I am a Southerner.
I was raised in Harrison, Georgia, a rural town of about 500 people; median income $18,125 in today’s dollars. I was bused 1.5 hours up and down dirt roads, every day, to go to school in the county seat, Sandersville. The dream of most families was for their kids to work in the kaolin (chalk) mines.
I never felt like I fit in. I didn’t want to hunt. I didn’t want to play football on Thanksgiving. I wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons, ride my skateboard, and play on the computer.
I have two degrees in chemistry from southern universities, Georgia College and the University of Florida. I received amazing educations at both. But I also taught myself how to drink myself to oblivion. Whiskey and college football parties became a way for me to leave behind who I used to be and become who I thought everyone wanted me to be. My need to fit in and please others led me down a path of addiction and sickness over the next 20 years of my life.
I came to Atlanta in my 30s to pursue a career in tech. My alcoholism was very public, my drug addiction hidden in the shadows. I worked night and day improving my coding skills and networking while teaching high school. I was recruited by a startup to be a software developer.
In August 2013, I co-founded The Bitter Southerner with Chuck Reece, Kyle Tibbs-Jones, and Dave Whitling. I had just entered recovery for my drug addiction yet my identity was still bound to drinking whiskey. Seems I still needed to reconcile my own definition of what it meant to be a Southerner.
In March of 2016, I joined Atlanta-based SalesLoft and my life would change forever. Today I am 820 days completely sober and surrounded by the love of friends and coworkers. No booze, no drugs required.
Most Southerners are not as lucky as me. Addiction and substance abuse are tearing this region apart. There are no resources to help or educate. People don’t even know things can be different from what they have always known.
I don’t think it’s just a Southern thing. I think it’s a human thing. But this is where I am from, and this is where I live, and this is where I can make an impact.
I think it has to start with changing hearts and minds.
I will not let the pattern continue.
I believe in a Better South for my niece and nephew.