Attending high school classes regularly and being active in sports, allows for most of us to follow the paths that we are intended to follow as we grow into adulthood. Though all of our lives at home vary by degrees, it isn’t uncommon for many stories to ring true to us when we hear them. Typically, there will be those aspects that we can say, “that’s me” or “I know this all too well.” When we discover someone who has overcome demons similar to ours to become the person he or she is today, we want to know what has transpired from then until now. In hearing Dan Carpenter’s story, many will find that ‘unusual’ isn’t an adjective to use as a description of it. He’s just an average guy from Pennsylvania.
Growing up, his parents had divorced at a young age. Alcoholism ran rampant and the repercussions of it were losing what many view as a stable environment. While his Dad remained involved with sporting events, Dan hadn’t had much of a personal relationship with him throughout school. While this was somewhat of a severed tie, there is no blame pushed one way to a situation that was outside of his control for who he became and the paths he followed. Dan grew up knowing that alcoholism was real and had attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings quite a few times – in a manner of speaking, it was commonplace, and it was just the way things were.
Though adolescence blinds us to realities we remain unable to comprehend, Dan doesn’t consider his home life being responsible for anything that had happened in his life, it was just what he knew. He was active in sports, he maintained good grades, he was social and like-able. He thrived inside the life he lived.
At the age of thirteen, Dan began drinking. His social circle began extending outward while his abilities in sports found him performing at higher levels than most. While in middle school, he’d been on the freshman football team. Looking back, he knows his path into substance abuse also began the same as it does for so many others. His weekends were spent hanging with friends and his friendships started to revolve around the parties. Dan wasn’t considered someone to be vying for companions, but he was popular and found that he fit in well with different situations and surroundings.
One common aspect he does remember is that hiding his using was normal for him. While he’d hang out with friends, they drank. Though with time, he realized that what he was hiding wasn’t just alcohol. Dan recalls a time when he had accidentally walked in on a group of friends sharing cocaine. He was naive and had known nothing about it. When he was told to not tell anyone else about it, he was also asked to partake – so, he did. Two weeks later, to celebrate New Year’s Eve, he bought his first bag of cocaine.
“Since I was just a kid I wanted to become a cop. It was all I wanted to do.”
Already enrolled in community college, Dan aspired to become a police officer. His classes were scheduled around his weekends and the times he could drink and use. Not everyone was open about using or what drugs were preferred, but Dan knew who used what. He became hooked on cocaine while his drinking spiraled out of control. He soon began selling. He still remembers his first drive to his own supplier. The anxiety and the lust are what drove him. Being needed as a dealer fed into his ego. Selling cocaine allowed him to fill his schedule – he was able to occupy his own free time any given day of the week. The crowds he ran with grew and his access to substances became unlimited.
Had he known the signs to be cautious of he may have been able to avoid his addictions. Dan knew he was freely abusing drugs. He also believed that he could stop at any time. To Dan, it was a phase, and it was one he would enjoy while he could and while it lasted. His drinking wasn’t about having just one or two and relaxing. When he drank, it was to get drunk. His drinking had taken on a life of it’s own and selling cocaine became his priority.
Dan’s first arrest came with a .28 blood alcohol level. It was on the night of his 21st birthday, and a friend had invited him to a bar. Dan went. When he left here to go to another bar, he almost hit a tree. After drinking some more at his next stop he remembers arguing with someone about driving. Just down the road, he blacked out, hitting four parked cars. His arrest brought a non-felon offense with required attendance in alcohol classes. Dan blamed the accident on his lack of cocaine. After learning about the affects of alcohol while driving, choosing not to drive when drinking was easy for Dan. Stuck on the belief that cocaine was necessary to keep him awake and aware, this became his drug of choice.
Not long after this, drinking led to binging on cocaine. Shortly after, Dan found himself in his first rehab. He knew what meetings and groups offered but he felt he didn’t need them. Dan believed he had learned all he needed to know growing up familiar with the rooms. He chose to stop working the steps after just a few meetings, telling himself he was different than other people. Growing up he knew that drug addicts and alcoholics often ended up homeless and he knew that amends could be made with the right mindset. But what Dan failed to realize was that quitting with no commitments to working on his sobriety wasn’t an effective solution.
This time around, Dan maintained his own sobriety. He got a job and became productive. Spending time at his parents’ beach house in New Jersey was what he believed was the answer he needed. But it wasn’t long before his weekends became about socializing and drinking again. Dan soon went back to using cocaine.
“I was that guy in the bar, sitting all alone, hating life. If someone wanted to buy, I’d sell.”
By the time Dan was 22 years old, he had already been in and out of four rehabs. He dropped out of school. His life revolved entirely around drinking and drugs. After landing a DUI, he knew his dream of entering law enforcement was over. Everyone around Dan knew he had a problem with drugs and alcohol, so he stopped hiding it. He began living his life loud and hard.
