Colby Wassmann, alumni coordinator for Aviary Recovery Center, shares his story

When we talk about journeys, some are remembered for the smooth roads, while others are recalled for the rocky paths and treacherous turns. My life, a testament to strength and resilience, can be best described by the latter.

Imagine, at the tender age of six, waking up to the reality of paralysis. From the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, every inch of me was paralyzed. The world blurred around me, and I felt trapped in my own body. 

Yet, after five painstaking years of therapy, determination, and sheer willpower, I regained the ability to walk. While this was a triumph, my battles were far from over. My childhood was filled with abuse and trauma, it was a harsh training ground for the challenges that awaited me.

Life never handed me its troubles one at a time, it sometimes handed them to me in handfuls. Addiction was a constant nemesis throughout my life. But a fire burned within me – an indomitable spirit that refused to be extinguished, no matter how fierce the external flames. The fire that burned in me to survive was always greater than the fire that burned around me.

For over two decades, I danced in the glamorous world of TV, film, and national artistry as a makeup artist. My art was not just about beautifying faces but also about lifting spirits. However, as time passed, my physical body began to betray me. With a heavy heart, I traded the bustling streets of Los Angeles for the serene Midwest, seeking a new normal.

But life, in its unpredictability, threw me off course yet again. After several years clean and sober, the shackles of addiction pulled me back. I found refuge in The Aviary. My first visit there, not as a mentor but as a client, marked another turning point. 

During this challenging phase, I found a place that I not only wanted to heal in but also to help heal others. A place I vowed to return to, not as someone seeking aid but as a beacon of hope for others.

I’ve endured 23 surgeries in my life. I live with Parkinson’s, Guillain–Barré syndrome, Kienböck’s disease, Bipolar Disorder, ADD, PTSD, insomnia, and the ever-looming battle of addiction: these aren’t just medical terms for me; they’re an integral part of my existence. 

Yet, what’s remarkable is not that they define me, but that I refuse to be solely defined by them.

Today I am clean and sober, living life and being happy, even though I am battling my afflictions while holding a full-time job.

With each sunrise, I lean into gratitude, reminding myself of the blessing that is another day. It’s a conscious choice – to view life not as a series of misfortunes but as an incredible journey of survival, grit, and grace. 

By embracing my recovery openly, I wish to be the voice for countless souls suffering in silence. I am a living testament that we are not just the sum of our traumas but the strength that emerges from them.

Every day, when life’s challenges threaten to pull me into a vortex of self-pity, I remind myself to rise, to fight, and to shine. My passion lies not just in personal survival but in kindling the light in others. 

Working in treatment and aiding those battling their own demons has become my life’s purpose. In their eyes, I see reflections of my past self, and I strive to be the beacon of hope I once sought.

Life has been a relentless teacher, and I, it’s diligent student. The lessons haven’t been easy, and the tests have often been brutal. But the beauty of this journey lies not in the challenges faced but in the spirit with which they were tackled. 

Through all the pain, struggles, and hardships, my journey of 30 years in recovery has been a poignant saga of resilience, hope, and an undying passion to not only survive but to thrive and inspire.

In the end, my story is not just about recovery, it’s about rediscovering myself amid the darkest of nights, and about celebrating the indomitable human spirit that refuses to be vanquished.