In this special guest blog post, Steve discusses his true story of substance use and recovery. This is a real story shared with us (with permission) by one of our clients. If you or someone you know is facing substance use disorder, you will probably relate to the following story of Steve’s thoughts on powerlessness, surrender and acceptance.
Three concepts discussed in the recovery world are powerlessness, surrender and acceptance. After being in treatment a couple times, recovery buzz words like these have a way of losing their intended meaning with me. This happens in much the same way an overworked nurse at a busy hospital floor can experience “alarm fatigue.”
Let me explain. All day long our metaphorical nurse moves with purpose from room to room. One by one she addresses trivial non-life-threatening issues: an empty bag of saline or a cardiac monitor sticker that has fallen off of a patient’s chest. After a while, the urgency attached to the beeps coming from patient rooms can be lost. Likewise with recovery, if you’re not mindful of it, groups and meetings can start to sound a little like “recovery bingo.”
After hearing these words over and over in various treatment settings, both inpatient and outpatient, it’s easy to lose focus and let my mind wander without giving any actual thought to them. And when I initially read the prompt from my counselor, “Summarize what powerlessness, surrender and acceptance mean for you and your recovery program,” admittedly it sounded very much like recovery Bingo, (maybe even for my counselor as well, who didn’t leave much space to write my answer).
So, for a very long time I strongly resisted the thought that I was powerless over my addiction to drugs. I had myself convinced that I could be the one-in-a-thousand unicorn of a drug user that could somehow successfully use substances as highly addictive as heroin and cocaine in moderation. But so goes my own personal motto: “All things in moderation, including moderation.” (I’m working on that though.)
The truth is, one can successfully use for the rest of their life (though it may be a short one). That person, though, can have literally no other aspirations or dreams beyond their continued drug use. I’ll quote one of my favorite writings on the subject…
“It is not possible to be a functional addict and accomplish anything. In order to be a functional addict forever, you cannot have dreams. You can’t think of a better life. You cannot be successful at the same time.” (Taken from “I miss you, heroin.” By Laura Lang)
I had reached the point in active addiction where I was completely incapacitated by both physical and psychological aspects of the disease. Every single day of my life was entirely run according to heroin’s schedule, not mine. Every morning I’d wake up with no alarm needed. In order to function through a full work day I had to scramble to buy a bundle by 6 am. Buying drugs at this hour of the morning is no easy task as any drug addict can attest to. But I’d get it done. I had no choice. The stress of finding drugs and then the actual buying of drugs, all before I had to be at work was mentally and physically exhausting. The messed up hamster wheel of heroin addiction, from which there is no escape. Or at least it feels that way at the time. All this just to function as an addict. To me that is the definition of powerlessness.
I have had to surrender to a 9-year battle against the idea that I could be both successful and an addict. I desperately wanted a “normal” life, but I also wanted that “normal” life to involve injecting heroin and cocaine into my veins daily. It didn’t seem at all unreasonable to me at the time to want both. Like Fox Moulder on the 90s era TV show, The X-Files, I WANT(ed) TO BELIEVE. Unfortunately, it’s just another twisted junkie fantasy.
Though the demands of friends and family, I was forced to submit to the truth and surrender to the reality of my life. It wasn’t manageable anymore. The details are for another story on another day, but the bottom line is that I was no longer the functioning addict I had been for so long. It’s not in my nature to give up easily when it comes to things I want, and I wanted to keep using. Like most addicts, I didn’t want to admit my problem was severe enough. Only in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary did I finally surrender to the reality. My life had indeed become unmanageable.
And now finally acceptance. A related yet entirely difference concept to that of surrender. One can certainly surrender without coming to acceptance. I would say, in fact, that in my summer 2016 tenure at Horizon Village Terrace House inpatient program, I did exactly that. I had surrendered to the idea that addiction to IV drugs was bigger than me. I just couldn’t bring myself to accept it. Acceptance requires humility. As my friends are family can attest to, I struggle with humility sometimes. This, of course, means I struggle with acceptance too. Not totally there yet, but I’m getting closer each day.
It’s easy to romanticize addiction and selectively remember only the good times. When a character in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is recalling the plight of being an addict during the Christmas holiday and making sure he had enough dope to get him through without getting sick, he remarks, “It’s a fucking bitch of a life, don’t let anybody get over on you different.” (Infinite Jest, 20th Anniversary Ed., Page 129)
This line has stuck with me since the first time I read it in rehab. I’ve been trying to read “Infinite Jest” since I first went to an inpatient rehab. It’s super challenging and I’m still trying to tackle it. (There’s a recovery metaphor somewhere in there.)
Heroin has been, is now, and forever will be one of the defining remarks on my life’s transcript. Much like the five stages of grief model, I’m arriving at acceptance last. I’m grieving a loss here. Because man did I love heroin.
Redheads, Heroin & Cocaine
I always tell people that my three biggest problems in life, historically speaking, have been redheads, heroin and cocaine. In that order. While I’m half joking here, my life certainly would look radically different absent these three influences. Different in what way? That’s hard to say. Subjectively “better” sure but every time I try to envision how specifically my life would look had I not gone down the path of addiction, I come up empty. Despite all the negatives of nearly a decade using hard drugs, I have grown up as a person in many positive ways… Ways in which (it’s probable) I would have not grown, had I followed the plans I had for myself when I was young.
Being an addict teaches you a lot about life in a short amount of time. About other people, yourself and the world in general. As a white kid from a middle class family in the suburbs, I simply would have had no business ever being in the places I was, doing the things I was doing. I don’t have to be in those places or do the things any longer, but the education of those experiences persists. You simply cannot get that kind of thing any other way.
Today, my focus is on continued self improvement. Going to the gym for an hour each day, reading books again, practicing guitar again, and going back to college to finish what I had set out to do so long ago. Every day, getting further and further away from that desire to be a functional addict with no aspirations, no dreams and most importantly (for me), no sense of purpose.
Steve, Spring 2017