I am excited to introduce a new feature here on the blog called the “OWN your SOBRIETY” series. This series will feature the stories of others who have overcome their past of substance abuse and are now OWNING their sobriety.
For my first guest, I have invited a new friend of mine who I met through a sober support group on Facebook, Kale Willis, to share his story. Before we get to his story in his own words, I asked Kale to briefly answer three questions for us so we could get to know him a bit…
Mike: Why did you decide to share your story publicly?
Kale: I chose to share my story publicly in hopes of inspiring someone to make a change to stop using and start recovering. To show people recovery is possible. Lastly that God is good. With him anything is possible.
Mike: What are the 3 best things about your sobriety?
Kale: My 3 best things about sobriety to me are
– Turning my life back over to God
– My kids having them back in my life
– Freedom from the broken and anchor that weighed on my chest for so long.
Mike: What is your best piece of advice for anyone struggling with addiction?
Kale: My best piece of advice is to seek help obviously, but that there’s hope. HOPE won’t make everything go away, but it will help be able to cope with life one day at a time. Don’t put restrictions on yourself when it comes to counting days of recovery every day is a new day so try to make each day count. Attending meetings and getting a sponsor they can relate to is a huge plus as well. Believe in yourself. Don’t put on the show for an audience because in the end the spotlight is always on ourselves anyways. Do it for YOU and no one else. If you do that everything else will fall into place. God Bless.
Thanks Kale! Now without further ado, here is Kale’s personal story in his own words:
Hi my name is Kale. I am a 37 year old male from Hollywood, Florida. I am a recovering alcohol and drug addict, and would like to share with you all the story of my addiction, recovery, and sustainability throughout life’s challenges. I don’t believe that my way was or is the right way by any means. I do believe everyone has their own uniqueness in finding their path to sobriety. However this is my story and I hope that it will help inspire someone in some way to start with just day 1 of staying clean, in helping someone with sustaining their sobriety, and also helping recovering addicts from relapsing.
January 15, 1981 at about 04:22 p.m. e.s.t. in Hollywood, FL. a male was born. Born at about 27 weeks and just 2 pounds, a young infant was fighting for his life of survival even since the beginning of his time. The doctors stated to my family I had a 50/50% rate of surviving. Living in N.I.C.U. (neonatal intensive care unit) for the first year of my life was a struggle to say the least. My home for that first year consisted of an incubator, oxygen tubes, and monitor wires all over my tiny body. I constantly had multiple doctors checking on me multiple RN’s (Registered Nurses) assigned to take care of me. The doctors would come by daily to give updates to my parents on my prognosis. Eventually I got the clearance from the doctors that I was stable and able enough to leave the hospital and go home. The doctors considering all I had endured and overcome being just 2 pounds and born at 27 weeks had declared me a miracle baby.
As I ventured home and grew older the repetition of going in and out of the hospital due to medical complications became unfortunately routine occurrences. When I went on regular doctor checkups the doctors never had much positive feedback to give my family. Due to my prematurity and milestones I wasn’t reaching that a healthy child would, the doctors proceeded to tell my family things like I would never walk or run, due to the fact of the formation of my feet being webbed and in a duck like formation. I would never be able to play or participate in sports because of my lung issues. I would have to be put in special disability classes due to my slurred speech and mentally would not be competent enough to be in regular classes because my brain was not fully matured due to my premature birth. Let me tell you how very happy I am to let you know EVERY one of them was proven wrong. There is a God above and I believe he kept me here on this earth for a reason. I have been searching for that reason for 37 years now and believe I have started to find the answer.
When I reached about 5 years old my parents and I moved to Hawaii. My dad is Hawaiian and so he wanted to return to his homeland and be closer to his extended family. Growing up there taught me a lot and made me a humble young boy. I was so innocent and pure. I didn’t have a care in the world growing up as a kid in Hawaii in relation to all the external pleasures the majority of society feels the need to have. I didn’t care about the color of my clothes, didn’t care about needing an enormous amount of money, didn’t judge or care about someone’s status due to fame and wealth. For me it was all about family. I remember my grandma’s house where there was about 12 people sleeping in a 3 bedroom house. Everyone made room and accommodations for all so that we all could eat, sleep, and live a care free happy life.
