The hardest part of my fall from grace was not the next day or the day after. The hardest part is when I could not run away anymore. I could not deny what I had done
I held on to the secret of my relapse like a dirty lie that continued to whisper in my ear. Six months away the farm, and I gave in. The actual time of my relapse happened long before I found myself on Rockaway Parkway in a minivan filled with stolen equipment. There were steps leading up to my failure. There were obvious warning signs, but noticing them meant I would have to do something about. Noticing the signs I saw meant I would have to face some painful truths.
When asked about this time in my life, I always explain that I lost to my addiction the same way water loses to a drain. I began losing when I failed to deal with my symptoms. I pushed away. I allowed small things or tiny arguments to build into huge resentments. I began to rationalize and justify my behavior. I came up with excuses of why I could bend the rules to suit my needs. I lost the ability to be honest with myself. Besides, I preferred to submerge in the lies because they felt better than painful facts. I lost my drive and sought through different ways ease the building tension.
This is when my relapse began
I began to look away from the lessons I was taught. At first, I slipped away in inches—eventually, those inches grew into feet and the next thing I knew—I was miles away from who I was or where I needed to be. I lost sight of what I gained. I was angry and resentful; however, I was also ashamed of my behavior. And shame is terrible. Shame is what causes us to find ways to compensate. Shame is food to our demons. And my demons fed very well.
Fallen from grace, I was faced with the truth of my failures. I was faced with the fact that addiction is very real and I gave away something so valuable. I gave away the accomplishment of my clean time. I gave up the recognition that I was no longer a street kid or a junkie.
After a 24 hour binge, my lips were burned from a glass pipe. My eyes looked wired and I twitched. My jaw clenched shut and grinded back and forth. The following morning, I saw myself in the mirror and the image was horrifying. It was no different from the last time I was high. My eyes were electrified and possessed with a narcotic fury. I looked desperate and murderous. I looked as if all the changes I had made vanished and I was nothing more than worthless junkie.
My heart was pounding in my chest. I felt that same numbness and the unforgettable urge that comes with the cocaine crash. I felt the cocaine bugs weaving through my brain and consuming pieces of my sanity.
I lost what I had gained. I threw away my sobriety and the trust I restored. I sabotaged my self-respect, and though more than one year had passed since my last run at the crack spots; I felt as if there was no time between me and my demons. It was as though I never left. The demons of my addiction kept my place warm as if to say, “We knew you’d be back.” And they were right.
I tried to keep this downfall a secret, but the whispers of my lie began to eat at me. I was my own Judas. I betrayed myself. I was away from the drug life and out of trouble. No one was looking for me; there were no warrants out for my arrest and at this time, the court system was satisfied with my behavior.
I tried to bury this failure like it was a body buried beneath the floorboards. I tried to bury what happened because maybe I could forget. However, the silence of truth was so loud and deafening that I could not hear anything else. It is this reason why so many addicts and alcoholics continue their relapse. The shame is too heavy. The guilt is overwhelming and the feeling of failure lies and tells us, “You’ll never be able to do it.”
I was fresh from a 24hr binge. The need was all too familiar and so was the failure. The demons knew the pain I was in and they smiled at my return. The drug welcomed be back. I could have stayed and the drugs would have kept me company. I could have found myself back where I was, lost, and running away—and truthfully, that’s all getting hide really is; it’s running away until you can’t run anymore.
Something I was told after my first tour through rehab was, “This place may not cure you. It may not keep you sober or out of trouble. It may not keep you away from the barrooms or the drug spots, but believe me, this place will ruin the rituals of getting high. And that’s the best part.”
When this was told, I was unsure what it meant. Then I relapsed. I found myself back where I was and I finally understood. Having learned the truth about my addiction, and learning about why I did it as well as the lessons on how to be better; I lost the plea of ignorance. I couldn’t say. “I didn’t know any better,” because the truth is I did know better.
After my relapse, I learned the painful lesson that we can only say “I didn’t know any better,” once.
I knew exactly what I did and the knowledge of what I lost along with the knowledge of what happened began to tear me apart.
The secret of my slip began to decay and eat at my brain. The painful fact that I gave in left a void, in which I had no way to fill.
I stood at a crossroad. I could have slipped back. I could have found myself a place and the demons of my addiction would have welcomed me for as long as I chose to stay.
