How do you define success?
In my opinion success is not the amount of money I make, the car that I drive or the clothes that I wear.
Success for me is being 8 years sober, running a growing business that employs deserving people, and providing a great service to our clients.
**I have never shared my story on the internet and I think it is about time.
My family and I immigrated to Southern California from Colombia in 1986. My childhood in SoCal was great. My parents were both very hard-working and provided my siblings and I a good upbringing.
But I was 12 years old the first time I got drunk.
As a Colombian, our family parties are awesome.
Everyone eats, dances and has a great time.
Often that ‘great time’ is accompanied by a little anise-flavored drink called Aguardiente.
We were at a family party and the adults were taking shots of this strong-smelling drink. Being the very curious kid that I was I wanted to know what it tasted like. After multiple rejections from the man passing the shots around he finally became inebriated enough (and annoyed enough) to give me a shot…and then another… and another.
I loved the feeling.
It made me feel more confident.
I danced salsa all night long with my sister and cousins. From that day on I understood that alcohol made me feel less insecure, therefore I drank whenever I got the chance.
-At 14 I smoked marijuana for the first time. I took it and ran with it.
-At 19 I was introduced to meth and the beginning of the end of that chapter of my life.
-At 23 I was incarcerated in Idaho on drug related charges for two years. I was near my rock bottom.
While incarcerated I was introduced to a program called Alcoholics Anonymous.
At first, I would go to meetings just to get time out of my cell for a few hours. Then I found out about Narcotics Anonymous and started going to those too…for the same reason.
I wouldn’t speak, I wouldn’t share, I wouldn’t participate; I truly believed that it was a bunch of B.S. and that I didn’t have a problem but it didn’t take long for some of the stories that I heard shared to strike a chord.
A story that really killed me inside was one from a psychiatrist, who was three years in on a five-year stint for a third DUI/hit and run.
He recounted how his alcoholism fueled his rage one night at a local bar. He got into a verbal altercation with his wife, which led him to getting plastered at a local bar, which ended with him surrounded by cop cars after running over a brick wall.
The story really wasn’t what actually struck a chord, it was what he said after.
He said that while locked up he had come to a conclusion about his anger. He said that he was just a soft 13-year-old boy who gets his feelings hurt easily. He said, “if we dissect backwards we can all come to that same conclusion: rage spawns from anger, anger spawns from hurt, hurt spawns getting your little f****ing feelings hurt.”
And I didn’t sleep that night.
At that moment I realized that I had an alcohol problem.
I had an addiction problem.
I had an anger problem.
A personality problem…a life problem.
It has been 12 years since I heard those words from the psychiatrist and I can still remember them all. From the tone of his voice to the smell of the jail issued soap I used that morning.
AA and NA helped me get through my jail time. I was able to have a daily routine and stick to it. I had a great sponsor, support from other inmates, and was able to go to two meetings a week. Then I was released and I was both happy and apprehensive. I had not been out on the streets AND sober, for a very long time.
After multiple relapses, multiple AA and NA meetings I decided to check myself into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Idaho. That got me back “on the wagon” for a while, but fell off again.
When I was 26 years-old I was broke and feeling ashamed and guilty.
I decided that I had to focus my energy on something else.
I moved back to California and to make a long story short I found myself selling knock-off perfume on the street. It was a multi-level marketing company that gave you knock-off perfume on consignment, and then you had to go out and hustle.
I became obsessed with being the best salesman I could be and after 2 months I was 10 pounds lighter, and attending AA and NA meetings regularly; I had my own office in Fremont, California, training others on how to go out and hustle perfume.
I purposefully mentioned the 10 pounds I lost to accentuate my new obsession.
I became so focused on growing the business that sometimes I wouldn’t eat. I had no real friends, and I wouldn’t even call my parents.
I had traded drugs and alcohol for…work.
At the time I was introduced to Jeffery Combs’ book Psychologically Unemployable (Jeffery is also a recovering addict). In the book there was a part that said not to confuse addiction with passion.
That there’s a fine line between being a workaholic and a passionate entrepreneur.
I sold the business and moved back down to my parents house in Southern California.
Now 28, living at my parents house, I was working at Target and felt passionless.
Luckily I was able to find a great AA/NA community close by and my sponsor at the time gave me a task.
He told me to go sign up for a class at the local community college. I really didn’t want to do that, but he said that it was not a suggestion, that if I wanted to continue working with him that I had to go take a class.
A week later I was at the Saddleback Community College campus looking through their course catalog. There was nothing I was interested in, until I saw a course called intro to website development (HTML). I thought, “I like computers and websites…why not?”
Three months later my room at my parent’s house was full of HTML and website design books. After a while I decided that I could make a business out of it. I had already overcome my fear of sales (selling perfume on the streets to strangers) so selling website design to local businesses would be a cakewalk.
And 8 years later here I am.
I now co-own a website development agency.
I have a staff that I feel are like my family, and as a matter of fact, my brother is part of the team.
We are currently based out of Medellin, Colombia. Ironically, my parents left Colombia seeking a better life for us and I’ve come back to Colombia with that better life trying to help the local economy, while helping businesses in the U.S. with their online presence.
Once sober and committed to my sobriety, I didn’t try to become an amazing developer and build the next Facebook; instead, I evaluated my strengths and passions and decided how I could best utilize my skills to build a business that could employ people and help businesses.
Early in my sobriety I felt like every little step I took was all about me, and in a sense it was. I mean everything you do early on has a big impact. Every single step you take, every single piece of homework your sponsor gives you, every piece of literature you read is all about you and your recovery.
But after a while, you start to realize that there’s a bigger reason for your sobriety.
Whether it’s to help your parents buy a house and retire, provide your children with a great life, work at a company and help it grow, or start your own company and employ people who depend on you, there’s a larger importance to your sobriety other than just your own well-being.
You may not see it now, but everything you are doing right now will have a greater impact in the future.
Good luck and thank you for reading.
Andrew was born in Bogota, Colombia, but was raised in Los Angeles California. He is a recovering addict / alcoholic with 8 years of sobriety under his belt. He is also an entrepreneur, the proud owner of RedDoorStudios.com.co.