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[ Personal Narratives ]

The Man Outside The Mirror

My successful employment as a chemically dependent addict ran from 1990 to 2004. The first step toward my recovery obviously came to me when I came to terms with myself…my admission. However, it was my second admission that filled me with confusion…my self-initiated admission into Friends Hospital in Philadelphia where I began my long journey into sobriety. Question, questions, and more questions filled my mind. Fourteen years of addiction had run me tired. But there was one question I kept coming back to…just who would I become should I even make it to the other side?

Friends Hospital had no available beds for me on May 8, 2004. I was asked if I would be open to going to a detox center in New Castle, Delaware known as MeadowWood Hospital. I remember telling them I would gladly go especially knowing they would be transferring me there. Although MeadowWood had only about 38 beds, I thought to myself what’s another mental health facility, the second I’ll be entering in just as many days. Would there be a third? Would I ever escape from these kind of things? This had to be the right place for me, I kept telling myself. After all,I was walking around with a broken brain for 14 years. I was determined to make MeadowWood the last mental health facility I would ever enter.

When you enter a detox center, believe me when I tell you, you really aren’t feeling the greatest. Irritable, withdrawing, nauseated, cold, hot and sweaty. Could there even be any more ill feelings out there I wasn’t already experiencing. But this was all physical and I knew in time it would end. The question in my mind now became…what would become of my mind. It did not take long, now that I wasn’t flooding it with chemicals, that I realized I had absolutely no idea who I was.

Reflection is defined by Merriam-Webster as the production of an image by or as if by a mirror. It also gives a simple definition of reflection as something that causes people to disapprove of a person or thing. I would look into the mirror and subscribe to that simple definition, the one that causes you to disapprove of a person. How did this happen? I am not mental…everyone else just doesn’t understand me. But inside I knew I was…and I knew there was nothing wrong with everybody else’s interpretation of me. I had ignored that belief for far too long. When I looked into the mirror, I saw someone that I guess looked like me, but had no clue who he was. I really did not like what I was looking at (and I am not just referring to the image). The next day I would try it again and got the same result. Would the mirror ever change? I was hoping that someday I would find a man outside of the mirror.

Well, through attending just a few of the meetings at MeadowWood, I learned the mirror doesn’t have to change. It works just fine. What I needed to do is change what it was reflecting. But was this even possible? I did not even have the tools to start this new construction. At the same time, I came to know this so-called construction really wasn’t all that complicated of a process. That was not the issue. I knew what I had to do. The issue was that it would be a long one.

The key to beating an addiction, again, is not really that difficult to figure out. To me, it really was as simple as just keeping opiates out of me and in time (as they told me) you will beat this thing. Not hard to figure out…if you give it a chance (and much time). So I thought, just what do I need to change that reflection? I needed two things…I need time and abstinence. Both of which I was determined to find a heavy supply of. You see, if an addict is lucky enough to one day become sick and tired of what they are looking at, the idea of change surfaces. The idea of recovery finally enters in their vocabulary.

As I write this, the year is 2016 and I have been clean for over 12 years now. I never went to a rehab but it was my stay at MeadowWood for five days that finally cleared away my 14 years of disillusionment. And although what I see in my mirror is what it is, there’s nothing I can do about that, I no longer have any desire to search for some image other than my own reflection. Sobriety does not change how you look. Sobriety changes the interpretation of the images you see. It allows you to clearly and honestly define exactly what has come into your view. It is this view that cannot come into focus while you are using. And regardless of what is being reflected back to you, sobriety also influences your hearing. It softly whispers in your ear that you just may be OK after all.