Experience, Strength and Hope after active addiction
After nearly 10 years of active addiction, having graduated from children’s homes and youth homeless shelters to secure units, ‘therapeutic communities’, psychiatric hospitals, rehab and halfway houses, exhausting the system’s resources and the hope for my recovery of all those placed in it to help me, I found myself at the end of the road. I had descended through layers of experience that are incomprehensible to me now to reach a point at which I was lost in a drug induced psychosis – hiding out in yet another crack house, curtains permanently drawn, doorbell never answered, convinced I was being watched and hunted. Completely, perpetually, inescapably terrified. My mind and soul long since lost, my body, I had been told, was unlikely to survive another six months. And it was there, at that very point, despite my utter lack of faith that it might be possible for me, that change begun.
I am 2 years drug and alcohol free now, and 3 years into recovery; the distinction, for me, is an important one, because although becoming and remaining abstinent from all substances and behaviours is a prerogative of recovery, it is not its defining feature. The drugs were not the original problem, they were the means with which I tried, desperately and failingly, to treat the problem. My patterns of thought and perception, regarding myself, the world around me and others in it, were warped, distorted, disturbed – addiction had only able to take hold of me because my mind proved such fertile ground.
By the time my problematic substance abuse spiralled into a full blown addiction, I was already, and had been for as long as I could remember, convinced of a number of things: that the world was a dangerous, unpredictable and soulless place; that I was utterly alone in that place; that I was inherently worth-less than others, inherently bad, dirty, damaged; and that while I couldn’t envision a future beyond the stark drop-off of the immediacy of self-preservation, there was no hope whatsoever that it looked any better.
Recovery then, was about recovering the version of myself that I could not remember but found proof of in my burgeoning ability to connect with, laugh with, feel compassion and love for, other human beings. It was about learning to treat myself and others as if we all have inherent worth, regardless of whether I truly felt that way, until my emotions began to catch up with the physicality of my actions. It was about, from the security of a safe space, learning to step into the challenges that might bright growth, or the failures that might foster resilience. Allowing myself to experience the full, glorious, messy beauty of a world beyond the boundaries of the small, insulated, but indeed dangerous, unpredictable and soulless subsection of society that had moulded my original shape of thinking – gradually, with trepidation, building trust in its authenticity. Above all, it has been a journey of aligning myself with a purpose greater than myself, so that I may never feel alone again. Where once, I felt so fundamentally lonely, I now feel grounded in connection, even in periods of aloneness. I am not there yet – I will spend the rest of my life evolving, I have a lot of lost ground to cover – but I am finally in the process of becoming the person that I could have been.
That process has spanned three continents, numerous rehab admissions, multiple relapses, long, drawn out periods of detox and post-withdrawal symptoms that left my mind seemingly incapable of functioning. It has not been easy. And I have not ‘done it perfectly’. But I am doing it, despite the seeming impossibility of the task ahead, despite my refusal to have faith in the miracle well beyond the point at which it had already come to fruition, I am, in defiance of my own doubt, continuing to do it. The gifts of my recovery, of the life that existed on the other side of my addiction, will be different to yours. The beauty and the joy are in the surprise of discovering them. No matter where your starting point, who you were or what you had done – what had been done to you – before addiction took hold of you, let alone where that addiction itself took you, there is hope for you too. There is room to grow. I believe that with all of my heart because I have lived it. And I know, because I have become it, that you, and the life you may grow into, are worth the fight.