The road to addiction is paved with self-doubt, selfishness, bad decisions, insanity, and confusion. Getting that drink or getting that medication (drug) is the only red blip on the radar. It challenges the importance of everything and everyone else and ultimately overcomes them. There is a general surrender of your will and the cunning, baffling, powerful pull of the addiction takes over, completely. You may not have ended up in jail, but you could have. You may not have completely destroyed all of the relationships around you, but you could have. It is important to know as you deal with all the shame and guilt that comes with this is that you have a disease. It is not a moral failing, it is not a character defect, it is a disease. A disease for which there can be recovery and healing.
This story is personal because it is my story. I have also found that with changes in the details, this is the story of many others, too. I took a prescription medication for anxiety and before long I was addicted. My life revolved around my next prescription or my next visit to get a prescription. We are in a stressful career, the law and lawyering can be overwhelming at times, and I was sure that I could manage the prescription and its use until I woke up one day and I could not. “As needed” quickly became “all the time”. I knew, in the depths of my conscience, that I had no control over this drug or my use of it. It scared me, but because I have a disease, I continued to use. I used more and more of it. Some colleagues made comments about my speech or my general appearance when I was in the depth of my disease. I always had a response to deflect the true concern they had for my well-being. I was not going to give up my relationship with this drug. I could not. It made me numb, and in my addicted mind, numb was better than feeling and taking life on life’s terms.
I continued to win cases and this only made the illogical argument that I had to have this medication even stronger. God was watching over me, and I refused to see it – all I saw was the little pill(s) that made me numb. All I could do was continue to feed the monster of addiction. Numb to everything. I lost my laugh, my tears, my love. I was simply and completely numb. I could and would lie to even the closest people to me, including my wife and children. I was fine, work was just hard. I am fine, I am just tired. I am fine, you cannot find out that I must have this drug, that I have no power over my taking this drug.
Then I get a call from the pharmacy around the time that I always waited for, it was even on my calendar, refill day. The call was that they could not refill my prescription because I had the same prescription I had recently refilled at another pharmacy. A cold sweat came over me and a huge sense of desperation. I was convinced at this point that I could not and would not make it if I did not have my special little pills. Desperation became detoxification and a nightmare of a time. I could not get my medication and my body and mind, after many years of taking it, rebelled and screamed mightily. There is something called “night terrors” which is aptly named. It is the dreams one can have while detoxifying from my drug. The dreams were so terrorizing and so real that sleep was to be avoided at all costs. But waking hours also held their own terrors. I began to say things that were hurtful and hateful. I began to believe, truly believe, that I had killed myself (suicide) and was only able to watch my family around me and that they could not see, hear, or interact with me. I thought I was living, or not living, in someplace in between and that the verdict was still being decided as to whether I went to Heaven or Hell. Then God stepped in for me in the form of my wife. She got the kids together and took them to her mother’s house and told me that I must go see a doctor immediately. I was in Hell and did not even have the energy to argue. I surrendered to everything at that point. The doctor said I needed professional help, and I was immediately enrolled in a treatment facility.
I do not even remember the drive to the treatment facility; detoxification was having a surreal effect on my mind and my body. Sleep was filled with night terrors and being awake was just filled with terror. I was not doing well. I was seen, upon my arrival, by a psychiatrist who specialized in addiction, and the shame of what was happening to me seemed to be all that I had. Shame was the only feeling I had, but at least it was a feeling. I was thinking like a crazy man, I was not at my home, I could not see or speak to my family and I was broken, completely. The psychiatrist, I am told, informed me that I could have died at home from the withdrawals. This was told to me again after I got clean of the drug because I did not remember the first conversation with the psychiatrist. I would have died. And, without this recovery, I would have without a doubt. I would have continued to ruin all that was right in my life. Now, I was in treatment – the place I had so often recommended to clients that struggled with addiction. Here I was.
I started out on a cot in a room where there was another man who I had never met. I felt completely alone and disconnected from life. It appears that I slept for the first 20 to 24 hours. I woke up after the sun had gone down on another day and I was groggy and unsure of everything. I was shaky, angry, and full of shame, that dreaded shame. I ventured out of my room on the detox side of the house and walked into a dining room with more than 30 people I had never met. I felt alone and out of place though I was surrounded by people. Over the next 35 days, these people became my family with all the love and little fights that come with being a family living and struggling together. We ate together, we cried together, and we grew together. I dispelled my biggest fear while in treatment; I found out I was not alone in my struggle or my addiction. What a wonderful gift that is. I was convinced I was absolutely and completely alone. Some kids were 18-years of age and some men and women were approaching 60 years of age.
For the first 6 or 7 days, I remained in a fog and took in as much as I could at the hourly meetings. My mind and body were recovering from the years of toxifying them. Topics of dopamine and frontal cortex and all manner of ways that intoxicants affect the brain were being discussed and I was taking in about 10% of it and wondering what was happening the rest of the time until that great day. I had been hearing ringing in my ears and could not sleep more than a few minutes at a time. I finally slept the entire night with no night terrors, I finally woke up with a clear head, something I was not accustomed to. I felt myself slipping out of my selfish little self and began wondering and asking about others’ stories and states of being. It was this journey into a fellowship of like-minded people that began the true and glorious road to recovery.
