Reader Mailbag – What Major Factor am I Missing in Recovery?

Reader Mailbag – What Major Factor am I Missing in Recovery?


A reader (we will just call him “G” for anonymity) writes in and says:

….As soon as I drive by the “hood” where I know I can get pills, it never fails and I end up getting more, even though at the same time I’m telling myself I feel just fine and I know I don’t need them. I know all the issues I create by being on them, and I hurt the one person who means the most to me – my fiancee.

And you would think that when I lost my mother 23 years ago at the age of 10 to an overdose of pain pills, that it would give me a reason to quit. I just can’t figure out the connection of where I know I can quit and stay clean vs getting high.

I have put my woman through this over 10 times in the last 2 years, and despite all the heartache and anger it has caused, she has still stayed with me. I have her and our 6 year old daughter to think about. I have been selfish in doing so.

While I do not want or intend to hurt them, inevitably it ends up doing so. I have been given so much in my life but yet I do not feel like I deserve anything. So here I am yet again being high on opiate pills, yet again causing problems in my relationship and left wondering where this will take me.

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I have experienced every sort of emotion, every problem cause and effect, and every other thing addicts have experienced. I want to get clean and stay clean. I need to do it for myself first and foreost, but most importantly I need to do it for my family.

I don’t know what else I have to do short of moving away from it all. So I ask you if there is anything I am missing, or what key I should take from all this. I am at the end of my rope. I would go to a detox, but I have neither the money nor the time to do so as I have so many responsibilities. I know I can get clean….I know I can. But the major factor is how do I keep myself from going back?

Well G I am going to take your concerns on a point by point basis and just give my opinions on them. Keep in mind that these are just my initial reactions and strictly my own opinions….I am not an expert or a counselor or anything (though I believe I can relate to you quite a bit!).

KEY POINT: The attitude towards recovery and treatment

Ultimately I believe that I have been right where you are at, G, and I think you are right at the point of surrender. The reason that I say that is because you mention that you are “at the end of your rope.” On the other hand, it does sound to me like you have something holding you back, and I can definitely relate to this part.

Let me tell you a story about my own recovery process.

I was drinking and using drugs myself for many years, and at one point I went to a rehab center long before I was really willing to change my life and get clean. So I got some exposure to treatment and to rehab and I sort of saw what it was all about. I knew that serious treatment required a serious effort and a huge time commitment. I knew that some people even were so desperate as to live in rehab for long periods of time. When I first learned about long term treatment I was baffled….why would anyone live in rehab? My thought was: “You may as well just go to prison!” That was my attitude toward treatment in general. I saw it as a punishment and a serious disruption in life, one that was meant to be avoided at all costs.

Now the problem here was not a lack of treatment on my part, my problem was my attitude toward treatment. I had it all backwards. I really believed that my current life was precious and that my time was precious, even though I was miserable due to my addiction and my life was spinning out of control. And yet I clung to the belief that my time was precious and that if I had to serve a month in jail that would be a disaster and the ultimate punishment, because how cruel it would be for the world to lock me up when I all I really wanted was to be happy. Who in their right mind would punish me with treatment, I thought, especially with long term rehab that lasted for months and months? How cruel! But like I said, I had it all backwards.

Second key point in this attitude thing:

I really believed that my life was of critical importance and that what I did on a daily or weekly basis was ultra important. I felt that I had responsibilities in my life and that no one else could possibly step in and take over for me. If I were to die then the world would just fall apart. Or if I were to live in long term rehab, then who would pay my bills? I can tell that you have some of the same concerns and you need to realize that you have it all wrong, you have it backwards, and that you need to change your thinking on this.

Right now you are trapped in addiction and you are spiraling out of control. Really, it is a spiral progression of sorts. Things get worse, then they get a little better, then they get a little worse, then they get better again, but all the while the whole addiction thing is slowly spiraling towards greater chaos, disruption, and misery. The consequences will get worse and worse over time, but sometimes this happens very slowly. Things might get better temporarily but ultimately things always get worse if you continue to self medicate.

