WELLS — You’ve heard the one about the cool guy in recovery, right? He’s the first one to be buried.

Colin Sevigney, 23, two-time state wrestling champion, and football and baseball standout at Wells High School would have been that guy, he says, had he not learned to check his “dangerously toxic delusional ego” at the door when he walked into Granite Recovery Centers in New Hampshire a year ago, and humbled himself to his addiction.

“If I was living the life today that I deserve for the things I’ve done and the things I’ve experienced, I would be dead or in jail. God was looking out for me and calling for me for a long time, and I didn’t see it,” he said.

Sevigney’s message is one of hope through recovery, and he shares his story to help reduce the stigma around substance misuse disorder.

A 2014 graduate of Wells High School, Sevigney was an honor roll student and three sport athlete. Outwardly, his life and his high school years looked like every teen’s dream, a popular and driven scholar and athlete who had a long list of impressive achievements and by all accounts a wide-open future.

But he struggled with depression, self-doubt and was constantly searching for that “next high,” long before that high involved drugs and alcohol. He lived for the high of victory in competition. He loved the rush he felt standing atop the podium as a state champion in wrestling. He loved the rush of being popular among his peers and successful in academics. But it was never enough for very long, he said.

“Addiction began to manifest for me many years before I touched a drink or a drug. I’ve always been trying to fill this internal void that I felt with external things, whether it was validation from people around me, athletic achievement, or even material items,” he said.

When the shine wore off from the material things he was left with crippling depression and self loathing. That’s when he turned to drugs and alcohol. He took everything he could get his hands on, and it wasn’t difficult to find it.

At first he wasn’t an every day user, but he looked forward to the next time he could escape through drugs and alcohol. He didn’t know any other way to deal with the emptiness he felt inside.

Sevigney would continue to head down the path of addiction without realizing he was on it. He held onto the belief that he was just young and having fun, and that it wasn’t a problem or an addiction — that he could stop at any time. But he couldn’t, and he didn’t.

“Nobody ever sets out to throw their life away with drugs and alcohol,” he said. “Even when you glamorize a lifestyle of drinking and doing drugs, which our society does, people fail to realize where they are headed. It’s very destructive.”

His parents, Steve Sevigney and Elizabeth Cooney, could see their son was troubled and struggling, but had no idea the extent of his alcohol and drug use until they nearly lost him.

In September, 2015 the police knocked on Cooney’s door at 3 a.m. They told her they had found Colin overdosed and unresponsive, and had revived him with Narcan.

This was almost her worst nightmare, she said, and she was heartbroken.

“He had love and support, and he knew that, but it wasn’t enough to keep this from happening in our family and people need to know that, the stigma around addiction needs to end,” Cooney said.

“I’ve had plenty of love around me,” Sevigney said. "There are people who would do anything for a shred of the love and support that I’ve had my whole life. But I didn’t love myself.”

Cooney wants to talk about it today because she says the stigma and shame around addiction is very isolating for the family, and it’s also killing our children.

“If a child has cancer, you get all the love and support and phone calls and notes and food and love, love, love, and when your child is an addict you don’t get anything,” Cooney said. “Even from people who love you. They don’t know what to do. That was huge for me. It’s only from sharing that you can get the needed love and support.”

Sevigney's parents were divorced when he was very young, but always remained a team in parenting. Cooney says they both struggled with how to help him. He lived with one parent, and then the other, until Cooney, with two teenagers at home, needed to protect them from his drug and alcohol use.

“That unconditional love thing is really put to the test with addiction,” she said.

They would hold four interventions over the course of the next two years, and each time their hearts would break, but they never gave up hope.

“I felt helpless, but never hopeless,” she said.

Cooney’s advice to parents is to be ready.

“Do your research, make the phone calls, and have the resources at your fingertips. Be ready when they’re ready,” she said.

It was that final intervention on Easter Sunday, 2018 when she looked at Colin and didn’t even see her son in his eyes.

Clean and sober for over a year now, Sevigney remembers the feeling of utter hopelessness and despair he felt that day, and the days leading up to it. He hopes that his story might serve as a turning point for someone who’s where he was then — before he entered recovery.

The common overwhelming feelings that an alcoholic or drug addict feels are loneliness and hopelessness, he said, and for him, especially toward the end he was physically alone most of the time, with no one to connect with.

His willingness to seek spiritual help came in the form of a YouTube video that popped up on his computer a few days before he entered recovery in April, 2018.

A video of actor/comedian Russell Brand talking about his faith and sobriety led Sevigney to seek spiritual help. He walked into St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the church he had attended for years with his family, and hit his knees. His mother drove him there.

“He walked right up to that altar where he was baptized as a baby, and he dropped to his knees,” Cooney remembered, choking back tears, “And I said to God, ‘Here he is. Please, please pick him up.’ And he did.”

When he returned home, he walked past a mirror, and something pulled him back toward the mirror.

“I literally felt hands on my shirt pulling me back toward that mirror to look at myself. I saw no life in my own eyes. I looked into myself, and knew then that I had to realize the truth. I’m going to end up locked up for some sort of drug related crime, I’m going to die from an overdose, or I’m going to blow my brains out because I can’t stand living like this. This isn’t fun anymore. The party ended a long time ago, but there I was,” he said.

“I never stopped planting the seeds of hope that the message would finally grow in his mind and heart and soul. It did, thank God,” Cooney said.

The next day Sevigney was in the car with his parents on his way to Granite Recovery Center.

The residential treatment facility in Effingham, New Hampshire was a good fit for Sevigney. He knew he needed to be in inpatient care, and the 12-step clinical approach helped him to dig deep into the root causes of his addiction.

Finding hope in recovery and the will to serve

To listen to Sevigney today, his serious and respectful demeanor belies the qualities he says led to his problems with addiction. But there’s an intensity in his eyes and in his message that comes through too. He is still restless and discontent, but now it’s because he wants to help other addicts get the help they need and find the way to recovery.

The Granite Recovery Center tagline “Get more than just sober. Come here and get well again,” resonates with him. He feels well for the first time in a very long time, and now he is helping others along the path to recovery. Sevigney considers himself “recovered” but knows that there is no “cure” for addiction, it’s something he will have to live with for the rest of his life.

In his founders message on the Granite Recovery Center website, CEO Eric Spofford said, “From the moment I discovered recovery, and the message that promised me the hope I did not have to die from this disease, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life’s work to helping others recover.”

Sevigney is following suit. After completing a stay at the Granite House extended care facility, he took a job at the 63-bed facility for men located in Derry, New Hampshire. There, he counsels those still on the journey to recovery. His restless drive and passion for sober life have him searching for a career path where he can help to save even more lives.

He hopes someone will read his story and find the courage to humble themselves to the disease and seek recovery like he did.

To those struggling with addiction he would say, “I know you think nobody understands, but people do. Let it in. Your life and who you are is a gift, be yourself, don’t waste it. It’s normal to not know who you are and where you are supposed to go. Life is beautiful. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

And to those who have a loved one struggling with drugs and alcohol he says, "say the things you want to say, even if you’re afraid they won’t be heard."

“People have said things to me that I didn’t understand until years later. Say them anyway. Their voices mattered. I needed it, it just took a while for the message to get through. You never know if something might save someone’s life, so say it anyway.”

Resources and help lines

For 24-hour crisis support or to connect with a list of resources in your state call 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898-211.

If you, or someone you know has thoughts of suicide call the 24/7 national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

For information on treatment centers by state go to https://www.samhsa.gov/.

For more information on Granite Recovery Centers, call 866-466-6138 or visit www.graniterecoverycenters.com.