Before moving onward, I must first admit that I was far from a believer of any sort. In all sincerity, I found myself where I was as a result of my choices. In basic street terms, I copped a plea and took the easier choice. Instead of time behind bars, I chose a long-term treatment plan at an inpatient drug and alcohol facility. I was young, scrawny, sick, and petrified of my own shadow. My nerves were somewhat twitchy. I was foggy in mind, body and soul.
Upon entering my first interview with a short-term facility until my proper placement was found; I was unsure of myself. And what I mean is everything around me seemed so oddly different. I felt detached, or numb. I had no way to process the string of events that led me to this place.
Again, using street terms, I was done for. It was either “Kiddie Time” in rehab or adult time in prison. There was no other choice, and since I did not have a “Doing time,” kind of strength, I chose to go to rehab.
But make no mistake. There is nothing easy about treatment. There are no bars on the windows or locked wards, guards, or lock-downs. No one comes in to toss cells and there were no surprise inspections that I ever witnessed. Strangely, there was an honor system to this place. And amongst drunks and street junkies, the term honor is a strange fit—yet still; we were never policed and we were always taken at our word.
The surrounding was certainly easier than say, concrete walls, and bars, as well as armed or unarmed guards. There was an openness to these facilities. There was an openness, which to some was more constricting than time in solitary confinement.
I have seen it. I have seen patients slip from their chair and while in the face of their own disturbing truths; I have seen them choose a lengthy prison sentence over a few months in rehab. To some, violence and the sick jagged edges of drug addiction and alcoholism were more tolerable than an honest view of life.
I recall the first time I saw this. I watched a young man tell his counselor, “Fuck it! Call my P.O.” In this case, a P.O. was short for Probation Officer. Next, in a demanding voice, the young man exclaimed, “I’m out of here!”
A short while after this outburst, New York State Troopers arrived at the facility to recover this young man. He was cuffed by the officers, shackled, and then taken away to serve a sentence of up to eight years.
He chose eight years instead of drug treatment. I did not know him very long and few people like the young man. But I liked him. I liked him enough to wish he made a different choice.
Still, I was not sold. I did not believe drugs were an epidemic. I would not give up or give in to the idea that my life had clearly become unmanageable as a result of my drug use. As I saw it, people were my problem. I felt too different to be understood and too different to understand anyone else.
Reluctantly, my eyes were opening. The fogginess in my brain became more apparent to me. My eye-hand coordination was severely off. I spoke through grinded teeth. I dragged my feet when I walked and my speech appeared slow, as if my mind was burnt or my brain was relaxed.
There was something read out loud at the beginning of the 12-step meetings I attended. The words to this passage were taken straight from the A.A. Big Book (or bible as it is to those in recovery) and were known as “How It Works.”
This is how it started:
“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program.”
I suppose I did not listen too deeply to this at first. I did not consider the context of sobriety or consider that someone like me, a scraggly, scrawny, longhaired, insecure kid with self-image issues could undergo any sort of change. I had scars, both figuratively and physically, and a long list of fears. It did not seem likely or possible that someone like me who was without faith, or anyone like me who in my own mind was born with some sort of unseen and unexplained emotional disorder could change into someone else. I was unique to anyone else, and because of this, I was incapable of living any other way.
I was alone even when I was in a crowd. I was tired, unsure, and certainly unable to kick the need or quiet the whispers in my head.
Although destructive, to me, there was more sense at the bottom of a crack vial or to the powder in a package. Although I was so distant from anyone I knew; my family was much further from me than the figurative arm’s length, my friends had gone off in different directions and I looked terribly sick—at least I understood this life. At least I knew what to expect.
There was no one actually close to me except for my fellow junkies and running mates. But even they were so distantly lost and wrapped with their own sickness and their own agenda.
Sitting in a mid-sized room at a 12-step meeting, surrounded by those who like me, we’re forced into a treatment facility; the little I had was seemingly gone and the next day was too uncertain for me to consider. There was nothing left to me. I was beaten down and my crutches were taken away. There was no means of escape without consequences. There was no way for me to cancel reality for brief intervals and numb the concepts of life on life’s terms. I couldn’t get high. I couldn’t get drunk. Hell . . . I couldn’t even score a cigarette.
I remember seeing people with long-term sobriety. And to discredit them and their achievements, I either doubted their integrity, or I believed it was just something I could never do.
“They’re not like me,” I said to myself.
“They don’t know what it’s like to be me,” I thought.
“Sure, it works for them. But I’m not like them,” I swore to myself.
“I’m just me.”
I admit that I felt hopeless. More accurately, I felt irredeemable. I had fallen too far down the hole to conceive a way out. Rather than consider the uphill battle to change, I decided to hold on to my sickness as tightly as I could. I would not let go or surrender my ways to anyone. If I could not be successful; then I would be tragic. And if I was to be tragic; then I planned to give the world a tragedy they have never seen before.
I was small in frame, sickly, and thin. My eyes were sunken in my face with dark-ringed circles beneath them and bridged across my nose. I weighed next to nothing equally the same. Worse than this; I believed I was undeserving. I believed I was incapable and this is what keeps people sick
Why would I get sober?
Why take the risk?
Why would I submit myself to a simple program and undergo the essential and painful honesty it takes to assess myself?
How is that simple?
Furthermore, how could I admit to another person, to myself, or even to God in Heaven above that I was powerless and that my life had become unmanageable?
To me, this was unthinkable. This was the honest or humbled side of my addiction. The opposite side of this was arrogance. This is the rebellious side—this is the side that spoke through my behavior and said, “No one is going to tell me what to do!”
And it’s not that I didn’t want to be good. It’s not that I didn’t want the sickness to stop because I truly did. I wanted the itch to go away. I wanted the boredom to stop. I wanted the ordinary, mundane feeling to disappear. I wanted to feel like I fit without needing to push myself or pretend to be someone else. I didn’t want the constant conflict and internal arguments to continue. Simply put, I just wanted to feel okay. But to me; this was impossible
I began to think of those words from the chapter “How It Works.”
“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has THOROUGHLY followed our path.”
Further along in the reading it says, “If you have DECIDED you want what we have and are WILLING to go to any length to get it—then you are ready to take certain steps.”
Something else stood out from this reading. “We THOUGHT we could find an easier, softer way. BUT WE COULD NOT.”
Then there was this saying, which I never forgot. “HALF MEASURES AVAILED US NOTHING.”
These things stood out to me, and in many ways. these are words that helped save my life.
I was given 12 steps to follow. These steps are considered to be a simple guideline to sobriety. I cannot say whether I found them to be simple. I certainly did not see them as easy. I did not see my change as easy, nor did I consider myself lucky.
From where I sat; I was decidedly unlucky. If you asked me 25 years ago, “Where will you be in 25 years?” I might have told you dead. I might have said in jail or locked up in some psyche ward. 25 years ago, if you asked me, “What do you think you’ll be in 25 years?” The last thing I would have said is, “Sober.”
And yet, here I am—sober.
I have been watching people fall off and resume their sickness. I see people I know come up with excuses as to why they can or can’t do what they are supposed to. But I understand. Same as them, I also came up with excuses when I wasn’t ready. But understand something; once you kill the excuses—then you kill the disease.
I understood why that young man chose prison over treatment. In fact, I still do. I understood why others did the same thing. I know why people choose junk over treatment. I know why the sickness lingers. I know why old friends are still lost to the street and suffering, homeless, or in prison
I also know there is a way out. I know this for a fact.
It worked for me and regardless to what you think—it can work for you too
One day at a time . . .