THIS MONTH'S GUEST SPEAKER: "David C."
Originally posted in April 2014(The author retains all rights to this material)
When I sat down in the intake office at the rehab, I realized that I never had to lie to anybody again. It was the most relief I’d ever felt in my entire life. More than any hit I’ve ever had, more than any jail I’ve ever gotten out of, more than any scrape with the cops where I got away unscathed, that moment came with supreme relief. It was surrender. Through good days and bad days, that relief has never left me. I have NA to thank for that.
My story is unremarkable. I’ve had many hardships, but that’s part of being human. My childhood wasn’t perfect, but no one’s is. The bottom line is that for whatever reason, I couldn’t stand to be me. My ultimate nightmare was to sit with my own thoughts, in silence.
The earliest memory I have of what I now recognize to be the disease of addiction is of a day at the movies with my mom. I was five years old. We were early, so we got some food and took our seats to wait for the previews. I finished my hot dog, but the movie wasn’t on, and my mom was in the bathroom. The idea of sitting still, quietly, for any stretch of time made me absolutely lose my mind. I threw a screaming tantrum. What I’ve learned over the years is that I was very, very uncomfortable with myself, and having to sit with only myself was Hell to me. That tantrum would repeat itself many times throughout my life when I didn’t get the drugs I needed to take me out of myself.
That’s why I took them. I thought drugs could make me into someone else, someone better: confident, cool, dark, mysterious, handsome, talented, etc., etc. When I first picked up, at 12 years old, I did feel all those things. I might have even fooled the people around me, too, at least the first time. I progressed quickly. I chased that feeling into oblivion.
Other people recognized my problem long before I did. The disease wants to survive. It wants to protect itself so it can feed off of you, so it hid itself from me. At 17, my girlfriend at the time burst into tears as we were leaving a party. She was embarrassed with how hard I’d gone in front of her friends. She said most people didn’t party the way I did. In my infinite wisdom, I explained to her that she was an idiot, and just because she couldn’t handle as much as me, she shouldn’t let her jealousy make her act out. Because I was so smart, right? That was the disease in its purest form, speaking through me.
I learned, like most of us do, the hard way. Slowly but surely I removed everyone from my life that was not an addict. I found that I hated people who didn’t use drugs. NA has taught me that was I really hated was myself, and those people reminded me of how far I’d sunk. Surrounded by other addicts I was free to distort reality. If I went to jail, so what? Most of my friends went to jail, too. If I woke up sick, so what? That was normal. It happened to everyone. I sank deeper and deeper. I couldn’t look anyone in the face anymore. Even the cashier at the grocery store was too much for me to handle because I thought if anyone looked at me long enough they’d see my weak soul inside.
Because I’m reasonably intelligent, I learned that if I wanted to keep it up, I’d have to start hiding it better and better. My bosses didn’t seem to understand addiction, so I went out of my way to denounce the very substances I was high on at work. It didn’t usually work, so I never had a meaningful job, at least not for very long.
I used people, too. I felt completely helpless, so I latched onto girls with motherly tendencies. I sought them out so they could take care of me. I lied ceaselessly to them about every aspect of my life. I explained that I got sick a lot because of my weak immune system. I rationalized every negative trait I had. When they started to catch on, I’d dump them and find someone new. I had a sob story memorized. I rationalized and rationalized and raitionalized. I went to jail because I was a free spirit, right? I got high because the world was broken anyway, and there was no reason to exist in reality. It was an act of rebellion! The disease made me believe these things were true so it could make me sicker and sicker. I stole from my parents every chance I had. I stole medication that my father needed for the pain of his debilitating illness and blamed it on my friends. My father died without ever seeing me get clean.
Down and down I went until the only thoughts I ever had were of getting more. Every single second of every day of my life was structured around getting and using drugs, and nothing else. I associated only with people who could help me stay high and hated everyone else. Finally, I passed out at work and was sent home.
Suddenly, there was nothing to hide behind. Suddenly my problem was laid bare for every customer in a busy restaurant in a small town to see. What I thought I was covering so well was actually common knowledge to most people anyway, but who wants to bring it up? I called my mom to tell her the depth of my problem, and I checked myself into rehab. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life because it led me to NA. And NA led me to freedom.
