Remembering Addiction, A Sobering Perspective
01/15/18: AddictionA great amount of focus is given to living in the moment and believing in one’s future, both positive mechanisms in successful addiction recovery. These are components of mindfulness practices, also serving those who may not suffer with substance abuse issues but merely as the means to achieve ongoing emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Even the most balanced human being will have moments of reflection remembering what was, pondering what could have been and feeling grateful for what is. No one understands this thought process better than a recovering addict. At what point is this a healthy habit? When does remembering past addiction jeopardize recovery? And what makes some people successful in recovery while others relapse over and over again?
Recipe for Sobriety Success Includes HonestyI asked a professional, “What makes rehab work?” Matt Shetler, a Patient Intake Manager at Scottsdale Recovery Center, speaks with alcoholics and drug abusers daily from all over the country, looking for treatment. “People who stay sober are willing to be honest with themselves. Instead of being selfish they become selfless. Instead of being cocky and egotistical they become humble and live with integrity.” Being honest with yourself isn’t easy, because it forces you to own your past, your present and every day after. What exactly is that defining moment between staying true to recovery or going head first back into active addiction?
Two Friends, One Rehab and a Parting of WaysIt was 1982. Michael P. was attending college in Tempe, Arizona a place known for its sunshine and perfect party atmosphere. From the outside, it seemed as though Michael had a charmed life. Great parents, lots of friends back home in Washington, and plenty of intense sunbathing to look forward to. But unbeknownst to everyone in his social circle, he battled with depression, from 12 years of age. Michael was lost, shy, insecure and concerned about finding a social life in a new city. Feeling self-defeated before even trying, he isolated himself in his dorm room drinking large quantities of alcohol and smoking marijuana. Michael recounts how he felt the first time he tried alcohol while in middle school. “It was this weird sensation that I didn’t expect. I was with some friends and I had a few drinks and suddenly, it felt like my depression lifted off of me. I forgot about how down I was because I wasn’t anymore. We went to a movie, I had a great time and the negativity was gone.” Alone and sinking further into obscurity, he left Arizona and enrolled in a university back home hoping that things would get better. As a proactive step, he joined a fraternity for its ready-made social structure, with disappointing outcomes. “To this day I’m not really sure why I didn’t fit in. It was devastating. In my mind, I was still that awkward kid from junior high. I got into drinking heavier than ever before, I mean, it was a fraternity and I thought it would get me accepted by the other guys. It didn’t.” he said. Michael was lucky. The Vice President of the fraternity spoke with Michael’s girlfriend and together, they had an intervention. They gave him a list of 20 questions from Alcoholics Anonymous which assessed his level of behavioral dysfunction. He filled it out and 18 of 20 questions were answered “Yes”. If you answered three or more “Yes” you were considered an alcoholic. He went to a couple of meetings and all seemed to be going in the right direction. But that was 36 years ago. Alcoholism was misunderstood. And the social stigma of addiction was alive and kickin’. “Before I went to AA, another friend tried to get me to go about a year earlier. I guess I wasn’t ready. But even this time around, I didn’t feel like I fit in there either. The people were older and louder, which made me feel smaller and more insignificant.” He remembered with some sadness. Only after two weeks, Michael stopped the AA meetings. And the reality of who he was and lack of life purpose didn’t go well with the expectations of a fraternity brother. Michael digressed further into the disease, stepping away from the fraternity. His life was now consumed with alcohol. He would drink himself to sleep and blackouts were a common occurrence. During moments of more lucidity, he would communicate feelings by writing deep but dark poetry. Until one particular night and a random event.
Inspiration Comes in the Quietest Moments of Despair“You are destined for greatness,” echoed the television in the wee hours before daylight. Michael had passed out some hours earlier and awoke at the voice of a pastor delivering a sermon to his broadcast audience. “You are destined for greatness.” This reverberated in Michael’s muffled mind and settled at the bottom of his soul. “I don’t know if it was because I was woken up and still kind of in a drunken stupor but something about what that pastor said really hit me. It was like he was just talking to me. Telling me not to give up. That I had to keep trying and that I really did have a reason to live. That’s when everything changed for me.” The timing was right. Soon after, another friend recommended a new recovery program from Texas that was opening its doors in town, geared for younger people which sounded like a good fit for him.
You Can’t Take Your Friend with YouMichael was ecstatic about the program and the possibilities for a healthier life. He shared the information with his best friend (we’ll call him SB to maintain anonymity) and although they spent years tearing things up at party after party, SB agreed to go sober too. Smiling, Michael detailed why the program felt good. “The very first meeting was amazing. The room was filled with people like me, young and full of things to say…my sponsor was even younger than me, he was only 16. It didn’t feel like recovery, it was like coming across a bunch of new friends and you already knew you had something in common so it was almost natural. And part of the program, we’d all go to AA together and it was still fun and there were people there that became our friends too.”
Successful Recovery Is a Solo Act, SharedThe first years of sobriety for Michael seem like another lifetime but are as vivid as if it all happened just yesterday. His days are filled with appreciation for all that he has: A loving fiancée, many friends, two careers and an impenetrable zest for sobriety and helping others achieve the same. I wanted to know what he would tell his former self, if he met him today, about why choosing a path of addiction recovery is worth the work. He said, almost matter-of-factly, “That I didn’t die. There’s always a solution to life’s problems… you just have to believe it’s there and you’ll find it.” Michael’s road in recovery continues forward. However, his former best friend, SB, remains a distant memory. SB relapsed and continues to use, and makes a substantial living in a large-scale marijuana dispensary business and is vocal as an advocate on the “merits” of marijuana use.
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