The calendar says it’s Thanksgiving day, 2016, though for me, it feels like just another cold November day. I know it’s a family holiday, my children’s favorite, but for me it lacks the excitement it once did.
Do I cry constantly anymore? No. Do I smile now? A lot more than I did a few years ago. But, there are some experiences that can’t be erased from memory and some pain that cannot be relieved… and I’ve come to acknowledge this as my truth and my strength.
My daughter died from an overdose, October 16, 2011. It’s been 5 years now and the intensity of my loss seems easier to manage as it becomes more distant, yet, the further I get from her, the more empty I feel. I struggle with this paradox of agony every single moment of my life… not only as a mother who lost her child, but as a recovering addict.
I wish I could use the label, “recovered” to describe myself but no, I’m still recovering though I am now FREE. I want to share with you a few things I wish someone had shared with me when I was at the beginning of my journey back to myself from a really dark and miserable rock bottom.
1. THE DESIRE TO RUN AND HIDE, NEVER GOES AWAY:
I have been recovered from opiate addiction since early 2011, and had only one minor relapse in 2012. My addiction grew into a 40 pill a day habit for 5 years. Before that, it was celebratory experimentation, alcohol to the point of excess and dysfunctional relationships. To this day, the desire to escape remains strong. No, I do not crave a pill or shot of something regularly, but do on a very rare occasion. I’ve reduced the temptation by avoiding people, places and things that trigger me, but it will always be my silent, viscous companion when life gets tough. Yes, I know. You might ask how I could ever desire drugs in lieu of how I lost my daughter. That should show you just how hard it is to break free from the bondage . It’s an evil grip that promises a reprieve from despair but thankfully, I’m on to it’s deceit now. The thing is, I can’t escape ME and there’s a void once occupied by addiction that is deeper and darker than it was before addiction took up residence there. This hole in my soul has been there a very long time. The drugs gave me a flashlight and filthy blanket as I settled into my deep, dark space. I stayed there until forced out abruptly and made to face the loss of my beautiful and naive adult daughter… from my jail cell. Once I was clean of opioid abuse, grieving drove me to subconsciously fill my empty places with other unhealthy habits like caffeine, food, compulsive behaviors, codependency and intimacy with the wrong people. Addiction is a brain processing disorder and is not limited to opiate abuse. I know that now and you should as well. I also know I’ve been dealing with this all of my life, for as far back as I can remember. The other thing we fail to consider is, substances altered our brain chemistry and kept us in a state of detachment. Now we are firing on all cylinders but not quite ready as the time spent bowing to drugs, halted maturity as we stopped growing emotionally the moment those drugs took hold. We got catching up to do, I’m afraid.
2. We Are Not Saints, Recovery Is A Journey:
The mistakes you made as a substance addicted person, or even before it fully manifested, will haunt you for a VERY long time. When you are ready to get well, you will look back on these unfortunate choices with embarrassment and guilt; so anxious to make it right and get away from those uncomfortable feelings. In our eagerness to eliminate the hurt and guilt that taunts us and to win back the trust, respect and love of family and friends, we try to be unbelievably saint like. We think that perfection is the expected and recovery means we are instantly transformed from a creepy crawler to a butterfly. Unfortunately, the recovery process is a much longer, ugly and tedious evolution.
The goal may be to be that beautiful butterfly one day, but you aren’t ready to spread wings and fly immediately. To gain acceptance and get that sense of belonging addiction gave us, you will pretend a lot. You will smile through sadness; take your moment and cry instead. You will internalize anger and turn it on yourself, bursting from the pressure. Instead, let it out in small and appropriate expressions. You will use profanity and then stop, sounding like a contrived version of yourself. Be real and if you are, you will eventually naturally filter yourself when appropriate. You will be going along exuding positive, then suddenly take a turn for the negative. You will make sense, then be a pile of confusion. You will inspire others, then you will discourage them. You will shout and proclaim your new found wisdom, then sink back into apathy. You will never want to use again… and then you will want to be completely out of your mind high.
You will feel on top of the world, then you will feel like you are nothing. You will want to save the world, then you won’t give a damn. But you know what? Each time you resist giving in to your worst impulses and feelings and stay the course, you gain strength and in time, it gets easier. In time, it’s less motion and more emotion. You are coming back to life and it will jolt every nerve ending in your body and soul like a spiritual withdrawal sickness, purging toxicity while trying to hold on to what keeps you ill.
3. When In Recovery, Don’t DATE Someone In Active Addiction:
This may seem obvious, but happens all too often. I will absolutely agree that your first year or so of sobriety, you should sail ALONE. I understand things now that I didn’t the first months and years of recovery. A time out from love connection would’ve allowed me deep introspection and healing I required.
You cannot maintain your recovery if you’re romantically involved with someone who is not interested in ALSO living life sober. In fact, even if both of you are in recovery, you both need to have an equal level of commitment to sobriety. It’s as simple as the old saying, “you are the company you keep”. Recovering addicted require positive influence as they battle with addiction demons. Even in recovery, two vulnerable people are susceptible to replacing their former drugs of choice with another habit they consider less harmful. The problem is that in relationships, those habits can be very threatening to your partner’s sobriety. While your partner may no longer be at risk of dying of a heroin overdose, if they are now addicted to food, they can become unhealthy and less motivated and stagnate your progression too. If they replace with sex, they are prone to infidelity, which can be a huge trigger and setback for you. They don’t mean to hurt you. It’s their unmanaged demons acting on their behalf and they are ALMOST unaware of their complicity. Consider these points before engaging a prospect in your same boat in life . Yes, they may understand you but understanding isn’t as important as stability and dependability and gravely unwell people have a hard time taking care of themselves, not to mention each other.
4. YOU ARE VULNERABLE TO PREDATORY BEHAVIOR :
A person in recovery will try to silence internal voices of guilt, anger, grief and shame. Predatory people smell these things in the vulnerable. My need to get away from my former self that had caused so much agony and destruction for myself and others, was willing to change everything, even forgo my better traits, all in favor of being anyone else but THAT girl. I didn’t want to recognize myself or be recognized. It made it easier to forget all I had once loved and lost. I wanted to forever forget. I wanted to punish someone, why not MYSELF, that enemy within? Me, once strong and determined, became compliant and almost docile to those that harmed me. A woman who once knew who she was, suddenly had no clue what move she should make next. A woman who never let a man hit her after suffering abuse as a child, now not only allowed it, but participated and encouraged it to just FEEL . A woman that once determined to enjoy and celebrate sex and femininity after rape, allowed sex to be used as an emotional weapon against me. I stayed with someone who cheated on me, I cheated. I forgave the unforgivable. I held grudges. I became an abused pet. In time, I became angry, so angry and I felt powerless. The more powerless I felt the more alien I became from my former self. The more time lapsed from my memories of happy times, the more I panicked and tried to remember. I became all mouth and no action, whereas old me was ALL action and ALL secrets. I was self conscious and completely afraid while afraid of absolutely nothing, death seemed appealing at times. Death was preferred over this zombie like existence. Just think… I was in a documentary for the FBI and I’m telling you now, there’s s no such thing as a picture perfect poster child for recovery.
5. YOU AREN’T YOUR OLD SELF OR NEW SELF, YOU ARE A PROJECTING DEVELOPMENT :
It was on a beach weekend with a dear friend that I found clarity. I felt an overwhelming fear of presence of mind I’d been avoiding. My child and mother that I mourned and the son that keeps me trying, wouldn’t understand, respect or approve of this new feigned version of me. It was time to end the self inflicted purgatory. I had suffered enough.
You will fail and you will question yourself and then you will find yourself again, the person you were born to be.
At the beginning of my sobriety, I was evicted, demoted, cheated on, lied on, abused, misunderstood and humiliated. I got drunk, I was depressed. I cheated. I abused myself. I made some questionable choices… but I don’t regret any of them. I let myself go to a point I would’ve NEVER allowed before because I felt it was vain to try too hard. I felt I had no right to concern myself with such vanity. I’ve been dizzy, insecure, scared, awkward and completely out of my mind. I’ve lost my temper to the point of insanity. I’ve felt so much desperation I thought I’d never get off my knees again. I’ve asked why too many times and then mocked my own mind for asking what won’t be answered. I’ve wanted to take back the times I’ve hurt others or disrespected relationships. I’ve wanted to bury my head in my daughter’s pillow and wait until God came for me, if he would even consider doing that. I’ve been high on possibility and low on reality.
But somehow in the middle of all this chaos in my head and heart, the clouds lifted. Yea, there’s still some fog in my world but at least I can make out the road ahead to take my next step. This road leads to a brighter tomorrow that only God could navigate from where I’ve been. I’ve been running a very, very long time. I’ve been running… but not from pain. I’ve been running from love.
What’s crazy is, my children were more insightful than I was for all of my “worldly” knowledge. My daughter told me in so many words… “Mom, you are so closed off, you don’t trust anybody “. So in line with trying to be a better soul, I thought it meant to be a complete doormat and just love and accept dirty deeds and do anything BUT be my loathing self. I know now the most loving thing thing you can do is hold yourself and others accountable for their choices and to be authentic to your heart and spirit.
So, who am I today? Well, I’m a project in development or, a projecting development. I’m not a former suburban kingpin; but I’m not a nun. I’m smart, but sure, I do some really stupid stuff. I’m not a gangster but I can get myself out of a bind with fierce tenacity, someone you might want around in an apocalypse perhaps or, public service? ? I’m not a con artist but sometimes I’ve sugar coated truth to make people feel better. I’m not enlightened but I’m not really lost. I don’t live with guilt but I do live with responsibility. I don’t believe in filtered speech if it means sacrificing a life saving message. I’m not a sicko but I’m a little sicker than some. I don’t love everybody but I love many who most would find unloveable. I hate some people but somehow sympathize with my enemies even if they confuse and disgust the hell out of me. Most of all, I used to cling to my “God neutral” ways, afraid I’d lose my edge. I can now say I’m God positive and my edge has gotten even sharper because I accept myself as he accepts me. So, understand you will feel out of your own skin for a while because e we have to re learn coping skills and find our personalities again. The moment you marry sincerity to experience and truth to a message, you have discovered the earliest version of the improved you.
I hope that my convoluted message finds you, clicks and you understand that you are in that space between… and it’s completely cool. Go with it. It’s okay to be recovering but not recovered. Today, be delivered from all of that mess that weighed you down, then just take one step after another…
And this why I call myself recovering. I will be recovering until I am made whole. I will always be under construction until I move on, as are all humans. ?