Around the three month mark of my sobriety things started to change. The days were more manageable, and the nights were no longer cold, dark and lonely. The tough times I came face to face with in the beginning turned out to be the foundation on which I built my recovery. They say that success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out, and I couldn’t agree more. The problem was, I forgot what it meant to put in effort everyday to accomplish a long term goal. Drug addiction is all about instant gratification. My days spent in agonizing withdrawal were washed away once the drug dealer showed up at my house. The pain of the previous hours were an afterthought because I knew I would be okay, if only for a few hours. Thoughts of hard work were non existent and I lived my life for the next high. Years of my life had passed me by while I was just a lingering onlooker. This time I was actively participating, and this time things were progressing differently.
It was up to me to assume responsibility for where I was in my life, and more importantly why I was there. It was only when I stopped looking for someone to blame that I became the true author of my own story. I looked at myself in the mirror and accepted the fact that I was a 26 year old heroin addict and had been for nearly a decade. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t able to live my life like the other 26 year olds that I went to college with. I came to grips with the fact that my story was different than all of theirs, and comparing how my life had turned out up until this point was of no benefit to me. I found integrity, and assumed responsibility for who I was. I did all of this while living in a halfway house and sharing a single bathroom with five other people. None of this would have been possible with out it.
This part of my life is what I call the change stage, because without the willingness to change, none of it would have been possible. This willingness did not rest solely upon my shoulders, and it was more about letting go and letting God help me find a new version of myself. I was in and out of treatment centers for years, due in large part to the fact I lacked the willingness to do what others recommended of me. A major stumbling block was that I could not find it in me to believe in something bigger than myself. The concept of God or a Higher Power in my life was something I had given up on during my Catholic School days. I disagreed with how my teachers treated both me and my brother, and I thought if there was a God, he had abandoned me a long time ago. I realized that something had been watching out for me all along. Something had been carrying me during my darkest moments and I was finally willing to believe.
As drug addicts and alcoholics, we never see ourselves on an even playing field with anyone. We are either better than or less than – never equal. Just as it was difficult for me to find the willingness to let go of the old and let God bring in the new, it was also difficult to let go of my pride and ego. After my many attempts at sobriety, I realize how my lack of humility kept me from working on the real issues I was facing. I would compare myself to everyone around me and tell people I was different because I never went to prison and had multiple college degrees. At the same time, if anyone were to pay me a compliment I wouldn’t know how to react. I was so unhappy with myself that I couldn’t even find it in me to believe them. I needed a few servings of humble pie, and got them in bunches during my first year of sobriety.
People stuck in the grips of addiction are selfish beings. We are self-seeking and self-absorbed. Telling me that the world did not revolve around me was a very hard concept to understand. Before we can understand how to fully amend this behavior, we must understand the concept of brotherly love. Sobriety teaches us how to do right by other people regardless of who is watching. Sobriety teaches us how to forgive those who have wronged us. After all, forgiving someone doesn’t make a person weak, it simply sets them free from the bondage of resentment. Sobriety forces people to take responsibility for their actions and find a way to make them right. Sobriety is about understanding what we are and what we are not, while offering help to the people around us whenever possible. I had to learn to love those around me while I was learning to love myself. After all, the fastest way to find yourself is by losing yourself in the service of others.
The beginning my recovery was about honesty, hope, faith and courage. Without these four things I wouldn’t have been able to stay sober long enough to work on changing the person I had become. It was up to me to grow in my next nine months of sobriety, and this growth was contingent on my integrity, willingness, humility and brotherly love. It took personal integrity to assume responsibility for who I had become and willingness to let go of the old and let God bring in the new. It took humility to free me from my selfish pride and arrogance. Lastly, it took brotherly love to truly teach me about compassion. I was finally able to remove the blinders that were covering my eyes and obscuring my view.