In August of 2011 I was sent by my work to a “Leadership Training” outside of Houston, Texas. It was a four-day training that proved to be one of the most impacting experiences of my life. The training was held on a ranch filled with hundreds of pecan trees. We spent half of the time indoors in a classroom and the other half outdoors in the Texas heat. The objective was to take 35 “strangers” and by the end of the four days turn us into a high performance team. In order to do that, we were taken through various processes that would test our ability to let go of our old habits and embrace a new way of thinking. Some of the processes were completed as a team, and some were meant for individual growth. I found myself doing both the impossible and the unreasonable as we were guided by our trainers. I realized that I had little to no self-worth and why. I also found out that I was not trusting and as each day progressed I began to break open, revealing deep wounds from my past that had never been touched or resolved. On the final day of training we went through a process called the “Childhood Re-Frame”. In this exercise, each class member sat with their partner who they had selected to be their “power partner” throughout the training. My partner was Tony, an attorney who worked for the same company that had sent me to Texas. He stood at 6’4″ and weighed about 230 lbs. He looked like an All-American linebacker. For three days Tony and I had achieved the impossible, and conquered each task given to us with courage and the hearts of lions. That morning, sitting in the classroom we had no idea that what we were about to undertake would require all of the courage we had left. It would also require complete trust and it just so happened that in those three short days I had come to trust Tony. The childhood re-frame is a process that takes each participant back in time to early childhood and stirs up memories of relationships and experiences with significant people in your life. It is known as a guided meditation and between the spoken words music is used to make the experience more impacting. We began and I allowed myself to venture into spaces and places of my past that for a lifetime had haunted me. For many the ages of 4-7 are a time filled with memories of family and love, of innocence and wonder. For me that time of my life represented darkness and evil, a time when innocence was lost and I was unprotected and very much alone. As we were guided back to our childhood I struggled to find happy memories. Instead I saw images of events which should never have occurred, and parents who were not nurturing. My “little child” was fractured and broken. Where others were remembering birthdays and celebrations, I could only see death and torture. There I was, standing in a puddle of my own urine trembling as I witnessed my older cousin perform acts too horrific and gruesome to describe. That little child, me – in my innocence could only make sense of the nightmare by telling myself that God must have made a mistake in sending me to earth.

The experiences of my childhood went directly against everything I was being taught in church each Sunday. “You are a Child of God, of infinite worth”. There was no way this could be true. How could I have worth? How could God truly love me and allow this to happen? I was taught that God hears and answers prayers. I prayed. I begged. I pleaded. I asked over and over again for things to stop and they didn’t. This only confirmed my suspicions that God wanted nothing to do with me. I had after all been a mistake. I deserved to be miserable and that is exactly what I would tell myself and believe for the next three decades of my life.

I left Houston feeling raw and broken wide open. I could no longer escape the memories of my past, nor the choices I had made throughout my life that led me to where I was at that moment. Prior to attending the training I had struggled with alcohol. My drinking had already landed me in detox for six days in June of 2010. That had been a wake up call for me, and I stayed sober for 64 days. Then I rationalized that my drinking had merely been the result of a lack of judgement and I now knew better. I returned to drinking socially and within a few months was drinking heavily on the weekends and after work. Upon my return from Houston I hit the bottle with a vengeance, pouring Tequila down my throat at any and every opportunity I had. Drinking became my solution to my inability to face what now presented itself to me both when I was wide awake and sound asleep. Alcohol was the only thing that could take me to a place where memories no longer existed and where I did not care. It took me to complete blackness emotionally and physically it was taking me to black out. I began to rely on the bottle to function, to get me through the day, to allow me to parent, to be a partner, to be a friend, and at the end of the day to put me to sleep. It ruled my world and I worshipped it.

Training had also impacted me positively and awakened me to the knowledge that I had within me the power to choose positive in my life. I knew that I was the only thing holding myself back and getting in my own way. I had learned that there is a universal principle that for every negative exists a positive and given that, why would the choice ever be the negative? I knew that every time I picked up a shot glass I was choosing death over life. I was acutely aware of the damage it was doing to my children, my partner, my job, my health and ultimately my life. My body cried out in anguish over my choices. I knew I needed a solution other than alcohol and I began looking at what options were available. Since training had given me the tools to be successful I made the decision to return to the ranch as a volunteer. I returned four more times participating as a staff member in the same training I had completed. When I was at the ranch, my drinking would decrease and I would return home with renewed dedication to moderate my alcohol consumption. This was followed by a return to drinking more heavily than before and the cycle repeated itself over and over again. In March of 2012 I committed to volunteer one more time and made the same resolve I had before. This time it would work. Training proved to be different that March. There were an odd number of students and I was asked to participate in any of the processes that required a partner.

