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Next week is the last day of National Recovery Month and I am taking a DEEP BREATH in order to tell you something that has taken me one year, two months and five days to admit publicly: I am in recovery.
I don’t get want to go into the details of when it started and why it happened and how bad it got (yet)… except to say that my problem was alcohol, and I haven’t had a single drink or even a sip of a drink in almost six months. There’s a lot more to say about my own journey, some of which I am ready to share and some of which I am scared shitless to talk about at the moment. But in honor of National Recovery Month, I thought that I would start by coming out of the recovery closet to tell you about the five things I’ve learned so far.
(Please don’t judge me too harshly, I can’t help but repeat over and over in my head right now.)
1. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the way to go: You’ve probably known someone in recovery and/or have heard about Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or one of the other “anonymous”-based programs in the past. And while this program work for MANY people, it is just not for me. I’ve been to the meetings and liked them, and I’ve definitely made friends in the rooms. They’ve been helpful and I have learned a lot. But, to be honest, I am just far too secular to take much of the program seriously.
I understand that when they say a Higher Power, you can choose whomever you want to be your higher power. People have told me about others who have made the rooms or the community or just anything else their ultimate Higher Power, but I just can’t do the same. I hear the word “God” in meetings (or anywhere else for that matter) and it makes my skin crawl. Beyond that, I don’t like any program that isn’t backed by some hard science–and so I have come to regard cognitive behavioral therapy as my recovery path of choice.
Mainly, I have attended SMART Recovery meetings and enjoyed them. They’re not perfect either, but I know that talking about my problems, focusing on what I can change and fix and how I can view things in a better light is what works for me. It’s basically free group therapy where we can freely talk about anxieties, respond to others with helpful advice or even just empathy. They’re smaller and more intimate, and I learned more in my first SMART meeting than in months of AA. The 12 steps and the 12 traditions? I understand that they work for some. But I am just not one of those people. Sorry.
2. Having a support system is absolutely crucial: If you haven’t seen the “almost everything we think we know about addiction is wrong” video above with the Rat Park and what that all means, do it ASAP. It’s one of the things that has helped me the most in this journey, and I am really happy that an extremely supportive friend shared it with me last year shortly before my first lapse (see below) because it is partially what has led me on my Map Your 30s blog path. I know that might sound a bit hokey, but it did.
Learning more about addiction is great, but the #1 thing that has helped me to advance in my recovery is having the support and love of friends and family (just like in Rat Park!). You see, while I have met and befriended some other addicts during my recovery journey, the truth is that most of my friends are what we in meetings call “normies”–as in normal people who can adequately handle alcohol, and the occasional drug like marijuana, without it becoming a life-ruining issue.
Since going into recovery, they have stood by me through and through. I know that I have worried some of them needlessly as I learned and grew and failed and succeeded throughout the past year, but they’ve still been there for me and I have been incredibly lucky for that. The same goes for my family, who have seen more of my bad addictive behavior than anyone else, yet they are still there for me too. And now I am extremely lucky to have the most caring, supportive partner I could have ever hoped for. He didn’t know me during my active addiction. He met me a month after my last relapse. But he’s there for me every single day, and has even given up drinking for me. It’s difficult for me to adequately describe how grateful I am for him and for all of the people I have in my life, but I truly am.
3. Lapses are a natural part of the process: My recovery birthday is July 18, 2015. It’s the first time that I honestly acknowledged to someone else that I had a problem that I needed help with and made a commitment to get that help. I knew that I could no longer do it on my own, that I could no longer keep trying to moderate and that I could no longer hide the truth.
I had a problem with drinking, and I needed help dealing with it. As I began to meet others in recovery, however, I found that people had relapses that lasted anything from one day to another few years. And they experienced a lot of guilt about it, but it was a guilt that I didn’t quite understand–especially not when it was a short-lived episode.
Luckily, my therapist helped to talk me through the process and realize that recovery is a journey, not a destination. Since my recovery date, I’ve had a few lapses (short bursts of drinking) that I am not at all proud of. But what I am proud of is that I moved on from them and didn’t let them affect me too negatively. I could have honestly let the guilt of one or two or more of them drive me back into a very dark place from which it would take months to release, but I didn’t. Yes, they happened. No, they weren’t fun. But I moved on, and I kept focusing on what’s really important: Keep going forward as much as possible, even when there’s an occasional step backwards.
4. It’s not just a one-size-fits-all solution: One of the things that I weirdly enjoy the most about being in recovery, besides the community aspect and the support I have received from loved ones, is reading about what recovery truly means. And the best thing I have come to understand is that there is no black and white world out there when it comes to recovery, and it is absolutely NOT a one-size-fits-all solution.
To be honest, and I don’t want to get into it too much, but that’s absolutely one of the reasons I do not enjoy going to AA meetings. I’ve found some of the black & white mentality draining and, to be frank, dangerous. Although I have met many great people, I have also met those who can’t see reason and are not open minded enough to consider other options. I try not to judge other people’s paths to recovery because I think that is absolutely dangerous territory, but unfortunately I constantly feel judged when I express any kind of differing opinion.
But still, I keep on reading and I keep on engaging with the community (especially online, where it’s easier to find a variety of people and opinions.) I enjoy learning about people’s experiences, even if they are very much not like my own. In fact, one of my favorite things is to read recovery blogs and popular addiction and recovery website The Fix. It’s been a great source of information, and I continue to read through as much of it as I can. Just as I ended up going to school for nutrition after my 100 pound weight loss, I am now constantly trying to learn more about recovery. I guess the truth is that I enjoy absorbing everything I can about whatever it is I am facing, and learning about all of the different ways and techniques and tools for recovery–whether I agree with them or not, whether they work for me or not–is a truly fascinating endeavor.
5. The problem isn’t just about me, it’s about us: As President Barack Obama and Macklemore recently said in the realest video about drug addiction in America, drug overdoses kill more people than traffic accidents. I mean, just this year we’ve lost the amazing Prince to an accidental drug overdose–and I think we’re all still mourning that one.
It’s not an easy problem to solve, and I honestly do not yet know what my part in it may be. I’ve considered eventually running meetings or getting some sort of degree in therapy in order to be able to help other addicts. But, to be honest, I think my best weapon is and has always been my ability to be honest in my writing.
The truth is that I’ve been keeping this under wraps while I’ve learned to deal with it. And it’s the scariest thing I can imagine to hit “publish” on this article, but I am coming out of the recovery closet (as they say) because I think it is important to get rid of the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery. It’s important to be able to talk about these things. It’s important to recognize that this happens to not just me, but to countless others who may not look or sound like the stereotypical drug addicts you might have been in TV or movies.
As Macklemore concluded in the video, “shame and this stigma associated with the disease keeps too many people from seeking the help that they actually need.” I am hoping that by sharing my own journey, my own struggles and my own successes, I can do a tiny bit to help that stigma and maybe even inspire someone to seek the help that they need in the same way that I know my weight loss journey has inspired others to get healthier.
After all, isn’t living a long and happy life all that we truly want?