ATLANTA - A few years ago, Wade Lee could never have imagined he'd be sitting here sober, at peace, leading a peer support group at Atlanta's Skyland Trail. Because, for 40 years, Lee says, his life was chaos.
"Most of my 20s and 30s were spent in active addiction," the 48-year old says.
Lee has bipolar disorder, a common mood disorder that causes dramatic shifts in mood and energy levels. So, he'd swing from crippling depression to feeling like he could anything.
On manic days, he was incredibly restless.
"I would not sleep," he remembers. " I would usually hit the gym 2 times a day if I wasn't working. I had all kinds of projects I would start at home."
He never finished any of them, he says. At night, to calm his racing mind, he would turn to alcohol.
"I would drink myself into a stupor into the end of the night," he says.
Then, he'd sleep for an hour or two, and get up and do it all again.
But, on the bad days, Lee says, he was too depressed to leave home.
He wouldn't show up for work or to practice with his band.
"Eventually, we broke up because of it," he says. "I was a total flake. In the middle of recording an album, I just didn't show up."
By 2010, Lee says his partner Chris had had enough. "He gave me a choice to either find help or we were done, so he researched online and found Skyland (Trail)."
That's when was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
"We were going through the list of the symptoms, and I was like, 'My god, that's my life, right there,'" he remembers. "It explained so much."
Lee started taking a medication to stabilize his mood, and consistently started taking an antidepressant. That's when that restless feeling began to lift.
"For the first time in a long time, I was actually happy, and sober, and steady," Lee says.
Today, Wade Lee is back at Skyland Trail, this time as a peer counselor leading the kind of group of graduates of the program.
"This keeps me sober," he laughs.
Skyland alum and fellow group leader Christina Matrisin says Wade gives new clients hope.
"He's very easy to like, and I think one of the big reasons, especially for clients, is how genuine he is, how honest he is," she says.
After 40 years of searching for his purpose, Wade Lee has finally found it.
"I am just being here and role-modeling that recovery is possible, and that people can get better, and that you can be happy," he says.