The other night Philly’s nephew went missing.
Nephew has a long history of Opiate abuse.
Nephew has been in and out of rehabs.
Many people have tried to help.
And so, we know what the outcome of missing may be.
I am grateful I have been around 12 step rooms long enough to know: I did not cause it. I cannot change it. And I cannot cure it.
Reader, you cannot wrestle with the disease of addiction. You will not win.
I look over and I see Philly is sitting at the desk with his head in his hands. And like the addict, he is powerless over this thing.
I was intending to write this blog tonight about recovery, anyway.
And then this thing happened, here, now, with Nephew.
So, I pause.
I consider what I will write here. I decide I will tell a story of recovery, condensed. In honor of Nephew. I will share my experience, strength and hope.
It happens to be my story. But it is not about me. It could be anybody’s story. As we say in the rooms of recovery: What it was like, what happened, and what it is like now.
It is many years ago and I am a younger, wild Violet. Quite young. 13 years old. I meet people who give me access when I enter Junior High School. That’s where it starts. My life very quickly becomes unmanageable.
They say weed is not a gateway drug.
That’s what they say.
I will spare you the rather hideous and dangerous spiral of deepening drug and alcohol abuse. I am sure you have heard the stories, seen the movies. The movies, the stories…these things will give you a very good idea of “what it was like”. I am disappearing for stretches at a time. I take whatever I can get my hands on. I run away to Buffalo in 11th grade on a Greyhound bus with $70 to my name and a bag of mescaline (a story saved for another blog perhaps).
I have no idea how my parents are managing to sleep at night. I do not even consider this sleeping fact until much later when I have my own children.
Three weeks later my parents manage to find me and beg me to come home. I have run out of money and mescaline, so I go home.
Life goes on. Many, MANY opportunities slip through my fingers, unnoticed. It is only later I can see these missed opportunities. Tiny treasures overlooked on this timeline of my life.
That is what it was like.
Then there is the “what happened” part. What happens is I begin to blow up my life, piece by piece. People are hurt. Sweet relationships destroyed. I do not care. I do not feel anything at this point in my life. I cannot see clearly. I think I am doing just fine.
This is because I am what we call a “high functioning” addict. Actually, I am a mess.
My sober friend, the friend who I now lovingly refer to as Friend 1, she knows. She knows I am a mess. She keeps asking, “Why don’t we go to a meeting together tonight?”
And I would say no.
And I would say no.
And I would say no.
I am far too busy for meetings, anyway.
And then suddenly, I am laid off from my hifalutin career. My work that gave me my identity. My status. My work that was part of the things in my life I had begun to blow up. Perhaps it was not so suddenly I was laid off.
I could not use busyness as an excuse. I did not know it at the time, but I had just hit my bottom.
Hitting a bottom is a necessary occurrence for many to get clean and sober.
So I say to Friend 1, “Oh ALLRIGHT! I will go to a meeting!”
And so off we go.
This is not my first meeting ever. A number of years ago I had gone to a couple of meetings. Mostly I just show up here and there and dump my stuff out and leave. No sponsor. No step work. No solution.
I go this time again. We sit down in the metal folding chairs that are being set up by someone. I think this is this person’s job. I later realize this is this person’s service position.
Service. This word alone is pivotal for me.
Service? What the hell? They are doing it for free? And another person making the coffee. And another chairing the meeting. And someone is responsible for group literature. I must look completely confused because an old-timer comes up to me and says, “You know, you can’t keep it if you don’t give it away.”
It takes me a while to really figure out what he means by this.
When the meeting is over, Friend 1 asks if I would like to come to another meeting with her the next day.
“Like tomorrow?” I say. Because I was just at a meeting TODAY.
“Yes.” she says.
“Ok.” I say, because I have heard some good things at the meeting and really, what else do I have to do since I have no job now.
Next day comes and we go to the meeting. This is a different meeting. I like it better than the first meeting. I hear many things I can relate to.
Actually, it is a little scary, all this relating.
I learn I am supposed to do 90 meetings in 90 days.
Inside I think: HAHAHAHA!
The next day comes and I go to a different meeting. There is something about these people. They are so real, so honest. And finally, like I never have in my life, I feel like I belong. In a flash of light I get the GIFT OF DESPERATION. I realize I cannot go on living my life the way I have been living my life.
I find out what a sponsor is and I get a sponsor. She is the speaker at a meeting I attend. I like what she says and so I ask her, “Will you be my sponsor?” I feel like I am asking someone to marry me. Ugh.
Thankfully, she says yes.
We start right away with Step One: We admitted we were powerless over our addiction and our lives had become unmanageable. We focus on the first two words: WE ADMITTED.
I cannot do this alone.
And I must surrender. I have this thing.
Sponsor tells me to stay sober I need to “fellowship” and go out for coffee afterwards with people from the meeting – to get to know other people and to let them get to know me. To widen my circle of support. I do not feel like doing this. I do not want to let people get to know me. Mostly I just want to go to the meeting and then run away.
But ok, I do not run away.
Sponsor tells me, “Anyone can GET sober. The trick is to STAY sober.” Then she says, 90 meetings in 90 days.” At this point I am mostly just dragging my carcass around taking suggestions, so I say, “Ok.”
We dig in. Sponsor gives me suggestions and I push back. I do not feel like taking them, but I take them anyway. She says, “Your best thinking got you here.” And, “If you want what I have, do what I do.”