So seriously, you need to accept this universal truth of addiction and really own it, because I do not believe that you are quite there yet. Your addiction is getting worse and it will continue to do so until you are dead or in jail. Think about that for a moment, and the ramifications of that on your family.

The reason I say that you and I both have it backwards is because we both wanted to “save face” by avoiding treatment in order to fulfill all of our responsibilities in the real world and provide for our families and so on. But the part we were both missing is the PROGRESSION of the disease. Addiction is progressive. It always gets worse over time, never better. Any time it seems to get better is just a temporary illusion.

So perhaps you still have a job and you are still holding things together and providing for your family right now. Perhaps things are still going well enough that you can continue to relapse here and there and still use your drug of choice and still hold down a job. Maybe you have never lost a job due to your addiction.

They have a word for this state of affairs, and the word is “yet.” Losing your job or a source of income is just another “yet.” It has not happened to you yet, but it will if you continue to use drugs and alcohol. This is another universal truth about addiction–all of those terrible “what ifs” eventually come true, if you continue on the path of addiction and abuse. They always come true eventually, or something even worse takes the place of one of your “yets.”

So I am not trying to be fatalistic here, and I am not trying to scare you into taking action in order to conquer your addiction, all I am pointing out is the progressive nature of addiction and how that applies to your situation. I did the same thing when I was still using drugs, I was holding things together and I still had a job and I could not see the point of going to rehab or of living in long term treatment. I said to such suggestions: “Are you crazy? I still have a decent job, I make money and I pay my bills and I am doing OK, so why would I throw away this job and ditch all of my responsibilities to go to rehab for 28 days or even longer? That doesn’t make sense!”

So it did not make sense to me at the time because I was still stuck in denial. My addiction was “not that bad” and the idea of going to rehab was too severe, too extreme for me to consider. But the part I was missing was the progressive nature of the disease, and the fact that it was going to kill me or land me in jail at some point.

In the face of extreme consequences (like death or prison) the idea of going to rehab is trivial. In fact, the idea of living in long term treatment for a year or two is also quite trivial compared to the extreme consequences of addiction.

G, you say that you cannot even go to detox, for fear that your responsibilities would not get handled. You have it backwards, you are missing the point. Stop and think for a moment if you overdosed and died from your addiction. Stop and really consider that for a moment. Or if you ended up in prison because you were high on pills and something unfortunate happened. Really stop and consider these outcomes, because they are real possibilities. In fact most people would argue that such possibilities are certain to occur IF you continue to abuse drugs. It is not a question of if they will happen or not, it is only a question of “when.”

So the idea that you cannot afford (in time or money) to go to detox is laughable in the face of these consequences. How bad does it have to get before you become willing to take action? The world hates an “I told you so” but just picture the drug addict who has overdosed and tragically died and that addict had been arguing that they could not go to detox for whatever reasons. Their excuses are lame in the face of death, they could have walked into a homeless shelter in some cities and begged for help and they would have received treatment. Almost anyone can qualify for help or rehab in some way if they are willing to explore their options and ask for help. Perhaps you lack insurance. Perhaps you lack Medicaid, Medicare, you have no money at all, you have no insurance, nothing at all. In my state such people can still go to rehab for free just based on a phone call and a quick application over the phone (the state funds their treatment in such cases).

So what I am saying here is that you have to shift your attitude, much in the same way that I once had to shift my own attitude toward treatment. At one point I had to drop the idea that my job was so important, or that the world could not function if I lost my income, or that the world could not function if I was in rehab for a month. I had to drop all of those excuses and say “OK, I am ready to change my life. I am willing to check out of life and check into rehab for whatever length of time they suggest. Please show me how to live without drugs.”

And I had to say this without reservation. I could not say “but don’t tell me to go to rehab for 28 days, all I can do is 5 days or so.” I could not put conditions on it like “Don’t tell me that I need long term rehab, because that is just crazy and you may as well live in prison for a year, how stupid could I be to go waste a year of my life in long term rehab!”

