Recovery is not for the faint of heart. For many of us, it doesn’t come easy. And although it doesn’t cost a penny to belong to a fellowship, recovery does come with a price. You won’t be required to take out your wallet or write a check, but you will be asked to open your mind and your heart. You will be asked to take responsibility for yourself and your actions, past and present. If recovery had a price tag it would read: hard work, vigilance, willingness to change, countless tears, perseverance and rigorous honesty…plus tax. And what will this investment give you in return? Freedom.
To be honest, had I walked into the rooms for the first time, and taken a look at that price tag, I am not so sure I would have stayed. Had I known how hard recovery would actually be, I probably would have turned on my heels and ran as fast as my failing body would have allowed. Not because I didn’t want to get clean and sober, but because I never would have believed in a million years that I was capable of it.
Thankfully, when I walked into the rooms that first time, I was told that the only requirement was a desire to stop using, and I certainly had that. I was met with exactly what I needed at the time; empathy, hugs and hope. Fast forward a couple of years, and I still need those things, but more than that, I need people in my life who will remind me that it’s not always about me. And thank God I stayed, because my life today is truly a gift beyond anything I ever could have imagined.
I always thought the hardest part of recovery would be the stopping. Putting down the substance, stopping the cycle, going through the withdrawals. What I have found, is that some days the hardest part is the staying. Some days I miss that apathy; I miss not having to care so much. But I stay! No matter how shitty my day is, how angry I get or how broken I am feeling, I stay, because I still see the light even on my darkest days. I stay, because I know what a difference 24 hours can make.
When I got clean, I made the choice to confront my addiction head on, assess the damage I caused and try to find a way to repair what was broken, myself included. In active addiction, I spent a lot of time breaking my relationships down. In recovery, I have had to work twice as hard to piece them back together again.
It’s as if each of my relationships was a piece of fine China, and I took each dish out of the China Hut, one by one, and smashed them into a thousand pieces at my feet. Now, I spend most of my days on my hands and knees picking up the pieces and gluing them back together. Sometimes it hurts, and I cut my fingers and I am covered in bandaids, but most of the time it is beautiful and fulfilling. The dishes are now more brilliant than ever before, and much stronger too. My recovery friends are the people standing behind me and pointing out any pieces I may have missed.
Some days are more difficult than others, especially when trying to blend into a society where most people still view addiction as a moral failing. Today, I have ears that listen and that can be a very difficult thing at times. I hear the way people talk about addicts; as if they are social degenerates and criminals. I’ve heard them talk about how overdose deaths are warranted, because it was the addicts choice to use drugs in the first place. And I do my best to carry the message through my own actions and words, but it still hurts sometimes, and I have to walk away to hide the tears.
I’ve listened as some say things like, “Big deal, they stopped using and started acting like an adult. What do they expect? A medal?” Trust me, I get it! I’ve had my own husband ask me how often we are going to continue to celebrate my anniversaries? And I get that too! But my anniversaries are not for him to celebrate or anyone else for that matter, they are for me to reflect on where I was and where I am today. I celebrate my anniversaries so that other addicts can see first hand that a better life is possible. I don’t need anyone else in my life to understand it, because I understand it! And let me tell you something, that freedom is worth staying for!
As a person in long term recovery, I can still admit that my first thought is usually wrong, and by wrong I mean notoriously inaccurate and impulsive. The difference today, is that I am self aware. I can stop and process my thoughts before acting out on them. Today, I have the ability to laugh at myself, because I understand how absurd my disease can be at times.
I’ll give you a few examples. If I get into an argument with my husband, my first thought can still be, “I’ll show him! I’m going to the liquor store!” I can even sometimes feel the liquor burning in my throat while I am thinking this. These thoughts do not mean that I am actually going to go to the liquor store and then drink, they just serve as further proof that I am still sick and I need to continue to work on myself. If I make a mistake at work, I immediately want to throw in the towel and bang my head against the wall. Do I do that? No. Because even with mistakes, I know that I am an asset as an employee. Exercise! It’s fricken hard, and I get sweaty and tired and breath too hard and I don’t want to do it! But I still do it, because it is good for me. And then there is recovery. It is hard and sometimes I don’t want to do it, and I would rather stay home and binge watch shows on Netflix than go to a meeting or pick up my phone, but I do it anyway. Why? Because I don’t want to die. Today, I have so much to live for, so I choose life.
I’ve had women come up to me and tell me how brave I am, that I have inspired them to keep moving forward in their own recovery, that my words have encouraged them to share more openly and honestly about their struggles with friends and family. I am humbled by this, and sometimes I don’t know what I have done to deserve such compliments. To this day my cheeks still burn from embarrassment when approached in such a positive way, and more often than not I am holding back tears. I still struggle with the idea of my life being one of success, because, for many years, it was nothing short of a disaster.
I suppose my story is one of success, perseverance and courage. I was lost for many years, I did emerge from the ashes and I persevered to be the person that I am today. The difference, it seems, is that I started my own fire and I had to be the one to put it out.
On the other hand, I have had people tell me to my face that addiction isn’t a real disease, that it is a disease of choice and that people like me don’t deserve to be mothers. I’ve had people tell me that because the addict chose to pick up in the first place, they deserve the life they have created. I often ask those people, if they have ever taken a drink of alcohol or taken pain medication prescribed by a doctor? When they say yes, I tell them that they took the exact same risk as those who are addicted today. They usually just brush it off, laugh or tell me they can “handle their liquor.” And so I’ve learned that although I honestly believe that all people are good at heart, they are often cruel as well.
When I chose to go public with my recovery story, I knew I would be met with some negativity. I mentally prepared myself for it, or so I thought, but there are some words a person is never prepared to hear…and at times I have questioned my decision to be so honest. It’s usually in these moments when I receive a phone call, or a text, or a message from another addict reaching out for help, or simply reaching out to share with me their story of success. It’s in those moments that I know I have made the right decision.
It is not my job to change the minds of those who doubt addiction is a disease, but it is my duty as a recovering person to plant the seeds of recovery for those addicted. We keep what we have by giving it away, and vigilance is the key. Those seeds may take years to sprout, my own recovery is an example of this, but at least the seeds have been planted in the minds of those who need them. It is up to the addict themself, to water and nourish them.
If recovery had a price tag it would read: honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. And in return, you will receive freedom. Freedom from active addiction. And in my opinion, that freedom is priceless…