How I Recovered from Substance Misuse — And How My Psychology Degree Will Help Others

To achieve your dreams, you have to believe you can do anything. Learn how Machion overcame substance misuse to pursue his degree in psychology.
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Two years ago, I scribbled the significant phases of my life on a napkin for a class I was taking at Pepperdine University:

  1. I Can Do Anything.
  2. How Many Ways Can I Screw This Up?
  3. I'm Back Now. Let's Go.

Looking down at the napkin, the journey made more sense. If I had to give my life a title, it would be "The Blessing of the Bottom." My addiction to crack cocaine landed me in the lowest places I ever imagined, but it also taught me the best lessons I would ever learn, which would eventually help me pursue my passion for psychology.

I Can Do Anything.

Since my first solo at a Christmas program in the third grade, I knew I wanted to sing and entertain people. I heard the audience give me a standing ovation; it was overwhelming to make people happy and be rewarded with their admiration. The applause was addictively insatiable to a nine-year-old like me. I believed I could do anything.

Fast forward to college. I was 17 years old when I decided to go to Morehouse College, my father's and grandfather's alma mater. I was able to attend on a scholarship as an honor student; while this sounds lovely, I could not focus on studying or completing assignments, much less passing any classes. My God-given ability to entertain usurped my need to carry on my father's and grandfather's legacy.

Over time, I left college and joined the United States Air Force, only to stay the minimum of four years for enlisted airmen and return home to pursue a recording deal with a major record label. This lifestyle introduced me to cocaine, and it was a rollercoaster ride from there.

I discovered that when I used cocaine, I was completely and overwhelmingly productive at singing, writing, choreography, and socializing. When I used cocaine, I was laser-focused while recording in the studio and became the lead singer in a band named The Drama Club with highly talented musicians. Our mission was to all be top recording artists in the United States.

We worked extremely hard by performing in dirty dives and social clubs, as well as serving as the entertainment in basements where illegal gambling occurred. Our challenge, and unique selling point, was that we did not play cover songs — only the songs we wrote — so no one knew what we were singing until they heard it and liked it. Every time we played, I was immediately transported back to third grade when I first experienced the addicting, insatiable applause from the crowd.

We were so driven that we sometimes agreed to pay the establishment's owner to let us perform. We believed that if we couldn't find an open door into a major label, we would kick it down to get inside the industry. Our reputation grew in Atlanta, Georgia, and it wasn't long before we were offered a major recording contract with Polydor/Polygram records.

How Many Ways Can I Screw This Up?

The entertainment industry exacerbated my drug habit. Cocaine was everywhere, and most of the people in the industry indulged. Although our band's agent was very influential in the music industry, he was also a major player in drug trafficking between the United States and Venezuela. When the FBI indicted him, Polygram Records was dropped from the record label.

I was devastated. As a result, my drug use accelerated to the point where recording studios stopped calling for me to perform. Eventually, my circumstances were so dire that I became houseless and found myself living under a bridge.

Though my relationships in the industry were gone, I still had a cocaine habit and strived to see how many ways I could screw things up. I had become a very different person who chose to live a hard life. Addiction consumes. At one point, I made peace with the notion of dying while "high." Drugs became the scapegoat for my apparent shame of failing.

When I hit rock bottom, the shock woke me, and I thought to myself: "I am not supposed to be here." After this realization, I made my way to my childhood church. They had no idea what to do when I arrived, but they remembered me. It reminded me of different times that could still lead to great places, and those people gave me a different type of applause. They helped me begin my journey to recovery from substance misuse.

I'm Back Now. Let's Go.

The pastor, Reverend Dr. Cameron Alexander, and his son took me to a farm called the Land of Promise and subsequently to a second residence, Luke's Place, where I began substance misuse recovery through Christ and the 12-step program. I embraced the process, and the more I learned, the more passionate I became to help others find their way out of addiction.

Once I got back on my feet, I became the director of the 40-bed residential program for the next five years. I then started two more programs over the next three years, helping hundreds of men and their families live happier and more productive lives.

After 25 years in recovery, I visited a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with attention-deficit disorder (ADD). She told me ADD caused me to self-medicate, which is why I used cocaine in the first place. Once I received the right treatment, I enrolled at the University of Arizona Global Campus to get a bachelor's degree in psychology with the strength to finish what I had started 40 years earlier.

Since I am a recovered addict, it might make sense for my continuing journey to concentrate on substance use disorder. However, my life in recovery — and helping others embed recovery in their lives — has shown me that the undercurrent leading many addicts and their families to have a perpetual life of relapses is caused by co-occurring disorders. I believe the entire family must be treated for people to overcome their addiction and manage the associated conditions.

Now, I am pursuing a master's in clinical psychology at Pepperdine University with the ultimate goal of opening a private practice that will treat clients with co-occurring disorders, eventually concentrating on treatment techniques for schizophrenia. I chose Pepperdine University because of its reputation and the diversity in the culture, age, and experience level of professors who teach there.

My overall revelation is that there is not one person on earth who does not have a disorder to manage. This notion is the commonality that makes us human.

As for me, I can finally say with confidence that I'm back and better than ever. Let's go.

Meet the Author

Portrait of Machion Garrison

Machion Garrison

My name is Machion Garrison. I am native to Atlanta, Georgia, and I aim to set a new standard for approaching counseling in mental health, positive psychological marketing, and ministry. My commitment to constructivist learning aspires to change how therapists handle substance misuse recovery and mental health treatment journeys.

Currently, I am a CCIT and director of marketing at Arise Recovery and Behavioral Health in Atlanta, specializing in motivational relapse prevention and program promotion. My pursuit of an MA in clinical psychology will end in 2025, after which I will begin my professional journey as a therapist.

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