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“The Miracles of Recovery”

May 5, 2016

Gary E. McDowell Jr., EBI Merit Master

"The Miracles of Recovery"

As I look back on my addiction I can see a clueless and cocky teenager who loved getting high and pretending to be someone he wasn't. I was eighteen years old and had no understanding of money or the world. I took advantage of my family so I didn't have to feel the weight of survival or the responsibilities of a young adult. I had not yet suffered any profound and lasting consequences behind my using. I had not lost my family or my mind, and when the legal problems began, I usually walked away with a slap on the hand. This reinforced my belief that I was different than everybody else and that I could do whatever I wanted. So it's no surprise that I carried this immature and delusional attitude well into my adult years.

Addiction is the only disease that convinces you that you're not sick. When it takes control of your life it swallows your dreams and robs you of your character, while making you feel great at the same time. If we decide one day that we're going to quit we realize that we can't. I pray that my story will inspire someone to do what it takes to reclaim their life and to become stepping stone in helping someone else. Isn't this what recovery is all about; to give back what has freely been given to you?

John Eldridge once said that; "you cannot fight a battle if you don't believe that one exists." For almost thirty years I believed that I was in control over what I did, what I used, and how I lived my life. I was convinced that I could change when I wanted to, and only decided to do so when I believed I was beyond hope, and destined to die a hopeless addict. Surrender doesn't come easy for any addict and I believe that most addicts require divine intervention in order to quit using. Choosing recovery requires you to take a giant leap of faith into the unknown and a belief in the presence and power of God. This isn't an easy thing to do since most addicts want to control everything and everyone around them. There is no way in hell that I could've recovered on my own power; and this is what my story is about. What it was like, what finally brought me to my knees and what my life is like now.

"We admitted we were powerless over our addiction

that our lives had become unmanageable"

Step One - Narcotics Anonymous

In the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous we often hear that step one is the only step you work 100 percent. There was no doubt that I felt completely hopeless when I was arrested on October 2nd, 2012. I had been using all day every day for over four-years and was committing crimes to support my meth addiction. I was wanted by the police in 2 different counties, homeless, and living in a truck at a Wal Mart parking lot. In court I was assigned a vertical D.A. to handle my cases through arraignment, and ultimately trial if necessary. During one appearance this D.A. came up to my attorney and said; your client has been here many times and quite frankly the court is tired of it. He is facing over 19 years and eight months in prison and I am going to do everything in my power to give it to him. Then she just walked away.

My next court appearance was set for sixty-days later so I had a lot of time to worry and think about what was going to happen to me. I was scared, desperate, and I felt very alone. I had pushed everything positive in my life to the side to get high and I did whatever it took to never come down. When you're locked in a cell you can no longer escape the reality of your actions that put you there. You can't self-medicate to escape the thoughts in your mind; and you can't run from the guilt and shame that washes over you in waves. It's you alone in an environment where you didn't know what was going to happen from one moment to the next.

My wife had very little to say to me. I don't know what I expected her to say after putting her through four-years of living hell; where the days were never the same and my moods more volatile than the next. One night I called my son, he said, you know dad I'm dead to you and hung up the phone. An hour later when I called him back his number was disconnected. Whenever I went to jail because of my drug use, which was often, I always tried to convince my family this time would be different. I tried to say the same old thing again and I was caught off guard when they said sure and hung up the phone.

I was sentenced to seven-years as an AB109 inmate and would serve my time in the county jail. A few months later I was transferred to Los Angeles County to face my charges there. I was given the opportunity to enter the Education Based Incarceration program. The EBI Program focuses on life skills, substance abuse recovery, and being accountable for your actions. I made the decision in the program that I was going to do whatever it took, whatever the cost, to change my life. I was in the program for a little over a year, completed all the modules and became a Merit Master. I was then teaching some of the same classes I completed to other inmates within the Twin Towers facility. I am very grateful to this program and it helped me to make many changes in my life.

Recovery is not conditional. It has to be more important than anything or anyone in your life. Complacency is your enemy. Honesty, faith, and gratitude will sustain you better than your best intentions ever could. I've been asked in my panels how do I know that I've surrendered? When I finally surrendered, I didn't even realize it happened. There were no burning bush moments or flashes of lightning across my cell. I didn't feel any different except that I was focusing on what I had to do in order to create a successful future, instead of focusing on the moment like I've done so many times before. Remember this, you are far stronger than you may give yourself credit for. Otherwise, you would've never made it through the past. You will make mistakes. When you do it's all about how you react, and what you do to not make them again. Mistakes are stepping stones in your recovery; not an excuse to give up.

I was released on October 4, 2014, and went to a halfway house in the City of Orange. I was in the house for about four months and ultimately moved back in with my wife on a trial basis. I was going to meetings, found a sponsor, and became a part of Higher Ground Recovery at Faith Community Church in Whittier. Things were a little challenging when I got out. Recovery is a difficult process to go through for any one, and it's even harder when you're getting out of jail. I've been there many times. You will encounter many challenges when you get out. There are challenges you will have to go over and others you will have to go around. My honesty about the past and what I'm doing to become a better person has carried me farther than anything else.

So what is my life like now? Since my release in October 2014, my life is far more satisfying than it's been in many years. Not every day is easy and to assume it will be is a fantasy. I have reconciled with my son Christopher, who once said, he was dead to me. We spend as much time together as possible, and I am so proud to be a father he can come to for advice, knowing he will get the very best that I can give. My wife and I have a wonderful relationship that is built on honesty and trust and we hope to buy a house by the end of the year. Buy a house? Are you kidding me? My wife and son were there to watch me take my three year chip and they tell me all the time how much they love me and how proud they are.

I have a wonderful job as an Operations Manager for a company in the City of Industry and yes, they know about my past and support me in my recovery. I am a panel leader for pod 271 in the Twin Towers and for pod 3600 at CRDF in Lynwood. I am very active in my recovery and I do my best to give back whenever and wherever I can. I used to avoid the Sheriff's at all cost; now there are several who I consider very dear friends. I have met the most wonderful, real and giving people I have ever met in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, who I can call anytime day or night, and will be there when I need them. I was able to purchase a nice car on my own credit. Because of the past, I didn't think they would've sold me a candy bar on credit! If that wasn't a God shot, I don't know what is. In the next couple of years, I will buy a brand new Harley Davidson Street Glide that my wife and I will ride together. Is it a miracle that I am clean and sober today? Absolutely! Do I consider myself a miracle? No, I don't because anything that I have accomplished, you can accomplish with honesty, commitment and perseverance to life and your recovery.

Gary E. McDowell

May 4, 2016

"Never be ashamed of your story. It has the power to inspire others"

Contact Information: Education Based Incarceration Unit - (323) 526-5380,
Gary E. McDowell Jr., EBI Merit Master
Gary E. McDowell Jr., EBI Merit Master

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