While living in Hawaii I experienced some highs and very lows as well though. It was not all happy bright rainbows all the time. I got teased as a young kid for usually being the small kid on campus. I was teased for my slurred speech that I was working on at the time with my speech therapist as I had a slurred speech, somewhat of a lisp. I didn’t like the public school I was attending there and wasn’t excelling academically. I told my parents I wanted to attend a different school because I didn’t fit in and got teased every day. So my parents found a private Christian school I attended in Kaneohe, HI. St. Marks Lutheran was the name of this school, and brought me into the world of God, Christianity, and positive self-esteem for the first time. The class sizes were a lot smaller. There was more one on one interaction between teachers and students which helped me academically. I also got to participate in athletics, like basketball, volleyball, baseball, and even football. It was so cool to travel on the bus to other schools and play against them as well as our home school with the crowd behind us cheering us on. I remember the day in class when I got a note on a piece of paper handed to me by a girl in my class asking me to go to the school dance with her. She was pretty. She was like the girl that this popular kid named Jerome was dying to date. He wasn’t happy when he found out she liked me and we went to the dance together. Did I dance? Nope. Lol. White boy was to shy. The self-esteem that gave me was amazing. I felt good about myself for the first time. I felt as if I was normal and welcomed. I ended up finishing 6th grade at St. Mark’s Lutheran with great grades, self-esteem, and a sense of comradery.
Towards the end of my 6th grade year something very tragic happened. I was in my uncle’s house after learning bow to ride a bicycle for the first time. I went upstairs into the main house and proceeded to take a shower. My cousin came in while I was showering to use the restroom. After doing so, he opened the shower curtain and asked me to let him touch my penis. I said no, but he proceeded to do it. I ran out of the bathroom crying. My parents kept asking me what was wrong. I was too terrified to say anything as I was as confused as to what had just happened. I remember my dad knocking the bathroom door down with his fist while my cousin was still in there. My uncle and my other cousins had to restrain my dad from beating him to a pulp. My dad and uncle got into a huge fight and caused a major separation between both families for a long time. Because of this and job opportunities that arose at the time, my parents decided to move back to Florida.
In Florida I thrived in education and learned about socialization. I made the honor roll dean’s list. I even got my first real girlfriend and had my first kiss lol. I had everything going for me, school, girlfriend, academic achievements. Yet there was still something missing, a void. It was me being nerdy wasn’t cool. I wanted to be like the cool kids. Had lots of friends, dated older girls, and were respected. The cool kids smoked cigarettes, so I started smoking cigarettes at 13. My uncle bought me my first pack. It was Marlboro reds. It was so harsh so I switched to Newport’s. I liked the mint flavor in them. I also wanted to fit in so I hung out with the older crowd. Like the kids in 8th grade and high school. I used to hang out with this girl Amber who lived in my complex. She was the first female that made me realize about sexuality. There was this girl Nicole who would always try to go out with me but I wouldn’t because she was too much of a goody too shoe, not cool enough. I soon started to realize I was going down a bad path. My parents caught me smoking and kicked my uncle out for giving me cigarettes. My aunt in California at that same time had gotten breast cancer. So because of the ruckus uproar I caused and path I was going down along with my mom’s one and only sister dying of breast cancer my parents decided to move to southern California.
We moved to a beautiful city in the county of Orange. The city of Mission Viejo is where I grew up starting at the age of 14. This city and surrounding areas were very wealthy and affluently communities. The schools are top rated, crime is super low, and you know the wealthy suburbs. Problem was we weren’t wealthy, not even close. We were the black sheep, the poorest on the block. My parents put me in a good school system, in a beautiful city, and gave me the best life they could with what they had. I am forever grateful to my parents for all they’ve done from day one until now. They have had nothing but selfless love for me.
I was in high school in advanced classes, playing football, and in the cool kid scene. I was failing at everything. I switched public high schools with my parents thinking that would help me out on the right track and it only got worse. The feeling of wanting to be non-different and normal, wanting to feel liked, and popularity consumed me both in mental and physical aspects of it. Mentally my mind was telling me I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t look cool enough because I didn’t have the clothes the popular kids had, when it was time for me to be 16 and get my driver’s license, everyone else at my high school were getting cars for their birthdays. Not me. I always had a feeling of being one step behind, as if I always kept falling short. Never being able to satisfy or make my parents proud.
Growing up with my parents being of low income, I always had dreams of being able to take care of them when I got older. I always had aspirations of them being able to retire early and just enjoy life. Allowing my dad to go back to Hawaii was a big aspiration of mine. It is his home. Unfortunately life never works out as we plan it to. I got into drugs, partying, and sex. I wanted to live that rock star lifestyle. During this time I met a woman, with whom I had a baby with. It was a beautiful little girl.
I was 19 years old at the time. I was a G.E.D. graduate from high school, basically a drop out. I was working little dead end jobs like Michael’s arts and crafts store, and Target. Not really having a career, my in-laws turned me onto a trade school with a program that became of great interest to me. I always wanted to be a doctor, but never had the drive to do the schooling. This program gave a diploma in Surgical Technology. This became a very lucrative and rewarding career of mine for almost 15 years. During that same time of attending the trade school, I did one of the most selfless things I think a man can do. I made the choice to give up my rights as a father to my in-laws. I gave them 100% custody and guardianship of my little girl. I wanted her to have something that I knew I could never give her. I wanted her to have stability, a home to reside in continuously, and to be able to be cared for financially with no worries. I couldn’t give her any of that. For the most part while they resided in California nothing really changed as far as visitation and decision making went. I and my ex-wife divorced. My ex-wife and her parents right around this time which was around my daughter’s middle school age they all moved to Colorado.
