Today officially marks one year of clean time for me. As I consider this, I am grateful, humbled, somewhat in awe, and amazed. I have learned so much about myself, other people, and my place in the world in the past year, I wouldn’t change any of this for anything. No pain is wasted. No tears are shed in vain. Everything can be infused with purpose, if we choose so. Our experiences can make us bitter people, or better people. I choose to let this experience make me a better person.
Often we say that experience is the best teacher. I don’t believe that’s true. I believe evaluated experience is the best teacher. So, I have taken some time to look back and consider how I got here and what I’ve learned along the way.
I had to consider how it is I fell into addiction in the first place. I realized that drug addiction was only the latest in a long string of behaviors I have used over the years to avoid psychic pain. Before drugs, there was alcohol. Before alcohol, there was self-injury, and I have a body covered in scars as a result. Before self-injury, there were possessions…shoes, handbags, clothing, whatever. All of these things were addictions, in one form or another. It wasn’t until I came face to face with my addiction to MS Contin, though, that I realized I had a problem.
Physically detoxing from the drugs has been the easiest part of this journey, despite the fact that by day 4 of detox, I was begging the heavens for death. I distinctly remember believing it would be less painful to chew my arm off than it would be to continue the living hell of detox. Even with medication to help ease the process, detox is brutal. DO NOT do it at home like I did. Get yourself into a facility where they specialize in treatment of addiction, and detox under the compassionate, watchful eye of those trained to help you. Detoxing alone, even with medications, is a living nightmare. Don’t do it.
Doing things the way I did, though, I realized that I am stronger than I thought I was. Although, when people tell me I am strong, it’s difficult for me to accept it as true. I do not often see myself as strong. I see myself as a survivor. I am strong because I have to be, not because I want to be or because it comes easily for me. I am simply too stubborn to accept defeat if I can help it.
While I was detoxing, as soon as I was able to hold a book and read for a bit, I read The Other Irish: The Scots-Irish Rascals Who Made America by Karen McCarthy. It helped me remember that those who came before me were also survivors, being strong because they had to be, finding a way through their difficulties with ingenuity, an indomitable will, and the ambition to see the other side of their troubles. Some people read religious texts during detox and find strength in that. I read about my heritage, found courage in recognizing that I am part of a heritage of strength, and found the will to see the excruciating process of detox through to the end.
As I said, though, the detox was the easy part. I haven’t had an arm-chewing day in a long time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with cravings. When I am having a rough time emotionally, it’s very tempting to numb the pain. I know it would be so easy to drown my sorrows in whiskey, or get my hands on a few pills and numb myself that way. For a brief moment, I would feel great, life wouldn’t hurt, and all would seem well. However, on the other side of that are the consequences for that choice. On the other side of that awaits the dark abyss I have just climbed out of…a place where I am emotionally numb, mentally absent, unavailable for my son in any real context, and letting life pass me by because I am too checked out to give a damn. I don’t want to go back to that place. So, I “think through the drink”… or the pill-popping…and recognize that no amount of temporary relief from pain is worth what it would cost me.
Since getting clean, I have found myself capable of enjoying my sweet son like never before. I have always enjoyed him, but I was so checked out for the first few years of his life, I missed getting to know him. As I woke up from my years-long stupor, I had the joy of discovering that I have been given an amazing child. He is smart, creative, funny, sweet, compassionate, kind, mischievous, clever, tender…and so many more wonderful things. We have become so much closer than we ever were before, and I savor my time with him. I am an unbelievably blessed mom to have the privilege of raising this child. Single parenting isn’t always easy, but I believe the investment in our children is always worth it. I wouldn’t trade this for all the child-free time in the world!
I have learned that I am capable of deeply loving someone. That at once thrills and frightens me. Love makes us so vulnerable. When you love someone, no one else can hurt you quite like they can, even if it’s not intended. I used to believe that loving someone makes a person weak. For a long time after I left my son’s father, I put up walls. I lived in an emotional Fortress of Solitude, and while I wasn’t happy there, I was blissfully unaware of my misery because I was too doped up to care. In the year since getting clean, though, I have realized a longing for love in my life like never before. I became aware of the emptiness I felt, not because I need someone in my life to complete me. I am a whole person and becoming a stronger, healthier person every day. No, I long for true love in my life because two are better than one. I long to know and be known, to love and be loved. I think love is a risk, but one which humankind chooses to take over and over and over again, and it is a terrible risk that reaps great rewards for those who are willing to take a chance and let their heart lead the way.
I have learned that no pain lasts forever. No matter how difficult a day may be, night eventually comes, we go to bed, we sleep (or lay awake, as it may be), and morning comes with a fresh start. It doesn’t mean everything is resolved, it just means that we can look at things with a fresh perspective. It’s amazing what can happen when we choose to stay quiet and calm rather than be reactionary when we’re faced with difficult situations. I am finding that out more and more every day. There is strength in silence. There are answers when we stay quiet and listen. Things don’t always have to be resolved in a day. Sometimes, we have to sit with the discomfort for a bit, letting things work themselves out, knowing all the while that the pain will eventually pass.
Whatever comes, life goes on. When we’re hurting, we can find comfort in knowing the pain will pass and someday we will smile again. When everything feels wonderful, we savor it and treasure those moments, knowing that life ebbs and flows, and we need rain so we can appreciate the sunshine.
Physically, I feel better than I have in a long, long time. I’ve lost a lot of weight since I stopped using, and that feels amazing. I was at the bank today and someone said, “Hey, skinny!”. It took me nearly a full 30 seconds to realize they were talking to me. They asked me what I was doing to get in shape. That was amazing to me. I explained that I have literally been dancing my ass off. It never occurred to me that anyone would be asking me what I was doing to look good. I mean, that’s just ridiculous.
Still, it’s yet one more thing I have been able to accomplish since I stopped using. I am reclaiming my life, piece by piece. Reclaiming my physical health is something that I’ve needed to do for a long time, and I finally feel strong enough to do it. I look better, I feel better, and I am living better.
I have started looking for work, another area of my life I am reclaiming. I am not helpless. I am not weak. I am capable of taking care of myself and my son and moving us toward better things in life. Working again is going to bring so much more meaning to my days, because it will enable me to feel the pride of bringing home a paycheck, the joy of interacting with other people, the thrill of learning new things, and the satisfaction at the end of the day of feeling tired for a good reason. I am eager to get back to work, and I hope something comes through for me sooner than later.
If I had to summarize this past year, I would say it’s been a year of rediscovering myself. I have learned a lot about how strong I can be when it’s required of me. I have learned a lot about what I am capable of when I set my mind to something. I have learned that I am more than I give myself credit for, and I need to be as kind and gentle with myself as I am with my friends when they are in need. Being kind to myself is something I am not good at, but I am getting better. I am blessed with some amazing people in my life who remind me how important that is. I have learned that none of us are perfect, and we can all afford to give each other a little more grace. I am very much a work in progress. I am deeply flawed, unapologetically human, but the goal is progress, not perfection.
I am grateful every day for my sobriety. I am thankful for the support I have from friends and family. I am thankful that I have had this past year to heal and get stronger. As I begin year 2 of clean time, I realize it’s time to set goals for the future and work toward them. I’ve been in this place of limitations and loss long enough, and it’s time to move forward. Step by step, one day at a time, I am doing exactly that.
Now, we dance.