THIS MONTH'S GUEST SPEAKER: "Oliver"
Originally posted in Mar. 2008(The author retains all rights to this material)
I was an addict long before I ingested my first substance. I remember feeling like I didn’t quite belong anywhere – like an alien in a strange land. Socially, I always had problems making friends and felt alone at home. See, my mother had married another man who was not my father. He was a cop/military type – he was very strict and hard on me. They had their own children together and I always felt less than, not loved as much, not accepted.
I can remember seeking a way out from an early age – I was a fairly intelligent kid and liked to read, so books became an avenue of escape. Music – popular radio and records – was another form of escape I found early on. Anything that could capture my imagination.
When I was in my early teens, I noticed that some of the kids who were “partying” seemed to have an easier time getting by. To me, it looked like drinking, smoking, etc. was the answer and made them have something I didn’t have – fun, peace of mind, social acceptability and self-acceptance. It was something to connect with people on – and be a part of something.
I fell in love with the things around using – the rituals, the terminology, it was a whole new world to learn about. Of course, being around these new people exposed me to other things – new places, new music, new members of the opposite sex. It all seemed like a thrill ride – made all the more exciting/dangerous by the fact that I had to keep it a secret from my parents and teachers.
All through high school I continued to keep up an image of an intelligent, studious, clean-cut guy. I also played on the sports teams.
I went away to college, because I wanted to get as far away from my parents as possible. I used heavily while I was there, and without their over-bearing strictness, I gave in to the dark side and stopped paying attention to the responsibilities of school. By the end of sophomore year, I had only accumulated one year’s worth of credits and dropped out.
This was when my addiction really started to progress. I lived at home, and got a job, so I had money in my pocket and a car to drive. I started getting more heavily into various drugs, and experimented with new ways of using them. The caliber of people I was associating with was becoming lower and lower. I had my first alcohol-related motor vehicle accident (there would be more of those) – totaling my car and putting me in the hospital.
I had this desperate feeling that I needed to keep using. It wasn’t to be high, although I liked the pleasurable effects to be sure. But it was more to escape the sensation that I was failing at life and didn’t know what to do about it. Having dropped out of school, and no idea what to do with my life ... I chose the cowardly way and just kept using to cover all those negative feelings.
As this went on, life continued. I met the girl who was to be my wife and we began dating. I was a mess, but hid it just enough, and she was attracted to the danger I think. I ended up going to my first rehab around this time – age 21 – and she visited me there as much as they would allow. Over the next several years, we ended up renting an apartment, then buying a house together, getting married, and having a child.
Much like I had learned to live with my parents, this was another period of living a double life. She was okay with me drinking and smoking weed, so that’s what I allowed her to see. All my other using I lied about and hid. This was just enough for me to be able to live semi-functionally as far as keeping a job, and helping her pay the bills.
When our son was about a year old, she decided to leave her job and stay home with him. I put up some small resistance, but she was determined to do this. I was a self-centered, immature kid myself, in semi-full-blown active addiction, and in no way ready to accept adult responsibilities on my own of supporting the three of us. I was absolutely terrified.
This fueled my addiction to never-before-seen levels of insanity.
From this point, my addiction degenerated into me being a semi-functional crack-head vainly trying to keep up appearances at work and with my family. I was failing miserably. In part due to my devious way of life, and also partly because of the drugs I was taking, I began to have paranoid episodes and they were becoming more frequent. I was going insane. Everything hung in the balance.
It was at this point that I asked for help and only somewhat meant it. I attended my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Burlington, NJ. I saw the light in people’s eyes and felt the love in their hugs and kind words, but I could not stop using.
I would put a few days or a few weeks together, and take some suggestions from a sponsor, but I could not stay stopped. The people at the meetings told me that they had seen guys where I was at, who had to lose everything to get this, and that I didn’t need to be one of those guys. But I was reckless, stubborn, and weak - thought I could handle it. Things were definitely on the brink and teetering on the precipice.
I went on a final run which culminated in a police chase, a totaled rental car, felony charges and a stay in the hospital in critical condition. I woke up with a police officer at the foot of my bed and tubes coming out both sides of my chest.
During this run of about a week, things were set in motion that did result in me losing my house, car, job, good credit, driver’s license, and most importantly my family.
When I woke up in that trauma care unit on December 13th, 1996 I felt grateful. Yes, there was a lot of pain and absolutely, there were a lot of problems I would have to face but I felt gratitude and a sense of peace I had not felt in a long time, if ever. You see, I had cried out in my desperation and hopelessness, to something or someone to please help me. If there is anything that can be done, please make this stop. And I believed that my prayer had been answered – a way was made. I was under enough physical duress to put me flat on my back for a while where I wouldn’t be able to use. I guess I could have if I really think about it, but I was just ready to turn the corner. I had been through enough of a bottom, emotionally, mentally and spiritually that I had some willingness, which I would most definitely need.
I went to a short-term treatment facility, and then a longer-term one in Keyport, NJ. This was very important for me to achieve lasting recovery. I don’t believe I could have turned things around in just a few days – I had to surrender all the way. The insurance or the finances weren’t there, but God made a way.
I have had ups and downs in my recovery. I’ve been on fire for the program and have also at times been disconnected to the point where I couldn’t stand to be in a meeting. I have walked the narrow path of living by spiritual principles in all my affairs, and at other times have acted out in every way imaginable. Through it all, I have not used. No matter what.
There was a lot of wreckage to be cleaned up from my past, externally and internally. But I did not ever find a reason to use. No matter what.
Life on life’s terms happens. Sometimes life sucks. Sometime it gives cause for celebration. But there is no good reason or excuse for me to use. Not today. Not ever.
There is a path that is laid out in our literature, and by those that have gone before, for us to follow and achieve lasting recovery. If we follow a few simple rules, we can have a life that is beyond anything we have ever dreamed of. There are no limits to this experience, or to this God that we come to know during this journey.
God removed the desire to use and saved me from myself. He has a plan and a purpose for me, and it’s up to me to show up, with selflessness and humility, to find out what that is.
I have heard others share that it’s always about the drug, and just don’t use and go to a meeting. If someone is new, and still gripped with the obsession to use, this may apply. But if we are ever to grow out of spiritual infancy, I find this to be a very limiting and closed-minded long-term view. There is so much here to be had – we are capable of great things, and many of us are accomplishing those things in our daily lives and in our recovery relationships.
There are many challenges to on-going recovery – total abstinence is an amazing gift but it is only a beginning. There is a program of action that delivers amazing results in our lives and the lives of those around us.
Thank you to anyone who is reading this for being a part of my recovery, whether you know it or not, we are all connected. I pray that we can continue on this road together, enjoying ever more peace and happiness and sharing that with others.