David Whitesock | Survivor of Addiction

I am a survivor of addiction and my disease has been in remission since 2005.

While in the middle of it, surviving this disease however, was nothing I, nor my family, ever expected would happen. After twelve years suffering in sickness and despair, and yet despite what seemed like a positive turnaround in my life, by the spring of 2005 I had all but given up on my life. I was slowly dying. I knew it. And I did not care.

Life for me was always a struggle. I never fit in. I never had the confidence others around me had. My characteristic shyness was really a “normal” way for a kid to deal with the constant feeling of anxiety. As I got older, the anxiety and lack of self-confidence never went away. Only when I discovered the effects alcohol had on my anxiety and self-confidence did I realize that a new me existed. What I did not know and did not fully comprehend was that genetically I was not fit to consume alcohol in any healthy sort of way. In fact, from the very beginning, I knew that my relationship to alcohol was remarkably different from many others around me.

This magical elixir never worked as advertised. On the outside I was confident and able to engage in society just like everyone else. But when the rooms emptied and lights went out, I lived in fear and constant discomfort. As time went on, the lack of self-confidence gave way to depression. Like addiction, depression was another illness I knew nothing about, but it knew everything about me.

Addiction to alcohol took hold of my life very quickly. In just a couple years, the disease began to manifest itself in a series of negative consequences.  First, family and other social relationships began to erode. Second, financial and other life issues began to mount. And third, the criminal justice system began to get very familiar with me.

I got my first DUI in 1996. The event seemed rather minor. Because it was 1996 and the DUI was in municipal court, it was treated very much like a traffic ticket.  My parents, however, did not treat it as such and a family friend and lawyer represented me. After sentencing, my lawyer, a fellow survivor, cautioned me, saying, “I’ve seen what happens next. If you continue living the way you are living, your father will be calling me again for another DUI or for something worse.”

I remember that day as it if was yesterday. He was right.

Life grew more and more chaotic. DUI’s began to mount – one almost every year for the next few years. After three attempts at college, I finally dropped out.  I was lost and empty. Nothing satisfied my heart.  Nothing satisfied my soul. I could not seem to satisfy anyone around me. My only comfort came when I drank and my hope was to permanently extend that comfort. But every morning I woke up. I was isolated from the world. No one knew my pain.

Fortunately, just as the disease was rapidly progressing, I landed a job working in radio. What I had long been missing in my life was purpose. I found that as a broadcaster. I poured my time and energy into learning all I could about the business. Eventually, I went from an overnight weekend DJ to hosting daily AM talk show and serving as a play-by-play voice for both high school and college sports. I was building a career – a career I loved and that was becoming my identity.

Unfortunately, my disease went untreated and it progressed despite any happiness and purpose I had found as a broadcaster.

A fourth DUI in 2004 was the beginning of the end. Over the next 18 months, I grew sicker, more disconnected from reality. My family, who had supported and suffered right with me, could not watch me slowly kill myself. I was told to leave. 

In a last ditch effort to save my radio career, I found a job in Winner, SD. This change of scenery and positive event could not quell the progression of my disease.  Within three months, a fifth DUI arrest occurred and I was facing a felony conviction. At the time of the arrest I was the most un-well I had ever been in my life. With each passing day, I was steadily moving closer and closer to death.   

During the summer of 2005, a confluence of events came together that would ultimately save my life. First, I ended up in a courtroom with a judge who was compassionate and knowledgeable about addiction. And second, I was adjudicated in one of three counties that was piloting twice daily breathalyzer tests for DUI offenders (forced sobriety and accountability). The judge demanded that I take advantage of the time in jail and the time in treatment; and that I think about getting well and begin to take measured actions toward that wellness.

That direction navigated me to Sioux Falls and the TLC Sober Homes, which were started by Face It TOGETHER’s CEO, Kevin Kirby. Little did I know that six years later I would be working with Kevin at Face It TOGETHER. 

Sioux Falls was the epicenter of my change. It was there that I met individuals who mentored me in recovery, life, and spirituality.  Generosity fostered opportunity.  That opportunity bred purpose and passion. There were people in Sioux Falls, some whom I could name – but many others whom I could not name – that had a profound influence in my getting well and surviving this disease. This ecosystem of good saved my life – for which I am eternally grateful.

The first few years were not a picnic, however. I had to struggle to survive. I spent a lot of time with mentors and counselors and even more time in meditation.  But with each passing day, my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health improved. My family relationships improved. My connection to life grew less conflicted. I still had the same feelings of anxiety, depression, inadequacy, and lack of self-confidence, but I was learning how to work through those issues and manage those issues. I began to learn more about the science and medicine behind addiction, which allowed me to properly understand the relationship of drugs and alcohol to my brain and genetics in particular. Being told not to drink because “I could not handle my liquor” or because drinking meant negative outcomes was not enough. I needed to know why when I consumed alcohol the instant desire to have more was relentless and unhealthy. Once fully understood, addressing all the non-consumption elements of the disease grew clearer and manageable.

Since beginning on the path to wellness in 2005, my life has propelled on a trajectory that was once unimaginable. I returned to college as a non-traditional student. Instead of studying something practical that could immediately link me to employment, I studied what I was interested in – history, political science, and alcohol and drug studies. While at The University of South Dakota, another important mentor entered my life and suggested I become a lawyer. That suggestion ignited actions that would result in my probation ending on graduation day and eventually getting into law school at USD. Three years later I graduated from law school and passed the bar exam.

The next step in becoming a lawyer was challenging – proving to the Board of Bar Examiners my good moral character to practice law. My recovery and wellness were as secure as they could be with eight years of hard work. Gratefully, the Board of Bar Examiners and the SD Supreme Court also saw it that way and conditionally admitted me to practice law in South Dakota.

In September 2005, there was very little joy in that Winner, SD courtroom. But in August 2012, my family and I returned to that courtroom and the judge that once sentenced me to prison for a fifth DUI was now administering the Oath of Attorney and swearing me in.

Life is dramatically different than what it used to be. Today, I am happily married. I have a life with purpose and peace. Each day builds upon the previous all in pursuit of happiness through recovery and gratitude.

Every year, too few get help and too few get well. This is the result of a broken system riddled with generations old thinking and stigma. Survivors of this disease like me were the exception to the rule. I am fortunate to be working with Face It TOGETHER where we are changing that. It is also not lost on me that despite the dark places this disease took me to, here I am working with Kevin and our remarkable team of social entrepreneurs to solve addiction…that did not happen by accident.