It didn’t take long for Dan to realize that using and drinking were no longer fun. He also didn’t care who knew anymore. Dan believed that if no one saw him doing it, it wasn’t an issue. This became his excuse to continue. For Dan, this was what enabled him, and he wasn’t shy about his habits. In the throws of addiction, he stopped caring what others knew about him and became reckless. His closest relationships became chaotic. He was staying awake for up to five days at a time, and only sleeping for one. He was selfish. He was wired. He was miserable. His selling had now also led to his shooting both cocaine and heroin simultaneously.
“I became all the things I said I never would.”
His stints to rehab continued. But they also continued to fail him. His ego was in complete control and he stopped asking for help. He denied needing help. After causing another car accident, receiving another DUI, and even overdosing a few times, Dan knew he could continue to use until his upcoming court date.
Then it happened. Dan recalls that one day he just woke up and walked to a local AA meeting. Looking back, there was no rhyme or reason for it at the time. He just woke up one day with the desire to go to a meeting.
Dan’s sobriety hit him with full force. He was attending meetings 2-3 times every day. He now found comfort in the rooms and lost the desire for his old routine, including people, places, and things. He broke up with his girlfriend, too. Even though they both began their recoveries together, she had relapsed and was actively using. Knowing he had to keep his sobriety a priority, Dan knew he had to part ways with her.
He got a job and opened his first bank account. He got a sponsor and maintained all that was necessary for a life lived in recovery. When his court date finally arrived, he received the minimum sentence with house arrest. He had been working 12-hour days and was regularly attending group meetings. He felt good about the direction his life was going in when he entered the courthouse that day. He knows that this new found drive is what has brought him to today.
More than seven years later, Dan Carpenter will tell you that he has no regrets in his life. His gratitude stems from what AA has given to him – the ability to persevere and push forward. Each time he adds a new year to his sobriety, he takes time to reflect on his journey. Every month it is important for him to announce his sober date. After the first year, he found that he was able to do what he’d long thought was impossible: Stay sober. Not only was he able to do it, but he wanted to do it.
“One of my first meetings in AA that still stays with me was hearing this guy say that no matter what we don’t drink or use. I still apply that to my life every day.”
Dan knows that he deserves all the good things in his life today because he has tirelessly worked for them. Sure, he still gets caught up in the negative mindset of not being good enough, but that, he knows, is something he can deal with as it comes.
He remembers that after his first four years into sobriety, he began to slip mentally. He wanted to use. While at meetings he was hoping for feedback to help push him through his desires. But he quickly found that he wasn’t receiving what he needed to hear because he wasn’t being honest about it. He refused to be honest about his urges for the fear of being judged. Dan soon realized that without honesty, he wasn’t going to get the advice he was seeking. When he realized how important speaking truthfully was, it didn’t take long for his obsessions to be overcome.
“No one is as important as they think they are. No one is above speaking honestly.”
Dan’s reality is that if he uses, he will die. He has watched as old acquaintances remain in active addiction and he has suffered the loss of friends through death. Dan is well aware of the importance of putting the work into his sobriety every day.
“In order to be a powerful example, we have to live life right and act right.” Dan says this, acknowledging that his life has become about finding a balance betweeen working his own recovery program and helping others. “I attend funerals for people I’ve known, for people I used to be close to, and it’s hard,” he says with a pause. “Those that I know who have passed away or are still using, are the ones that forgot where they came from. Without remembering where I came from, my recovery stands to fail.”
Dan knows that by being actively involved he is able to help himself first and foremost. His recovery is the most active area of his life. He attends AA meetings regularly. A few years ago, he began holding recovery meetings at Lehigh County Jail. He still maintains these meetings monthly. Giving back is the only way he will be able to help other people.
“I pray my daughter never has to see me drunk or as an active addict.”
With recovery changing and now offering many different outlets for others to help themselves, Dan urges anyone that needs help to just choose a program and see if it works. “No one person has a right to decide which route in recovery will suit someone else the best, and this community should embrace that fact. All of us are different and we have different needs that have to be met. I’m no one to tell anyone that his or her own recovery is wrong.’”
Dan openly states that his life has changed in ways he never imagined possible. While he was aware that help could be found online and on Facebook, he had no idea of the extent of what was out there. While hosting his own weekly radio show, he realized that there were so many more people out there that weren’t hearing what they needed to receive. He is now branching to other states, outside of his hometown in Pennsylvania, which is something he feels blessed to be able to do. “It’s about reaching people and helping people. If anyone tells me that’s wrong, then maybe my message isn’t for them. But someone out there needs to hear what I have to say.”
Dan is aware of how blessed he is to have been given the opportunity to view different outlooks and outlets for recovery. “I just want a good life. I want to be happy and to help as many people as I can. Those that forget where they came from, those that are still using, and the ego-driven assholes out here hurting people are the reason I do what I do. They push me harder. They make me want to be better and do better for myself and for my daughter and for my family. Because of the bad, I push harder for the good.”
Dan Carpenter has been sober since January 24, 2011. He is thankful for all he has, regardless of what he has been through.
“I wanted a better life, but I got a new life.”