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The Hope and Hurt: Living and Dying in Addiction

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Waking up in a jail cell with little to no recollection of how you got there really isn't anyone's idea of a good time -- okay, at least it's not most people's idea of a good time. Yet thanks to living in active addiction for many years, I've managed to accomplish this feat on more than a few of occasions.

Recently however, I celebrated two years in recovery, a first in my life since the age of 15. This isn't my first time in recovery, though it's definitely been the longest and most heart-centered attempt I've ever made. I've knocked on death's door numerous times as a result of being an addict and spent more time in detoxes, rehabs, psychiatric hospitals and jails than I care to remember. And yet, for whatever reason, I'm still here, I'm still alive, something so many addicts can't say, as they've lost their lives to this insidious disease.

I attribute the better part of these past two years recovering to something I'm grateful to have finally learned, which I'd let slip through my ears at 12-step meetings for a long time, which is that the healing process (and this goes for both addicts and non-addicts alike) is always, always an inside job. Man, how I wish I let that sink in sooner.

I mean, my head was so far up my ass that I would buy into shit like believing that whenever I'd make it to around six months clean, and began getting material things back in my life like a job, car, apartment and so forth, that I was fine, I was cured. I had the warped idea that I was "recovering" because I was staying abstinent from mind-altering substances, had money coming in through steady work and was somewhat accountable to people... so yes, in my mind I was recovering all right, except the thing was, I wasn't, not even a little.

Sure, I was going to some 12-step meetings and learned to talk the talk, but by keeping my "recovery" material-based and never cultivating the courage to look at the real problem -- the residual mental, emotional and spiritual mess left over inside -- I was only prolonging the inevitable, which was relapsing into using again.

Today, however, while recognizing that recovery is literally only a day at a time reprieve, I've finally come to know better. Through 12-step fellowships (complimented by various external spiritual teachings and practices) I've learned that in order to heal, I have to fearlessly, and intimately, sift through the wreckage of my past -- something that can be terribly fucking scary, difficult and unpleasant. However, in order to have a fighting chance at saving my life, this is a decision that has to be made, and today I choose life. I choose to be fearless in the face of adversity.

I feel blessed to be a part of the miracle of recovery, a miracle that continues to unfold not only in my life, but countless other lives around the world as well, which is a truly beautiful thing. At the same time however, the nightmare of addiction is still very much alive for many suffering addicts -- and not only the addicts themselves, but their loved ones too, who can do little more than watch helplessly as the life of the person they love slowly deteriorates into a shell of a being before their eyes.

In 12-step fellowships there's a saying, "we do recover," which I love because it's a beacon of hope for the hopeless and I remind myself of this saying quite often. At the same time, to say, "we die" would be just as accurate of a statement. Morbid as it may be, it's the reality of this disease. I've seen so many wonderful lives end before their time and it's heartbreaking, but in order to keep my recovery in check, I can't forget this sad truth because if I do, I could easily be the next to join them.

At times I experience feelings of guilt for still being alive while so many others aren't, but it's at those times I have to give myself a harsh reality check and recognize that while yes, I've done some terrible things in my life while under the influence, I've now also been blessed with the opportunity to help others possibly save their lives as well, and for me, there's no greater gift than this... the chance to help others help themselves.

Two minutes, two days, two months, two years, 22 years... it's all a miracle when it comes to recovery, but in reality, and as cliché as this may sound, all we have is this moment, and it's up to us, and only us, to decide how we're going to live it. Ken Wilber, while not specifically addressing the disease of addiction, but spirituality in general (which goes hand in hand, as far as I'm concerned), laid it out clear as day for us when he wrote:

Nobody will save you but you. You alone have to engage your own contemplative development. There is all sorts of help available, and all sorts of good agency to quicken this development, but nobody can do it for you. And if you do not engage this development, and on your deathbed you confess and scream out for help to God, nothing is going to happen. Spiritual development is not a matter of mere belief. It is a matter of actual, prolonged difficult growth, and merely professing belief is meaningless and without impact. It's like smoking for 20 years, then saying, "Sorry, I quit." That will not impress cancer. Reality, in other words, is not interested in your beliefs; it's interested in your actions, what you actually do, your actual karma.

And so it's with all of this being said that I hope anyone who's struggling (addicts and non-addicts alike) and has read these words finds some semblance of hope in them, or, at the very least, learned a bit from my own past mistakes to help save some time and pain in your own recovery process... because we're all human, we're all recovering from something and we've all hurt enough already, haven't we?

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

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