Failure is always accepting of other failures. This is why misery loves company. This is why junkies always feel comfortable around other junkies and drunks prefer to be around other drunks. The demons we know are always welcoming because they know that truth hurts. And then the demons smile because they know we cannot stand the pain..
I compare my slip to running from the police. The farther I run, the worse my charge will be. If I chose to run then I would have to keep running. If I ran away, and by running, I mean continued on the same path and continued to get high, I would have to run far. But the truth always follows us.
No matter where you go, there you are . . .
No drink or drug, no matter how intoxicating they may be will change this. No matter where I ran to; I would always be right there waiting . . .
The hardest part of my fall from grace was returning to the farm, which is where I became sober. I saw the people I lived with. I saw the owners of the farm. They were like Mom and Dad to us that lived there. Everyone in the house smiled when they saw me. They were accepting of my visit and welcoming. They welcomed me like family because that’s what I was . . . . I was family.
Betty was Mom to me. She was there when I came in for the first time. When Betty first met me, I was skinny. My eyes were beady. Betty once said, “You always looked like you were up to something.”
She was probably right.
When Betty met me, I was clean for a little more than 70 days. I was still painfully thin and twitchy. The cocaine bugs were dormant but still alive and the heroin gods were not as talkative. I was 17 years-old. My hair was long and scraggly. I wore a black leather biker jacket, which they took from me upon my arrival at the farm.
They took away my Walkman too, and my music along with my concert t-shirts. They took all the clothes I wore, which linked me to the person I used to be and I was told, “We do not dress like that here.”
Upon my arrival at the farm, the powers that be cut my long hair short. It was very short.They stripped me of all that I clung to. They took away my image; they took away my excuses and the lies I used to keep myself sick. The farm change me. I resisted at first. But I gave in. I became a citizen. I was good and respected. I had a reputation. I had dignity and accomplishments to be proud of.
When I returned for a visit and walked in the main house, Betty smiled the way a Mother would smile to welcome her son. She opened her arms to hug me, but all I could do was weep. I could not hide the shame. I could no longer cover the guilt with lies or rationalize what I did. The hardest part of my fall from grace was this.
When I cried, Betty looked surprised.
“What’s wrong,” she asked.
Betty asked me this like a loving mother would ask if her son was too hurt to explain how he fell.
I could not face Betty. I could not look at her because it was Betty and others like her that helped save me from myself.
I was too ashamed.
“I went out,” I told her.
I cried so hard in her arms. I sobbed and I wailed. Betty held me. She accepted me. She loved the way a mother would love her son and kept a place for me.
The demons of addiction are welcoming, but so are the angels of sobriety. I was welcomed back. I was told, “It’s gonna be okay. We’re gonna help you through this.”
The pain from their love was equal to the pain of my failure. It was cutting and very sharp
I remember what this felt like. I remember what it was like to count the days of my sobriety. On April 1st, 1991, I went back to day 1. I counted my days to give them value. The more days I earned; the more valuable they became.
I never want to feel that way again. I never want to walk into a 12-step meeting and say, “Hello, my name is Ben. I’m an addict and alcoholic, and I have one day back.”
I count my time in sobriety because giving a number to my time gives it value. One day is valuable, but it is less valuable than two. Two days has value, but less than say, nine days. And nine days is an accomplishment, but come to 30 days, 60, or 90 days, and you’re on your way something greater. The number of my days sober is tangible; it gives my time substance and lends weight to my fear of loss. I am mindful of this because I’m afraid of losing what I have.
This is what I have:
8,995 Days = 24 Years, 7 Months, 15 Days
I am mindful of what I have because what I have is valuable.
It has taken me more than 24 years to get this.
I am sure the demons of addiction would welcome me back if I ever chose to go that way. I’m positive that I could find a barstool someplace or a drug spot. I am also positive the angels of sobriety would be there to welcome me home if I was lucky enough to return. What I don’t know is if I could go through that shame again.
My sober time before the relapse was valuable.
I had a little more than a year and a half . . .
Imagine the shame I would feel if I lost 24 years?
Count your days, my friend.
Give it value and let it grow
The more value your sobriety has —
the more you’ll want to keep it.
Trust me . . .