I was participating in AA meetings and NA meetings, something I had only ever recommended to clients of mine with addiction problems. I found out that my suggestions were just what I needed. During down times when we were not in formal meetings or counseling, I began to form real friendships with people from all walks of life. Two of my best friends are a surgeon from Texas and a restaurant owner from India, both of whom I met in recovery. The idea that I was not alone began to take root. I found brothers and sisters on this road to recovery. We shared the same disease, addiction. I have now come to peace with the idea that addiction is a lifelong issue I will continue to recover from, gloriously recover from day by day, sometimes minute by minute.
When I say gloriously please do not misunderstand me. The one day at a time saying that many have heard is factual. Any addict is one drink or one fix away from destruction. One is too many, and a thousand is never enough. But the road to recovery is also paved with clear thoughts, feeling again, being present in the moment, and change. I have ventured on the road of recovery with meetings, a counselor, and a greater relationship with my God/Higher Power. I am learning that taking each day as it comes and doing so one day at a time does not have to be the nail-biting, cringe-worthy way of living I thought it was. It is much more beautiful without the constant fog and chasing my addiction, much more beautiful. For sure there are and will continue to be apologies that need to be said, amends that need to be made, but it is me doing it. Not the numbed out, always a little altered me, but me. There is peace that comes with this. There is room for pride where there was only shame and guilt.
I think counseling has played a big part in my progress on the road of recovery. In my mind, I thought recovery meant pain. I did not think that it was a true recovery if everything did not hurt. That is not the case. There are days where the actions of my past come to visit me, and those are certainly uncomfortable days but to make it through those days, honestly, are just more victories on my road. There is a saying that a good day is when things go well and you do not use the substance, but a great day is when the day is hard and has the problems of life and you still don’t use the substance. I have found this saying to be very true. I am learning to take life as it is, not as how I so foolishly wanted it to be or thought I could control. I have found pleasure in things that would have bored me when I was using. I have found it much easier to listen and truly hear what people are saying and, at times, what they are not saying. This active listening was impossible while I was using, utterly impossible. One thing that I am finding out is who I really am and that who I am is enough, always. That is something I completely denied and did not believe while I was active in my addiction. I was never enough so I had to keep feeding the monster – the monster that would have certainly taken my life.
As I remain on this recovery road I look back and wonder what was it that made it so hard to reach for help. I now realize that the disease of addiction is a disease with deceit as part of the foundation. We lie about our use, we hide our use, we lie even to ourselves and ignore the voice begging for help because our addiction silences it. Another realization I have come to is that the stigma and shame that come with addiction is paralyzing, or it can be. It took an act of God to wake me up and I was put on this ride to recovery almost against my will. The earliest concerns and some that still stay with me are “what does this make me?”, “what will people think of me?”. In moments of clarity I know that this makes me a human with a disease.
Still, in our society, many see it as a moral issue when the truth is that it is a disease, one that will take everything from you. The sad part is that the uncommon part of this is getting the help we need. The stigma remains too tall, too deep and too much. But it does not have to be. We can begin to accept our brothers and sisters with addiction. We can begin to reach out and provide services that will take the scarlet “A” out of addiction. Some studies indicate our career, lawyers, has one of the highest rates of addiction. It is, however, not to be the end of the story. There are counselors, meetings, sponsors, friends, and family that can help us stand when we need to stand the most. Some stories are similar to mine in every town and every profession. It is time that attorneys circle the wagons and allow those that are suffering from addiction to be open and honest without the fear of scorn or mocking. That was such a fear of mine, a paralyzing fear. I was convinced that nobody would understand and everybody would cast judgment against me. This is not a disease that is unique to us – it affects all levels of our society – but we are in a profession where support has been and can be hard to find. Recovery is a journey and not an easy one but the return of who you are and what you can and will be are certainly worth the fight. Now let us all join and support our brothers and sisters and celebrate the road of recovery. It is possible….one day at a time.
I have found that there are beautiful and caring people that will find you as you walk the road of recovery. There will be moments that you can only explain as your God/Higher Power intervening in your life. Recovery does not need to be a religious thing but it is certainly a spiritual one in my experience. I have stumbled across and become friends with some people that have walked the dark path of addiction and are now living their very best life. I am on the road to my best life, too. It is that first step, reaching out, that too many people do not experience, and for them, I pray. The difference between an active addiction and an active road of recovery are as different as sanity and insanity.
Reach out and know hands are waiting to grasp yours. Friendly hands, experienced hands, loving hands. Desperation can either be the beginning of the end or the beginning of recovery. You can escape the craziness of addiction, and you can feel again. Celebrate recovery.