From The Podcast: Sean Nichols: Battling Multiple Addictions, Childhood Trauma and A Failed Suicide Attempt: An Incredible Story of the Journey to Recovery
In Episode 31 of The Courage to Change: A Recovery Podcast, host Ashley Loeb Blassingame interviews Sean Nichols who battled multiple addictions throughout his childhood and into adulthood. Sean is the COO and Co-Founder of Dragonfly Energy, in Reno, Nevada, which is creating a new standard in clean energy storage.
We’ve pulled out some key pieces of Sean’s story below for a quick read. You can listen to the full episode here.
Sean lived in the same house for the first 20 years of his life in Concord, California. He and his two siblings endured a lot growing up, having been raised by two alcoholic parents who were both verbally and physically abusive.
As a kid, he didn’t know “getting beat up” was out of the ordinary. He shared, “it wasn’t until I got older and started paying attention to other people’s families that I realized it was different.” Sean hid his abuse from just about everyone. He recalls a time in seventh grade when he came to practice with “the side of [his] arm completely bruised.” When his basketball coach asked what happened, he lied.
When asked about his abuse, Sean shared, “if you’re around someone that verbally abuses you all the time, they’re going to continue to do it to you because you’re taking it. But when you’re 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13 years old, you don’t have a choice.”
Sean started taking care of himself when he was 5 years old. When he was 6, he started stealing and smoking his mom’s cigarettes. He carried a lot of weight physically and emotionally throughout his adolescence and into adulthood. When he was 13 years old, his mom was diagnosed with cancer. He recalls a shift in the house about that time, as his father stopped drinking and his brother got into trouble with the law. As a result, a lot of the attention was taken off of Sean.
Drugs and Alcohol Leveled the Playing Field
As his parent’s attention became absorbed with other things, Sean found more freedom. Sean was introduced to drugs and alcohol in high school. At first, Sean stole alcohol from his parents and then other people’s parents’ alcohol. About the time he was 16, he was able to buy directly from the liquor store. He added, “what alcohol and eventually drugs did for me was it leveled the playing field for me with other people. It made me feel like people actually liked me because now, I was bringing something to the table.”
Sean stopped drinking for a few years in high school due to an injury. He started to fear becoming an alcoholic and turning into his parents. He went on to nearby Diablo Valley College and there got hooked on methamphetamine.
“I stopped drinking alcohol for quite a few years back then because I didn’t want to be an alcoholic like other people in my house. What I did was I became a tweaker instead.” (call out)
Sharing His Traumatic Experience With Ashley
During the interview, Sean shared something very personal with Ashley and noted that it was the first time he had ever said it out loud. He shared: “I was sexually assaulted in my sleep by somebody else outside of my family. I woke up during it, but I had blocked it out completely.” Sean shared he was between the age of 6 and 8 when it happened.
After the assault, Sean suffered from terrible nightmares. He shared, “I used to wake up and run through the house in my sleep and [my parents] weren’t that good about dealing with it. They would say stuff like, ‘if you don’t stay in your bed tonight, we’re going to chain you down to this bed.’”
Sean sought help for the first time during a psychology class at the junior college. His professor said to him and his classmates, “Hey listen, if you guys have something you want to write about that you are not willing to talk to anyone else about, I want you to write about in the paper, I’ll talk to you about it in private.”
“I just want to let everybody out there listening to know that this is a story about recovery and strength, not about trauma. There’s trauma that happens, but we recover.” (call out)
Sean transferred to Sacramento State, where he continued to use drugs and alcohol. His drug use escalated to the point where he experienced two seizures from using methamphetamine. In response he tried to “slow down” in fear of this becoming an ongoing issue. However, he wasn’t able to slow down.
He was grieving for his recently-deceased grandmother and became depressed. He underwent knee surgery and experienced severe back pain. Sean continued to drink, use meth, and also Percocet pills to cope with the additional pain. This all came to a screeching halt one night.
A Failed Suicide Attempt
Sean had a friend in town and the two had been drinking all day and into the evening. They wound up at a bar where he ordered a 25-ounce Guinness and blacked out. Both of them managed to make it back to Sean’s grandfather’s house, where Sean lived. After Sean got home he shared, “I went out in my grandfather’s backyard and I put a rifle to my head and I pulled the trigger. I blacked out and I blew a hat off my head. I woke up sitting on a rock in the woods. My ear was ringing and I thought I was dead, but I wasn’t.”
The next morning, Sean was terrified. He sat in the living room with his grandfather and his friend after having attempted suicide. His friend urged him to go to the hospital and get help. Sean thought to himself, “I’ve been a meth addict for so many years. I’m carrying around all of this pain and now I’ve tried to kill myself. I’m going to have the stigma. My whole life is over. Everything’s done. There’s no coming back from this.”
He went to the emergency room and got help that same day. In relation to the time he confided in his professor, he shared, “for the second time, I was honest with someone about my substance abuse.”
Battling Multiple Addictions and Seeking Help
Sean has been clean and sober for 12 years. Both of his parents are also in recovery. Sean attributes his strength to his grandfather and various sponsors throughout his recovery. He shared, “my grandfather taught me how to pay my bills on time, repair my credit score, and he taught me a lot of other stuff too.”
Sean went back to school and received his undergraduate degree, and later went on to receive his MBA. In grad school, he met his business partner and together they started Dragonfly Energy. During the interview with Ashley he shared, “it’s sort of interesting for a guy like me to be a part of something that’s so successful because this isn’t how my life is supposed to look based on where I come from.”
During the interview, Sean spoke of one sponsor in particular, Mick, who recently passed away after battling stage four cancer. Sean shared, “Mick helped me change my whole life. I needed a little bit of help and we walked through a lot of stuff together, him and I. I was working with him for almost two years.”
Mick had always encouraged Sean, and one day Sean said to Mick, “You know what? You’re a real life superhero in my life. The things you showed me. The way you talked to me. The things you tell me. You know what? Don’t let people hold you back anymore. Fly high as you want. Be an eagle.”
Quotes have been edited for clarity.