On Monday, I celebrated six years of recovery. The 12 step fellowship I attend defines “being clean” as abstinence from all mind or mood altering substances, so when I talk about being clean it means from street drugs, alcohol, abuse of OTC/prescription drugs, etc. Six years may sound like a short amount of time to someone who has never dealt with addiction, but when I decided that drugs were destroying my life I was in very different circumstances than currently. While this post can (and will) go hand in hand with a post about mental illness, I also felt the need to express that this is a particular part of my identity which I consider slightly different from other mental illness.
As is tradition around a milestone like this, I am going to share the bit of my story that I tell when speaking at detoxes and treatment centers.
I began using when I was around eight years old. At that time, my parents decided that I was old enough to start drinking with them. They likely had the idea that this would help me learn how to drink responsibly if I was to do it under parental supervision. However, not only do I have at least one alcoholic parent, they thought it was damn hilarious whenever I got drunk. One of the stories that my father used to like to tell involved he and his brother charged with watching a two year old me. They had cracked fresh cold ones and taken a few swigs and got to talking. Next thing they knew, their cans were empty and they hadn’t drank them. Apparently “it soon became apparent who had”. So I was never really going to be a responsible drinker.
Somewhere around the age of 12 several things happened: (1) I began stealing old medication from the medicine cabinet (2) I was put on antidepressants (3) I made my first suicide attempt. Shortly after, I was a regular binge drinker and when I was introduced to street drugs at 15 years old, I was ready and willing to continue down the path of self-destruction I was on.
As these things do, it got progressively worse. To the point that I have months’long gaps of memory from the last while of my using days. And then I finally decided to go to a 12 step fellowship. I didn’t think I could afford rehab. I was barely able to pay rent and all the other things as well and I decided that I needed to be employed. Luckily, I had usually managed to hold down jobs. I jumped around a bunch, but always left on my own terms, often with decent references.
Over the next six years I proceeded to change my life. I stopped using. I was a psychiatric outpatient for four months while I went to 20 hours of therapy a week. I went back to school. I got a job in the field that I wanted a career in. Relationships started and ended. Through everything, I stayed clean and worked a program that allowed me to grow spiritually and help clear away some of the “wreckage of my past” both inside and outside of myself. I became more or less stable.
I’ve been talking recently with people in the 12-step fellowship I attend who have several years clean and they talk about friends and family asking them why they still go to meetings. I am lucky enough not only to have lots of excellent and supportive friends outside the fellowship, but ones that know how important it is to me and how much growing I do as a result of the steps that I work. Many of them have been around through parts of my addiction and after I got clean. They know why I still go to meetings.
As I talked about in the first post of this series, claiming the label “addict” changed not just the way I related to my drug use, but it got me thinking more deeply about identity politics. Living through the desperation of active addiction isn’t something I would wish on anyone. The joy of recovery though, is something that I wish everyone could experience.
If you think you need help with addiction, here are a few links: