While there are similarities to people’s drug and alcohol use all roads into drug and alcohol use and recovery are unique and as different as the many people who use drugs and alcohol recreationally or abusively. As addiction counselors in private practice in Philadelphia and Montgomery county we work with individuals to support their efforts at finding recovery whichever way enables them to take ownership of the process and reflects their self-determination and unique personality. Many people believe Alcoholics Anonymous is not consistent with these principles but we have found otherwise. Sometimes AA is right for one person in recovery and sometimes it is not. There are many paths to recovery. Occasionally we select personal stories of people we know who share their experience strength and hope so that others may find a unique and personal path to recovery for themselves. Here is one such story written by an extremely bright, compassionate and talented young man on the road to recovery. Here is his story. We have chosen not to edit it to allow it to stay real and raw but also because he’s a great writer 🙂
I started using drugs and alcohol at a young age, at around thirteen or so. I did not predict nor could have I even comprehended what the following ten or so years of my life was going to look like. I never found myself thinking maybe I will become a down and out heroin addict, living on the street and begging for change when I grow up. Ultimately, the last ten years have led me on a journey that has brought me to a place of total despair and hopelessness. However, in that despair and hopelessness I was able to experience the gift of desperation which led me to state of being in which there was virtually nothing left to do but surrender. Surrender to what? I have been able to surrender to not only the acceptance that I am an addict but also I have been able to begin surrendering to the present moment, which has made all the difference. Alcoholics Anonymous has been somewhat of a sanctuary for me in that it has given me a place where I can begin to comprehend and be more at ease with the psychic change that needs to take place in order for me to not only stop getting high and drunk but to also be in recovery; happy, joyous and free. I have found recovery to be something far more than simply putting down the drink or the drug. Recovery has opened my eyes to the thought that my worst nightmare has somehow become a catalyst for what some describe as, “A life beyond your wildest dreams.”
Following high school, where I did a lot of experimentation with drugs and alcohol, I went to Temple University. I had no idea what the concept of addiction even meant. I figured it was a classification for someone who had no self-control and could not stop partying. Around this time of my life, early on in my college years, I was dealing with a breakup that really broke my heart and was also dealing with some health issues that really made me feel vulnerable and damaged. I loved to play music and that was my passion and I was pretty successful pursuing that passion. There came a time where I was introduced to a drug called oxycodone, this is an opioid painkiller. In the beginning, it was like I had fallen in love. I could play music for hours and hours on end and my girlfriend problems and health issues seemed to go away for at least a little while. I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I figured it was just like any other drug I had tried and figured I really found the drug that was right for me. I continued using oxycodone and soon enough I discovered what it meant to develop a tolerance for something and experienced firsthand what it meant to go through withdrawal. Before I knew it, I moved on to heroin. This wasn’t out of experimentation or curiosity, it was merely out of necessity, my mind and body needed opiates and heroin became a very practical and cost effective option for me. I then began shooting heroin for the same reason, it was more efficient. From that point on, I tried to get clean countless times with no long term success.
I had been in and out of rehabs since the age of nineteen. I wanted to get clean each and every time and did everything I possibly could to try and think my way out of this heroin problem. I tried to motivate myself in all kinds of ways. I tried to establish self-control. I literally tried everything I could possibly come up with to ensure that I would not find myself in such a desperate situation again. However, time after time, I ended up in the same hole, digging deeper and deeper. I had been exposed to AA meetings in rehabs and when I would leave rehab, I would continue to go for a little while. I always felt something in those meetings, something seemed to be happening. However, I could not really comprehend it with my rational mind and therefore would eventually dismiss what seemed to be going on. My story is one of those stories in which I really had to learn the hard way. I have had to go through everything I have been through in order to be where I am right now. It is almost as if all of the suffering and mistakes served as a means to learn something essential. To anyone who may be reading this and feels as though maybe they aren’t that bad and perhaps they need to really hit a bottom. I hope you can begin your journey in recovery now and be an example of what people mean when they say, “Your bottom is when you stop digging.” I can only speak from experience, my story has been a long hard journey of banging my head against the wall.
