Sean MacMillen navigates the road to recovery
Healing the Community
Editor’s Note: This is the final in a series of articles about people involved in substance abuse — including those suffering from the disease and their families, those celebrating recovery and those promoting prevention and wellness — as plans are underway for the 5th Annual Rally for Recovery on Aug. 17. Sponsors of the event are Advocates for a Drug Free Tomorrow and West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission.
By JOHN RISHEL
LOCK HAVEN — An Army veteran, Mill Hall area resident Sean MacMillen was touring Afghanistan when he succumbed to alcoholism.
Now sober and in long term recovery since May 30, 2012, MacMillen says “the tour pretty much destroyed my life and the lives of people around me. My drinking was a family disease, my behavior was affecting them and others. I got lost. It was all drinking.”
According to MacMillen, he turned to alcohol to deal with overwhelming anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I didn’t want to tell anyone, to have them think I was weak, less of a man or couldn’t handle stress. I felt a disconnect from the world, and alcohol made everything go away. It eventually cost me my career in the Army. There wasn’t a facet in my life that the drinking didn’t affect. I had a number of DUI’s, I spent time in prison November 2009. I got out, went to substance treatment, three months in-patient care at veterans affairs, then relapsed after two years. It became too much work,” he said.
MacMillen said it “definitely wasn’t easy” getting to sobriety, as he has been to treatment a total of four times.
“There I was in a small group communication class. At the time, I drank 24/7 to keep the withdraw away. I needed to drink to function and go about out day. The question came up ‘should alcohol be illegal?’ I packed my stuff up, the professor asked where I was going, and I told him I was going to treatment. I never drank again from that point,” he explained. “The biggest impact was a family session. It gave me a chance to listen to my family and not say a damn word. It was my first time listening with an open mind. Drinking was my priority. I worked to drink and drank to survive. From there, things started to get better.”
Seven years later, MacMillen is now an outpatient behavioral health licensed professional counselor at UPMC Susquehanna.
“I got out of jail at 240 pounds, I had a lot of physical health issues. I lost a lot of weight, joined the trail running community and found a lot of support. I didn’t do it on my own, I had to get support from people and I am glad I did. You always want to be in control, but I was not in control of squat. The more I tried to control the drinking, the more I got consumed by it. There is a way out if you are willing to be uncomfortable. As humans, we want to be comfortable,” he said.
MacMillen said that he once went to treatment at the West Branch Drug and Alcohol Center and now is on their board of directors. He also said that he has a much better relationship with his parents and family now, and raises money for treatment courts in the Clinton and Lycoming counties.
“I hurt people along the way, I did things I was not proud of. I try to keep it day to day, live one day at a time. I still get angry quickly, but I try to look from other people’s point of view. Even when things get bad, they will pass and I will get through it. Part of it is the smiling face of depression, spreading positivity and helping others succeed. I definitely feel like an impostor at times. I have to remind myself that I am a human too, I am a work in progress. I have accomplished a lot, but none of that would be possible if I was still drinking,” he said. “I would have been dead.”
According to MacMillen, he recently ran 24 hours on a treadmill, which raised $4,700 that was split between the Lycoming County Veteran Treatment Court and Herren Project.
Herren Project was founded in 2011 by former professional basketball player, Chris Herren, with the goal of helping others navigate the road to recovery from the disease of addiction. Herren Project has since helped thousands of individuals and their families from anywhere within the United States with treatment navigation and family support services as well as brought awareness to substance use prevention.
“People were showing up at 3 a.m. to run with me, just an amazing experience. My dad is a Vietnam veteran, I toured Afghanistan three times. People don’t understand what it is like coming back, reintegrating and getting back to a civilian life,” he said. “I definitely had a reintegrating problem, but I have met a lot of wonderful people along the way. It comes with challenges. I am not perfect, I have screwed up a lot. But I have the tools to overcome what I have done. I just need to remember to use those tools.”
For more on Sean MacMillen, visit herrenproject.org/seans-story.