[Throwback Thursday — Originally published March 2014]
I’ve had several people tell me I’m “not really an addict” in the past few weeks. Some were strangers, others were old friends, a few were barely acquaintances, and one was a very close family member. And their reasoning? Because NA did not work for me; because I don’t work the traditional 12 steps and have pursued my recovery along a different route.
I’ve been to meetings. I used to go frequently with a very close friend, who now is incredibly involved and attributes ‘the rooms’ with saving her life. And, I couldn’t be happier for her. I wholeheartedly agree that NA was the right course for her. I have said before that is it a tried and true system that has saved many lives. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m simply saying it isn’t right for everyone. And that is okay.
I have been to a few different regular meetings. In one, I felt like I was surrounded by people who only went because they were court-ordered to, or because they thought they could trick the people around them into believing they were clean. Most of them had 24 hours or less, every single week. I’m not bashing them–the thought that I am no better than the active addict, and someone with 20 years is no better than me, is one in which I firmly believe. We are all addicts, but we are not all the same.
In another meeting, I simply wasn’t comfortable. Everyone was too into their recovery. So, in one, people didn’t take it seriously enough. In another, they took it too seriously. I finally found one I loved. Nothing felt wrong, but, it didn’t exactly feel right, either. It still wasn’t for me.
You see, when I was involved with NA, I was consumed with finding meetings, going to meetings, counting days, working the steps, finding a sponsor, hoping to one day be a sponsor, being there for others, worrying about if I would speak and what I would say, talking to everyone in my life about meetings, finding my higher power. My addiction was no longer taking over my life, but my recovery from said addiction was.
I relapsed. And this time, when I had had enough, I decided to stop letting heroin run my life. I didn’t want being on heroin, or being free of heroin, to run my life; I wanted my life to run my life. And for some, focusing intensely on the 12 steps is their life, and that’s great if it works for them. It did not work for me.
So the last time I stopped using, I did not count days. I did not work the steps, or try to find meetings, or worry about saving others, or anything like that. I lived. I went back to school and I played with my son. I started wearing shorts for the first time since I was a kid. I made art, I wrote, I joined clubs, I started my own charity. Sometimes, I just laid on the couch and watched TV. But I did not think “today is [insert number] days clean!” I did not rush around trying to make a meeting on time. I cannot tell you how long it’s been since the last time I stuck a needle in my arm, and I am more proud of that than anything else.
Because it doesn’t matter anymore. My life, here and now, matters. And my life just doesn’t have the room or the time for meetings, or steps, or higher powers. Which, and I cannot stress this enough, is okay. It’s okay for the people who participate in NA to do so. It’s okay for the people on methadone to participate in medication assisted treatment. It’s okay for some people to simply participate in their lives. It’s okay to simply not use. Whatever recovery works for you, work it right back.
We must not forget that we are all different. We are all addicts, but we are also individuals. Our commonality is our disease. That does not mean the disease affects us the same, or that we need the same treatment. We should be helping each other to find what works for us, and supporting each other in whatever process that might be.
So before you tell me I’m not a real addict, explain to me just what a real addict is. Is it only someone who benefits from The Big Book? Am I not real? Do I not breathe and drink and eat, think and feel?
Did I not rob, cheat, steal, hurt, and do whatever I had to for my next fix? Did I not wake up every morning, sick, calling people I hadn’t spoken to in years, trying to come up with a good reason they should give me money? Did I not put on my sexiest clothes and walk around the casinos offering men a good time? Did I not scar and blow out my veins, locked in a bathroom somewhere, dripping with blood, cursing my warped needle? Did I not look over my shoulder everywhere I went, terrified the cops would somehow know what I was up to? Did I not try to distract my son in another room so he wouldn’t see the cruel reality of our lives? Did my best friend not throw water on and slap me because he thought I was dead? Did I not endure days of physical agony, only to endure months more of mental anguish? Did I not call my mother, crying, telling her she had to take my son because I was unfit? Do I not still owe my old landlord $4,000?
Please, tell me, how am I not real? What did I not do correctly to fit your standard of a real addict? Because believe me, when those things play back in my head, they are not my imagination. They happened. And they did not happen because I was a mild, part-time drug user. I did not risk losing every single thing in my life simply because I thought it was fun. I did it because my brain, like yours, is an addicted one.
The only difference is that my heart isn’t in it anymore. I don’t want to put my heart into something I’ve left behind.
This does not mean I do not have cravings. This does not mean I do not know my addiction will be with me for the rest of my life, and I have to live accordingly. But instead of replacing my obsession of heroin with an obsession of not being on heroin, I’m replacing it with life–life outside of the addict’s world.
I would think you would be happy for me. I would think that you, not only as an addict, but as a human being, would recognize how hurtful your words can be, especially to someone who is in such an important stage in their life. I love you, I really do, and I commend you for diving into your recovery with such ferocity, and doing what works for you. But just because something different works for me, does not make me imaginary.
I am here. I was there, in those bad times. I will continue to be there, but I refuse to live there anymore.