If You Really Really Knew Me... | James Cardamone

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"I saw the pain I was causing...I hated the person I had become”

I started drinking when I was 13, casually stealing beers, wine coolers or whatever I could get my hands on, and started binge drinking around 15. The progression was slow, but the writing was definitely on the wall, even at a young age. I had a wonderful childhood: loving family, close friends, and a great high school experience. I loved sports, especially golf, and played religiously, earning a Division 1 scholarship to Seton Hall University in NJ.

My freshman year of college was unique. One of my teammates recognized himself as a born-again Christian, and I grew close to him. I attended Bible study with other athletes, going to church regularly, reading St. Thomas Aquinas & Augustine in the library on Friday nights, and made the decision to not get drunk anymore. That lasted the entire year until my teammate from England was graduating and heading back across the pond. I got drunk that night and picked up right where I left off.

The next three years of college consisted of heavy drinking, blacking out, and waking up to do it all over again. As athletes, we had access to painkillers so I’d occasionally use them or smoke weed, but nothing too serious because we were drug tested. I lost interest in golf and built this persona for myself around my group of friends- the life of the party- and I loved it.  Thoughts of being an alcoholic would creep into my mind, but I quickly made them disappear, telling myself “I have a 3.7 GPA, I’m a Division 1 college athlete, I never get in trouble, I’m not hurting anyone. Everything’s fine!”

Once I graduated, I had plans to backpack across Europe with one of my teammates. It was 2010, the job market sucked, and I was in no hurry to go sit behind a desk. My friend and I caddied at a nearby course we played in college. The plan was save up all summer and hit the road in September. On my second day, I caddied for a man who worked on Wall Street. He offered me a job a week later, and I took it. Instead of my plans to go to Europe, I fell into the “Wall Street life” and I fell hard. I was 22, and it didn’t take long before cocaine became my drug of choice. It went hand in hand with liquor. I spent every dollar I made, living paycheck to paycheck just so I could party as much as possible. I was out 4-5 nights a week, but I thought I was just young and living life. The cocaine slowly led to anything I could get my hands on (MDMA, pills, ketamine), anything to take me out of reality and into some other stratosphere. I’d ride that high into oblivion- whatever it took. My friends started to slow down, and I just hit the gas harder. I switched jobs 5 times during the last 9 years thinking that would make all the difference. It didn't.

Things really got out of hand during the summer I was 27.  Looking back, I’m just happy I came out of it alive. I got deep into gambling, won a lot of money and then lost a lot of money, didn’t go to work for days at a time, took a trip to Vegas, and it finally culminated with me getting arrested outside of a nightclub in NYC for possession of cocaine and theft. I spent the next 27 hours in central booking, a fitting end I suppose since I was simply playing Russian roulette every time I went out. My family found out and led somewhat of an intervention. I decided to go see a therapist, and a few months later I met my wonderful girlfriend (now wife) who filled a huge void in my life. I never had any meaningful relationships with women. I was guarded, completely shut off. I’d go from girl to girl, never getting close enough to get hurt.

I continued to drink and use, the incidents growing farther and farther apart, but when I’d go off the rails it would wreak havoc on my life. Finally on November 12, 2016 I had enough. I went out for lunch Friday afternoon (the 11th) and came home the next day at 8am. I missed my niece’s baptism class, and my girlfriend & dog were nowhere to be found. I just sat on my bed and cried. I simply couldn’t take it anymore.

To those closest to me, it was no secret that I had struggled for years, and by the end of my run I was broken— spiritually, mentally, physically, and financially. I saw the pain I was causing my family, most importantly my girlfriend, and I couldn’t do it anymore. The burden of carrying all the guilt and shame became unbearable. Everything I did was self-serving and done in vain. I treated people poorly and sabotaged relationships. My biggest priority was boosting my own ego. I hated the person I had become.

For me, drugs, sex and alcohol were just a symptom of a much larger problem. Like many other people, I used them as a crutch and a way to escape reality. Drinking and drugging allowed me to become a different person, overcompensating for my vast insecurities and biggest fears. What do people think of me? Am I good enough? Am I successful enough? Am I smart enough? I hated dealing with the problems that everyday life brought. When things got difficult, I’d hit the eject button. It was that simple.

As I recover and continue to work on myself, I’m trying to understand my addiction and how/why I ended up here. While I definitely believe there are some genetic factors (my aunt is 12 years sober and my grandfather was an alcoholic), I firmly believe it has a lot to do with lack of emotional connection and past trauma. Even though I had a ton of friends my whole life and the support from my family- I felt completely alone. The first girl I loved cheated on me, my great-grandmother died when I was 20, my grandfather died by suicide when I was 23, my uncle died unexpectedly when I was 25, and my dad suddenly passed away in August of 2016. As each traumatic event happened, I closed myself off as much as humanly possible. If I never felt vulnerable, then I could never get hurt. 

This journey has allowed me to really get in touch with myself and has led me down a path of spirituality, meditation, and mindfulness. I’ve also done things that I would have never done if I was still drinking & using. I was a guest on three podcasts, went on a retreat in Montana with 30 strangers, read 21 books, got accepted to grad school, co-facilitated a weekly men's group, hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, started golfing competitively again, got certified to be a Recovery Coach and I got married. Being sober has me to discover who I really am and the person I want to become. I used to search for these answers at the bottom of a bottle or in a line of cocaine. I don’t have to anymore.

Sobriety gave me a chance. Recovery gave me a life.

My name is James and I am UNCrushed. 

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James Cardamone

New York City, NY, USA