This is the first article in a large series I am doing about my own personal journey to recovery.
I will do my best to give an honest assessment of what my life was really like in active addiction, what changed, and how things progressed in my journey to recovery.
The value of the personal recovery journey to others
My hope is that this will provide value to people who are not sure about their own recovery process, or who may still be stuck in active addiction and unsure of how to take their first steps towards recovery.
My own path has both some “traditional elements” in it as well as some unique ideas. For example, I went to rehab a few times along my journey and I even stayed in long term treatment for several months. On the other hand, I do not really follow a twelve step program or depend on social support for my continued sobriety. So parts of my journey are fairly traditional and predictable while other parts of it are somewhat unique.
It is easy for someone to simply say “if you are an addict, then get help and go to rehab.” But this does not really convey much confidence or assurance that this is really the best path for anyone. Instead, what I want to do here is actually tell my story and illustrate the progression that I went through.
Typically the addict or alcoholic is going through all sorts of emotional turmoil when it comes to their decision to get clean and sober. They may be on the edge of surrender, knowing that their life is a train wreck and wanting to take action to fix it, but not really believing that rehab can help them for whatever reason. They may believe that they are unique in that they are only ones who have been hopelessly addicted to a chemical before, and that there is no way that they could ever surrender to their disease and overcome it.
My goal with this series is to illustrate my own emotional turmoil and my own internal battle with addiction to help show the struggling addict or alcoholic that they are not crazy and that they CAN get help.
Finding out what works and what does not through real world experience
My journey from the beginning of my active addiction up to my present day life in recovery is not well described as a straight line of neat little events. Instead, it is more like a pinball shooting through a pinball machine, bouncing around and going through all sorts of different experiences.
Part of the reason for this is because recovery is not necessarily a set path for every person. Instead it is a process and a journey. For people on the outside who have never experienced recovery from addiction, it may appear to be something of a one time event. The person is addicted, and then they discover recovery and they quit. End of story.
Of course in the real world recovery is not like that at all. It is not a one time event, and any addict or alcoholic who has found long term sobriety can tell you that their recovery is a lifelong, ongoing process and that even getting to a point of stable recovery was a long journey and a process in itself.
Part of this process and journey is in finding what works for us in overcoming our addiction. Most people “test the waters” of recovery a few times before they finally “get it” and stay clean and sober for good. Telling my story here will help to illustrate that this was a process for me, that recovery was not a one time event, that it did not just happen one day and end up being delivered into my life like this neat and tidy experience. Instead, the recovery journey is a lifelong process in which you are going to have to experiment and try some different things in order to discover what really works for you.
A personal journey can illustrate the progress from hopeless addict to a stable and happy life in recovery
If you are still stuck in active addiction, it can be difficult to imagine what your life will be like if you were to be happy and stable in recovery while being clean and sober. Or rather, that is actually pretty easy to imagine, but it seems like a fantasy world because you may not even believe it is possible for yourself to achieve.
The tricky thing is not actually living a clean and sober life where you are happy. The tricky part is “how do you even get there?” How do you arrive at that point? What is the progression? How can a person who is trapped in active addiction really achieve that sort of life transformation?
Telling my story in great detail is going to be an attempt to show this progression and this transformation. Many outsiders may believe that the typical path to transforming your life would involve the twelve steps of AA, and I am sure that this is the case for some people. But my journey in recovery involves a more holistic approach that did not really focus on the 12 step program. So this is one of the “alternative aspects” of my own story and will hopefully help to illustrate how someone can recover in a non-traditional manner.
We relate to stories and find hope in them
Hopefully when you read my story you will be able to relate to parts of it. Hopefully you will read some of it and say “hey, that sounds a lot like my life, because this is exactly how I felt!” Then you can gain hope from the story I am telling, because the overall outcome of my journey has been very positive.
Look for the similarities in your own life and your own journey while reading this series. Doing so will give you a lot of value and a lot of hope for your own recovery.
What I plan to detail in this recovery journey story
1) Background information and starting from the very, very beginning. I think it is important to give plenty of background detail so that people can relate more fully to the story and see the full evolution of how addiction came to be.
2) The discovery of drugs and the early stages of my addiction and what my thought process was at the time. Also how I justified my using behavior to myself in my early addiction.
3) How my addiction progressed from being fun to being a necessary part of my life. Also how I experimented with other drugs and how I justified further experimenting.
4) My early encounters with treatment and getting help before I had fully surrendered (and thus had no intention of really stopping yet). How treatment failed for me, and why.
5) My denial and how I justified my addiction to myself. My fear of treatment and AA meetings and my “permanent” stance against them in active addiction.
6) My emotional struggle with addiction and recovery and how I finally broke through my own denial.
7) Early recovery and my agreement to get treatment and do whatever it took to get clean and sober.
8) The important mental arrangement I made with myself and my highest truth: don’t take a drink or a drug no matter what.
9) Living in long term rehab and what that was like and how it helped me.
10) Sponsorship, stepwork, and twelve step recovery for me in the first two years of my sobriety. Watching nearly everyone relapse.
11) Transitioning away from “mainstream” recovery and finding my own path, feeling guilty and bad for years while diverging away from mainstream recovery circles.
12) Discovering exercise and fitness as one of the main pillars of my recovery.
13) Documenting my alternate path and attempting to help others outside of traditional twelve step recovery.
14) My journey in working at a drug and alcohol detox center for several years and how this impacted my recovery.
The traditional format for telling our recovery story is to say “this is what it was like in my addiction, this is what happened, and this is what it is like now.”
