Dave Jansa | Survivor of Addiction

Photo of Dave Jansa

My story of recovery may seem different but I assure you it is not unique.  I started drinking in high school.  Addiction ran in my family, it was not long before it became a problem for me too.  Nobody told me I was genetically pre-disposed to becoming addicted.  I used for approximately 16 years.  Alcohol was my gateway drug; it led me to use other drugs.

Under the influence I made poor, risky choices.  My addictions played a major role in my bad grades, my flunking college, poor self-esteem, and plenty of regrettable acts.  But nobody told me I had a problem.  To them I was just another kid that liked to party.  After reviewing a health questionnaire, my doctor advised me to keep an eye on how much I drank.  He asked me if I thought I had a problem; I told him no.  There are many that drink more than I do, so certainly I don’t have a problem, I reasoned.

I attempted to cut back or moderate my drinking, with some limited success.  I have since learned that this behavior is universal among addicts.  For me, successful moderation took a great deal of effort and energy.   I took special notice of friends, siblings, work associates, and others who successfully stopped drinking; I witnessed the incredible positive changes in their lives.

I was in my late 20’s and visiting my mother in the hospital when she lovingly told me that I drank too much.  I had seen and felt enough harm; I decided that I too would try to quit.  I never attended meetings or received any professional help.  I was petrified at the thought of a life without alcohol.  I could not conceive of it.  I thought alcohol was my friend, something that made me whole, something I truly needed.

Early on I felt ashamed and insecure.  I had to adapt to a life without alcohol, which did not happen quickly.  More than one person told me that I was not an alcoholic.  Some even encouraged me to begin drinking again.  But as time went on I came to embrace a life without alcohol.  I felt better about myself, I started to heal and become whole again.  I became proud of the fact that I did not drink.  My ability to stop using alcohol was a defining moment in my lifetime.  I gained the ability to observe and reason from the consistent platform that sobriety offers.  I came to know that my sobriety was a cornerstone in a healthy lifestyle, something that I absolutely needed.  I am so thankful that my mother had the courage and compassion to confront me about my addiction.  But I still wondered; am I an alcoholic?  It was puzzling.

Then in 2006 13 young people were killed in alcohol-related auto accidents in the Sioux Falls area.  A cry for answers rang out from our community.  What could be done to stop horrible tragedies like these from happening?  I felt compelled to help.  This started my series of investigations and research into a wide range of alcohol and other drug issues.  It led me places that I never could have imagined.

I learned that as a society we have a gargantuan task before us if we hope to significantly change a culture that tolerates these and other unthinkable alcohol-related tragedies. I reached the fundamental conclusion that underage drinking cannot be successfully addressed by focusing on youth alone. In this society alcohol use is normative behavior and images about alcohol use are pervasive.  In other words if we want meaningful change we need to change the culture.  No easy task.

I learned that my personal addiction was not a mysterious illness nor was it willful misconduct.  It is a true medical disease rooted in abnormalities in brain chemistry.  It is a primary, progressive, physiological disease that is preventable.  I took tests or screening tools used by professionals in the addiction field to learn that I am/was a late stage 1, or early stage 2 alcoholic.

I was fortunate to arrest my progression relatively early.  This is the part of my story that should bring hope to many people.  We understand and accept early detection as a critical component of successful disease prevention; the disease of addiction is no different.  During my 25+ sober years I have met and spoken with many people that found sobriety in very much the same way as I have.

Then I learned about a relatively new organization called Face It Sioux Falls and the groundbreaking work they are doing to address these very issues.  The people at Face It do not underestimate the forces they are up against.  With open minds and a vision toward the future they plan to peel back centuries-old layers of misconceptions and stereotypes that envelop this seemingly insurmountable problem.  I encourage anyone interested in addiction issues to contact Face It to see how you can become a part of this historic effort.

*This story represents Dave's recovery journey as of 3/25/10.