The first exercise was a trust walk in which one partner was blind folded and the other was mute. I was the first to be blind and my partner and I set off with confidence and our sights set on a successful outcome. We were outside amidst the pecan trees and she led me across the ground. I could hear the crackle of twigs and dry leaves beneath my feet. I hardly knew my partner, and felt comfortable enough that she would not allow me to trip or fall on my journey. After several minutes she brought me to a halt and from the sounds around me I could tell that I would be leaving the comfort of the ground and into the unknown. My trust began to decrease as my anxiety intensified. We then ascended up what felt like a series of wooden steps where we again came to a stop. She grabbed my right leg and proceeded to pull it forward while attempting to pick my right foot off of the ground. I resisted. I was paralyzed and had no idea where my foot would land. After several unsuccessful attempts to get me to budge I heard a voice call out to me. It was one of the trainers and he said in a tone that sounded commanding, Step strong Kai! Step strong! He almost sounded annoyed and it pissed me off. I flung my leg forward and prayed to God it would find firm ground wherever it landed. It did! After another short flight of stairs down I was instructed to remove my blindfold. I turned around to see what had caused my paralyzing fear. It was a gap approximately 24 inches wide. Something I normally would have navigated effortlessly had I not been blind but which rendered me helpless and terrified. This simple exercise held profound symbolism for my life at that time. I was living a life in fear and lacked the courage to make the changes needed to move forward (stop drinking and confront my past). I needed to “step strong” and trust that I would land safely.

The next day I sat in front of that same partner and participated for the second time in the childhood re-frame exercise. There I was again, eyes closed, imagining myself standing in the ruins of my childhood and powerless to do anything about it. This time my reaction was overwhelming sadness for that little child. Tears flowed faster than I could catch them with tissue. I could not hold back the pain and sorrow that had resided inside of me for a lifetime. Even when the exercise came to an end I struggled to regain my composure. Once again I left the ranch broken wide open and medicating my internal wounds with alcohol. By the time I made it back to Salt Lake City I had lost any desire to function. I didn’t care if I showered or ate. All I cared about was keeping myself in a state of numbness so that I wouldn’t have to face the awful truth within me.
By this time I had been drinking heavily for so long that I became fearful of detoxing on my own. If I did not drink constantly I would start having severe withdrawal symptoms within 2 hours of my last shot. My hands would start shaking violently, I would get nauseated and my heart would start to race. Shortly afterwards the sweating would begin, followed by vomiting. I was scared I would have seizures and I knew my blood pressure was dangerously high. There were moments when I almost asked Dixie to take me to the ER to get lithium to help but then became fearful doctors would make me go through a formal detox. So I kept drinking. At night I would fall into bed or pass out on the couch wondering if I would wake in the morning. I was prepared for death, I was apathetic to it. I figured if it happened it happened. When I would wake up alive, it would surprise me and I would stumble into the kitchen, open the refrigerator and pull out the tequila. Setting it on the counter I would tell myself not to do it, I would even say it out loud. Then I would being pouring it into the shot glass. My hands would be shaking so badly the bottle would bang repeatedly against the shot glass. I knew what would come next. The moment I swallowed the tequila my gag reflex would kick in and I would immediately vomit into the kitchen sink. Even my body was telling me that it was finished. I’d repeat the process again and the second shot would go down more smoothly, numbing my esophagus and stomach. From there it was smooth sailing. Unless I ran out of alcohol.

On the morning of March 23, 2012 my eyes opened to Dixie standing at my bedside. She looked me in the eye and said, “Honey I’m going to be brutally honest with you. You need to get some control in your life.” She then left for work. Two hours later I called her and told her I needed help. That day I was admitted to detox at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute. I stayed there for five days. I was discharged on Thursday with an aftercare plan that included starting an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) the following Monday. The program allowed me to work during the day and participate in the afternoon. It would last about eight weeks and during that time I would be randomly drug tested for alcohol use. A friend picked me up and brought me home since Dixie was working. When Dixie got home we ran back up to the U to pick up my prescriptions. On the way down the hill I turned to her and said, “Here’s the deal, I’m going to drink this weekend since I won’t be drinking anymore starting on Monday. You can either take me to the liquor store now or I can take you home and go myself.” I will never forget the look on her face. At the time I didn’t see it but looking back I remember the shock, the sadness, the pain of my request and subsequent decision. She drove me to the liquor store where I paused before entering to remove my hospital bracelet. I purchased a large amount of tequila and that weekend proceeded to drink myself back to the brink of death. By Saturday evening I became nasty and belligerent towards Dixie. I said things to her that I never should have uttered.

By Sunday morning I was back at rock bottom and by early afternoon back in detox. This time my stay lasted 8 days. This time my aftercare plan included rehab at a treatment facility. This time the outcome would be totally different. This time I would “step strong”. This time I would  come home as Kai.

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