Entering recovery from addiction is the smallest, but hardest step an individual can make. To go into recovery requires an admittance that something is wrong, which in turn means being tarred with the ‘addict’ brush by the society the sufferer has spent so long trying, and failing to fit in to. Admittance comes at a perceived price, and that can be too much for some to take. It feeds directly into denial, and stops people seeking the help they so desperately need.
All the chaos I created during using days – fights, car crashes, divorces, hospital visits, arrests and more – should have provided enough indisputable evidence to me that something needed addressing, but I couldn’t see it. Or maybe I could but was too fearful of what getting help for my problems would involve. The fear of rejection, the fear of abstinence, the fear of judgement, the fear of shame and a whole host of other unfounded but real fears ensured that I barely even looked at recovery. Whilst my life was coursing towards an inevitable, premature & devastating end in my active addiction, my main concern was that my life would be over if I could never drink again. So, I kept smiling through a broken mask, and continued blindly indulging my self- destructive path towards it’s inevitable conclusion.
Even in my darkest moments I would find some resolve to get better but without committing to anything that resembled recovery. It was only after another big binge and more destruction, when no resolve could be found, that I had to decide on whether my life would be worth living if I admitted defeat and went into recovery.
But I didn’t enter recovery quietly.
I couldn’t just lie down and accept that I was an addict. Still being driven by old ideals and influences, I would say to all and sundry who cared to listen that depression was my problem, not addiction I maintained the working theory that if someone could sort my depression out, then I would be able to control my alcohol and substance in take. The addiction counselling team and recovery community in the rehab didn’t say anything to the contrary, although they could all see right through my denial.
They patiently requested that I adopt some qualities that were alien to me – honesty, open-mindedness and willingness – and focus on the similarities, not the differences within my recovery community. The overwhelming evidence that I was an addict started to become clearer over the first few days and week, as I could feel the denial that engulfed me for so many years, slowly dissipate.
After a period, I started to start to understand how my addictive behaviour had bought me to my knees, and I felt more comfortable, if not necessarily convinced, in the reality that I could be an addict.
But it wasn’t until I completed an exhaustive Step 1 of the 12 Step program, the acceptance step, that the initial concept of possibly being an addict, dropped from head to my heart. The process involved me writing out before me all the cases where my drinking and drug use had rendered me powerless, and the numerous examples of how that powerlessness had made all parts of my life unmanageable.
I remember the defining moment in my journey when the realisation struck me. I was an addict, and I knew it! It was the moment I had feared for so many years, but it was nothing like I imagined it would be. With my full acceptance, came a new resolve, a resolve like nothing that I had experienced before. After so many years of denying my illness and refuting any kind of help that required me to stop using, I suddenly found myself embracing the notion.
Why? Because for so long I had convinced myself that I was unique, that no one would be able to help me, and that my dimly lit future was full of hopelessness and despair. But on that day, a bright light of hope shone through because by accepting and believing that I was addict, meant that I had a diagnosis that could be treated. That treatment would be recovery. The relief was palpable.
It is no exaggeration that this realization saved my life; for so many years I thought that this outcome would kill me off.
I am an addict, and whilst I don’t burst with pride at this tag, I am also not ashamed of it either. With this acceptance came a motivation and desire to learn more about myself, good and bad, so that I could understand why I needed substances to escape my life. The fear that had controlled and governed me for so long, faded to be replaced with a knowledge that things could now start getting better.
I was further motivated by fellow recovering addicts who have followed the program of recovery and today feel the benefits of the hard work they have done on themselves. The contentment and happiness that they naturally radiated made me want what they had. And I could have it if I was willing to listen, and then practice what I had learnt.
After treatment, and back into the big wide world that had held me hostage for so many years, I found a new strength that I never knew existed. The worry that people would reject me, paled into insignificance. I know this because many have rejected me and my addiction, including some family members, but I understand that to be their issue not mine. I don’t need to convince anyone that I am sick and working to get better – I cannot imagine myself even thinking that pre- recovery, let alone feeling it.
By admitting my illness, and surrendering to it, my life has changed immeasurably. Relationships are being formed on deeper levels than just a conscious connection; my acceptance of the world around me ensures stability in my mind; my sense of purpose has started to develop; my emotional extremities are far more balanced and that dimly lit future I mentioned earlier, is now paved with bright lights making it easier to see what is in front of me. And this is just the start. I’ve been on this recovery road for nearly 3 years, but there is a part of me that still feels like I am in my infancy. This vigilance keeps the motivation high, complacency at bay, as I thirst for new recovery insights that will continue to help me on my way.
Am I shamed by addict label? Shit, no. The only regret I have is that I didn’t find recovery sooner, but that was my journey, and I needed to go through the dirty world of addiction to get to the door of recovery.
So, if you are worried about wearing the addict uniform for fear of judgement and rejection, stop now.
There are few people in this world that work harder at creating a better future for themselves, and their family/ friends, than a recovering addict. Many recovering addicts are active members of the society they feared would reject them, contributing far more than the naysayers who deny the illness and view sufferers as ‘weak’.
So, celebrate your recovery today, regardless of where you are on your path, and send love not justification to the people who shun you or speak ill of your efforts. Those still worried about the impact of entering recovery, and being tagged an addict, must heed the words above, and take a risk – you’ll generate far more respect for your efforts than you thought possible.
I’m an addict, and always will be…and I am very cool with that. So should you.
Sending lots of love,