Thus we can give our story of addiction and people can relate to that part a lot and say “yes, they were addicted just like I am.”
Then we can tell “what happened” and this is sort of the progression of our disease to the moment of our surrender, when we finally broke through our denial and decided to ask for help. Most people gloss over this part and do not give nearly enough helpful detail here.
Finally we tell “what it is like now” in our lives, now that we are living a clean and sober life in recovery, and thus we can try to give the newcomer or the struggling addict hope that it can get better. My intention in telling “what it is like now” is also to give some instruction on how I actually maintain my sobriety for over a decade + now.
Part of what amazed me in early recovery was the incredible rate of failure that I witnessed all around me in early recovery. People relapsed. A lot. Maybe this was because I was living in long term treatment at what was also a short term rehab center, but I was just astounded at how many people relapsed in early recovery. If you go to meetings then you have heard all of these horror stories and statistics yourself, that only a very small percentage of addicts and alcoholics “make it” in recovery, and so on.
I think a big part of my story is that I lived in long term rehab for almost the entire first two years of my recovery journey. This was a defining time in my journey because I was soaking up so much information, I was observing so many different people in recovery, and I was able to form so many powerful conclusions based on what I was observing. My conclusions while living in long term rehab and being fully immersed in twelve step recovery would probably shock most people. Basically I concluded that it was a mistake to depend on traditional recovery, that it was a mistake to depend on the social solution that was mainstream AA and NA, and that most people who did so had a very high probability of relapse.
To me it was shocking in early recovery to look up to people in the program who “talked a good game” that eventually relapsed. This was devastating to me. It rocked my foundations in early recovery because–initially–I went to 12 step meetings, watched people who seemed to have it all going good and talked a great game, and I imagined that if I was going to remain clean and sober that I would have to become like they were. I would have to learn “recovery speak” and I would have to talk a good game in these AA meetings and I would have to sound like I knew what the heck I was doing in my recovery. I really believed (at first) that this was the secret to recovery, because this is what I was exposed to. I was told to go to meetings and I was told that the twelve step program was my salvation, so I really believed that I would have to emulate these “winners” who attended these meetings and were so good at talking and delivering nice speeches about recovery.
But my story evolves and changes along the way because I watched so many of these people in AA relapse. And I just kept getting more and more astounded by these relapses because many of them were from people who really talked a good game in the meetings, they really made nice speeches and shared great ideas. And so I started basing my ideas about recovery based on actions, not on words, and I started really looking at people who were living sober and not just talking about it.
In fact, I quickly stopped listening to people who “talked a good game” in recovery altogether, and instead I started pursuing my own personal growth in recovery. I sort of made this internal decision that amounted to this sort of internal dialogue:
“OK, I originally thought that the whole secret was to go to these meetings and give a nice speech and talk real good about my recovery program. Now I can see that most people who do that and who depend on these meetings for their sobriety eventually relapse. I do not want to relapse and I do not really care if I can talk real nice in meetings and convince other people that I am working a good recovery program. Instead of talking about recovery I would much rather actually live a successful program and get the good results and stay strong in my sobriety. Instead of talking a good game in meetings I want to live the program successfully and be happy and remain sober.”
This evolution in my thinking led me to make some tough choices and to eventually take “the road less traveled.” I felt extremely bad and guilty when I made these decisions but I will go into all of that in more detail when I tell my full story. Needless to say, I am glad that I made those hard choices and I am glad that I found my own path in recovery.
So there are several points in my story that make it unconventional, but I am starting to suspect that most people who experience long term success in recovery have an unconventional story as well. For example, most people probably do not live in long term rehab, most people do not start their own recovery website, and most people probably do not rely on exercise as one of the foundations of their recovery.
On the other hand, the people who stick to a boring and traditional path in recovery probably do not make it in long term sobriety until they find their own path. I think part of the secret to long term success is in finding what works for YOU. We are all individuals and there is clearly not a set path to success in overcoming addiction. Some people seem to respond well to a social solution that relies heavily on support, while other people may shun that tactic and rely more on personal growth. And still other people may find that something like proper nutrition may play a huge role in their recovery process. We just do not really know yet and the study of overcoming addiction is still in its infancy.
The journey to recovery
So follow along with my journey if you like and listen to my full story. It will probably take about fifteen to twenty articles like this to tell the whole thing and really dive into the details. Like I said I am going to try very hard to go into the mindsets, the thought processes, the logic, the emotions, and the attitudes that led me to make the decisions that I made.
It does no good to tell the struggling addict “just go to rehab, ask for help, that is how you change your life.” Such advice is nearly worthless even though it may contain the solution. If it were that easy then the struggling addict or alcoholic would simply go get the help that they need. But they struggle with it because it is scary to get clean and sober, it is scary to face life without your drug of choice, and it is scary to go to rehab or walk into an AA meeting. I know it is scary and I remember those fears and I want to detail exactly how I was finally able to overcome them.
I also want to explain how I was able to find my own unique path in recovery, one that does not require me to go to meetings on a regular basis or rely on social support for my continued sobriety. This was probably my biggest fear when I was still stuck in addiction because I was terrified of meetings and did not want to have to face them and speak at them in order to remain clean and sober.
If there is enough interest this series can be packaged up as a full eBook (in PDF format) and made available for free download after it is fully written. Expect another piece of the story each day and keep checking back here to read more of it. Thanks for following along and good luck to everyone on their journey.
P.S. If you see any similarities with your own recovery journey, let us know in the comments below. Thanks!