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Blast to the Unexpected Past

State of Gratitude | Living out Gratitude | Chris Bilyk | Grateful Apparel

I can vividly remember my last trip to Colorado. It was 2015. I had been working some conferences for my dad’s company on the west coast. It was a cute excuse to visit some cities I had never explored as an adult. The weather was amazing (tees by day, light jackets by night). What I didn’t realize, as I boarded that plane from Miami, was that my life was about to forever change . I was about to begin a dark chapter that would take over my next six years.

I had first traveled to Seattle with my boyfriend at the time. We did some epic sightseeing while I was also able to successfully work a trade show. Check, check and check. No problems or issues there. Then I proceeded to travel to Denver alone. My partner at the time had to return to Florida for work so I proceeded to do the second leg of the trip alone. Everything was perfectly planned out (staying at a family friend’s place for a few nights, renting a car for the duration of the stay, and working a trade show over the weekend). The second trade show was in Estes Park, a beautiful town in the Rocky Mountains. I arrived in Denver with the best of intentions, spent time with an old family friend, explored Denver and Boulder, and even did some hiking. Chautauqua was one of the places we visited and it was beautiful, incredibly magnificent. I took a TON of pictures. I even made it my profile picture on Facebook right then and there, and it remained for months.

What I didn’t realize however was that I had this urge, need, desire to be on my own. Completely on my own. I decided halfway through my stay with my family friend that I was going to get a place closer to the trade show. At least that’s how I justified my next step. I got a place in the more gay friendly part of Denver and decided to explore the gay scene alone. 

Once I found a suitable place in the neighborhood in Denver the evening before the conference started, I decided to go out. This wasn’t very unusual for me since, at the time, I would say I was consuming alcohol at least 4-5 nights a week. I didn’t see a problem going out drinking that night since nothing bad had ever really happened to me before. I was young. It was an assumed part of gay culture to hang out and drink in bars often. So what could be the harm? Without thinking twice I decided on a destination and went. Needless to say I was extremely reckless and drank way, way more than Patty Stanger’s “Two Drink Maximum.” I probably did 6x Stanger’s recommended evening dosage, at least. I blacked out and the next morning was utterly lost. I was supposed to head out to Estes for the conference around 5AM. I roughly woke up completely disoriented and still pretty drunk from the night before at about 10AM. Shit, shit, shit, SHIT I was late. Really damn late. In my still drunk haze I set out to get to that trade show roughly an hour and a half away from my current location.

I reeked of booze from the night before. I needed a shower and something to eat. With my hair still dripping wet and a mouth full of mouthwash I bolted out the door and hopped in my rental and was on my way to Estes Park. To say I was in a rush is an understatement. I’d be lucky to make it before the conference ended completely for the day.

One lane road up to mountains. Was this the best way? It was the only way. Have you ever been on a one-lane road stuck behind a great, grandmother who probably shouldn’t have a driver’s license? Well, that was me. Except my granny came in the form of an older gentleman on a massive Harley Davidson with two side carriages. As I drove in hazy hungover stupor totally mesmerized by the beautiful scenic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, I neglected to realize that the man on the Harley Davidson had come to a complete stop while the car ahead of him was trying to make a left turn.

CRASH! Although I slammed on the breaks, my reaction was way too late. I was fortunate enough to veer to the right and only shatter one of the side carriages on the Harley. What followed after included a cop, a Breathalyzer, and a trip to the county jail for a DUI. This was my first DUI and first serious legal issue. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only one. I later had two more similar incidents in Florida, which both dragged out for years. I lost my driver’s license and ended up on two separate probations that would span about 2 years (which will finally end next month). This first incident set off severe depressive episodes and heavy addiction issues, which resulted in the later two DUIs.

This cycle plagued me until October 2019 when I first sought treatment from my addictions with which I had wrestled since October 2015. As a result, I have been able to get sober and repair relationships with family and friends I’d thought irreparably lost. I started an initiative in my newfound sobriety, State of Gratitude, which has been a complete blessing through which I have connected with all of you. And, finally, I have had the opportunity to do something with my family that I never thought possible before--n extended road trip through the Wild, Wild West (which I hope you’ve read about in my past posts).

Today, unbeknown to me, my cousin wanted to walk through the town of Boulder, have lunch, and do a little scenic hiking. She led us to a park called Chautauqua. Sound familiar? Yep, that’s the same park I visited back in 2015 just a day before my first DUI. Today, 5 years later, sober, about to put an end to years without a driver’s license and having to call a probation office every day to check in, I stood in that park staring at the peak of a mountain that I had seen only once before in a very, very different state of mind (definitely not one of gratitude).

So many thoughts and emotions flooded my mind for the rest of the day and even as I write this I am so grateful for the gift of this renewed life and the opportunity to help others break the cycle of addiction. I only hope that my efforts make an impact in the lives of others for many years to come.

Today I had the chance to close such a dark chapter in my life and open a new chapter filled with hope and life. Thank you for your continued support in this journey and I hope that this is only the beginning of many better things to come.


With Gratitude, 

Christopher Bilyk

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