Finding hope and healing from the struggles that come with anxiety and addiction.
Back in the fall of 2015, if you had told Brad Bowen his road to recovery would begin in the jaws of a police canine, he’d have said you were crazy.
But answers to prayer often come in the most unexpected ways, and Brad is certain that fateful encounter was a direct answer to his desperate cry for help.
Navigating A Rocky Road
Getting to that point of utter desperation didn’t happen overnight—or even over a few years. Brad’s dark struggle with anxiety began in his earliest years.
“When I was 5, my parents got divorced, and for the next five or six years, they were fighting over my older brother and me,” recalls Brad, who was raised in Georgia and moved to Ocala at age 12. “We always knew we were loved, but it was a bitter divorce, and both parents wanted custody of us. It was horrible; we were in court a lot.”
At one point a judge took Brad into chambers and asked him which parent he wanted to live with. It was a decision no 8 year old should be forced to make.
“From a young age I remember my parents’ horrendous arguments,” says Brad. “After the divorce, we were back and forth on the weekends. They were constantly asking us who we wanted to live with. I wanted to live with both of them. I was trying so hard to please, but I was afraid to talk good about my dad in front of my mom because of how she’d react, and I was afraid to talk good about my mom in front of my dad.”
At the age of 12, Brad began seeking escape from the constant, overwhelming stress of his home life through substance abuse and alcohol. The relief was temporary, but it was the only relief he could find.
Brad might have tried to bury his fears and anxiety with drugs and drinking, but that didn’t stop him from getting a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Florida State University, taking a job and becoming a contributing member of society.
At least, not for a while.
But the darkness began closing in.
Brad would have panic attacks that made him feel as though he was trapped in an elevator. His thoughts would race, his heart would pound and his vision would begin to blur. Several times he actually blacked out from the attacks, and when he came to later, he was on the floor.
In 2006, Brad was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder. A doctor prescribed medication, which helped, but Brad didn’t stop drinking or doing drugs and, in 2011, checked himself into rehab because he’d gotten hooked on pain killers.
After that stint in rehab, although he was taking medication for anxiety, his lifestyle continued its downward spiral.
“From 2012 to 2015, I’d been to jail six times, all on charges that stemmed from getting drunk or high,” says Brad. “I lost my job, [and] I lost my apartment—all because of my drinking and drugging—and moved back into my mother’s house. I had lost everything.”
Then one September night in 2015, Brad, who had been drinking all day, left his mother’s and headed to the home of an acquaintance to drink some more. The evening deteriorated further, the two men ended up in an altercation and someone called the law.
“I was on felony probation at the time, and I’d already violated my probation twice. I was so scared; I thought I was going to prison,” says Brad, who can clearly remember the absolute terror he felt upon hearing sirens approach as he ran into the backyard to hide.
Crouched down behind a bush, he saw three sheriff deputies and a dog enter the yard. The dog was released, and the resulting bite to Brad’s leg was so severe that he had to be taken to the hospital instead of the jail that night.
That’s when Brad began praying in earnest.
“I asked God to help me find a way out,” he says. But that answer wouldn’t be immediate.
“In jail, I ended up with an infected leg,” he says. “By the time I was taken to an outside medical appointment to see an orthopedic doctor 24 days later, on October 14, 2015, the leg was rotting and I was in horrible pain. At the trauma center, they said another day or two and I would be dead from septic shock. They gave me a 50/50 chance of losing my leg and told me I could actually die because I was septic. I stayed at the hospital for 17 days, during which they did multiple surgeries. They saved my leg and my life.”
Once he was “out of the woods,” Brad was returned to the Marion County Jail, where he awaited his court date. When that day came, he entered the court room using a walker, still unable to bend his leg.
“I begged Judge Stancil for help, and he sent me to rehab instead of prison,” says Brad, who was taken in shackles to The Centers, a private, non-profit organization with locations in Citrus County and Marion County that offers outpatient and residential treatment services for both adults and teens. “Ultimately, I pled guilty to simple battery and was able to go to rehab at The Centers for six months. I told them I needed help and did everything they told me to do; they gave me my life back.”
A major part of Brad’s recovery, which combined medication and therapy (both individual and group), involved facing the fears he had fought as long as he could remember.
“It all began in childhood. I had fears from a young age, but I didn’t know how to deal with them,” he says. “I never realized how much of an effect this had on me until I got serious about recovery. Just being able to talk about these feelings I’d been dealing with my whole life helped tremendously.”
Part of his treatment included the Alcoholics Anonymous program.
“The AA program is all about dealing with your fears,” says Brad. “I worked that program and took the help of the medical professionals, and I am free of the obsession to drink and drug. I’ve been sober over two-and-a-half years, and my quality of life now is outstanding.”
Brad fully realizes that for anyone recovering from addiction, it’s a day-at-a-time process, not a one-time cure.
Through counseling and therapy, he’s learned coping techniques that are effective if he feels anxious. Now he can calm himself with those grounding tactics, breathing and meditation practices. He also takes a mild, non-narcotic medication that helps.
He’s a front desk manager/sales rep at Zone Health and Fitness at their Pine Avenue location and has realized how much regular workouts have helped his anxiety.
“I wear myself out in the gym,” he says.
Eating right and exercising regularly have been a big help, as has prayer.
Coming Out The Other Side
Brad, now 37, regularly tells his story to people who are facing the same struggles he overcame. He wants others to know that when you’re ready to turn your life around, there are programs that work.
“There’s nothing special about me; these programs save people’s lives every day,” he says with equal measures of humility and gratitude.
In addition to helping others by sharing his story, Brad is currently studying to obtain his master’s in divinity/theology.
“I want to be a preacher and a Christian counselor. I think the best counselors are those who have been through it themselves,” he says.
“At one point there wasn’t enough cocaine or alcohol in this county to satisfy my addictions. I was so filled with fear and anxiety, I saw no way out. I know it’s nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t die from that infection. Today, I have my leg, I’m sober and I not only have my life, I have a bright future.”
If you or someone you love is battling anxiety and/or addictions, there is help and hope. thecenters.us › (352) 291-5555