Willingness a necessary component of recovery
My buddy Ralph (not his real name) called me the other day, desperate and hurting.
I was introduced to him last fall by a friend who knew he needed help for addiction to prescription opiates. Like many pill addicts, he started out with a legal prescription for a minor injury but enjoyed a little too much the euphoric side effects. Over the course of several years, he went from eating through his prescription with the speed of a wheat thresher to buying from friends to getting them anywhere and any way he could. He went from eating to snorting to injecting, and needless to say, his life resembled the after-effects of a meteor impact into a house.
We talked, and he opened up; not that I’m someone special, but it was a relief for him — one I recognized well from my early days of trying this recovery thing — to find someone who understood what he was going through. I told him about what worked for me, invited him to some recovery meetings, introduced him to some folks in the program. He came, found some relief and seemed ready to do something different.
Apparently, he wasn’t entirely ready ... and that proved to be the setback that sent him spiralling further down the rabbit hole. It got me thinking about the nature of willingness, and how so many addicts don’t truly understand it until the circumstances surrounding their affliction turn their lives into a living, breathing hell on earth.
I need only look at my own personal experience for proof. So many times, I would pass out at night praying to whatever god was out there to kill me in my sleep and cursing him upon waking up for still being alive. I was alone, desperate and in physical and mental agony most of the time. I lost friends, jobs and more, pushed away family and had no interest in doing anything that makes life worth living. And yet every time I thought I reached a bottom and was ready to get out, my disease whispered a little more insistently, telling me I could keep going. That I could just do one more. That I could fix everything and still get high.
Essentially, that amounted to me picking up the shovel on the lip of that hole and continuing to dig, ever further down, into an endless, yawning maw of darkness that has no end. That’s the thing about a “bottom” — the only true bottom for an addict is death. Every time we reach what people think of as a logical quitting place or stopping point, we can always keep going. We can always make it worse.
Ralph was a lot like me: He came around, got some relief and decided he had things under control. He continued to hang out with old using buddies, and after getting back on his feet physically, he felt so good he decided to do a little bit here and there. He talked about recovery and wanting to help his old drug friends get better, but in reality he was setting himself up for failure. He just wasn’t ready.
Every addict reaches a point where they think they’re ready: The pain seems unbearable, the misery too much to carry, the endless cycle of getting and using and finding ways and means to get more too exhausting and draining to continue. But then something happens, and their resolve crumbles. Most of the time, they find their willingness when they run out of drugs and money and face legal or financial consequences ... but then a “friend” will call and offer a pill or a rock, and the thought of doing just one more becomes too much temptation to overcome.
Becoming truly ready to surrender doesn’t mean that cravings are lifted or the desire to get high automatically goes away. It simply means that an addict is willing to do anything ... anything ... not to get high again. They’re truly ready to surrender, to do whatever it takes, to dig down deep into places they don’t know they have to find resolve stronger than their disease. They’re willing to go to any number of meetings, take suggestions from others in recovery, surrender old friends, give up all of the baggage in their life associated with addiction.
They’re willing. That’s a huge thing, willingness. I hope Ralph finds its true meaning soon, as do every other addict who continues to suffer. Because one thing I’ve learned: They never have to go back to those dark places again, if they choose not to do so.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.