Getting clean isn’t an easy task, but it’s worth the hard work
Steve Wildsmith | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Because of the public nature of my addiction and recovery through this column, I’ve received quite a few phone calls over the years from those similarly afflicted who are seeking advice or help.
I do what I can, which is to first make sure they understand that I’m not a professional counselor or a spiritual guru or a licensed therapist or anything of the sort. I’m just a guy who’s traveled down some dark roads, as have so many other recovering addicts, and I have the forum this newspaper column provides to document my journey and observations.
I usually tell them about my addiction and about what worked for me: the 12-Step program I still attend regularly. It’s not the only way to get clean and stay clean; plenty of others use religious-based programs, church, long-term one-on-one therapy, you name it. It doesn’t so much matter what works, as long as the person seeking help chooses to do something.
Unfortunately, what I’ve found is that the willingness to do whatever it takes to get clean and stay clean isn’t such an easy thing for addicts and alcoholics to uncover within themselves. It’s down there, buried deep within under the detritus of self-loathing and hopelessness and fear, and while they may not think they can find it within themselves to do whatever is necessary to get better, they can.
But it’s never easy. I remember well my own half-hearted efforts to get clean at first. My initial stint in treatment was mandatory because my employers made it a condition of me keeping my job. I didn’t want to quit using everything; I just wanted to stop putting a needle in my arm. The thought of never drinking or using a mind-altering substance again terrified me, and I somehow equated my crumbling life with one particular drug and one particular way of ingesting it.
Putting down one thing may work for some people, but it didn’t for me. I couldn’t grasp back then the concept that my brain was forever altered by my attempts at better living through chemistry; one of anything becomes too many, and a thousand never enough, when it comes to drugs. There’s a line out there somewhere that I crossed long ago, and there’s no going back to “just” drinking or smoking a little of this or taking a little of that. It would take several more years to accept that I’m truly an addict, that my drug of choice is more of whatever I can get, that getting high means spiralling back down into a bottomless pit of despair.
My second time through treatment, I accepted the fact that I’m an addict, but not the work that’s required to get better. I thought that going to meetings would be enough, that I could be among a group of people in recovery and that somehow, through osmosis, their clean time would transfer to me. In other words, I didn’t understand that it’s about more than just putting down drugs. If that’s the case, then anyone who suffers from addiction could stop, walk away and be just fine.
I had to address the reason I wanted to get high in the first place. I had to find the courage to look myself in the mirror, to dig down deep into various wells of pain and hurt and become willing to change who I am on a fundamental level. Some people think that’s impossible; that our nature is set in stone, and I was one of those individuals. It’s a fallacy to think that way, however.
It was only when I became willing to do whatever it took to get clean and stay clean ... to take any suggestion given to me my peers in recovery who had been clean longer than I ... to actually work on improving myself emotionally and spiritually through the 12 Steps ... that I started to see change in my life.
Today, my life isn’t perfect. I still face challenges, and I’m still a human being prone to mistakes and faults. But because I continue to make a daily commitment to a program of change and spiritual improvement, I work on becoming a better human being. Drugs are still out there, and if I stop moving forward I’ll no doubt start sliding backward, but my challenges today are about so much more than not getting high.
That, in and of itself, is a blessing. It means I have a life, rich and full, something I never thought possible before. All it took to get here was the willingness to do whatever it took, one day at a time, to get better.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.