The Clerk Who Gambled: Keithan’s Story, Part I

“I nuked my entire life, reducing it to cinders in just one night.”

Never Alone Recovery
4 min readMay 21


African American man with his head in his hands | Never Alone Recovery

When I was 26 years old, I got a job as a utility clerk, which is a fancier way of saying I was a grocery bagger. It was the same job I had when I was in high school, which I found embarrassing. Unfortunately, choices I made as a teenager set in motion a vicious cycle that would eventually bring me to my knees.

As a teenager, I experimented with alcohol and drugs like so many others. But unlike so many others, my substance abuse quickly escalated to selling drugs, gambling, and criminal behavior.

“… a willingness to lie and manipulate. Empathy was a switch I could flip anytime it served me.”

For me, becoming addicted meant I had a willingness to lie and manipulate. My empathy was a switch I could flip anytime it served my alcohol and drug use. The potential guilt was always drowned out by the constant ache for the next hit. Yet I had neither reason nor desire to change until it came to a head in 2013.

I had managed to maintain my finances up to this point; living expenses were covered by the salary from my grocery store job while much of the financial burden of my addiction was alleviated — or perhaps delayed — by my illicit side activities. Then one July morning, I woke up and found I somehow hadn’t paid my bills in 3 months.

Things escalated quickly from there as I started liquidating anything I owned with significant value, over-drafting my bank accounts, maxing my credit limits, borrowing from family and friends, and getting predatory payday loans. My desperation superseded my integrity, bringing with it a brazenness and a recklessness. As I was about to prove to myself, there was no line I wouldn’t cross just to stave off withdrawal for another day.

On one particular day, I was the manager-on-duty for a closing shift, which was objectively uneventful by every metric. As I did throughout virtually all of my shifts, I had been wracking my brain to figure out a way to fund the next fix. Then as I was counting the tills, a thought occurred to me: Why not take the money I needed from the till?

I knew it was a horrible idea immediately, but I was able to lie to myself as easily as I did to others. I quelled those reservations with the promise to definitely absolutely for sure put the money back before anyone would notice. Twelve hours later sitting in the parking lot of a casino, I sat in my car realizing all of the money I had “borrowed” was gone. Although it had been a long time coming, in that moment it felt like I had just dropped a nuclear bomb on my entire life, reducing it to cinders in just one night.

“I couldn’t commit suicide because I sold my guns earlier that week to fund my addictions.”

However, my darkest moment was the realization I couldn’t even commit suicide because my guns were among the possessions sold to fund my addictions earlier that week. As tears began to stream down my face, I finally surrendered.

Sad African American man misses his partner in bed | Never Alone Recovery

As I looked at my reflection in the rearview mirror, I said, “You just threw away your job, which almost means you threw away your home and likely your relationship too. You can’t live this way anymore.”

When I got to work the next morning, I faced the consequences of my own depravity as my boss played the previous night’s surveillance footage. It was finally time to come clean, not just to my employer about the money I stole but to my loved ones concerning my addiction.

Once I told them, my loved ones got to work right away, helping me to find a treatment center and to learn about twelve-step programs and peer-led recovery fellowships. My loved ones were instrumental to my recovery with July 21 marking the tenth anniversary of my sobriety. I’ve been successful in recovery because I made sobriety my lifestyle.

I have since started a new relationship, had two children, earned two degrees, became a certified substance abuse counselor, and started my own business. I’ve made incredible friends around the world, brought together by a shared belief in second chances. And while I no longer attend church, my relationship with God is stronger than ever.

Being in recovery has made me a better provider, not just for myself but for my family. Since making my mental and physical health a priority, my life has changed for the better. I have everything I need plus a number of things I only wanted. Today, the person reflected back at me in the mirror is the truest representation of who I know myself to be.

“I still worry about relapsing, but I’m no longer focused on the rearview.”

Although I still worry about the potential for relapse and returning to the vicious cycle that put me in jail, had me living on the street, and even put me on a trajectory where I would eventually become suicidal, I am no longer trained on the rearview mirror. Instead, I want to help others get the same opportunity that I had to get my life back.

Ten years of sobriety helped me to find integrity and honor within myself. I embrace life without seeking shortcuts or to numb myself, and if it can happen for me, it can happen for you too.

Written by Never Alone Recovery team member Keithan Dillard with additional writing and editing provided by Dane O’Leary.



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