As told to Dearly by United States Marine Veteran, Nicholas Kratzer.
This upcoming February, I’ll be celebrating one of, if not the, biggest accomplishment of my life: four years in recovery. These past four years I’ve worked on becoming a better version of myself. I’ve learned the importance of self-acceptance, honesty, and gratitude. I’ve become proud of the person I am and the things that I stand for. It’s been several years of tremendous transformation from the person I used to be. Trust me, it has not been easy but going along with the old saying, it’s been so worth it.
So how did I get here? What type of person did I use to be? My story began when I was a child. I grew up watching the majority of the men in my family — my father, uncles, and grandfather — serve in the armed forces. The sense of duty ran deep. I knew from a young age that I wanted to serve my country. I couldn’t wait to graduate high school, not so that I could go off to college and party but so I could continue my family’s tradition and join the armed forces. And that’s exactly what I did; straight out of high school I joined the Marines.
Heading to boot camp was both nerve-racking and exciting at the same time. Recruits are pushed to their limits both mentally and physically but eventually, I settled in and was more determined than ever to succeed. Challenging obstacle courses, physical fitness tests, and retaining information was very exciting for me and I excelled in that environment. I graduated as a squad leader and was ready to advance as a United States Marine.
After my initial training, and what felt like a blink of an eye, my whole life changed. During a standard training exercise, I tore ligaments in my knee that would ultimately alter the course of my life. To remedy my injury, I was subject to a knee operation (the first of three others that would eventually follow), countless hours of physical therapy, and an endless supply of painkillers. Because of this, I never got my chance to deploy overseas.
Within two years, I went from being a strong, proud, loyal marine with a bright future ahead to the darkest period of my life. I had dreamed, envisioned, and worked so hard to get to where I was — only to have it ripped out from under me within minutes. On the bright side (I say this with full sarcasm), there wasn’t a doctor in town that wasn’t willing to continue to prescribe me opioids for my
“injury.” It wasn’t long before this “treatment” for my pain led to a full-blown addiction.
After taking painkillers for an extended period of time, I built up a tolerance and needed them to function normally. Not only was I in grave pain, but my family suffered tremendously because of my addiction as well. For a long time, they didn’t want to believe that anything was wrong and continued to enable me. It became quite expensive to maintain doctor visits and pharmacy costs so I found myself turning to my family for financial help. Even though they weren’t in the best position to help, they always did.
One of my favorite quotes is, “The first step in solving any problem is admitting there is one.” I wish I could say that I came to this realization easily, but I did not. Although I always had a job and prescriptions, I was addicted for the better part of 10 years. This all changed one day when I had taken too much and overdosed. I’ll never forget, it was my dad’s birthday and he was the one to find me. I woke up in the hospital and realized I needed help. I was honestly just so tired of being tired. I surrendered by asking for help because I knew that I had a problem, one in which I clearly couldn’t get out of myself.
I entered treatment at Footprints to Recovery, a local outpatient drug and alcohol treatment facility — a place that today I can say was my saving grace. It was through the undeniably passionate (and patience) clinicians that I learned how to cope with the underlying symptoms driving my addiction. The unique treatment model, that didn’t focus just on my addiction but also taught me life skills. The encouragement for self-love that provided me hope for the future, something I hadn’t had in quite some time. I was hooked, but to my surprise, I was hooked on things that were making me a better person.
For the treatment, hope, and confidence Footprints to Recovery provided me, I could not be more thankful. But, it goes beyond that, I sit here today as the Regional Outreach Manager for Footprints to Recovery. Every day, I get the chance to go out into the community and help people who were in my shoes four years ago. In some ways, my career path has not strayed too far from what I originally envisioned as a child. The sense of duty felt by the men in my family still runs in my blood. What a blessing it has been to find light in my darkness and what a true blessing it is, to serve my country every single day by helping others do the same.
One of the biggest lessons for me was understanding that reaching out for help did not mean I was weak, rather it meant that I was strong. If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction there is help. You don’t have to go through it alone. The recovery process can be a long road but with time and the proper tools, you and your loved one can heal.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you can contact Footprints to Recovery for free and confidentially both “day and night, seven days a week” at 855-628-2899.