by Jerome, age sixty-five, sober since 1991
My addiction started with alcohol at the age of fourteen. I drank wine with older kids to fit in. Little did I know the road I was headed down. I know now that my low self-esteem was the cause of me not being able to say no and giving in to pressure to drink. I had been an athlete but for some reason I wanted to be like them instead of being myself.
I drank and smoked cigarettes for a year. I then decided to try out for the high school football team, as I always wanted to excel at sports. I found inner peace with practicing my sport. I practiced religiously and stopped drinking and smoking. I became a good quarterback and received a full athletic scholarship to a university. After four years of playing college football and receiving a shoulder injury my senior year, I realized I was not going to play professional football. Here again the inner peace that I longed for was compromised, creating a void within me.
After college, I began hanging with childhood friends when I returned home. I filled my void with drinking and smoking. Then I began snorting cocaine and heroin, hanging out in bars where drug use was common. I began to use heroin intravenously and my world changed. Drugs dominated my life and caused problems in every area. I used heroin for twenty years, had many legal problems, was in several rehabs, and was enrolled in two different methadone maintenance clinics through the duration of this struggle. I rationalized every way possible to keep using drugs. There was a part of me that hated my life and there was a part of me that said it wasn’t so bad once I put my drug of choice in my body.
At the height of my addiction I was drinking a half gallon of wine daily, smoking two packs of cigarettes daily, using ten to fifteen bags of heroin daily, smoking as much crack as I could, and taking 80 mg of methadone daily. After years of hell, I finally embraced recovery.
While in a methadone clinic, I felt so out of control that I asked my counselor to put me in a rehab. She stated that she could not find one with a bed open for a few months. I knew I was doomed if I didn’t get help before that. Finally, after feeling totally out of control and looking at myself in my bathroom mirror, I hit my knees and prayed for help. I was raised in a church and always had that tool, but I never used it until that moment. I surrendered.
The next morning on the way to my methadone clinic, I was arrested for breaking a car window. Nothing serious, but I was taken to jail and could not make bond because I was already on probation. My probation officer said she would not let me out because I had a bed secured for me in a rehab, and it would be better for me to stay there until I could go to rehab. I was furious and scared. I knew I would go through drug withdrawal while in jail, and I knew it would be severe. After several days of living hell, I realized something. I had asked for help. All of a sudden it became clear that this was a perfect plan. “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” No more drugs. Withdrawal was horrible, but I saw a light at the end and I now looked at withdrawal as a test for the reward of recovery. I was ready. My cell mate pulled out a Narcotics Anonymous book. The two of us talked about recovery and I saw drug withdrawal as a bridge to be crossed to reach recovery. I wanted to cross that bridge. I realized that I was given the opportunity I longed for and all I had to do was my part and work hard. The stage was set, the props were there, and I was ready, willing, and able to engage in recovery.
There is no way I could have planned this. I left jail, went to the rehab for thirty days, went to the Salvation Army for work therapy for ninety days, and returned home. I continued to go to meetings and still do so to this day. I take suggestions, read my Just for Today book every morning—my sponsor called it “putting your amour on” before you go to battle—and try to live my life daily, as best I can in a recovery mode. My sponsor told me that if I can’t invest a minute (that’s about how long it takes) each morning reading my Just for Today book, then I don’t deserve to stay clean for twenty-four hours. I make the small investment and have done so every day since and plan to continue going forward. I still avoid high-risk people, places, and things. I stay connected to positive people, those with and without addiction problems. I let others help and support me, and have taken a lot of advice over the years from many people—my sponsor, peers, and others in my life.
I now realize the struggle was internal and the only way to win for me with addiction was to realize that my addiction will always be stronger than my recovery, so I must continue to put on my armor each day and the use my tools of recovery . . . one day at a time. I fight off negative thinking and think things through. I go to meetings and talk to others in recovery. Consistency and discipline help me continue my recovery day by day, even after all of these years. I try not to put my recovery as a low priority and I always use the tools I was taught by others, tools that have worked for years.
For people new to recovery I would say what was said to me: listen to others (professionals, sponsors, peers in recovery, people who care about you), take their advice, do not do it “your way,” but the way that has helped many others. Surrender, which means to accept your addiction and that it has beaten you down, and that you need to learn from the past and move forward, but only with the help of others. Use your spirituality or spiritual beliefs, too. Develop good recovery habits that you follow each day. Be responsible and work your program, don’t just talk about it. Your future can be brighter as your recovery progresses, but you have to do the work. Let me repeat that you have to do the work of recovery as nothing will be handed to you.
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