Hi lovely reader,
Maybe you’re reading this and you’ve never struggled with addiction. Maybe you’re reading this because someone you love is, or because you are, or maybe you have years more than I do of sober time. Regardless, I’d like to think what I’m going to share could help you, whichever category you fall into.
Sobriety is a scary concept, whether you’ve been reliant on drugs for a long time or even a short time. When you are in the midst of heavy use, the only thing that feels good, the only thing you look forward to, and the only thing you can imagine doing for the rest of your life is getting high. There is so much darkness surrounding you, and the claims you hear about what all the wonderful changes that will come if you give up the drugs and get help and stick with it all sound so distant and sometimes insincere.
I have been sober for a considerable amount of time now (nothing like years, but in some ways I think that makes what I’m sharing seem pretty exciting and attainable as these things have all come to me in a matter of months). I am not going to pretend that in the times I was sober before but truly a ‘dry drunk’ (meaning not using but acting out the same behaviours as if I were still getting high and not striving for personal growth at all) these wonderful rewards appeared in my life too. Sobriety, in the context of this post, refers to a state in which you are clean from drugs or alcohol, should that be your substance of choice, and you are not acting on impulses that remain from your years in use, you are participating in therapeutic activities with professionals and other people in recovery in order to understand and work past the cravings, remaining addict-behaviours, and the underlying issues that lead you to your substance abuse. It means you are working on creating a ‘normal’ life to whatever extent is possible at your stage, by integrating hobbies, responsibilities, cultivating healthy relationships, and working towards making a living amends for the hurt that every addict causes in their use.
That kind of sobriety brings a few things that are true guarantees, and that, once those promises come into your life, feel a thousand times better than any high you will ever have felt on drugs. If you are presently in your addiction or sober but stepping outside of recovery out of resentment for the lack of immediate gratification you may be noticing, you may scoff at this. I did. The first time I got sober, I was really young which was a problem in itself, and I heard a lot of God talk and condescension from people with a lot of clean time, and found myself forced into a program that reminded me of a cult. I heard all about how God was going to reward me if I just said no to that next line, and I can’t count how many times I thought “I’d rather die in a goddamn pile of cocaine than become one of these self-righteous, self-centred brain washed morons”. Pardon my language and harsh descriptors; I am not a participant in NA anymore aside from attending one meeting whose group members I really adore, but I also have a deep respect for the things it can do for some people. My only frustration is that it took a long time in my rehab journey to be introduced to any methods of recovery other than the Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous programs.
In my opinion, God does not swoop in and bestow you with gifts and eternal happiness and a spot in heaven for deciding to stop slowly killing yourself and the people who love you with your addiction. And I’m not really sure why anyone thinks he/she/the universe would. People do some pretty incredible things, for people other than themselves, that do not even benefit them personally, just to be good people, and then sometimes they get cancer, they get hit by a car, they lose people they love and spend their lives in grief, etc. As far as I can see there is no reward system for good deeds, and does quitting drugs really warrant the title of a “good deed”? Ultimately, it does not benefit anyone to fail to take some responsibility for your time spent getting high. I do not believe that addiction is a choice by any means – who would want to lose everything and everyone they love to pursue a high that never really comes back, and watch themselves become a shadow of who they were until they eventually overdose and die? There is no doubt in my mind that addiction should be categorized across the board in the way that it often is now: substance use disorder. But realistically, getting sober is very brave and takes more hard work than really anything I have seen anyone have to do, including in my own experience, but it is not a selfless act. “You are not responsible for your addiction, but you are responsible for your recovery.”
So, no, in my opinion there will be no divine intervention in which your efforts in sobriety will be validated by miraculous joyful events and gifts. I wish there were. But there are some pretty wonderful things I can promise you, that you will indeed have to work for but that will make every ounce of effort you’ve put into staying clean feel indescribably valuable.
- The first thing I can promise, is that you will get to feel like yourself again. There’s a school of thought that says that whenever you started using is when you stopped maturing. And I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but it is in some ways. And it’s not all bad. When you get clean and start rediscovering the world wearing completely different lenses than you had been wearing while using, you get to know the person you were before the drugs all over again, with the additional benefit of finding things that the new, personal-growth oriented, and depending on what you’ve done with your experiences in use, perhaps more worldly and in some ways, wise self. You will have a moment where the identity crisis that you have basically the entire time you’re trapped in drug addiction (you know, where you’re fucked up, have been awake for 3 nights in a row, haven’t showered, and you look in the mirror and you’re like, “who the fuck is that” – those moments) is suddenly alleviated.
- The second promise is that after that sudden realization of self, the cocktail (ironic choice of works, I know) of drugs and drug addicted behaviours leaving your system and new neuropathways forming, therapy, perhaps psychiatric help as many of us struggle with concurrent disorders, and a lot of effort on an individual’s part to find their morals and values and live in accordance with them, eventually leads to the moment where you have the thought that you are a good person. Sometimes the thought that precedes that is that you are a civilized person, at least, or an okay human being, or something along those lines. But eventually, if you really strive for recovery, you will become and feel aware of the fact that you are a good human being. For ‘normies’ I think this is a pretty standard thing to feel and probably wouldn’t illicit shivers down your spine, but when I had this moment pretty recently, after I had helped a friend through an emotional situation, given thoughtful advice to my brother, did my best to get my mom through a day where she was exhausted and sad, and just felt the cumulation of all the times I had been honest, kind, and of use to others recently, I realized it was a thousand times the high that the best cocaine I’d ever done had been.
