Daniel Smith,* a successful businessman, credits Menninger for helping him overcome addiction and rebuilding his life with honesty and self-awareness. Now, he aims to inspire others on their journey to recovery.
I grew up in the working class of Europe as the son of two alcoholic parents. At 16, I joined the military, seeking an escape from the challenges at home, but the lack of love and support in my upbringing lingered. After leaving the army, I really floundered for a decade. I had limited education and was incredibly poor, working as a construction laborer to get by. I struggled with feeling less than, which I think many of us understand.
At the age of 30, I found success in the real estate market while being guided by a mentor who had everything I wanted: wealth, status, and a great family. Determined to improve myself, I pursued an education, earning degrees in real estate management and appraisal. All of a sudden, I had two bits of paper that said, “I’m educated,” and I had a track record, so the world was good.
Highs and Lows
Even though I was succeeding financially, I still felt inadequate. I battled my insecurity by escaping through alcohol, drugs, and tumultuous relationships.
I met my wife when I was 35. We got married a couple years later and decided to embark on a new chapter in the United States. I had money, I had businesses, I had an education, and now I had this great girl — but my life continued to revolve around drinking, drugs, and the relentless pursuit of wealth and status.
The wake-up call happened during a booze-filled golfing trip with friends. The next day my wife said to me, “You were really mean last night.” I cried, for the first time, and said, “I think I have a drinking problem.”
Admitting this was a crushing blow to my ego, leading me to Boston for addiction treatment. The inpatient stay was the first time I had been sober since I was 15, and it forced me to confront my failures, regrets, and the deep-seated insecurities that fueled my destructive behaviors.
After treatment, I initially believed I had conquered addiction — only to start drinking again. In the year that followed, my decline was absolute, and it eventually led me to seek help at Menninger. My wife, God bless her, supported me, even as I struggled with anger and ego. The lowest point came when I couldn’t face my daughter on her 11th birthday because I was so far gone.
The shame and sense of failure was just too much. Later, I went back home and wrote suicide letters to my two kids. I decided that was it.
I went to Menninger two days later.
Despite my initial fears and uncertainties, Menninger proved to be a transformative experience. The therapeutic milieu, marked by compassionate experts and supported by peer recovery specialists, changed my life. The wellness plan, particularly during reentry to life outside the hospital, was pivotal in saving me.
After leaving Menninger, I unfortunately had a relapse and fell back into using cocaine. Gordon Meltzer, CPRS, CPS, ICPR, a peer recovery specialist at Menninger, helped me see that the grip of addiction was still strong, and his non-judgmental support made all the difference.
Recovery is an ongoing journey, and staying connected, honest, and always learning is vital to avoid slipping back into addiction. My therapists, especially Daryl Shorter, MD, at Menninger, played a big role in changing how I see success, failure, and life.
Building a New Life
Learning about my family background at Menninger also helped me understand why I struggled. That’s why it was so important to build a community of support after leaving Menninger and stay connected to the people in recovery I met there. Mental health treatment not only transformed my personal life, but it had a ripple effect on the world around me. It played a crucial role in reuniting my family, revitalizing my business, and fostering faith and belief in myself. Through my work, I’ve been able to create jobs and contribute to building new communities where people can lead fulfilling lives.
Menninger changed my life, turning me from someone who couldn’t face his daughter’s birthday to someone who is fully engaged in life again. By being honest and sharing our experiences, we can break down the stigma of addiction and create a more understanding society. My purpose now is to help others by honestly sharing my journey from addiction to rebuilding a meaningful life.
*Name changed for privacy