For the first time in my life, I decided to listen to what other people had to say. It was staggering to realize that almost everything I’d thought about myself was distorted. I was not the tough guy I thought I was. I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, but I was far more capable than I thought I was. As I heard story after story, I realized I was not as unique as I thought I was. I also started to realize that’s ok. We’re all stuck on this planet together, so why would we not relate to one another? Why had I been so concerned with being the outsider? Instead, I started to tell the truth in rehab, and it started to free me. I was scared. I learned that it’s ok to be scared and to tell people you’re scared, as well. It really is ok.
When I got out I went to a meeting. I got there early and I stayed late. That night I went to a second meeting. I talked a lot at the first few meetings, and then I realized that I had a lot more to learn from the other people than they did from me, about staying clean at least, so I started to listen. I realized that I’d never really listened before; I’d just been waiting for my turn to talk. I felt awful in those days, but I didn’t get high. Painstakingly, fighting tooth and nail, I made it to thirty days. Something happened then. I saw a glimmer of hope. One day is a miracle. Thirty days is unthinkable. If you see yourself at thirty days and you think NA doesn’t work, ask yourself how you got thirty days. If you’re like me, you’ll find that the answer is NA and through the grace of a higher power.
I was still miserable sixty days into it, but sixty days was proof enough for me to stick around. All I wanted was to stop thinking about getting high. I heard another guy speak who had 17 years, and he said he didn’t think about getting high that much anymore, so I asked him sponsor me. I wanted what he had. It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done in my life. The disease wanted me to be alone, so it conjured every potential negative outcome to dissuade me from humbling myself to another man by asking for help. NA taught me not to listen to that voice, and I had a sponsor.
The desire to use was beginning to lift. That is the only promise in our program, freedom from active addiction, but I wanted more. I started to work steps. They taught me things about myself I’d never considered. Once I pulled these details to light, I realized they’d been staring me in the face all along. Of course I was powerless. Of course my life was unmanageable. It had been there all along.
NA gave me the strength to recover from heartbreak, to find a new sponsor when I realized it was necessary, to get a new job. Then, I reached a ceiling. The obsession had been lifted, but I was still unhappy. I took every opportunity to complain to anyone who’d listen about every tiny thing that went wrong in my life. I regretted things I was powerless to change. One day, someone wiser than me encouraged me to take a commitment.
I started going into the rehab I’d been a patient in six months earlier. I remembered what real pain was, and I remembered what freedom from it felt like. I did my best to lay the groundwork for that freedom to enter the lives of others. I realized my problems were not as big as I’d thought. In time, I began chairing that commitment. I picked up a GSR commitment next. I quit smoking cigarettes. I even stopped drinking coffee because, as an addict, I’d found a way to let that make my life unmanageable as well. When I wanted to make a change, I tried to make a change. God and NA lifted me up when I couldn’t lift myself.
Sometimes it’s hard to see for yourself how profoundly you’ve changed your life. To me, it’s like looking in the mirror every day. You may be evolving dramatically, but you can’t see it because you see yourself every day. You take an inventory so often, the changes miss you, but if you look at a photograph from years before, you think, is that really me? For me, the answer is yes. This is really me: a person with hope in his life, a person who works a program, a person who has the best sponsor in the world for him.
This is a person who even helps other people sometimes, and that’s the biggest blessing of all. In the throes of my deadly addiction, I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams that someday someone else would come to me for advice.
NA gave me the most valuable thing in all the world, something some people search for their entire lives and never find: peace. Just for today, NA gave me the peace to be who I am, to slow down, to be nice to people even when I don’t want to, and to truly live in every moment. NA taught me that life is a playground for us to enjoy. It doesn’t need to be lived in negativity. Drugs are not who I am, and they never were. I’m still learning who I am without them every day, but that much is clear. They don’t define my life.
My advice is, give yourself a break. Give it up to something greater. Let us take care of you until you can take care of yourself. Then, we’ll take care of each other. You don’t have to fight for every inch. You really don't. Life can be serene. The only way I know of finding that serenity is in the rooms of NA. For all the pain, the heartbreak, the death, the jail, and the self-loathing I’ve seen, NA is where it ended, so it was worth it. That’s the best place a guy like me could be.