Addiction had beaten me up so bad that at times I really had truly accepted the idea that I am going to die this way and that’s just the way it is. I was not being overly dramatic, it truly felt that way because this addiction thing becomes such a monster when you are living with it. It truly wore me down to the point of utter despair. These were not just moments of suffering here and there, it became a nightmare I could not wake up from. I would find myself trying to do the right thing but always failing, always ending up high or drunk again and after a while that cycle is enough to drive someone completely insane. This is where Alcoholics Anonymous comes in. I had been going to meetings off and on for a while so I went through the phase of really acquiring a taste for what seems to be going on at these meetings. At first it can be overwhelming and one might be quick to dismiss AA which I do understand. However, I would recommend really giving it an honest try. I remember being at a meeting one time and coming to a very profound realization. I was still so stuck in my head and trying to rationally understand what is going on here and what do I need to do to just have some peace. I was searching for something that was hiding in plain sight. It was as if I was looking for the light switch when it was already one. I was thinking, does AA work? I then looked around and suddenly realized that there were people all around me in that meeting room that not only had significant periods of sobriety, they also looked happy, joyous and free. This became all the proof I really needed and gave me the courage to keep coming to meetings and to see what happens. The best advice I could possibly give to someone who shares this predicament of addiction is this; go to some AA meetings with an open mind and find out for yourself. Trying to explain the essence of what goes on in those rooms seems to be a fool’s quest and it might spoil the organic process of one experiencing AA first hand.
One might ask the question, why would a heroin addict go to AA? That is a fair question. I have gone to Narcotics Anonymous as well and have also found good recovery there too. However, from my experience, I found a home in AA. The point of what I am saying is definitely not to say one should go to AA instead of NA, both work well. The point is that one should do what feels right for them and that a heroin addict can find a home in AA if that is what feels right for them. Ultimately, I am a heroin addict and I go to AA. I am on a journey which some would call a spiritual awakening and I am finding myself in a state of being in which I am able to stay sober. It is working, that is really my point. The rest of what one will discover is contingent upon one’s own journey. From my experience, I needed a spiritual solution for my unrelenting addiction. The twelve steps have served as a muse in which the seed of a spiritual awakening has been able to grow. I have found that it is not just about putting down the drink or the drug, it is about something much deeper than that which begins to reveal itself as we follow this path. I have found that these secrets of recovery have become somewhat self-explanatory and begin to unfold by their own device if one just keeps going to meetings with an open mind.
There are a lot of statistics that are floating around the scientific community in regards to addiction and relapse rates. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery) , the relapse rate of someone who is suffering with the disease of addiction is somewhere in the range of 40 to 60 percent. This percentage goes way up if isolated to only heroin addicts. This may seem very scary and may make people feel hopeless. I know at times it has made me feel that way. However, these statistics are, first of all, only statistics and statistics by their very nature are subject to being somewhat misleading. One thing to consider is that it is very difficult to predict how many people are really recovering versus how many people are relapsing. Most of this data is collected from rehabs. How are we to account for all the people who are recovering and therefore are not really accessible to researchers? Furthermore, if true, what are these statistics really telling us? Is it that some people just cannot recover and are hopeless or it is perhaps that some have not been exposed to a solution? Many people in AA would make the claim that anyone can recover if they have the capacity to be honest and are willing to take certain steps.
These words I am writing are a testament that recovery is possible a day at a time. AA can be the cornerstone to that process of recovery. It can at the very least put one in a position where they are able to have some type of awakening, whether one wants to call it spiritual or not. It basically comes down to having an experience in which one is able to stop doing drugs and alcohol through a power greater than themselves. This may sound abstract but everything that is us besides our minds and our ego is functioning and relying on a power greater than ourselves. The oxygen we are breathing will prove this very fact. With that being said, I say give it a chance. Like I said before, I was a down and out heroin addict and really did not see any way out. I was completely hopeless and the suffering was becoming unbearable. AA has not taken away all of my neurotic tendencies. I still become very anxious sometimes and I am still dealing health issues and life issues. However, AA has helped me to identify with a part of myself that is not solely defined by these afflictions. Therefore I am able to dance with this suffering and it sort of seems to turn into grace in the end. My suffering has given birth to some of my most profound realizations. Give AA a shot. After all, it is simply people with a common problem that share a common solution. We are just getting together to help each other. Take away the name AA and all of the preconceived notions we have about it and see it for what it really is; one person helping another and passing that on. If nothing else, forget what I have to say about it, go see for yourself.