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As I sit here and reflect on a life riddled with hurt, shame, and failure, my gratitude overflows. I am exceedingly blessed to share my experience as a means of lending you the courage to speak your truth. The deep, inner hurts that we carry can only die in the light of exposure. Our struggles are how we connect with each other and paradoxically lend us our greatest strengths.

I was the last of triplet boys and for some reason always felt like I was the crap left over, unworthy and insignificant. I was puny, uncoordinated, and had big glasses at a young age. I can still hear the echo of the harsh words that the cool kids would say.

I was the kid who cried at soccer camp and had to be picked up at lunchtime on the first day by my mother. I can remember when puberty hit, the desire for a girlfriend hit. My solution? Ask every girl in seventh grade out: not exactly a great promotional opportunity for me.

I was the normal kind of awkward, but soon things went from plain old bad to truly horrible. I was 14 years old when a man who was a recognized spiritual leader attempted to molest me. I held it in for a week.

When I finally gathered my courage and spoke up, his leadership and even my parents just brushed it away. The crushing feeling of abandonment and shame took me down a a road of searching for peace through any means possible for the next 20 years.

When I did get the chance a year later to date a cheerleader, I messed that up purely out of fear of messing it up. I tried too hard and drove her away. A few months later, she and I were assigned to stand next to each other at a Christmas choir concert. I became overwhelmed with the desire to apologize to her for my behavior, but didn’t out of fear of rejection.

She was killed an hour later in a car wreck. So that added regret to hurts I carried on my shoulders. I joined the local fire department and found some hope, only to realize years later that it was my way of being a rescuer because no one was there to rescue me when I needed it.

I threw myself into my work and spent every waking hour responding to emergencies. I finally found my place in life and maybe a sense of peace, however fleeting it was.

Stephen KavalkovichThen came September 11, 2001: the day the world changed forever. Our nation was attacked and innocent people needed help. I was tasked to go to NYC and join the rescue effort. I walked into Ground Zero that night and will never be able to describe in words what it was like.

There was no way to really help and I carried that defeat for many years. I used it as an excuse to act out and numb myself. I began drinking heavily to stave off the nightmares and guilt that would progress to the point of death 14 years later.

My illness intensified. I began working as a paramedic and it wasn’t long before I was stealing pills from the medicine cabinets of those I was entrusted to help. I got married, had children, and bought a house full of stuff, but nothing made me feel secure.

I cheated on my wife many times, lost more jobs than I can count, and gambled our money away between long hours of helping others. I worked for two out of three counties in Delaware that both fired me for unprofessional behavior.

My first attempt at treatment was in 2008. My counselor, a convicted murderer who’d found recovery, had to teach me basic skills like laundry and not lying about everything I said. My wife stayed with me until another job loss. Then, she moved in with her mother. She finally gave up.

Who could blame her? My reputation and career were ruined when my second and third treatments didn’t stick. Even though I’d been through treatment, I showed up to work high. My certification got revoked, which led me to shopping for a doctor who’d prescribe me more painkillers.

My only fuel was an insatiable need to numb myself. My greatest fear was jail, but soon that came and went, too. I still kept going. When the money and pills ran out, the little bag of dope was introduced and in desperation I gave in.

There is nothing like the demoralization of being revived from overdose by an ex paramedic partner on not one, but two occasions. I found myself in my mid 30s with my score card at zero. I’d tried many therapists, rehabs, and medications for symptoms related to my destroyed state of mind and body, but they didn’t work.

I am grateful to say that utter brokenness brought me to the realization that no outside treatment or “help” would ever be enough to make me like myself. That was an inside job. I finally became beaten to a state of willingness and reasonability.

In order to get better, I had to go deep within and explore my deep-seated hurts, behaviors, and beliefs about myself. I had always tried to fill the same hole that all humans are born with: a God-shaped hole I was trying to fill with man-made things.

I sought peace in material creation instead of the Creator. My goal is not to preach, but to share what worked for me. My recovery came from relationship with myself, accepting myself for who I was, and uncovering what was inside me all along. It came from putting others first and learning to serve rather than be served.

Stephen KavalkovichNow, I am not perfect and would never want to be. But life is good. I sleep these days instead of blacking out. I feel deeply, love without expectation, and offer myself in any way to whoever has a need that I can fill. I am just one beggar telling another beggar where he got the bread.

I found that I had been asking the same question society asks about addiction. Why do they do make bad choices? The more relevant question that offers solution is, Where does the pain come from?

I began exploring that and freedom came on like a tidal wave. It is now my mission to share my story with you as a way of connecting us and giving you a voice. We are all floating in space on this big round ball and none of us are getting out alive. The best hope we have for world peace is peace in ourselves, followed by connection through our struggle and weakness.

If a guy like me, who was educated and saved people for a living and was supposed to “know better” could all but kill himself, no one is immune. Drugs are not the poison we choose to cover our feelings: it is the feelings that break us. If we are lucky, we live to tell others, and it is our mission to do so.


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