Addiction often casts a long, dark shadow over those it ensnares, but those who manage to claw their way out of the darkness and into the light often have some of the most profound stories of resilience, determination, courage, and, ultimately, recovery. 

No one knows that better than Sober Sidekick’s founder and CEO, Chris Thompson, whose deeply personal battle with alcoholism illustrates both the depths of despair and the potential of relationships.

“What keeps people down, ensnared in addiction, is the past, regret from the past, and fear of the future. And if you are going to win in recovery, it’s because you’re choosing to only judge yourself by the person you’re choosing to be today. The cycle of guilt and shame and judging yourself over who you were yesterday is only going to keep you down. And for me, things didn’t really change until I was truly able to take it one day at a time. Every day, I wake up determined to be the best version of myself,” says Chris.

Reflecting on the trajectory of his addiction, Chris acknowledges a predisposition toward alcoholism in his family history. “I feel like, in many ways, I would have become an alcoholic regardless.” However, a specific traumatic event at the age of 21 drastically accelerated his descent into the darkness of alcoholism. 

“Alcohol became not my problem, but my only solution to coping with the trauma, the loss, the confusion. I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it, and I just got more and more isolated, to the point where basically, alcohol was my only friend,” says Chris.

This isolation fueled a rapid and devastating spiral. “I pushed people away, and it led to a pretty dark and fast spiral that lasted a long time,” Chris recalls. The consequences of his addiction became dire, leading to numerous dangerous and self-destructive behaviors. “I made all the mistakes that come with addiction.” A DUI conviction resulted in a 30-day jail sentence, and frequent alcohol-related incidents led to nearly 15 hospitalizations, often via emergency ambulance trips.

“I just couldn’t focus, couldn’t get anything done and just felt completely hopeless.” Chris was hopeless to the point of attempting suicide when he was 24. He admits that drinking was the only solution he could find, but he found it was working less and less and for shorter periods of time, and the consequences were getting progressively worse. “I went from zero to 60 really fast. I felt like the best case scenario for me was to die because I couldn’t live with it and couldn’t live without it.”

Although Chris wanted to and did stop drinking for weeks at a time, he admits, “All the problems that I drank to solve for would come back just as strongly, and I would eventually cave. And, you know, it was a cycle of promising myself never again and then finding myself doing the same thing over and over again. And it just felt like I had no control and no willpower to stop. I wanted things to change the whole time. I just didn’t know how.”

His withdrawal symptoms were also getting worse each time he tried to stop drinking. “I would have the shakes. I wouldn’t be able to walk straight when I stopped drinking. I would hallucinate. It’s the worst experience I’ve ever been through. And I would put myself through that over and over again.” Chris would quit, withdraw, and be immobilized for over a week. “And then I would try to get through life without it, and then find myself having one beer on a Friday night that started another binge. It was a vicious cycle.”

One of Chris’ biggest fears at that time was going to rehab. He worried about all his 20-something friends he wouldn’t and couldn’t hang out with anymore. He was also fighting his self-imposed judgments about rehab and his inability to control the alcohol. 

“My biggest fear at that point in time was going to rehab because that would mean all my friends would know that I was an alcoholic. You know, all my relationships would change. My job would end because I would have to tell them I was going into rehab. And basically, it felt like going to rehab would be the equivalent of giving up on everything because of the stigma, the guilt, the shame around it,” remarks Chris.

He continues, “But I finally reached a point shortly after the suicide attempt where I was like, ‘Either this is going to kill me, or I’m going to kill myself, so what do I have to lose by giving rehab a chance? There’s no other way. And that’s what led me to going to rehab for the first time.”

Chris was living in Philadelphia at the time. He called a Los Angeles rehab hotline, and the next day, they got him on a flight. While in rehab, he saw firsthand how many rehabs operate. “I realized how disingenuous it was. I quickly became aware that they had a vested interest in me relapsing. They were billing my insurer over $2,000 a day.” That realization triggered a greater sense of hopelessness. 

On Chris’ first day out of rehab, a girl asked him if he wanted to use coke with her. “I said, ‘Yes.’ I ended up using more coke than I had money for and the dealer held me hostage with a machete to my throat and took my phone and started texting all my friends and family, saying, ‘Send money.’ I couldn’t believe I had made things worse.”

He managed to get out of that situation, but it started the revolving rehab door. “I had nowhere else to go but a rehab. And they were always happy to have me back because they could keep billing my insurer a shit ton of money. And that’s what led to me waking up in the middle of a sidewalk for the fifth day in a row on Thanksgiving Day, 2018.”

“It had rained the night before. It was the worst night of my life. I’d gotten robbed. I didn’t have a phone. I didn’t have a wallet at that point in time. And I just reached a new low. I just walked into a store, grabbed a bottle and walked out. I had no phone, no wallet, and couldn’t pay for it. I was at a low I couldn’t come back from, and I was on a mission to end it. But, I did wake up, and I realized that it was Thanksgiving, and I watched people walk in and out of the supermarket, buying last minute things for Thanksgiving.”

He sat on that curb and reflected. “I was once a college athlete. I once created startups. I thought I had potential. And here I am, literally on the sidewalk. I tried to ask a few people if I could borrow their phone, and they just looked at me in disgust and walked away because I was that homeless guy that no one wanted to talk to.” 

Chris also wondered what would happen if he was committed, if he gave 100% to his recovery and was able to overcome this? “I thought to myself, ‘What if today was my day one? What if, you know, today is the first day of my comeback story?’ I had this small sliver of hope, and I grasped onto that sliver and found my way to a hospital. I walked in, and I said, ‘I need help.’”

At the hospital, he was rejected again, but he held onto that sliver of hope. He found his way to a sober living facility. Even though it wasn’t smooth sailing, he did reconnect with his friend Bill from a previous rehab facility and who was five months sober. “I told him, ‘I’m ready. Like, I need help. I can’t do this.’”

Chris went into a new rehab with a fresh perspective. “I went into rehab for the last time with the knowledge that my recovery was my responsibility. My recovery was on me and, like, this rehab is a resource, but ultimately, I have to do this.”

Chris became focused on building not only a community of people who have overcome addiction but a broader community for himself. He stayed in rehab for 30 days, started AA, and began making friends and making a life. He got a sponsor who helped him with his feelings of isolation.

According to Chris, “As I began to build meaningful relationships over that month, by going to meetings, by talking to people, by being honest about where I was at and how I felt, I was building the types of honest, real relationships I never had in my life up to that point.”

Chris’ first day out of rehab, with time on his hands, he realized how key those relationships were to his recovery. “I wondered what would happen if I built a platform that helped individuals create these kinds of meaningful relationships quickly? In minutes, if not seconds? And that was the genesis for Sober Sidekick.”

Sober Sidekick provides an instant support system for individuals in recovery from substance abuse. The innovative and powerful app provides not only an empathetic community but also tracking tools that help with maintaining sobriety. The support is instant, anonymous and 24/7, while the tracking tools (which utilize machine learning), predict and intervene in potential relapse situations. 

Chris’ vision for Sober Sidekick is a value-based approach that prioritizes patient outcomes over financial gain and incentivizes the effectiveness of care over the volume of services. Ultimately, he hopes that his potentially life-saving app can help transform the negative addiction treatment cycle by providing and prioritizing support as well as encourage sustained sobriety.

Addiction is like the darkness, it seeps into every crack, until a person can’t see their way out. But there is light; there is hope with people like Chris Thompson leading the way with real world solutions. “Your life is worth the work. In order to break the cycle, you have to focus on who you are today and what you’re going to do about your life today. Today is the only day you have agency over — tomorrow is just your imagination, and the past is just a memory. Finding opportunity in today, building new relationships rather than ruminating on the past, is what will save your life from addiction.”