“Oh ALLRIGHT!” I say. God! Sponsor is making me call her every day! Later I realize how ridiculously selfish it is of me to complain about a person volunteering to listen to my crap every day. For FREE.
We keep going. I make my 90 days! This is a miracle. I am determined to do my FOURTH STEP by the end of my first year.
Step Four: Made a Fearless and Searching Moral Inventory of Ourselves.
I LOVE this step! I get to write down all my resentments! Woo!
I turn this over to Sponsor. This turning over is my Step Five. I am so excited because now we are on Step Six!
But then the unthinkable happens. Sponsor moves away.
Now I am Sponsor-less.
I am slightly terrified. By now I am really beginning to see a new life unfolding in front of me. I listen in meetings for a possible new sponsor. I hear someone speaking and I want what she has. Even though I am freaking out, I run up to her and ask, “Will you be my Sponsor?”
Sometimes one has to wait for an answer to this question.
Thankfully I do not have to wait. New Sponsor smiles and says, “Yes.”
I ask her what we should do first. I tell her I am on Step Six.
New Sponsor looks at me and says, “We will be starting from Step One.”
Inside I think: Nooooooooooooooo! No No No! I am on Step Six! Six Six Six!
Outside I say, “Do we have to? I mean I JUST did Step Four and Five.”
“Yes.” New Sponsor says. “If I am going to help you, I need to know who you are now.”
For God’s sake! This has foiled my whole STEP TIMELINE PLAN.
Whatever. I go back to Step One.
Time passes. I get honest with New Sponsor. Rigorous honesty is a must in this place. It is very, very hard for me to be this honest. I mean really, REALLY honest. But it is the only way. And so I do it. Even though I would much rather keep my secrets, secret.
Soon, I get Sponsees. People newer than me that I can help work through the steps. People I can pass along what has been so freely given to me. I feel like a grown up now because I am a SPONSOR!
This PASS IT ON experience is one of the greatest gifts of the program. The opportunity to help others. I feel a shift begin to happen. It is strange how I thought my story was not that bad. But as the years go by and my awareness grows, so does the depth of my story. I realize I am lucky to be alive.
More time passes. I learn to take responsibility for my life. I learn to keep commitments. I even learn to keep my heart open and be vulnerable.
I witness people come in. I witness people go out. Some come back. Some do not. Some people die. It becomes very clear no one can save an addict except the addict themselves.
The longer I am clean and sober, the more of my tangent issues come up: Relationship issues, money issues, family issues. It’s like Whack-A-Mole. Put one down, another pops up.
I start joining programs like crazy.
Ok, then I realize I am doing what I always do. OVERDOING.
I back off a little bit.
I work my Eighth Step: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. I make the list. New Sponsor tells me I have to wait and write out each amend EXACTLY. Another thing I do not wish to do.
So, I get ready to start my Ninth Step: Made amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. My list is long and New Sponsor keeps asking me, “Where’s the harm? You cannot include people just because you feel ashamed or guilty. Was there actual harm done to the person or institution?”
I have to cross off more than half my list.
This is hard. I cannot undo my past. I can only try to make amends. I can keep it on my side of the street. No ifs, ands, or buts. No conversation other than listening to whatever the other person has to say. A simple: I did this, I did that, and it was wrong. I am sorry.
Some of these go well. Some of these do not go so well.
Over the years I work through the steps many times. I go to thousands of meetings. I have several different sponsors is several different programs. One is in a coma for three months. People from the program rotate going to sit by her side in the hospital and read, every day.
Slowly, within this hammock of support, within the solution of the rooms of recovery, I begin to know who I am. I am shown how esteemable acts build self-esteem. I begin to meet myself and I find myself worthy. I learn how to live this life. On its own terms. I learn to listen. I learn I do not have to say everything that is on my mind. I learn how to hold space for another person. And…I learn I would rather be happy than right.
Gifts of sobriety happen, things I never thought possible:
Son and Daughter raised, imperfectly, with love. And they are AWESOME young adults now.
And Philly, my Buddhist husband, the kindest most loving and evolved man I have ever met.
Sweet friendships with people I really trust, and who can really trust me.
A class at a time, I earned a Master’s in Education. It took four and a half years, but program showed me how to take the action and let go of the results.
And get this – becoming a Teacher of Elementary School Children. Me. Responsible for a whole classroom of students. Previously unthinkable.
Certifying as a Yoga Teacher. I GET to teach people how to inhabit their bodies, how to let go, how to just breathe.
Training to be a Doula. Getting to support women and their partners before and through birth. Being INVITED into this sacred space, this moment when a new life enters the world and opens its eyes for the first time. Witnessing the joy in the faces of the parents, bursting with unconditional love.
I tell you this not so much as a story about me, although it is my story. It could be anybody’s story. Reader, I hope it is a window into what recovery can be in the life of an addict. Any kind of addict.
We cannot stop the waves.
But we can learn to surf.
As I sit finishing this blog over a few days’ time, Philly’s finds his beloved nephew dead in his apartment. Cause of death: Multiple drug overdose.
He was 36 years old.
This blog dedicated to Nephew and all those suffering the disease of addiction.
https://www.aa.org If you think you have a problem with alcohol.
www.na.org If you think you have a problem with drugs.
https://al-anon.org For families of Alcoholics and Addicts.