If you told me 9 years ago that my life would be where it is today, I would have sworn you were crazy. I had fully embraced the life of a drug addict, and resigned myself to a certain future of jails, institutions or death. Nothing anyone said or did was going to change that. I’d already been through multiple arrests, probations, periods of incarceration, treatment episodes, failed relationships, loss of things I had once held dear. It didn’t matter. I was going to do what I did, and saw no alternative for myself.
Even coming into my last run at treatment, I did not necessarily want to be sober. The 2 choices were either rehab or jail, so I chose rehab. But I was not looking to be “sober”. I didn’t even know what that truly meant, let alone imagine a life completely free of drugs and alcohol. I knew that heroin was a problem in my life, that crack was a problem in my life. But completely free of all drugs? AND alcohol? That concept seemed so foreign, so utterly unattainable, that my mind could not come close to fathoming the gravity of what it actually entailed.
Luckily, I landed at a place that was willing to take the time to teach me the true meaning of recovery. Getting clean was the easy part, they told me, staying clean was the real challenge. ‘But my problem is with drugs! Take drugs out of the equation and I’m going to be superman!’ I was under the impression that once I stopped using, all of the great talents I once had back before my active addiction would suddenly reappear in spades, and my life would go back to the way it used to be. Not so fast, they said. They reminded me that I had developed a lot of bad habits over my years of using, like laziness, dishonesty, cutting corners, poor diet, basically most every habit of unhealthy living. Plus, I had problems before drugs even entered the equation. “The reason you started using drugs wasn’t because you had a problem with drugs, was it?” No, I suppose that wouldn’t really make sense. But why, then?
After about a month, I physically felt 10x better. The withdrawal sickness had passed, my skin had changed back from a pale grey to a more human looking shade, and I was able to engage in coherent conversation. I had started working out, brushing my teeth and showering, and no longer floated through my day sporting a blank, empty stare. If someone were to have a 10 minute conversation with me, they would have no way of knowing I was a long term professional drug addict, that had lied to, cheated on, and stole from just about anyone who would let me close enough to do so. From the outside, things looked great. But just below the surface, I was still a mess.
Over the years, I had developed a nasty habit of procrastination. Guess what happened when the drugs were removed from my life? That’s right. I still procrastinated! Procrastinated on my house chores, getting a sponsor, calling my sponsor, doing my step work, working out, eating healthy, setting appointments, returning calls, everything. I would do it “tomorrow”, or “later”, just “not right now”, even though I usually wasn’t very busy. That procrastination led to dishonesty, and I had every excuse you could imagine locked and loaded at all times, ready to fire on anyone who would question my process. This in turn led to anxiety, that either I would not complete what needed to be done, or that my lie would be found out. After the anxiety came depression, as I felt sorry for myself that my life had come to this, even though it was of my own making. I did not voice any of this of course, just told people to leave me alone. Thankfully, they did not! They taught me about suiting up and showing up each day, handling my responsibilities as they arose, doing a thorough job at whatever I did, and how all of these things would actually help alleviate many of the root causes of my fear, anxiety and depression. This all didn’t happen overnight, but rather was basically an extended control study, where over time I began to notice the differences in how I felt and was actually able to correlate it with how I handled life. Personally, this was one of the biggest revelations in my recovery process.
My other biggest issue I still seemed to run into after getting clean was my inability to take responsibility. It was someone else’s fault that I started using, someone else’s fault when relationships ended, someone else’s fault that I got arrested, someone else was the cause of my depression, my anger, my anxiety, etc. etc. The world and the people in it were doing all of this to me, and I was just an innocent bystander/victim of circumstance. Over the years, this type of ‘me against the world’ mentality had served a purpose in my life, as it allowed me to avoid taking an honest look at myself that would require change. Change was hard, and I wanted no part of it. Besides, you were the problem, not me! But it was keeping me mentally sick they told me, and until I was able to own my part, I would remain a prisoner of my thoughts and my resentments. Day after day, week after week, my perception surrounding the circumstances in my life were challenged by the staff, and also by my peers. It was tough to hear, but gradually I began to see that maybe there was some truth to what they were saying. The more I understood about it all, the more hard truths I was able to own, and the more free I felt. No longer was everyone else merely doing things to me, I actually had a say in the results. I was regaining control over my life!
Looking back at it, the truth is I may have arrived at these conclusions all on my own. I may have naturally overcame my clouded perspective and dishonesty. I might gotten a sponsor. I theoretically could have called him every day. I speculatively may have decided to work the steps. I possibly would have stopped procrastinating, and there’s a chance I would have attended AA meetings daily. Maybe it would be this run at sobriety? The next one? The 6th one 2 years down the line? Maybe. But when looking at all the evidence, the magic 8 ball reads as ‘doubtful’. And with the way I was living, I didn’t have time to experiment with MY version of recovery. I was on a fast path to either imprisonment or death, and every day of being left up to my own devices was a gamble I couldn’t afford to take. I’m eternally grateful for the path I was shown, and my belief in the effectiveness of structured sober living is exactly why I’m doing what I am today!