What do you want to hear first: the good news or the bad news?
If you’re like me, you want to get the bad news out of the way, so here it is: addiction is a chronic, progressive, incurable disease. Once diagnosed, you are never healed.
Alright, bad news dispensed, here’s the good, no, scratch that, the great news: the methods employed for managing the disease of addiction are ridiculously inexpensive (read: free), easily accessible, and can be utilized by anyone suffering from it. If used properly and consistently, not only will the addict keep his or her disease in remission permanently, the rest of his or her life will improve dramatically. How many other diseases can make that claim?
So the question for people like myself, with more than a year of recovery, how do you keep on keepin’ on? How can you ensure that you are maintaining your recovery?
As a regular participant in 12-step recovery, nothing scares me more than to hear stories of people with significant sober time come back after a relapse. Sadly, it happens more than one would like to think. I have seen people with 20 years of sobriety “go out,” and come back and report what we all know to be true: it never gets better. Twenty minutes, twenty days, twenty years; pick up a drink or drug, and you have fallen back down the rabbit hole.
Every time I hear that tale, the person says the same thing: “I picked up (meaning either drank again or used a drug again), but the relapse happened well before that.”
And that’s the part that terrifies this addict. Because I can say, with certainty, for today, that I am not tempted to ingest a mind-altering substance. But what worries me is am I heading towards it? Because, as we say in AA, everything you do either takes you toward a drink, or away from it, and the steps towards relapse are small and inconsequential at first…. so have I taken them without realizing it?
Here’s how I’ve solved that problem, for myself anyway, and I figured I could write it out in case it would help anyone else. I’ve developed a checklist to make sure I am staying on track when it comes to my recovery. The list is in reverse order for a reason, for each question that I can respond in the affirmative, I feel that much better.
- Have I maintained my sobriety date?
- Do I wish to pick up a drink or a drug?
- Am I confident that I can refrain from ingesting mind-altering substances just for today?
- Have I prayed today?
- Am I regularly participating in 12-step meetings?
- How is my mental state? If bad, has it been consistently bad? Has there been a pattern of negative thinking?
- When life becomes stressful, do I react in healthy, sober ways, or do I revert to old patterns of behavior?
- Am I maintaining my new, sober healthy behaviors and daily structure, or am I letting things slip?
- Have I been talking about what’s going on with me, or have I been keeping things bottled up?
- Have I been sharing with other people in recovery?
- Have I been giving back (12th step work)?
- Gut check: do I believe that I could pick up, just once, and it would be okay?
I would love to hear what people would add to this list, or how they would modify it!
That I can read this list, and feel pride that I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic/addict!
Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. –Carl Jung
Okay, I just accidentally hit publish as I started typing this post. If you received something incomplete, disregard, I am starting over…
I had written that I wanted to give up on this process the past three days, because it is tough revisiting the past, tough trying to concisely sum it up, tough putting myself out there. But since I’ve started, I need to just get it done.
So now I’m trying to paint the picture of my experience in rehab. How to sum up 21 days of being in an alternate universe? The days leading up to admission were a time of complete detachment for me, it was the only way I could get through it. And while the ride down to the facility, the admission process, and the tour of the place is crystal clear in my mind, it was like some kind of out-of-body experience, that’s how surreal it felt.
The pro’s of my time there: since I am the type of person to thrive in any kind of educational setting, I was able to get a lot of good information from all the sessions I attended. I shared a lot in my group settings, I made some meaningful connections with my fellow “inmates,” and I was inspired by many of the professionals who worked there. As I became more comfortable and settled in, there was also a pleasant feeling of insulation… I felt protected, from my disease, from the absolute disaster of a life waiting for me when I got out, and from simple daily routine. As my time grew shorter there, the anxiety built, but still, I want to list the good stuff as well as the bad.
The con’s of my time there: probably the biggest detraction of rehab for me personally was a total lack of relatability. I can only say this now, after reflection. In the moment I bonded the best way I knew how, and I really did make connections. But in looking back, absolutely no one was like me, and that hurt my ability to process the information I received. Most of the people were much younger, it was far from their first experience (one friend I made was not yet 21, and this had been her 8th stay), and their stories with addiction were not anything that made sense to me in my frame of mind. Again, this is a 20/20 hindsight observation, at the time I was just trying to do the best I could with the hand I was dealt. Another major con: I made absolutely no plans to change anything in my life once I got out. I did not think about it, and therefore did not anticipate any issues I may encounter. All I knew was that I had an incredibly angry husband to deal with, kids who I had to put up a falsely positive front, and a group of friends and relatives who only found out about any of this mess once I went away (that’s right, most of the major people in my life knew nothing about these problems, at my insistence). So I chose not to make any post-rehab plans in my mind, because thinking about it was simply too painful.
I remember having a fleeting thought of being able to resume my addiction while I was in rehab. When I say fleeting, I mean it probably lasted all of 10 seconds… it popped into my head, and my response to that thought was, “don’t worry about it, you are safe.” I did not share the thought, and I did not revisit it for the remainder of the time I was there. That 10-second thought came back the very first day I was home, and now that I am “back to normal life,” it came back with a vengeance. I could not shake it, and very quickly it became an obsession that I could not ignore. Again, in retrospect, it is all so easy to see where I went wrong, but at that point in time, I simply could not connect the dots. And while I learned in a rhetorical way all of the tools I needed to stay sober, I had not practiced a single one, so when that obsession came over me, I did not have a choice… I had to act on it. And, well, addicts at this point know the rest… once you act once, once you take that first drink, first anything, you are right back where you started. And so the cycle continued, almost immediately after rehab.
