As we go through life, our experiences shape not only our perception of the world but the resilience in which we face life’s everyday challenges. When I look back at the last year of my life in comparison to all the ones before it, I can finally smile. See, there was a time when I felt irrevocably stuck – trapped, even. All I wanted day in and day out was a chance to hit the reset button – a chance I was finally awarded in recovery.
I had completed rehab before, multiple times in fact. I had lived in Colorado since I was young and had remained there well into my adulthood. I was afforded treatment options that frankly, I was blessed to receive. However, I just couldn’t seem to get it right. I would complete 30 days, 60 days and more in inpatient rehab, only to fall back and relapse within days of my release. It baffled me – why couldn’t I just stop? My life was falling apart, I was constantly broke and even my health began to suffer.
The last relapse lasted several years and brought me closer to death than I had ever imagined being at 30 years old but somehow, this self-knowledge meant nothing when it came to the relentless obsession with drugs and alcohol.
As I was looking over treatment options this last time, one year ago, I recognized a pattern that made all the difference; Colorado was where I bought drugs, used drugs – most of the liquor stores in my immediate area knew me by my daily visits for another bottle or two. I had traumas that still clung to my fractured mind that would often spring a bout of PTSD whenever I was around the areas in which they occurred.
The whole state, as far as I was concerned, was a giant trigger and I knew if there was any hope of me getting this right, once and for all, I would have to get myself far away.
I began researching treatment facilities, checking my insurance coverage and finally settled on the decision to go to rehab in Florida. I wanted to be near the ocean; something about it calmed me. When I stand on the beach and stare at the vastness of the horizon, somehow my problems seem a lot smaller. So I booked my ticket and headed to South Florida where I checked into detox and soon after, another inpatient rehab facility.
I completed several months of rehab and I wanted to stay as long as I possibly could. 30 days sure seems like a lifetime at first, but when you look at trying to repair a lifetime of destructive behaviors, it’s not even a drop in the bucket.
That was the start of the rest of my life, truly. Now, recovery is not some quick and easy cure-all; it has been a difficult undertaking and it takes real work and conscious effort. But let’s be real- if you’re anything of an addict like me, nothing about our lives in active addiction was anything but difficult, excruciatingly painful and borderline impossible to manage. What I can promise you, with absolute certainty is that sobriety and the escape from addiction’s clutches is, at risk of sounding terribly cliché, so worth it.
I realized for the first time since my rehab “career” started that drugs and alcohol weren’t my problem – they were my solution. Now I had heard this in AA meetings and from others in the program before, but I didn’t truly understand what it meant. Grasping this concept has been vital in working an effective, worthwhile program.
I finally understood that even once you take the drugs and alcohol away, the addict behavior remains. You can drain the drugs and alcohol from my system, but if I’m unhappy in my own skin, I will still find something- anything, to fill whatever void is in my soul. I’ve taken to self-injury, caffeine addiction, video game addiction, even addiction to people and relationships – whatever I could find to focus my energy on anything but the skeletons in my closet and hurt in my heart.
The only one who could do anything about those issues, was me. My mother couldn’t help, my closest friends couldn’t, even my own son could not stop me from setting fire to all the good things in my life. It wasn’t until I stopped putting my value on the opinions and actions of others and focused on really healing the damaged parts of me, that I finally began to find inner peace. It’s taken time and I’m still working on it daily, but the relief is almost unexplainable; I can breathe again and I don’t need a bottle or a pill to do it.
A 12 step recovery program essentially has the blueprints to living a happy, serene and fulfilling life. Finding gratitude in the little things, big things and all the in-between things is the key that a recovery program has afforded me. No matter how bad we think things are, there is always someone with a harsher reality. When you look at life through a lens of gratitude, problems seem smaller and there is always something to be grateful for. I had to admit that my way wasn’t working now and wasn’t going to work anytime soon.
With a 12 step program, we are better able to take a look at what we’ve done, what’s been done to us, and what we can do to ease the pain that we’ve been holding onto to justify our resentments. I’ve done some pretty terrible things in my days of active addiction, but to continue to use it as ammunition against myself rather than using as motivation to be better isn’t conducive for anyone. Working a 12 step program, finding a sponsor that can help guide you through those steps and surrounding yourself with people that actually care about your well-being will make your life so much more manageable.
In my first sixty days of treatment, I lost my grandfather. He was one of my best friends and more like a father to me than a grandpa. He helped get me into treatment, financially, and he was one of my biggest fans. I was devastated and angry when I found out. My first instinct was, “I need a drink” and that I was done with this sober thing; I hurt and therefore, I wanted instant relief. But when I really stopped and thought about it, how dare I have the audacity to use my grandpa’s love for me – his life and legacy – as an excuse to do the one thing he didn’t want me to do ever again.
I can still hear him saying, “Just make this the last time, Boo”, he had pleaded with me. I didn’t think I could ever get through that kind of loss sober and it was painful, but I didn’t use; I didn’t have to. Simply stopping and just taking a breath has kept me from the immense consequences that often come with my impulsive behaviors and though it sounds easy, it is most certainly an intentional, practiced art.
Alcohol is not some magic potion that reverses all the bad stuff that can happen in life and really, it only makes things even worse. Acceptance, however, is by far the most powerful, magical tool I have discovered to date; It’s brought me through the worst of my days. By simply acknowledging a situation exists, even if I’m not okay with it, I take back my power. I can focus on what right steps I can take and toss all the overwhelming unknowns to the wind. We tend to worry about so many things that never even come to pass.
That level of focus was near impossible when I was high or drunk, but I’ve discovered that by just doing the next right thing, whatever that looks like, things tend to work out in the ways they were always going to. The only difference is that acceptance today prevents me from obsessing over things I have no control over. I can honestly say there is a such a peace and relief that comes with that kind of freedom.
In a world where alcohol is flaunted in the media and prescription pills have been pushed with no real reason, recovery takes resilience. I couldn’t even go 10 minutes without drinking or using, let alone 12 months! But I still have hard days and from time to time, I do catch myself wishing I could drink like other people. I know though, that I can’t. I drink myself into homelessness and liver failure and that’s the way it is. They say recovery is a simple program for complicated people and I couldn’t agree more; easy and simple are very rarely synonymous and I don’t do it perfectly, only the best that I can.
At the end of the day, program aside, I just don’t pick up. No matter what, even if the sky is falling down, even when the cravings dig their claws into my psyche, I don’t pick up. It’s not an option for me anymore. Feelings are not facts – just because I feel like drinking or using, doesn’t mean I have to. My addictions had their control over me for long enough, and for the past twelve months, I’ve worked at regaining my power.
There is hope for us addicts and alcoholics and there is a solution – we do recover. Take a chance on yourself, try something new. You will definitely find better, brighter days waiting for you if you’ll only give yourself a fighting chance. A year ago, I was a hopeless mess of a person. Today, I find success every single day I lay my head down on the pillow at night, sober.
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism or addiction, our specialists are here to help. Contact us today and take your first step in recovery.