When it came time for me to surrender, I could not say things like that or put conditions on my recovery. That was my old way of thinking and my old way of living and that was part of what kept me trapped in addiction.

I had to shift my attitude and this meant that I had to surrender at some point. I had to say “The world will be OK without me for a while, I need to go get clean and sober and learn how to live or I am gonna die.” That was the truth that I had to wrap my brain around.

The connection with your past and your mother

This same thing plays out a million times over, and I have met enough people in recovery to see the pattern. People suffer addiction or abuse in their past when they are children, and they learn to hate it, then they fall into the trap when they get older and they become what they most despise. It happens over and over again, I think it may be a universal struggle. We become our parents and fight many of the same battles that they fought.

Your outcome though is not tied to anyone else’s outcome. Your mom could have found sobriety and recovery, and you could have never found recovery at all. You both had a tendency towards addiction but each of you has (and had) your own battle to fight and the outcome of that is entirely up to you. If you want to be clean and sober then you have the power to do so. I think you already realize this, that you might end up following in your mother’s footsteps but you also realize that it is a choice. You do not have to stay stuck in addiction.

Instead you can ask for help, and get treatment. You just have to smash through your excuses and fully surrender first. You can choose to do so, and then you can have an awesome new life for yourself. You do not have to ride your addiction out to the end. You can change your path to a more positive one.

Knowing that you are hurting your fiancee more than anyone else

This is tough and I know how you feel. You are torn between not wanting to hurt others, but feeling trapped in that you have to self medicate. This is addiction. You are using drugs against your own will.

There is only one way to resolve this. You must surrender and ask for help and seek treatment.

I can easily picture your life in the future after doing this. You will go through a transitional phase where you go to rehab. Your life will shift around and you may start going to meetings after rehab. Things will get better and slowly you will build a new life. You will realize that all of your excuses that kept you out of detox and treatment were just that–excuses. And your relationship with your fiancee will be much better than you could ever predict right now.

There are other paths that might change your relationship with your fiancee, but none of them are as positive as this potential path. If you surrender, ask for help, and start working on recovery and becoming a better person, then your relationship with her will flourish.

Hurting your family and feeling that it is selfish to do so

Again, I know the feeling. You feel selfish because you have to use drugs. This is addiction. The only way to resolve this is to ask for help and stop depending on drugs in order to feel normal. So long as you keep self medicating, you will feel selfish and continue to hurt your family.

Done everything short of moving away from it all

I felt the same way because I had been to residential treatment twice (28 days or less) and nothing had worked for me.

Eventually I did “move away from it all” by living in long term rehab for 20 months. Turns out this was the best decision I ever made.

G, you talk about “The key point that you must be missing in all of this.” To me it is fairly obvious because I was once in your shoes: you need treatment. And I was in the same position and I had been to treatment a few times and so what I really needed was MORE treatment.

Number one, I needed to really surrender, something I had not done in the past. And two, I needed to accept the fact that I needed more treatment. I had to ask for help. I had to go to rehab and follow through. It really was as simple as that. I had to get serious about overcoming my addiction, and I had to be willing to change my ideas about treatment. I had thought that long term rehab was like a prison, and I had to be miserable enough in my addiction to go check into long term rehab anyway. That is the point of surrender, where you are willing to give up everything in order to change. I was at that point and it was then that I realized the world could go on just fine without me.

How to ultimately keep yourself from going back to drugs

I think you are underestimating how much change is really required, G.

You need to take massive action. Your whole life needs to change. Going to rehab for 28 days or more is nothing–it is just a tiny blip on the map. It is tough to realize this when you are still stuck in addiction. But after a year or two of recovery you can easily look back and agree with this idea.

The thing you are missing, G, is to take massive action for your recovery. Don’t think of making small, subtle changes. Think bigger.


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