Freedom isn’t free, but it’s worth it
July Fourth is coming up Thursday, and if there’s one thing Independence Day has taught me, it’s that freedom isn’t free.
That goes for the liberties I enjoy as an American and for my freedom as a recovering addict.
Freedom takes work, and in both instances, a lot of hard work went into ensuring I have those freedoms. One is easy to take for granted. I’ve never served in the military, and too often I go about my daily routine, like so many other people, with a sense of entitlement. Because I was born an American, I can lose sight of what it means to be free and get into the sort of self-righteous thinking that I deserve these freedoms, that I’m somehow entitled to the right to speak my mind, write what I want, worship how I choose and criticize the government.
It’s easy to feel that way until you’ve experienced living under a dictatorship or a police state. I never have, so it’s no big deal to me to skip along my merry little path without appreciating how precious the gift of freedom can be.
But the freedom I have as a recovering addict ... that’s a different story. I’ve experienced the bondage of addiction. I know what it’s like to be a slave to a disease that takes away your freedom and makes you subject to the instincts of a runaway id. I know what it’s like to be in bondage, to use against my own will and to pray for death because it seems like an easier alternative to soldiering on in a hopeless, lightless existence.
Today, I mark my own independence day as March 20, 2002. It’s the last time I used drugs of any kind. It’s the day I finally embraced the freedom that recovery offers. The full benefits of that freedom hasn’t come overnight — after all, I didn’t become an addict in one day, and I’m not going to recover in 24 hours, either.
And freedom from active addiction doesn’t mean that life is a basket full of rainbows, puppy dogs and daisies. Just because I get clean doesn’t mean that everything starts going my way and all the bad stuff in life magically disappears. The rooms of recovery promise only one thing — freedom from active addiction, and that’s only if I’m willing to put forth some effort and do what it takes to obtain that promise.
It doesn’t mean that I’ll somehow escape the consequences of my actions while in active addiction. It doesn’t mean that I automatically win back the trust of those I hurt and betrayed or immediately repair the friendships of those I let down. It doesn’t mean that I won’t struggle with financial problems, family problems or relationship problems. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to skip down the primrose path of life always whistling a happy tune.
What it does mean, however, is that I’m free — free — to deal with life on life’s terms. I don’t have to get high to hide from my problems, and I don’t have to use drugs to keep from dealing with them. Recovery gives me the courage to face my fears and walk through the fires that inevitably spring up along my path.
And in my experience, and that of many others in recovery, I’ve found that with that single promise comes untold blessings beyond my wildest imagination. It’s amazing what life brings if I’m willing to be honest, do the next right thing and do whatever I can to help someone who still suffers from addiction. My life today is so blessed, so unbelievably good, that I would not have believed, not in a thousand years, it could ever be this way.
Today, I have a self-awareness that I’ve never had before. That helps me to identify my own character defects, my own faults and shortcomings, and to deal with them before they get out of hand. I have a willingness to help other people, to reach out like others in recovery reached out to me when I was suffering, and to do what I can to share my experience, strength and hope. I have peace of mind today, something I always searched for but never found in all my years of getting high.
I’m free today, truly free. The potential in any recovering addict’s life is only limited by the imagination and the level of willingness they possess. Recovery gives us the means to tap into that potential, to discover the hidden blessings that life has in store for us, and helps us to become better human beings.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.