Building A Better Life and Body
How faith and the right support team transformed Dan Hagan from an alcoholic to a champion
Writer / Lisa Mitchell
“Your most significant calling is on the other side of your darkest valley.”
That’s a quote from Pastor Tim Dunn of Heartland Church during a recent Sunday message that really resonated with Dan Hagan, HSE grad and recently named Overall Men’s Physique Champion for the NPC Natural Indianapolis. Dunn, a mentor and friend of Dan’s, seemed to be speaking directly to him on that Sunday.
Despite his recent success in his fitness pursuits, the journey to wellness and sobriety is one that has not been easy for the Hamilton County native. And it’s a struggle that few people knew about until now.
Dan grew up in Fishers and graduated from HSE High School in 2002. His life looked perfect on the outside and even to those close to him, but inside, Hagan struggled with self-doubt, eventually leading to him to turn to alcohol to help him numb the insecurity and distract him from the negative feelings he was struggling with.
Although always active and focused on his time in the gym, Dan says it was more about keeping up appearances, and he used that time in the gym as a way, at least in his mind, to balance the binge drinking and abuse he was putting his body through with alcohol.
Dan began drinking in high school, and it became part of his normal routine. At IU, drinking in excess was just part of the program for him, and it became a lifestyle that he thought he had control over. But he didn’t. Alcohol was changing him and putting him in dangerous situations. This pattern of self-destruction continued into his post-college years. It took a toll on his friends and family, which eventually led to them staging an intervention in March 2013.
Hagan agreed to a brief stay at Fairbanks, an addiction recovery center, and vowed to stay sober. He didn’t have ongoing support and wasn’t convinced, even at that point, that he was powerless over alcohol. He stayed sober through July 4, 2013, and then the drinking began again. The binge drinking soon followed and progressed until he hit another bottom in November 2013.
One morning, after realizing he couldn’t stop drinking despite his best efforts, he called his mom, who had stood by him through all of his struggles, and asked her to take him back to Fairbanks. This time, he dedicated himself to working the program and joined a recovery community for continuing support.
Dan claimed sobriety for a year and half after that point, taking tokens as if he was sober but admits to drinking twice during that timeframe. He never really felt like he was like the other people in the recovery community he attended, many of whom couldn’t function without a drink. Dan saw himself differently, still feeling like he was choosing to drink, not that he was powerless over it. He continued to attend, although not quite as often, still feeling like he didn’t really belong with the people there.
Dan says, “As I began to reach new professional heights and the monetary gains that came with that success, I started to place importance on material possessions again. My ego quickly came back. I was trying to control my life and make it look like what I wanted it to be – in a bad way.” He tried to separate himself from his addiction and hid his struggle from almost everyone. He was convinced that if he could keep up appearances and be successful at work, he could keep control over the alcohol and wouldn’t have to own his struggle to those close to him, including his girlfriend whom he was living with at the time.
“I was more successful than ever with my career at Angie’s List. I had a great girlfriend, and life looked really good from the outside. But on the inside, I was miserable and a complete wreck. When you have a God-shaped hole in your life that you’re filling with material possessions, monetary accomplishments and alcohol, it’s only a matter of time before the alcohol stops numbing your pain and begins to make it worse. When you try to stop drinking and have nothing to numb the pain, it’s pretty miserable, so you turn back to the only thing that’s worked – alcohol,” Dan shares.
Dan began drinking and going out to clubs again with his girlfriend and friends, and the binges soon followed. He found himself back in the spiral, all the while keeping up appearances, excelling at work and convincing everyone around him that he had it all under control and that life was good. That was far from the truth, and despite having bottomed out before, the biggest crash was still to come.
In February 2016, after losing himself in a week-long binge, Dan says that is when he finally, for the first time, felt truly powerless over alcohol. This realization brought on a great deal of shame that he was never able to deal with in his prior attempts at recovery. He prayed every day to stop drinking but was unable to stop.
He even called his mom one of those nights, from in front of the liquor store, hoping that if he heard her voice, it would make him want to not drink. It didn’t, and on Thursday of that week, Dan’s mom entered his house to find him incoherent in an alcohol-induced stupor.
As horrible as that moment was and as much as he regrets the pain he brought to his family with his drinking, that turned out to be the answer to his prayers. After an initial trip to the hospital, Dan went directly to the La Verna Lodge Addiction Treatment Center for an intensive 30-day in-patient treatment program.
Dan credits his treatment at La Verna Lodge with truly saving his life. He says at that point, he finally realized that if he had to ask himself if he was alcoholic, then he was indeed an alcoholic. It was the first time he could admit he was powerless over alcohol. His intention was to do the right things and treat people the right way, but when he put alcohol in his system, he did things that went against those intentions, and he couldn’t stop himself from doing it. He was an alcoholic, and he could admit it.
Dan is very upfront now about being in recovery. He owns his role in the recovery process, a big part of which is him giving control over to a power greater than himself. He has recommitted his life to Christ and attends Heartland Church regularly as well as participating in a men’s small group through the church. Getting grounded in his faith, spending time daily in prayer and meditation and working to serve others are the pillars of Dan’s process for staying in recovery and on the sober path.
Giving back and supporting others is what Dan feels is his mission now. He goes back to La Verna Lodge several nights a week to support others going through recovery and also Fairbanks to share his story as a source of encouragement for others. He feels that he has gone through this struggle as part of a bigger plan, to equip him to be of service to others that are struggling with addiction and give them a relatable partner in the process of recovery.
Dan has focused his efforts on maintaining his wellness as well as his sobriety and credits weight lifting and his time in the gym with helping to save him from hitting bottom harder than he did. His sobriety ignited a new passion in him, and although Dan has always been disciplined about fitness and nutrition, he began working with a dietician, Austin Dossey, and a posing coach and mentor, IFBB Professional Ryan Stanton.
The encouragement and direction that he received from Austin and Ryan, as well as his health and wellness director at the Angie’s List Fitness Center, Kelsey Taylor, prepared him for his first physique competition in just seven weeks, a feat nearly unheard of in the competition world.
Dan, with the support of Austin, Kelsey, Ryan and his family, took first place in both of his classes and was named the Overall Champion in his class at his first competition August 27, the NPC Natural Indianapolis. His most recent competition was September 24 at the NPC Grand Prix. His success at his first show earned him an invitation to compete on the national stage and attempt to win his pro card, which he plans to do in 2017. Dan is looking forward to the challenge of pursuing that goal while continuing to work his recovery plan.
Dan says he is certain now that his struggles with alcohol are not for nothing, that he is being prepared for a bigger purpose and to have a significant impact on others that are facing similar struggles. He doesn’t know exactly what that will end up looking like or how that will manifest in his life exactly, but he is committed to being of service to others and following the road in recovery to wherever that leads him.
When asked what he hopes his legacy will be, Dan replies, “My purpose is to help others and share my message. I’m not ashamed of my story anymore. I’m proud of the fact of where I am. I pray every morning for God’s will to be done in my life and that I can be of service to others. That’s my purpose.”