Hard won experience shows us that as long as we are clean (drug free) we have SOMETHING to be grateful for every day. Even if being drug free did not magically make all our problems go away, using would just compound them. Eventually, we will have enough clean time to make amends to those we owe. There is no shortcut to cleaning up our wreckage of the past. Addiction was a daily suicide, and its effect on our lives show that. Rebuilding a life that burned more bridges than the Luftwaffe is by its very nature a difficult task. Expect it to take some time, and for it to suffer setbacks. Eventually making amends will be more a process than a goal. Some folks are quick to forgive, some want to see years of abstinence, some could care less as long as you pay them back the money owed. If you stay clean long enough, folks come around and your level of recovery and support will cover the wreckage of the past. If the rewards seem rare, and year’s later life still seems a mess, take a step back and grab a pen. Use that pen to write down what you have now and make an honest comparison against where you were in life when you said, “Enough is enough.” Facing problems without the crutch of drugs eventually becomes a rewarding experience.
The first thing we forget about is the worst part of being a junkie. That is right, being dope sick. Even with a dozen years clean, life has its hassles. Some, like maybe a criminal record or an estranged family, are directly result of using. These ones allow a desire to use to sneak into our daily lives. Before that desire gets a foothold, try to remember the 36 hour mark of when we got clean. G-d, in whatever form you chose to call your Higher Power gave us humans quite a gift in ‘selective memories’. Sometimes this selective memory is great. If we all remembered, pain fresh as the day received, we would surely go mad. Sometimes it is a little more ambiguous when girlfriends of the past become prettier, the infantry was not as bad as it seemed, or jail/prison was not that bad. Same thing applies when we think of our ‘using’ days. The ones leading to the end of that way of life for us are sometimes the first forgotten. Especially when we have enough clean time to take it for granted. Couple that with the feeling we will never clear up our wreckage and trouble may be brewing.
As often cited in the fellowship that deals with addiction, everyone had hit a different ‘bottom’ before doing something about the monkey on our back. Some blew out in a spectacularly bad way; others just bounced checks until the constables showed up. Some of us sold our bodies, well rented are a little more accurate, while others sold their grandparents furniture when they were on vacation. Some of us merely lied to ourselves while others ruined life-long friendships. The point is being clean and staying that way must be its own reward if we wish to be in that magical 5% that truly does keep that monkey at bay. As much as we would love to tell the newcomer the magical recovery fairy is going to come once you get clean, we know that would be a lie and a disservice to them. So what does help clear up ‘the wreckage of the past’? Before we do a little more exploration of wreckage, and/or making amends, one point cannot be over stressed:
NOTHING WILL EVER GET BETTER IF WE USE drugs at any stage of the game.
So we have been out of rehab for a couple months and have found some meetings we like. Trial, error, and time shows us who is talking smack, who is sincere, an all the shades in between. We may even have found a sponsor and a home group this time out. “When does life start getting better?” That question creeps up a good bit now. Look around, because incremental changes are hard to see. Heck, they can be impossible to see without the right attitude and perspective. “6 months outta the joint and this glow in the dark key tag is all I got” a one-time sponsee shared with me. I sympathized. 6 YEARS clean and wreckage still rears its ugly Gorgon like visage, aiming its glowing eyes into my life. It’s sometimes like being Perseus, except on a weekly basis. The big difference is that I Andromeda’s place, our sanity, freedom, and clean date is chained to that rock. To torture that metaphor a little more, we can use that chain and rock to our advantage.
Anytime it seems like life has NOT improved since we got clean, try the following. As mentioned earlier on, pleasure is remembered far more vividly than pain. Try to remember a rough sketch of how we felt the second day of starting our new rug-free life. Whether it was pacing in a holding cell, a hospital room, or the hallway of a domiciliary, the shakes and runny nose (more like a spigot) alone should make today seem a little better. Throw in memories of clothes that felt like a hair shirt and sleep an ideal more than a noun. Our current wishes, by comparison, should be considerably more mature than our early prayers just for the sickness to stop. We used drugs to hide from life, whatever the reasons were. Problems do not magically go away because we are clean. No one holds a parade for people who never became a junkie. It is pretty childish to expect one because we are no longer junkies. The previous statement may read (and sound) harsh. Sometimes the truth, like life, can be harsh.
Whenever some of us start to make amends, there are a couple assumptions that should be dropped with quickness. Foremost is that life is now Candy land because we are clean. That is druggy thinking to be sure. Just as hollow and rotting as skag itself are the thoughts of life being magically trouble-free. Just because we are now taking an earnest stab at living like the rest of the human race does not earn us any medals. Indeed, our very existence may never be more difficult than it is now, over half a decade of recovery notwithstanding, but we are free of drugs. Even if we lose lifelong friends because of things out of our control, we face life on its own terms. That is the only way we will make it to the next battle.
It has been a tough for me to put some of the previous stuff on paper. I am becoming a stranger to my children, primarily due to lack of work. I lost the trust of a life long friend because of someone in the program that I trusted a little too quickly. Finally, I took my own advice and did the old ‘stiff upper lip’, quit moping, and wrote today’s article. As regular readers know, I do not advocate any particular fellowship or 12 step program. Whatever keeps you clean is fine by me, not that you require my blessings. With that little disclaimer, I would like to share something from the current edition of Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text. Midway towards the bottom of page 102 is a section that sums things up nicely. “Some of us, even after years of recovery, found ourselves jobless, homeless or penniless. We entertained the thought that staying clean was not paying off, and the old thinking stirred up self-pity, resentment, and anger.” (Narcotics Anonymous “Basic Text” Sixth Edition, NAWS, Inc. Chatsworth, California. Quote cited as a ‘reasonable use’ source.)
So now we know that we are truly not alone in those situations nor in the emotions they cause. Staying clean can be a lonely business, especially those who come here for their fellowship. Waiting for our lives to become ‘right’, whatever that is, solely from not using is wishful thinking. Life is tough, life as a junkie is so much tougher. We do not need drugs to face life anymore than we need diapers to go outside. Once that is accepted, everything else will come in its due time. I try to respond to emails within 24 hours and usually do. There was an area retreat last weekend so I am a little behind. It truly is an honor to receive letters generated by these articles and I never ‘blow’ anyone off. Speaking of letters, I received one that had some excellent questions, the most relevant asking about the traditions regarding anonymity and this series of articles.
The simplest explanation for why I am not violating the anonymity of the fellowship(s) is that I represent neither of them. Nor do I make any claims to. I am simply trying to allow others to use the internet and email to get clean without the need for another person to know about it. The reason I recommend readers to join a 12 step group is because that is how I stay clean. I am friends with a handful of people who have wicked drugs, never attend any sort of meetings and are still clean. That being said, I am NOT one of those folks. It would be disingenuous for me to write about getting and staying clean without giving some sort of credit to the first two 12 step programs. I hope that clears up any concerns about me violating any of the traditions. Thanks for taking the time to read this, feel free to email me, and have a great week.