I wish that I could have somehow convinced myself to get a glimpse into the future when I was still struggling with my addiction.
I sat on the fence for a long time, trying to figure out if I should keep trying to find “happiness” through self medicating with booze and drugs, or if I should just surrender and throw in the towel and try to give recovery a chance.
Honestly I did not even believe that real recovery was possible for me. I was scared of AA meetings. I did not think that I could really be “taught” to somehow enjoy sobriety. I was too darn smart for my own good, and it was killing me. Why couldn’t I just dumb down, go to AA, and learn how to be happy?
So I continued to struggle for some time–several more years in fact. My goal was to find “happiness” through substance abuse, which obviously was not working out well for me, and in fact it continued to get worse and worse over time. The amount of time that I actually was happy while “partying” became less and less over the years. In the end, I was miserable nearly all of the time, in spite of my denial that was telling me that I could be happy at any given moment simply by using drugs and alcohol. For some reason I kept believing this lie, even though it no longer served me.
Luckily I finally reached the point of ultimate surrender, which was really the point of maximum misery. At that time I really had no great hope that I was ever going to be happy in my life, but I knew that I was sick and tired of being miserable, and I was willing to “risk” giving recovery another chance.
I really felt like it was a risk, too. I felt like if I went back to rehab again for 28 days, then I would somehow “miss out” on 28 days of “partying” and possibly getting high and having a great time.
This is, at best, delusional thinking. I was completely miserable nearly 100 percent of the time in my everyday existence by that point. I had great memories of getting high and drunk, of “partying” and being happy all the time, but by this point in my disease I was just a miserable mess of a human being. And yet my brain was somehow worried that if I went to rehab and got clean and sober that I would be missing out on some amazing “party” where I could be on this perfect mix of being drunk, high, in control, and having fun–all at the same time. Just like I used to be when I first started drinking and getting high. Back when it was fun and easy and light. Back when no one got hurt, and I was actually enjoying myself, and I wasn’t just desperately self medicating myself into oblivion every night.
So I “risked” going to rehab one more time, and I just so happened to be desperate enough for it to work. It worked because I surrendered completely and I allowed myself to be directed. I was finally willing to listen, even though I was not really sure that going to AA and rehab would make me happy in the end. But I was out of options, out of good ideas, and I knew that self medicating would only lead me to misery. I finally saw past the denial to this simple truth. It really was the drugs and the booze that was the problem. Somehow, I could finally accept that. My denial was broken at last, and I went to rehab again.
Slowly, very slowly at first, I started to rebuild my life. I was not instantly happy on this journey. I can recall being a few months sober and throwing myself down on a bed and crying like a little kid at one point, because I really thought it was hopeless for a moment. I can remember having a huge amount of despair at that point, thinking that I would probably end up drinking again at some point.
But I held on. I held on and I kept trying, as they say in the program, to “do the next right thing.” And there were times during my early recovery that were really tough. Times when I felt hopeless, or very close to completely hopeless. There were times when my early recovery just plain sucked.
At some point, when I wasn’t really paying attention, things got better. The reason that I don’t think I noticed is because, after feeling miserable for a while, I just felt “okay.” I felt normal. Status quo. Nothing special.
What I did not realize is that I was on an upward trend that was going to end with an amazing life, full of meaningful relationships, challenging and exciting personal growth, and purposeful work that kept me engaged and happy.
I could not see the end point, I could not see the upward trend, I did not realize just how high the ceiling went in this recovery thing I was doing.
When you are moving from a zero to a three or four on the scale, you don’t really know what a nine or a ten looks like, or what it would feel like. You look out at a seven or an eight and believe it is out of reach. You don’t realize that if you keep working at this recovery thing that eventually you will hit a nine or a ten, and that your life will be delightful and amazing one day.
So this is the progress report for 17 years into my sobriety: Life is amazing today, and it just keeps getting better and better. And I don’t want you to think that it takes decades to reach this point, because I felt much the same way when I had under 2 years sober.
I am grateful for the challenges today. I am grateful for the life lessons, for the opportunity to learn, to experience, to live sober. I am grateful for all of it, and I am still excited to experience more of life sober.
And through it all, in spite of all the toil and the misery and the chaos that my life in addiction has produced, I can look back and be grateful for the addiction itself, because it brought me to this path of personal growth. If I had remained a “normal” person without my addiction, would I really be striving this hard for personal growth today? Would I be actively trying to improve myself and who I am as a person? I don’t necessarily think I would. So I can be grateful for the addiction and for the hardship, because it brought me to an appreciation, and it gave me a path of learning and opportunity.
The message is simple: Keep striving. Keep trying to find sobriety. Keep trying to find the path to a better life. Surrender completely, give yourself over to a program, and eventually you will look back with gratitude. Good luck!