One of the first things they told me is to watch out for people, places, and things. At first, I resisted this idea. Perhaps I resisted most because this was something I wanted to give up least.
People, places, and things referred to more than just my old friends or my old stomping grounds, which is where we did the things we did.
People, places, and things meant that I needed to pick my surroundings carefully. This meant I needed to carefully choose who I spent time with. I needed to be mindful of my behavior because above all, these three things are what easily lead back to the path I was removed from. And had I not been removed from my environment, or had I been given the choice of where to go or who to spend my time with—I would have never been taken out of my element and I would have never become sober.
I was months into my stay on the farm. By this time, my sentence was already made clear. I was remanded to the completion of drug and alcohol treatment. Until such time was completed, I was to remain on the farm until my facility believed I was ready to re-enter civilization. Even still, once treatment agreed to begin my re-entry process; this had to be cleared with my probation officer to satisfy the court’s judgment.
I was months away from court and months away from the person I was. Midway through my time on the farm, I was becoming part of something useful. I was regarded and necessary in a small circle of people. I cannot say that I was ready to grasp the idea of life without any mind altering substances. I suppose I held on to the glimpse of hope that maybe one day, I could find myself, chest up to the bar, and swilling a pint with group of friends. Although clean, I still enjoyed the idea of camaraderie that goes along with drinking. I enjoyed the idea of a social life with Friday night events and stories of long, crazy weekends.
I was very young and very knew to an honest form of living. There were no corners to cut or angles to take on the farm. There was no way to scam or find, “An easier, softer, way.” Everyone worked. Everyone had no choice but to pull their weight.
At any given moment, I was inches away from someone else. There was no alone time. There was always someone else in the room—and there was always someone around to snap me back in line. There was no way to manipulate the system because there was always someone around to catch me in the lie.
I grew tired of the struggle to get over. It was suggested that I, “Surrender to win,” but I never saw any victory in the word surrender. In truth, I was afraid to submit. I was afraid to let go and give into the principles, which I was told would change my life.
I have spoken with others who suffered legitimate and chronic physical pain, in which each of them shared a similar sentiment. Like me, each person I spoke to regarded their pain as necessary and dependable. Like me, they were afraid of the inner pain. In my case, I was afraid to let go of my social anxieties. I was afraid to let go of my depression and the scars I placed in my skin. I was afraid to give away the pain because if I did; what if the pain came back? More than the depth of my pain; I was more frightened when the pain was absent because of the anticipation of its return. And while no, my pain was more emotional than physical, I did slice my skin on occasion to allow the inner pain to bleed out. At least this way, I could give the pain a name and identify it. Otherwise, I was simply lost.
What would I do if I gave into the idea that sobriety could change me, only to find out that not only am I still as frightened as when I was actively high, but worse, I no longer had the chemical warfare to battle back against the fears and anxieties that crippled me from becoming better?
I was not content with the idea of giving in or turning my life over to the care of God as I understood Him. I was not interested in a Higher Power greater than myself. I was more agnostic than atheist at the time. However, I felt that if in fact there was a God, He would have no place in his kingdom for someone like me.
In a momentary dope nod, I recall falling into this deep thought about the difference between Heaven and Hell. In the Bible, it is written that this world belongs to the devil until the Messiah comes (Or returns, depending upon belief systems) In this case, I believed if this was the devil’s world, then this place was no different from hell.
I wholeheartedly believed in the saying, “What goes around comes around.” And because of this, I found myself on the low end of that cycle. Because I believed so strongly that I was undeserving of love, friendship, or as it were, I believed I was undeserving of redemption; I believed that it was my position to be in the underbelly of the world. In such case, when I did something bad to someone, I rationalized my behavior by saying, “They probably deserved it!”
I cannot say I wanted to be the way I was. I cannot say I wanted the trouble. I did not want to feel as angry or awkward. I did not want the trouble that came my way and I never asked to be the person I became. It was as though I had no choice. As I saw it, everyone else had the ability to adapt, improvise, or overcome. Not In my case.
I heartily believed that I was incapable of having anything better than the life I had. But more, I was too afraid to strive for anything better. And having had the fear of rejection mix with the feelings that I, a young, misguided, angry teenager who was awkward and uncomfortable, as well as unequipped with the tools to cope with life on life’s terms; I was not willing to let go of the one thing that seemed to even the scales that weighed against me.
Had I not been taken out of my element; perhaps, I would have wallowed in the ideas of my own self-pity. Had I not been removed from the people who would have rather seen me down on my knees or on the floor in a crack-house instead of living in good standing; I might have succumbed to the contagious infection that plagues so many with drug or alcohol relapse.
Had I not been shown a new way that was different from my own; I would have never learned the tools that helped keep me sober. And put simply, had I not been removed from my behaviors and had I not been placed elsewhere; had I not been taken away from the people I knew, the places I went to, and the things I did—I would have never stopped what I was doing.
Along the fortunate path of my sobriety, I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing old friends and loved ones choose the opposite side of sober living. As I age, the list of casualties grows with more names and more tragedies. As I grow, I understand alcoholism and drug addiction has no regard for age or economic status. Addiction does not discriminate between color, sexual orientation, background, or religion.
I have spoken with many who, like me, have found themselves in the worst of places with the worst of people. Whether we found ourselves on “Flight Deck,” in the psyche ward, or lying on the floor in the drunk-tank jail cells—we all understood the relevance of people, places, and things because these are the things that lead us to fall backwards.
In previous, I have mentioned old friends or loved ones who have decided to live on the opposite side of sober living. In truth, I still love them and I will always care. However, for my own protection and for the benefit of my sobriety—I choose to love many of my old friends from a distance because until they are removed from the hazards of their world, I have no room for them in mine.