05 Nov A Second Chance to Overcome Addiction
By Meghan Vivo
Do you believe in second chances? Matt Eggleston does. And after you hear his story, you may, too.
When men and women struggling with addiction have reached their lowest point, Matt is there with a heartfelt message of hope. Once a prominent attorney and special judge in Tennessee, Matt’s addiction brought him to the brink of death. But treatment brought him back. Now sober for many years, Matt turned a decade of despair into a life of service.
The Early Origins of the Disease
Many people who struggle with addiction can look back and see signs of the disease in their childhood and adolescence. In high school, Matt was always at the top of his class. No one would’ve dubbed him “most likely to be an addict,” but the seeds of addiction were always there.
“What started as a passionate pursuit of good grades, athletic trophies, and accolades from parents, teachers and fellow students developed into an insatiable desire for more,” he says. “I was searching for the constant attention and recognition of others. I always felt different – on the outside looking in – and by excelling I got an intense emotional feeling or high. I figured this was how others felt.”
This desire to excel followed Matt through college, law school and into his early legal career. “By working long hours as an attorney I could ignore unmanageable emotions, awkward feelings of being different and painful memories under the guise of success.”
The all-consuming nature of legal work made it difficult for Matt to draw a line between his personal and professional life.
“My life became my clients’ lives,” says Matt. “At work I felt like a savior, a superhero, fixing other people’s problems to avoid addressing my own.”
Over the years, this workaholism and the gratification gleaned from the recognition it brought led to other compulsive behaviors. Spending sprees and vacations, physical exercise and the like turned into compulsive gambling, which led to drug abuse and a string of other addictions.
Hitting Rock Bottom
While not everyone hits “rock bottom” before getting help for addiction, Matt did. He practiced law for more than 10 years in both the public and private sectors and served as special judge to the county’s Domestic Violence and Drug Courts. After making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, he found himself on death’s door – and not just once or twice.
His colorful and tragic past found him on the streets of Memphis fighting for his life while sustaining his addictions. It also landed him in the intensive care unit of Memphis’ Methodist and St. Francis hospitals multiple times. At his lowest point, Matt laid down on the train tracks, desperate for the misery to end. But life had something else in store for him.
“The gate wasn’t working and the train stopped four blocks down the tracks,” he recalls with a blend of irony and sadness for the state he was in. “So, I sat there in an acute overdose, and somehow ended up at the door of St. Francis Hospital. I was determined to self-destruct before I’d ask for help.”
Matt’s addiction cost him his marriage, his career and his right to visit his son. And, in a testament to the overpowering nature of addiction, still he put drugs first.
Through Treatment, a New Beginning
Matt’s loved ones staged an addiction intervention on three separate occasions. He entered a number of drug treatment programs – admittedly, just to stay out of court or escape the remnants of life on the streets that were constantly calling to him. But when each experience ended in relapse, the caring people around him convinced him to try again.
When Matt was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder and came to grips with traumatic childhood experiences, the pieces began to fit together. Living in a halfway house in Nashville for a year, he pulled himself up one menial job and one food stamp at a time. He started by working for local charities, and then agreed to answer phone calls for a suicide hotline.
Miraculously, an intense discussion about recovery led to a job offer as an admissions director at an addiction treatment center in Tennessee. In that role, Matt shared his knowledge and experience with patients.
“Although I’m not proud of the depths where addiction has taken me, my experiences help me relate to many of the issues our patients have gone through,” Matt says. “But, for me, it’s not about the war stories – the story is everything that has happened since then. My life in recovery is the real story. That’s the blessing.”
What was it that finally helped Matt commit to recovery? Like most things related to addiction, there’s no easy answer.
“I always thought I wanted to be in recovery – for my wife, my career, my son – but no amount of willpower or guilt could overcome the addiction,” Matt explains. “Hitting all of those bottoms didn’t do it, either. But, wanting it for someone else was and is not recovery. It’s hard to explain, one night I was sitting with a friend and after a lengthy discussion about who all this was for, I just decided it was time for a better life. I finally wanted it for me. I was worth a life in recovery.”
A self-professed work in progress, some of Matt’s favorite pastimes now include traveling the country speaking about addiction, volunteering as a monitor for other attorneys through the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program, and assisting with interventions on judges and lawyers. He now has full visitation with his son and Matt is passionate about his future.
“I should’ve died so many times,” says Matt. “But, after all I have seen, all of the pain, I know there’s a reason I’m here.”
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