I am an artist, a gentleman, a scholar, and an all-around good guy. I’m also someone who has struggled with addiction my whole life. I am a believer in the law of attraction, so whatever I put out in the universe is what I get in return. It is important for me to remember my years of using and that I will always identify as an addict.
But I am much more than that.
I have always thought of myself as this free-spirited hippie, a Jack Kerouac type of character, a tortured artist, if you will. I wanted to fit in, but in my own unique way, much like the artists I admire did. People like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, David Foster Wallace, and Hunter S. Thompson; people who by any measure were out of their minds and didn’t care what others thought. They vehemently rejected the system yet, at the same time, prompted admiration by the general public. But those were just personas, masks worn to hide and protect who they truly were.
For me personally, I deeply care what others think. I am self-conscious, have body image issues, low self-esteem; I’m weird and awkward and think I have little to offer others. But you know what? Drugs fixed all of that. Drugs made me feel ok, they made me feel a part of something, like this group of incredibly talented and creative people I wanted to be like in so many ways. Hunter S. Thompson said it best, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow!’”. That statement right there perfectly described how I wanted to live my life. And to be honest, that is still how I want to live my life — just clean.
I think at the root of everyone’s story are a few common emotions that all of us as addicts share. For example, not feeling a part of and never feeling comfortable in my own skin. Isolation plays a big part of my story, but so does guilt, shame and never feeling like I was good enough. The more time I spend in the halls, I find I may not share the experiences, but I sure relate to the feelings. When I first came into recovery, I didn’t think I qualified because my story was different from others I was hearing at the time. I come from a good family and had a great childhood. My addiction started with me using at yacht clubs and country clubs, and because of that I thought I didn’t belong. It turns out addiction is the great unifier, it doesn’t care about any of that. That may have been where my story started but it is not where it ended. So, it was ridiculous to disqualify myself because of something so trivial like my upbringing. I also had this warped view of what an addict was. I thought because I was a “functioning addict,” I was different. But I will let you in on a little secret: if your life becomes unmanageable, I don’t care how you identify or what your vice is, you are an addict.
As the late great Jerry Garcia aptly put it, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” And man, this past year has been a trip. Going in and out of treatment, getting some clean time, losing it, only to start over has really been one hell of a ride. Every day since age 16 I put some type of substance in my body. Today I am 33. When I started this journey, I really wanted to get it the first time. I was hoping I could be one of those “one chip wonders” you hear about at meetings, but that is not what my higher power had in store for me. Thinking back, I have to laugh at the fact I thought after 16 years of using, I was just going to be able to stop after a few months of treatment. I had to learn the hard way. No matter how hard I wanted to be clean, will power alone was not going to make it so. I honestly thought I was special; that once I was done detoxing I would be “cured” and I could just go on living my life however I pleased. That is not my story though. I didn’t take suggestions. Instead, I pushed back against the program – and there was no way in hell you were going to get me to believe in God.
I don’t look at relapse as a failure, but as a step closer to perfection. Each time I relapsed I learned a valuable lesson that my higher power saw fit for me to learn. With new knowledge, another experience and renewed enthusiasm, I would pick myself back up and just start by putting one foot in front of the other. Let’s face it: the thought of staying clean for the rest of your life is daunting. For this addict, it sounded like an impossible endeavor, but when I break it down second-to-second, day-by-day, one step at a time, it seems doable.
After a few relapses the pain had gotten great enough and I was ready to do whatever it took. Now I don’t work a perfect program but I work a program to the best of my ability. I have a sponsor – with whom I have a great relationship – and I do step work. I have a higher power of my understanding, I have a home group, I do service, and I take suggestions from the people around me. A huge part of my program is being honest, not just with others, but with myself. My disease talks to me in my own voice and fills my head with clutter, trying to convince me that this clutter is fact. So only through honesty am I able to shift through said clutter and fight my disease. During my addiction I was just in survival mode. I thought I had to use to save my life, that the pain of withdrawals would be so great I wouldn’t be able to handle it. But that was just a lie my disease was telling me to keep me sick. My disease likes me isolated, afraid, and buying into the clutter in my head. To fight that, I must be honest with myself, my sponsor, and the awesome people I have met in this program and am lucky enough to call friends. I have learned that I cannot clear up the mess in my head with my own thoughts. Whether it is sharing at a meeting, reaching out to my support group, talking with my sponsor, or talking with my higher power, I just need to get that stuff out, and realize that I am not unique and others have gone through the same things I have. What I am trying to say is just don’t make this harder than it has to be, don’t fight the program. It is laid out so simply and has worked for so many people who have come before you. Don’t get me wrong, this is going to be the hardest thing you ever do, but man is it worth it.
Don’t rush the process, you are exactly where you need to be. As you read this right now, in this very moment, you are ok. If you are struggling, I get it. If you don’t think you can do this, I have been there and I have faith in you. If you are miserable and feel all alone, I love you. I promise it gets better. Just hold on, enjoy the ride and remember every setback is a setup for an even greater comeback.