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Isaac Dieterman's Story
There are deep-rooted stigmas associated with mental health. Patients and family members sometimes avoid getting help because of misconceptions about mental health care. Additionally, one in five adults experience a mental health issue in any given year. We are better together, tackling the mental health crisis as a community to help people overcome mental health stigmas.
The iMatter Anti-Stigma Campaign, an effort by the Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership and several other partners, aims to erase the stigma and open up the conversation that everyone deals with mental health from a variety of different perspectives.
We hope that the iMatter Anti-Stigma Campaign begins to eliminate the stigma around mental health, and beyond that, show you the strength of the human spirit, the power in community and connection and that you are not alone.
If you or someone you know is struggling, call the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text BELONG to 741741.
A story of overcoming substance use, Isaac Dieterman is now a counselor helping others on their path to a better life.
My story begins when I was about 15 years old. I was at a friend's house and I decided to drink with him for the very first time. The experience was life changing, because at that moment, it was like I was exhaling for the first time.
It was like when you are holding your breath for a long period of time and are finally able to let it out; it was just that much relief and a feeling of just total, complete peace.
When I was young, I struggled a lot because my dad died when I was eight years old. So, I was left with all of this pain from that and when I drank, it took away that pain. At the time, I didn't realize that I was still experiencing that much pain because of my dad's death. Of course, there were many other things that happened over the course of a number of years that contributed additional pain, but I believe my dad's death is what started it for me.
I drank that one time at 15 and didn’t drink again until two years later. At 17, it started to become a little bit more regular. On weekends, I would drink enough to feel something, but still not a ton. Slowly and surely, it progressed until my life was completely unmanageable.
At 18, the week after I graduated high school, I was driving drunk and got arrested. I received an ‘Operating While Visibly Impaired’ charge and that put me in jail overnight, which was a big eye opener at the time.
But I still was under the impression that I didn't have a problem with alcohol, because I was just like everyone else in terms of my drinking behaviors, in my mind at least.
Once I got everything cleared out with the court system, things were good for a short period of time, but my drinking was progressing more and more. It went from drinking a moderate amount on the weekends, to drinking every weekend. Then it became Thursday, Friday, Saturday. At some point, it started to become an everyday thing.
When I went without it, I noticed I felt uncomfortable, but that was about as far as it went. Then, it got to where I could stay sober for a day or two, but it was really hard.
At 20 years old, I got my second criminal charge of a Minor in Possession, because I still had alcohol in my system when I called to file an insurance claim about a deer that I hit the night before. They gave me an MIP, which was another wake-up call.
But once again, I thought there are a lot of people my age with an MIP or an OWVI. I was still not under the impression that I had a problem with alcohol.
Looking back now, a great deal of things in my life were being lost periodically and progressively over time due to alcohol. I was starting to lose romantic relationships and certain friends because my drinking was getting out of control and they didn't want to be around me.
I just became resentful and I removed myself from those friends and found new friends who drank more like me.
It progressed even further and soon, even my friends who drank were saying that I had a problem with alcohol. I was drinking every day of the week. I was showing up to certain things that it was unacceptable to be drunk at.
That made me become a recluse and I started to isolate myself to prevent others from seeing me drink. From the outside looking in, everyone thought I just didn't hang out very much anymore, but in reality, I was in my room drinking by myself.
It got to the point where I would wake up at four or five o'clock in the morning wide awake and could not fall back asleep. The only way I could go back to sleep was to drink more. So, I would reach out to the corner of my bed and pick up a half gallon of vodka and pound as much of it as I could, until it was enough to put me back to sleep.
So, naturally I was waking up drunk often. The mornings where I hadn't been drinking, I was really sick. I discovered throughout this time that if I drank while I was feeling sick, that it would take the sickness away completely. It became both the poison and the medicine all in one.
Over time, I found myself with nearly a complete loss of everything that I loved. The only thing that I was holding on to was my job at the City of Cadillac. I had worked for the Parks Department for six years. I worked hard and I was a valued employee, but everything else in life, I had lost. My family didn't trust me. My friends certainly didn't trust me. I certainly could not hold on to a romantic relationship and I started to feel very alone.
I felt like I was the only person going through this. Because I felt so isolated and alone, I started to drink more to relieve those negative feelings that I was experiencing inside myself.
In December 2014, I experienced what is called alcoholic hallucinosis for the first time. I had tried to quit drinking, because everyone was on my back about it. I had stayed up for seven days straight because when you abstain from alcohol and you are an alcoholic, you don't sleep. Alcohol is a depressant and when you take away the depressing thing that's been in your body for so long, your brain creates all this electricity, which is what causes sleeplessness.
In severe cases of alcoholism, you can develop hallucinations and seizures because of alcohol withdrawal. I started to experience horrifying hallucinations, including seeing people, hearing things and feeling sensations all over my body. None of those were there, but I fully believed they were. At the time, I really thought I could be going crazy and I had no idea that alcoholism could cause this. So, I self-admitted into Pine Rest Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids for possible schizophrenia or something of the like.
I was in Pine Rest for three days and the psychologist asked me how much I drank. I laughed at him and said that I drank on the weekends. He got really mad at me because he could tell that I did not meet the criteria of schizophrenia and that it was likely alcohol-induced. But I had not even admitted it to myself at that point, let alone someone else, so I lied.
The hallucinations were the most horrifying thing I've ever experienced in my whole life. It gives me goosebumps to even think about it today.
Once I left Pine Rest, I started drinking again, which allowed me to sleep and made me feel better, but I also became more and more depressed as I went along.