This was devastating to me. Although I knew it was best for her and their needs I mentally lost it. I constantly was questioning myself “why did I give her up”, I was a failure, and I was a dead beat dad. These were all emotions that took a toll on me mentally and physically. I started drinking very heavily. I would drink hard liquor as well as beer, anything of alcohol I could get my hands on. I also started using drugs very frequently. I used cocaine a lot. I also dabbled in ecstasy, LSD, speed, weed, selling weed, and other narcotics. The drinking and drugs engulfed my entire life. It affected my entire decision making. I would get up and drink beer for breakfast and keep drinking until it put me to sleep. There would be many times I’d black out, not remember things, and just not give a shit what happened to me. I knew my little girl was better off without me.
The bitterness and emptiness on me that I felt was unbearable almost. I was in her life one minute, then I’d be gone the next for months at a time. My relationship with her always scared my heart and mind because of my own doing. Even to this day of July 14th , 2018 it still haunts me and crushes me mentally and emotionally. I have had to dig deep in my soul to be able to look her face to face and say I was sorry. Nothing can repair the damage I have caused her both physically and mentally. All I can do is make each day forward better.
During the course of my career as a Surgical Technologist I was able to take on travel assignments that allowed me to travel across the country and work. I was able to help serve people in the operating room at various hospitals throughout the entire U.S. I got to explore some really great places that I probably otherwise would never have gotten to see living there for a minimum of 3 months at a time. Places like Minnesota, New York, and Oklahoma. I took pride in my work and loved what I did, but I still drank. It was like I was a functioning alcoholic. I lost so many job opportunities because of my alcohol addiction, not only missing work but financially wrecking myself. Spending hundreds a night at bars just to fit in and kill the pain. I broke myself mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. I thought for sure God would take me from the earth for being such a loser, deadbeat, and irresponsible father.
While traveling and enjoying life as a single man, I began to reap the fruits of my labor, being a selfish, ignorant, arrogant man. I would enjoy nights out on the town at local bars trying to meet woman in hopes of having one night stands. I didn’t want to be lonely. I was tired of being lonely and always coming home to an empty house. My addiction ran through my body like alcohol and drugs were my blood flowing through it. This still was the case as I was working an assignment in Oklahoma. Such an amazing state that I would’ve never dreamed of visiting let alone live if not for my work.
It was great had a posh condo in the heart of Tulsa. I was making great money, as the cost of living there is very inexpensive compared to most other states. While out one evening while partying in Tulsa I met a woman. We proceeded to party all night, bar hopping all over the city. We ended up going back to my place and had sex. This then became from a one night stand to a relationship after some time. She proceeded to travel with me to my assignments across the country. By September of 2010 while residing in Florida she had a little girl of mine.
This beautiful little girl named Ava was and is my pride and joy. I felt redeemed, and validated. I was working and making great money. I had a stable place for my family, food on the table, and bills paid. While living in a condo right on the beach. Life was good or so I thought it was. I thought I had the answers, I thought I had figured it out, but I still had consumed feelings of emptiness and lost. Not towards anyone but just to myself. So what did I do to solve the problem? Well I went back to drugs and drinking my sorrows of course, that would be the solution right?
During the time we were together when Ava was about 3 years old, her mother had a major medical accident happen by overdosing on OxyContin, weed, and other narcotics. It caused her brain to lose oxygen. She unfortunately was in a vegetative state for quite some time. After she was able to come out of her coma, I had to find her a treatment facility that would help with neurological disabilities to strengthen them. They taught basic rehabilitation skills like sitting up, eating with utensils, grabbing things, writing, memorizing, walking, exercising, and other basic necessities of everyday life. This took a tremendous toll on me and the mom as well obviously. It was very difficult for me at the time to take care of our little girl, work, and be there for her (the mom) 24/7 for help and support, but I was. The mom is now able to do all things like drive, has great memory retention, writing, speaking, eating, you name it and she has surpassed all odds. It’s truly amazing. We have both gone our separate ways but remain friends and support each other’s decisions for our daughter.
