Zack Gudzan on walking with the homeless through his recovery
Updated: Jan 30, 2019
"To the darkest of places...I've been there. Drinking every day and night just to steady my hands, intentional blackouts, drugs, hurting the ones who cared the most...I didn't want to feel anymore. I didn't even want to live anymore. In my pursuit of pleasure, I found my greatest pain. Luckily, God rescued me. On September 29th, 2014, I took my last drink. Over the past two years of sobriety, I've found a peace that transcends all understanding, a happiness beyond my wildest dreams, and an unshakable faith in the God of my understanding. Through complete surrender, I found my freedom. It didn't happen immediately, that's for sure. My sobriety is still an everyday battle, and it always will be.
I started CLTIVATE because I have learned that my past is my greatest asset. It's time to own my story, and it's time to share my strength and hope with other people who battle addiction."
Where do you draw your inspiration?
God. I hit my knees every single morning and every single night. We’re really close.
What major decision did you just make?
I just took a giant leap of faith and handed in my resignation at my full-time job. I am going to pour myself into CLTIVATE. I am excited about the possibility rather than the uncertainty.
The beginning of addiction...when did it start:
Life began for me on move-in day at Samford University when I unpacked a giant bottle of Smirnoff - literally the second my parents were gone...it was on.
What drove you to start drinking at such a young age?
For some reason, I was looking for attention. Ironically, I hated it at the same time. I was a prankster, stealing things like street signs. I was the life of the party.
What was it like moving to Charlotte after college?
I moved to Charlotte in 2011 for a job. I was still in full party mode and every weekend started way before Friday. I didn’t know anyone in Charlotte, so I went out and used alcohol as a way to meet people. I met people everyday of the week while out but never formed any lasting relationships.
I then started meeting sketchy people who were into alcohol and drugs. For a year and a half straight, I went out every night. I was broke but justified it because I was having a good time.
How did drinking start to catch up with you?
I started not showing up to work or being late. I was always a top performer but then I started not to care. I just couldn't see living any other way. Some mornings, I didn’t see the point of waking up.
One weekend, I flew to CA to play golf at Pebble Beach. I just went. Didn’t tell my boss. I am not sure why. Since I already had a track record of missing work or being late, I was let go. I didn’t want my friends to know, so I called my parents. My dad allowed me the opportunity to manage his retail store in Myrtle Beach.
Why did you go back to Birmingham to pursue a career in golf?
I always loved golf. I valued the alone time that the game offered, the solidarity. I always dreamt of going to PGA school. So I moved back to Birmingham, and got jobs at a couple of golf courses. My partying got a little more out of control, I had more and more blackouts. Interestingly, friends never knew I had blackouts - I always seemed coherent to them.
If I had put more effort into golf, I could have made more of it. My pattern of not showing up to work started to come back into play. I lost all three of my jobs in the same week. I knew it was my last straw when I didn’t show up that last time. I didn’t bother to call in because I knew it was the end. That also marked the end of any golf dreams and even the game itself.
What did your family think at this point?
My relationships with all of my family members were strained at that time. My mom asked me, “When did the lights go out?” She saw the light lost in in me. I didn't even bother to go home for the Holidays. I wanted to be alone.
How did you survive alone and broke?
I did things that I am not proud of. I found ways to get money through stealing.
Tell us about the suicide letters:
After one drunken night, I wrote a letter to myself, to my mom, my big brother, my dad, a friend, and to my dog. I wasn’t sure if I was going to wake up. I had a three day binge leading up to this moment and wasn't sure
if I would live to see another day. I thought I was going to die on my own and truly recognized that I had a problem. I still have the letters.
How did you turn the corner?
My dad suggested AA meetings. I was so broke that I couldn’t afford to put gas in my tank so I walked to my very first meeting. The meeting started at 5PM and I got there on the dot. I had no idea what to expect. I looked across the room and saw a man in his 70’s; the light was on in his eyes and I knew that I wanted to get there.
How did God enter your life?
In that moment, it clicked for me that I had a spiritual issue or a lack of God in my life. The next day, I started reading the Bible. “Game on!” I had to get it together.
How were you shown mercy?
I needed a job. But I didn’t know where to turn. A former addict ended up hiring me for his floor cleaning business. He saw himself in me and gave me a chance. We traveled the Southeast for up to four days at a time. While the crew would go to bars and drink and smoke in their hotel rooms, I found local AA meetings. My mind was so clear - there was no way I was ever going to pick up another drink. I surrendered to God.
How did life come full circle?
While walking to an AA meeting, I received a call from a 704 number (Charlotte). I let the call go to voicemail and called back a day later. The message was from my old boss calling to offer me my position back. He wanted to meet with me in Charlotte. I told him I was now sober and going to AA meetings. When we met, he said he could feel there was something different about me, that he could see it in my eyes.
I have now been in Charlotte for two years. On September 29, 2016, I celebrated my second year of sobriety.
How are you helping others who are battling addiction?
Through my nonprofit CLTIVATE that aims to support others who are battling addiction. It’s my goal to provide support through community activities, programs, social media, clothing, and more. I dream about the day where we have an actual warehouse sort of facility - where struggling people can come hang out, catch an AA meeting, and get the counseling and resources they need to find a new way of life. It’s a God thing. I want to show people how to find God.
Where can we follow CLTIVATE and your journey:
You can follow my story at cltivate.com
On Instagram: @CLTIVATE