I remember the exact moment that it hit me. The moment when I realized that the only reason I was still using every bit of energy I had, every resource I could scrounge up, to come up with some pittance of dope day after day. It wasn’t to get high- I couldn’t get high anymore if I wanted to, that ship had long since sailed. It was to keep myself one step ahead of what was constantly nipping at my heels. The truth. The truth about who I had become, and what I had made of my life. The truth about the wreckage I had caused, and the collateral damage…the pain I had inflicted on everyone around me.
I was in my living room, in a shitty apartment in Reno, Nevada, and I was stalking around the way I always did- restless, agitated, trying to figure out my next hustle. Half out of my mind from lack of sleep and fried brain cells, and it hit me. A moment of clarity that I really wasn’t looking for.
“You’re going to have to face yourself, eventually.” The thought came out of nowhere, and it was one of those weird moments where it sounded like my own voice in my head, but it didn’t feel like it came from me. I didn’t want to hear it, but I couldn’t help it. I remember that I stopped my pacing, and considered what my head had just told me. I wasn’t ready yet, not at that moment, but something had happened. A seed had been planted, blown into me from somewhere- maybe it was God, maybe it was just my own desperate psyche, trying to save me. I don’t know.
After that, weird little moments kept cropping up- I would be in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, and catch sight of myself in the mirror, and find myself thinking “Can I even get back to the person I used to be? Does she even exist anymore? What if she isn’t real? What if all I am is this nightmare of a human being?” Or, at two in the morning, I’d find myself nodding off on the couch, thinking “What if I can’t change? What if this is just who I am?”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I can see that all those questions were more than just idle thoughts. They were the very beginning of my escape plan. The very idea of doing something different was so absurd, so foreign to me, that at first, all I could handle were these tiny little thoughts. Eventually, they grew and grew, until I had worn myself out enough that I had no choice but to drop from exhaustion. My first surrender was pure exhaustion, so complete that I couldn’t even wave a white flag. I just gave up because I had nothing left in me to keep going.
My first spin through recovery was more of a reprieve. I made it two years, I relapsed for one day, then made it another year. I went through the motions, learned all the acronyms, went to meetings, thought I was getting somewhere. But after all that time, when the opportunity to use came along again, I jumped at it, and it wasn’t long before I was right back where I’d been before, with the exception that I was now employable, responsible, and really good at faking my way through life. In short, I was a functioning addict now as opposed to the totally dysfunctional one I had been before. Progress, right? Yeah, I don’t think so.
When I got clean again almost three years ago, I had no idea how different this time would be for me. I had no clue that I was finally ready, and that the work I was about to embark on would be painful, hard and the most life-changing thing I could do for myself. Thank God I didn’t know! If I had, I never would have had the courage to start. I have unearthed things I never wanted to look at again, I have told the truth about things I hadn’t even known I was lying about all my life. It has been gut wrenching and frightening at times- to see myself in the most unflattering of lights, to realize what a mess I made, not just of my own life, but of the lives I was responsible for. My kids definitely carry the shrapnel of my battles in their skin. There are some things I will never be able to fix, unless someone figures out how to build a time machine.
But even so…what could I do? My past mistakes are so intrinsically linked to the joys of my life, they could never be separated. I had to be who I was to make the choices I made to get to exactly where I am. If I went back in time and changed one thing, I would not be this person sitting here, writing this, right now. The framed pictures of my children that I can see would not be there, because they wouldn’t be here, none of it would.
So, if I couldn’t change any of it, and if it was so painful to face, why do it at all? You might ask. Why not just leave the past in the past and move forward, leave all that shit behind you. The only thing I can tell you about that is, there is no peace in burying the truth. The moment I found the courage to face the ugly truth, the moment I took responsibility for who I had been and what I had done, the past lost its power over me. I still have moments, nearly every day, where I feel remorse or regret over something that happened long ago. But they are just twinges now, they don’t feel like a punch in the gut anymore. And that really IS progress.
You cannot heal and hide at the same time. Anyone can run away from the truth, or bury it- but you can’t bury it deep enough to keep it away. The truth ALWAYS finds a way back to the surface. The most courageous thing I have ever done in my life wasn’t getting clean- it was inviting the truth up to meet me, seeing it for what it was, and finally, setting myself free.