Okay, deep breath, here’s the next bottom (as if resuming addiction post-rehab isn’t bad enough). As I have been told many times, the progression of addiction is undeniable, the lengths an addict will go to become more and more extreme, and I was no exception. In order to feed my particular addiction, I wrote yesterday that I had gotten creative, specifically with the medical profession. Eventually these lies caught up with me in a legal way, and in early December 2011 I received a phone call from the police… bottom line, they had me dead to rights, and now, in addition to the myriad of other consequences, I have legal ones. At this time (December) I don’t know what they are, only that they are a certainty.
Today’s story should stop there, right? No, it does not. In order to do this timeline justice, I need to write this next part, it should speak to the sensibilities of every addict reading this, while horrifying those who do not struggle with this disease. Early on in the process, I met with a lawyer to discuss the next steps. At this meeting the lawyer said something to the effect that once I am officially charged with an act, then I could never in my lifetime do it again without incredibly serious repercussions. Due to a weird set of circumstances that would take too long to explain, I had not yet been charged with anything, and so, with the addicted mind I had (have), I really, truly, consciously drew the following conclusion: if I could never do it again in my lifetime, then why not take advantage of the lag time between now (December) and the time I am charged? God help me, that is how my mind worked, and that I exactly how I proceeded, for the following month.
Tomorrow, praise God, will be the final chapter in this saga.
In this moment, the miracle is that tomorrow, praise God, is the final chapter, and I can then get back to happier posts.
I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed, and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep trying. –Tom Hopkins
When I last left off in this story, it was the summer of 2011 (if you are just joining the story now, read yesterday’s post). I have successfully removed a few addictive substances from my life with the belief that simply one vice would satisfy the people around me, while still maintaining the control I so desperately wanted. Two hitches with this train of thought. First, I still had to live a lie in order to hold on to my addiction. Second, addiction doesn’t sit, lay down and roll over as I truly believed it would.
As I have learned, there are a number of paths my “philosophy” in the summer of 2011 could have taken me, such as: I could have picked up another, totally separate addiction, or I could have simply reverted to all the previous ones, since, what the heck, I’m already lying, why not just go back to everything? But the way it actually panned out was this: I held onto that one vice, and that addiction simply took off. What at first was a “when you have it, just enjoy it, and when it runs out, wait until you can get some more” thought process evolved into “let’s see what we can do to make this happen as frequently as possible.” And so the addiction progressed, and, if I am being honest, I truly believed I was pretty clever. It’s like anything else: when you put your mind to work, it is amazing what you can accomplish, and accomplish I did. Through trial and error, I came up with some pretty ingenious ways for obtaining my drug of choice.
Never once giving thought to the damage I was doing to my physical self, or the addictive properties of the drug itself, it became like a game to me. At the time, my husband was the referee of the game, and our marriage suffered greatly for it. My thinking at this point was something along the lines of: “If he would just stop prying into every little detail of my life, everything would be fine!” I can’t stress this strongly enough, I wasn’t justifying my actions, I simply chose not to look at myself at all. All my thought processes at this point were external… where and how can I obtain my drug of choice? Why is my husband spying on my every move? How can I be even more clever so I can avoid his interrogations?
So the next few months were a series of deceit, lies, cover-ups, and explosions when I was finally “caught in the act.” The culmination of this particular bottom happened on October 14, 2011. My husband, for what felt like the millionth time, uncovered a deception, and gave me an ultimatum: go away and get help, or simply go away. It took a few days to find an appropriate facility, and I was able to negotiate staying home long enough to celebrate my son’s 9th birthday, but I went to an inpatient rehab on October 19, 2011.
Wouldn’t it be nice if this was where the story turns around? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s shocking twist…
That I can retell this story, and my friends and family still love me.
Blogging is an art, same as any other method of self-expression. Some are better at it than others. -Hugh MacLeod
In early sobriety, I had begun writing in a journal in an attempt to track my rollercoaster of emotions. A few weeks into that process, a very good friend suggested that I should instead start a blog and share my experiences more publicly. My response was a polite but disdainful refusal. I believe I said something to the effect of, “there is no way I would do something as self-indulgent as that.” Her response was much more direct, and much less polite: “you have no idea what blogging really is and how can you be living in 2012 and not understand social media?” I am truly blessed to have friends who tell it like it is, because I did not understand blogging at all.
So I created my membership at WordPress. At first, my posts were more or less a documentary of what was happening in my life, and how life can improve by staying sober and connected in a 12-step program.
After a few weeks, I received a notification that I did not understand, and I had to ask my husband what it meant. He explained that I had a follower, which I then had to have further explained that she would now receive a notification every time I wrote something. I will not soon forget the feeling of astonishment that someone I did not know was regularly reading my thoughts. I was not kidding when I said I did not understand the concept of blogging.
I then tapped into my keen logic, and realized that since people are following me, then perhaps it might be helpful (not to mention polite) to follow my comrades in the blogosphere (did I mention how bright I am?). The decision to follow other blogs has brought me such a wealth of experience, strength and hope, it is like having a 12-step meeting in the computer room of my home.
As the months have gone by, and life has gotten progressively better, I have come to think of blogging as a necessary part of my recovery, something I have come to rely upon the way I rely upon 12-step meetings… I just do it, and I feel really good each time I complete a post.
I realized yesterday that I have reached a new stage in my blogging career. Not only do I get a sense of satisfaction out of completing a post, not only am I rewarded with things like “likes” and insightful comments from friends and followers, but now I am actively using this community to guide with me with life issues. Yesterday I wrote about a problem, and yesterday the problem was resolved in multiple, useful ways with people whose opinions I have come to respect, although I have never met them personally. The feeling of community I am experiencing is mind-blowing for someone who, 6 short months ago, believed blogging was a bunch of self-indulgent tripe!
So, to sum up, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for all the positive support, and all the spot-on advice I have received. I truly appreciate all of these gifts, and I will do my best to pay it forward.