- The third promise is that other people will love you again, maybe even more than before, because they will acknowledge and appreciate your bravery. It is sad to say, but the people we become in our addictions are so far from having any humanity or compassion and are so self-interested and almost evil that even people who thought they loved you unconditionally, like immediate family, get to a point where they don’t genuinely feel love towards you anymore. I had gotten really really sick in my use at one point and was living on my drug dealers boat, doing coke every night and overdosing on oxys (and then withdrawing and throwing up during the one weekend my family was willing to pick me up and spend time with me). I wanted to do drugs so badly that my parents were willing to send me to a 9 month treatment program in the states, where I’d be safe, sheltered, fed and given the opportunity to get clean and have a real life, and I said fuck that a moved onto this boat in Port Hope. I had some moments of clarity, where I stopped either fiend-ing for drugs, scheming about how I was going to steal or lie to get money from whoever I could to obtain more drugs, or wallowing in self-pity because I felt so incredibly sick and exhausted to a point I can’t even describe, and I thought about how much I missed and had hurt my family. I texted my mom “I love you” every night, once I had given up on asking her for money for the occasional sandwich of course, and one time I called her so many times in a row she finally picked up. I said “please just tell me you love me” and she said “I can’t, Elizabeth, because I don’t know you anymore”. That was probably the worst moment of my life, which is saying something. But now that I have proven I am serious about staying clean through getting time, putting all my effort into finding sober housing and keeping my place there, acting in accordance with my morals ,and showing people I love them (not telling them and then hurting them over and over) my mom and I tell each other we love one another every day. My brother just called me and told me he loved me for the first time in 7 months. My dad and I have a relationship like we never have and he calls me bunny again (seems weird but it’s a Gormley thing) and we talk about what I’m struggling with just as much as we talk about how exciting the future is for me and for our whole family now that I am clean.
- The fourth promise is that you will attract wonderful people and cultivate genuine, close relationships, once you start radiating kindness and that indescribable but very real sober glow. I strongly believe that sometimes people who were addicts become better people than even some ‘normies’, because nothing forces you to evaluate your character defects more than a thorough and honest recovery. Other people notice when you seem strong-willed, empathetic, non-judgemental, wise, compassionate and like maybe you have an interesting life to share. It’s not magic and there’s work involved, but suddenly you might find that you are making friends with better people than you knew existed, who are both in recovery and simply around you at school, work, or somewhere you participate in a hobby. And the relationships you foster are so much deeper and more meaningful than any you’ve ever had, because vulnerability and empathy are so key to sobriety, and those skills when applied to friendships and familial bonds are incredibly impactful. Suddenly you’ll remember what it is to have a connection with someone that makes both of you feel understood and loved.
- The final promise is that you will rediscover what it is to feel passion. This comes in a variety of forms. The first time I felt it was when I got a message from someone telling me my blog had helped her through a hard time. Since then I’ve received about 10 additional DMs and every time I get one I feel as though I have just been refuelled and a fire is burning inside of me. Part of that is that I am passionate about writing and I love this method of expression, and then part of it is knowing I finally have a positive impact of some kind that reaches beyond myself. The second time I felt it was when I fell in love, sober, for the first time in my entire life. I’d actually never started a serious relationship at a time I wasn’t on drugs, and I finally did. I don’t know what will become of that relationship and there’s no point in really thinking of it as being meaningful for its eventual outcome, but my god is it incredible to feel the rush of dopamine and serotonin and endorphins that comes with kissing someone you can’t even contain your giddy nervousness around for the first time. That is a crazy drug all on its own, and often our bonds in addiction are formed because of a mutual appreciation of a drug, and the shared act of using in unison, and though these relationships have a certain intensity, sobriety reveals that such connections are ultimately very shallow. Remove the drugs and there isn’t much there. Falling in love in sobriety is like waking up from a surreal dream and stepping into a colourful, vivid, inexplicably beautiful reality. And that passion you feel for that person can actually be expressed through genuine affection, being there for them when they need you, sharing in the magic of sober conversations that go on for hours, sober sex where you are not simply going through the motions and you’ll remember it, and I can promise you that as painful as regaining the ability to care about someone can be, ultimately it is positively earth-shaking to look at someone and realize you love them more than you have ever loved anything, and more than you could ever love a drug.
There are a lot of other little things I can think of that come with sobriety that feel awesome too, but for me these are the most important things I’ve gained. I hope that if you are reading this tonight by some weird chance and you’re wondering if you should text your dealer and pick up again, this somehow gives you enough hope for the person you can be and the life you can and deserve to have that, even if all you can promise is a sober 24 hours, you put your phone down and make a different choice. There are a lot of steps to take after that to get the things I’ve written about, and it’s daunting, but you, lovely reader, can do it.
Lots of love,