My drinking and drugs along with smoking cigarettes continued to be a vicious cycle of my life repetitively. I was at the point where I couldn’t even walk to and from my bedroom to the bathroom without gasping for air, along with unimaginable pain in my abdominal area. Meanwhile I had a visit with my pulmonologist and while there I was given a breathing test which tests lung function, capacity, and air trapping, as well as a blood test that specifically looks for any Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. The following day I received a phone call from the doctor, he stated I needed to come into his office to see him as soon as possible. I automatically knew something was wrong. Doctors never call a patient at home with results unless it’s bad results. So I proceeded to go to my appointment. While there I learned I had near end stage C.O.P.D. (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)/ Emphysema, along with Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. My lung function was in the 20 something percentile and was told I needed to be evaluated for a double lung transplant. This rocked my world as another tragic event.
I was like is this really happening to me. Is this Gods way of paying me back for all the wrong I’ve done, the hurt I’ve caused. I continued to sorrow in my own pity. I didn’t stop drinking, smoking, or doing drugs. I constantly from breakfast drank alcohol until the alcohol would put me to sleep every day. Hoping at the time I would just not wake up. If so I felt I would finally be at peace and so would everyone else around me.
Then one day came in 2015 the month of July on the 4th day. It was Independence Day. This day was to be a remarkable one. Not only did I drink like a fish, smoked cigarettes, I did cocaine on top of it all. I had gotten to the point while in Key West on that Independence Day where slowly I couldn’t even finish a 12 ounce can of beer without me having the most extreme abdominal pains. I of course figured this was all minor things that would just go away in due time.
One night I went to sleep on July 14, 2015. During this time I feel I had a spiritual awakening. I had dreams of things I wanted in my life as if they were happening right in front of my eyes. No more lost feelings, emptiness, and pain. I had a life with both my children. They were proud of their father and to call me their father. They forgave me for my wrongs and just wanted to spend time with me. Then I woke up.
It was July 15, 2015. This is a day that I will remember forever. I woke up and decided to instantly never smoke, drink, or do any illegal narcotics ever again. I started praying from that day forth for God to give me the strength each day. I was tired of the fake friends. I was tired of the physical, mental, and financial toll it had taken on me. Most of all I was tired and so drained of not having what I really yearned for in life, my kids.
In January of 2016 we moved back to southern California. It was where we wanted to be as I have chosen UCLA Medical Center to assist in the process of being accepted for their lung transplant program. I went through the evaluations and had been accepted but wasn’t put on the transplant list just yet. I am waiting as long as I can for this process as the rates for survival after 4 years drops dramatically.
Remember how I said earlier I think I found the answer to why God put me here. In April of 2016 I found a new purpose, a higher one. I was baptized and became re born Christian again. I found God again. It felt so uplifting and such an emotional high that nothing can compare to. With his guidance in May of 2016 I became a member at my church Saddleback. Telling my story is of the upmost importance to me. Not for just me but more importantly for you all who are reading this?
This last year in 2017 from August until April of 2018 I was homeless. I was literally living on the streets amongst southern Orange County. I would continuously walk the streets with my oxygen tank and a back pack wandering. I would sit in diners like Denny’s that were open 24 hrs. so I had a place to stay warm. I even would go to local hospitals and sit in lobbies and cafeterias so that I didn’t have to sit out in the cold and wander the streets aimlessly. I walked for days without showering, pan handling for money to eat anything, taking showers in bathrooms when we could. Luckily towards the end of April my wife found a hotel/apartment which we now reside in and can pay by the week. It’s not the most lavish, but it’s our “home”. Home is not where you are but what you make of it yourself.
As you can see throughout this story I have had many trials and tribulations. My grandpa and my dad were both alcoholics. My mom had an addiction to opiate pills. My ex-wives having issues with different addictions, such as alcoholism, bulimia, and narcotics as well. My current wife has addiction issues with opiates, and relapsing. However now I’m proud to say she has 4 months of sobriety. Each day is a new day. The moral of this story I share with you is a word I use so frequently and have a chip I carry around with me every day called “HOPE”. For me “HOPE” stands for helping others prosper every day. I “HOPE’ that whoever is reading this finds inspiration and I pray God gives you serenity and sobriety. As of July 15, 2018 I will have 3 years sober from all substances such as alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy it’s a fucking long grueling grinding road. I am still on it every single day as well. You have to want it. You have to believe in yourself. You do have a calling. You do have a purpose. We’re all still here because of a purpose, a reason God has kept us here in this temporary life. People do love and care about you. The N.A., A.A., and all addict communities will stand behind you forever. You just need to take the very first step which is the hardest.
Every day I try to train my brain how to think positive even in the darkest times. There’s always a positive in a negative. Life will never be easy and it will always come with pain. Emotional roller coasters are expected. Through it all I “HOPE” that this inspires you to take just the first step in sobriety. Let God do his work. Prove them wrong. Keep a vision and don’t look in the rear view mirror, always look forward. One day at a time, one minute at a time, one second at a time. God Bless you.