SALT LAKE CITY — Thirteen years have passed since Utah actor and producer Michael Birkeland hit his “rock bottom” and now he’s using his past to help others start their own road to recovery.
He recently joined the Project Recovery podcast to tell his story of substance abuse and how he was able to curb his addiction.
From actor to addict
Birkeland, known for Phobic , The Singles Ward  and Everything You Want , has an interesting relationship with comedy. While he is predominantly known in the LDS comedy world, his use of laughter and joy was often masking a tumultuous past.
“I completely hid behind comedy. I could not turn it off because I thought if I turn it off … They’ll see all of my imperfections if I’m not funny,” Birkeland said.
Birkeland realized that his portrayal of himself to those around him required him to be funny all of the time. His drive to constantly be “on” slowly began to deteriorate his mental health. In his mind, people had expectations of him that he had to meet, but he just needed someone to talk to.
“I didn’t want to be funny all the time anymore,” he said. “I realized no one cared. They only wanted the funny Michael B.”
Constantly battling with himself ultimately led Birkeland to begin abusing cocaine to always have the energy to please everyone. His drug use got so out of control that he started to rely on the illegal substance every day. Instead of talking to someone about his issues, he was destroying every aspect of his life — until it all came crumbling down.
On the morning of June 1, 2007, Birkeland woke up looking up at a blue sky. He was naked in a field with his car running next to him completely confused about how he got there in the first place. After partying all night, Birkeland had passed out and realized he had missed his son’s birthday.
After pulling himself together, he knew he had to make a change. He vowed to get help and begin his road to recovery. Looking back, Birkeland realizes how fortunate he was to hit rock bottom and be able to pull out of his addiction.
“I was really fortunate. It had affected me so strongly. Something about missing my son’s birthday, it really bothered me,” he said.
Road to recovery
Birkeland found help through two separate treatment facilities, one in Utah. With the help of medical professionals, he began to learn the benefits of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) treatment, which is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.
“Seven years ago, I couldn’t see today. I couldn’t see myself being a father again … being happy,” Birkeland said. “The second you turn that next corner, there’s something else. It’s not over. It’s not done. There is hope.”
Listen to the podcast to learn more about substance abuse awareness and recovery
For more information on addiction or if you or someone you know is struggling, you can find more information on Facebook, KSL TV, or from Use Only as Directed. To hear more from Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley, you can listen below or subscribe to the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get major podcasts.
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