I’ve written before about how recovering addicts and alcoholics get to celebrate two birthdays each year — the actual date of our birth, and the day we put down alcohol and drugs for the last time.
Sobriety date, clean date, recovery date; they all mean the same thing — the day we were reborn. That sounds melodramatic, and I suppose to a lot of people who aren’t in recovery, it might be. After all, we’re celebrating a day we stopped being miscreants, thieves, con artists, liars and everything else associated with addiction, and started living our lives the way everyone else does who isn’t an addict or an alcoholic.
If you’ve ever had any sort of association with an addict or an alcoholic, however, then you know that to stop drinking and drugging is a big deal. If you’ve had first-hand experience in dealing with an addict or an alcoholic, you know the frustration, the hopelessness, the anger, the desperation that can come with dealing with us. You know what it’s like to look at us with a mixture of pity and disgust and disdain and think, “They’ll never change.” You know what it’s like to want to pull your hair out, seeking answers where there are none and wondering what you can do differently that might turn our life around.
Believe me — as frustrated and angry as you are, you can multiply that by about a million when it comes to how we feel about ourselves. There’s nothing more humiliating or degrading or shameful than an addict who catches a glimpse of himself or herself in a mirror, to look into our own eyes and see everything that we are, everything that we’ve become, flash by in a nanosecond, engulfing us with a self-loathing so powerful that we pray to die.
Sometimes, an addict will take that drastic step; other addicts lose their lives not intentionally, but because of addiction just the same. The reality of addiction is exactly what it says in the literature of the 12-Step program I attend — jails, institutions and death, and along the way, we experience all manner of degradation, dereliction and despair. A drug addict doesn’t live to a ripe old age; you don’t see many “retired” heroin addicts or meth addicts or alcoholics enjoying their golden years in a retirement community. Most of us wind up face-down in a ditch or locked away long before we reach that point.
That’s why our recovery is so miraculous, and that’s why we celebrate the day we begin our journey of recovery with such reverence. It’s a monumental event in our lives — the day that marks the start of a new journey toward a life we never thought possible.
As I celebrated 17 years clean back on March 20, I found myself looking at what my life had become — a beautiful wife by my side ... three amazing children ... a good job ... great friends ... so many things of which to be grateful. It doesn’t seem real sometimes — to have lived the life of a bottom-dwelling junkie and emerged from that lifestyle is nothing short of miraculous. I found myself standing on my porch that night, staring up at the stars, thinking, “This isn’t supposed to happen. I’m not supposed to be here.”
It’s not that I think I don’t deserve these gifts, this grace, that I’ve received. It’s just that I read the papers and watch the news and see so many of those who try to get clean but never do. I read about their deaths and hear about their continuing struggles. I listen to the family members who call me and see them myself, hollow-eyed and withering away, as they shuffle by on the streets. I see them, and in their eyes, I see myself. Because but for grace, I could be one of them. I should be one of them.
I’m so grateful that I’m not. Seventeen years ... it doesn’t seem that long. When I first got clean, I talked about wanting to get my life back. But as I’ve stayed clean and continued to recover, to fill in the gaping hole in my soul into which I used to pour drugs with a sense of self-worth and self-awareness and spirituality, I’ve decided that I don’t want my old life. The old Steve, even before I started getting high, was miserable living in his own skin, unsure of his place in the world and afraid to truly live. That “old life” is best left by the side of the road.
This new life, though ... this life that recovery has given me ... is truly a miracle. For it, I’m grateful, and just for today, I’ll try never to take it for granted.