and yeah, coming here and getting the treatment and having the community, it just opened my eyes to, “I can have a completely normal life just without drinking and drugs,” and that’s, I don’t know, it’s not scary to me anymore. That used to be such a scary thought, it’s like, “How can I possibly get to my life? I’ll never have fun again,” and that’s … It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yes, you don’t have those nights of drug induced bliss, but those aren’t real. And all of those things don’t really matter at the end of the day. What really matters to you, you know, if you’re lying there in bed, thinking you’re going to die, you’re not recounting the nights of, “Oh it was really sweet when I got really stoned, or really drunk.” You’re thinking about how many meaningful moments you had with people.
Dan: And I just think if you live your whole life using, you’re going to hit that point where you’re like, “Holy crap, there is nothing I can look back on that’s truly meaningful.” Moments that I would really like to go back to that actually had true love, emotion, and feeling in them. As opposed to just a drug induced feeling of, “Oh, this is good.”
Dan: And on that note, that’s another thing I realized coming here, all the people you think that are your friends when you’re using … I shouldn’t say all of them. The vast majority of them, from my personal experience, disappeared the second I decided to get sober.
Dan: They were gone.
Dan: And I found people that I considered to be more of like somewhat friends, or even acquaintances. They were the ones calling and checking up on me and seeing how I was. And it kind of made me reevaluate the people I kept close to me. Who actually cares? Who’s actually going to have my back? And who’s just there because they like getting drunk with me?
Rowan: And that transitioning on, I think, treatment is designed to be successful. As you said, a lot of people that you were talking to before you went into treatment were struggling when they got out of treatment, and I’m wondering what that transition was like for you? Now it’s been almost a year since you last officially were engaged with Sandstone, and what was that transition out of that program like for you?
Dan: So it was definitely exciting. You’re getting out of the house, you’re back on your own again. That’s always fun. It can also be scary to a certain degree because now you don’t have checks and balances anymore. It’s like you’re back to if you want to be lying and sneaking things in and trying to get by that way, you can because nobody’s actually drug testing you to make sure you’re not.
Dan: So that personal responsibility comes to the forefront. I think I was fortunate that I found an app called Sober Grid while I was here.
Dan: And I ended up forming a friend group of it was mainly me and two other people that really … We had other people pop in, but it was really the three of us that just kind of formed a friend group and we started hanging out at least every weekend, doing something. It was kind of like our own personal alternative to AA because none of us really … We all would go to AA, but it never really clicked with us as to like, “This is how I want to maintain my sobriety.”
Because it is huge, I think, to have some sort of sober community after you get out of treatment. I think without that, it’s really, really hard if not impossible to stay sober because those are the people that are actually going to recognize if you’re in a bad spot. They might be able to help you realize that you’re headed towards a path that might lead you back to using before you actually get to that point. Whereas people who are normies, they may not actually realize anything is going on. Some of the signs are really subtle, like being alone a lot of the time, or I don’t know, having weird hours at work and stuff like that.
Rowan: Because some of the triggers that might cause a normie to, I don’t know, go on little Netflix binge might be the same thing that would cause you to drink again.
Rowan: And so that might not even occur to them that might be the kind of thing that would set you off.
Dan: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, exactly. And also, I think having the community also made it, for me, where it was like if I was struggling at all, I knew exactly who to contact. And once you form bonds with people on that level, it’s more of an instinct to just like, “Oh like, I had a thought about drinking. I need to talk to my friend Amanda, and get some help with this.” Or just to get it off my chest.
Dan: It’s little things like that, making people aware in your life when you are feeling like you’re struggling, that can make all the difference. Hell, like I found that simply telling somebody, “Hey, I had some cravings today,” can actually make those cravings diminish a ton.
Rowan: Really, wow.
Dan: It’s just kind of like the … Because now I can’t hide it, because now I’ve told somebody. So it’s no longer just in my head, it’s out in the world, and so I can’t … It would be much harder to get away with it. And so kind of checking yourself and putting in those roadblocks, so to speak, of like, “Okay, I told my dad, or I told my best friend. Now everybody knows that I’m on edge. And if I do end up drinking, they’re going to know instantly.”
I think that’s really hard for a lot of people. Once they … They’ll end up having those thoughts and then they’re already, you know, they’ve got the bottle in front of them or they’ve got their drug or whatever right there in front of them, and that’s when they’re thinking about calling somebody. And at that point, sometimes that’s too late.
Dan: Because you’ve got it there, and when you’re craving it and it’s in front of you, that can be incredibly hard to turn down. I’ve had people I’ve gone to in this program who have called me after they just relapsed. And then it’s … Not to say it’s, of course, it’s never too late. You can get back on track, but every time you do something like that, it makes it harder and harder and harder.
Dan: Having that built up time is really a motivator, at least for me, and I think for other people as well.
Rowan: Yeah. Hey Dan, I really appreciate your time and your perspective, and I’m glad to hear you’re doing so well with it.
Dan: Yeah, thanks. It’s great being here. Like I said, I love coming back to Sandstone. So I’m sure I’ll see you guys again soon.
Rowan: Absolutely. All right? Take care, man.
Dan: Yeah, you too.