Then one day, I was at work and one of my co-workers was riding with me while I was driving a city truck and I had a seizure.
They rushed me to the hospital, only to find that I had a blood alcohol content at the time. They told me that they thought it was alcohol related. That scared me really bad. At this point, I had experienced severe hallucinations and seizures, so I knew in the deepest part of myself that I was an alcoholic, but I also couldn’t admit it to myself. I lied all the time to every single person I talked to. There was not a single person I told the truth to.
Sure, there were short bits of time where I'd pull it together for a day or two without drinking, but I was miserable. I’d be shaking so intensely that I couldn't even write my name on a piece of paper.
In April 2015, I was living in Mount Pleasant at the time and going to Mid Michigan Community College. I was with my brother in Sam's Club in Mount Pleasant and I had a very severe alcoholic seizure. I fell to the ground and hit my head on the concrete and that put me in Spectrum Health Hospital in Grand Rapids for seven days in the ICU. During that time, they did a whole bunch of tests and found that I had about a quarter-sized blood spot on the temporal lobe of my brain from the fall. I also had a hairline fracture on the right side of my head.
I had stabilized after a few days and a neurologist came in and he said, “Isaac, I can tell that you're an alcoholic by the way you look. Your face is really puffy and you look like you drink a lot. If you continue to drink, you will die within a year.”
That was the thing that scared me the absolute most. My whole life flashed before me in that moment. I had a complete and total fear of death.
The insanity of it was, the moment that I got out of the hospital, I was able to obtain more alcohol and start drinking again, because of that fear. Looking back on it now, it’s just absolutely crazy that anyone would do such a thing, but that is the power of addiction. In certain recovery communities, they say that addiction is more powerful than a mother's love for her children.
I finally made the decision that I was done with alcohol, but I also had a whole bunch of reservations inside of me. I decided to try the whole abstinence thing, and I was able to maintain sobriety for three months. I was feeling really good. My boss was telling me how good I was doing at work. Everyone was commenting about how good I looked, compared to what I was before.
On July 21, 2015, I went to the casino for my birthday and I had just a couple of drinks. I really patted myself on the back and thought I finally had this under control. I could finally drink like a normal person.
Seven days later, after thinking that I had my whole life under control, I lost my job for the City of Cadillac. That was the final straw for me. I had nothing left.
From that loss, I became extremely suicidal. There were two separate occasions where I had a gun in my mouth and I was ready to die. In those moments, I believe it was God that said, “There are bigger plans for you beyond this.”
I didn't know what that meant at the time, and I did not really have any hope or faith, but I did not complete suicide. I was going on the one small speck of hope that I had inside myself.
I also didn't get sober after that. It took another two months after that experience, including another set of hallucinations and another alcoholic seizure.
I had reached completely hopelessness and I decided that I needed to do something else. So, I admitted myself to Dakoske Hall in Traverse City, which is a men's residential facility for addiction.
I was so fearful to go, because not only did it mean that I was admitting that I had a problem large enough to finally confront it, but it also meant that I had to do something about it. I was there for 30 days and within that time, I can still remember the exact place I was standing when I caught myself laughing and truly feeling like I was enjoying life for the first time.
I had tried outpatient treatment for alcohol before, but I was drunk in group therapy and it just didn’t work for me. Residential treatment was a force that helped me to break the cycle of addiction. That didn’t mean that it got easier, it just meant that I didn't have withdrawal symptoms anymore. So, after I successfully completed residential treatment, I was able to get readmitted to Mid Michigan Community College. I had taken a semester off after having received disciplinary action for being drunk in class.
They readmitted me on a conditional basis and I was on a probationary period, so to speak. I found that my motivation for school and everything else became just so much more than it was before. I ended up passing a math class that I had taken four times before. I had previously failed it twice and withdrew from it twice. Now sober, I passed it with an A and that taught me that I could do anything in recovery, I just had to put my mind to it.
I graduated Mid Michigan College in the spring of 2016, and then I went to Central Michigan University where I studied psychology with a minor in substance use disorder treatment. I graduated from CMU with a high GPA and made the President's list a couple times.
During my time at CMU and since I had gotten sober, I had the desire to start a recovery community for young adults. So, along with the help of one of my good friends, I started S.O.A.R. which stands for Student Organization for Addiction Recovery. I believe S.O.A.R. has helped quite a few people make it through college sober, or make positive changes to their drinking or drug use.
When I graduated from CMU with my bachelor’s degree, I knew that I had wanted to do more. The seed had been planted even before I got sober. Years ago, I had met with one of my personal counselors and had said I had interest in being an addiction recovery counselor. During that session, he leaned forward and said, “You might want to get sober first.”
I just recently completed my master’s degree in counseling on March 6, 2021.
I could tell thousands of stories of everything bad that happened in my life during active addiction. But the best part is, I have even more stories of all the amazing things that have occurred as a result of recovery.
I’ve been in recovery since September 26, 2015. My life, hope and my peace have been restored. Now, my main goal in life is to carry this message to other people with addiction. I want to help and plant seeds where I can in order to give others the same hope that I’ve found in my life.
I had a big support network to get through it. I had a lot of help from my mom, my Aunt Sharon, my siblings and some of my closest friends, Travis and Peter. There were times I was on the fence about recovery and I did not want to go and get help, because I didn't want to admit that I had an addiction.
It came down to a fork in the road. It was a choice between dying alone from alcohol or getting sober. The pain was great enough that I knew I had to change. There was still a lot of discomfort in the process, but I still had this glimmer of hope I could still make something of myself if I overcame addiction.