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Today, I am one year sober. While my climb to this point has been Sisyphusean, I have stopped blaming myself, and have taken my own life back.
Originally published October 31, 2018.
Today, I have been completely sober for 365 days. In a row. It is nothing short of a miracle. This is my fifth attempt at writing down my thoughts and feelings about the last year. I want to be insightful and clever to the point of strangers wanting to have my baby, and properly convey my gratitude but every time I’ve sat down to write I’ve ended up with eight to twelve pages that mostly dwelled on the worst parts of my life. I need to keep this short, sweet and concise, like the Mayor of Candyland.
Here are the facts: every morning for the last fifteen years I woke up wanting to die. That is not an exaggeration, that is an understatement. I hated myself even though I truly had no idea who I really was (this is called “Schrödinger’s Depression”). I turned to drugs and alcohol because they offered an escape, they made me outgoing, helped take away all the fear I had about being around other people, and let me believe I was a Cool Guy. Smoke a joint, do a bump, take a pill and a hatch door swung open underneath me and I was suddenly in a ball pit, full of joy manufactured by Pfizer, surrounded by fake friends that would leave me the moment I needed real help or support.
My biggest priority in life was making sure I knew how other people saw me and changing my actions to fit those perceptions. It is similar to trying to wrangle a farm full of invisible snakes, it is endlessly time-consuming, really fucking stupid and, even if you do it, no one else will see it and all you have to show for it is a body full of bite marks and possibly poison.
It didn’t matter what I thought of myself because deep down I knew who I was: a scared little boy who wasn’t worthy of love. I have done things, terrible things, that I truly believed had made me irredeemable. I was a bad person and I deserved to feel like shit every day and if you knew what I had done you would agree with me. This is what I told myself over and over and over again. A perpetual negative emotion machine. A treadmill leading to nowhere (okay, that’s all treadmills but I think you get the point).
I have done all the drugs. I have drunk oceans of liquor. I’m pretty sure I’m more qualified to be a pharmacist than most pharmacists. I would lie and manipulate and occasionally steal to ensure that I was never not high. I was a monster, incapable of ever truly being honest, and I was weak, I believed.
I have tried to quit drugs and alcohol hundreds of times yet I always ended up using. No matter what I did they were the only solution I knew of. Then they stopped working and I was stuck. Stuck with myself and my self-loathing and the cold hard facts of all the mistakes and horrible things I’d done to people and myself over the years. I was living in a venue that was a hybrid of a haunted house and a museum filled with my greatest hits of complete fuck-ups.
After surviving trying to take my own life, I eventually gave getting clean a shot.
There is no perfect path to getting sober. Despite your best intentions, you will fuck up, because you are human and that’s what we do. We eat, sleep, fuck, mispronounce names, and most of us get all the way to the end of a joke only to realise we forgot the punchline.
The first time I got sober I did it for my friends and family and in the hopes that I would win back someone whom I had loved, even though we hadn’t spoken in years. I knew deep down that something had to change but I wasn’t honest with myself. I wanted to learn how to fix the part of me that couldn’t stop using once I had started. I still wanted the quick fix. I knew I would smoke pot again.
And I did. Seven months into my first real attempt at recovery, I woke up one morning and told myself I had worked hard enough. So I took a pill. Then the next day, I took two. On the third day, I knew I was no longer sober so I started smoking pot again. Within a month I was getting blackout drunk and trying to score heroin.
In the seven months prior, things had really started to change. I understood that I my inability to stay clean had nothing to do with willpower. I am simply hardwired differently than most people. Once I put a substance or drink into my body, I will take another one. I become obsessed and I don’t know exactly how I’ll get there but I know the final destination: isolation, deprivation of love and food, having no money, and the thoughts of killing myself taking firmer hold, black roots getting stronger and growing deeper by the second.
What brought me back to recovery was the fact that I had made a plan to kill myself, and a dear friend who took me out to a shitty diner and asked me, point blank, if I wanted to continue to use and, sooner or later, die, sad and alone, or whether I remembered what I felt like during those seven months when I was clean. I wasn’t blissed out or dancing naked in the park because everything was all right and was always going to be, but I knew that when I was in recovery, really in it, I was truly honest with myself. Honest to the point where it felt like I was peeling the skin off my bones to get to the truth; it was incredibly painful but it showed me who I really was and simply opened the door for me to see the opportunities I might have if I stayed clean.
I saw that door again. It was bright and glowing and, even though it was wide open, I had no idea what was on the other side, but I could feel its warmth, I heard laughter coming from it and, most importantly, I didn’t need an invitation or a key to get in. All I had two do was make up my mind and walk in. I told my friend I had two joints in my pocket, I was going to smoke them, then I would go back to recovery the next day. And that’s exactly what I did.
Here’s what I did differently this time and what I now see as the primary reasons I have been able to have a sustained recovery: when I went back I didn’t do it for anyone else; I was getting sober for myself and myself alone.
I started reaching out to other sober people and I called them all the time, sobbing and telling them how shitty I felt and how I would never get ninety days clean and I bitched and I moaned about everything and nothing and they listened. They listened and said they understood, that they had been in that exact same spot. They did not judge. I believed them, so I kept reaching out to them, especially when things got bad.
A dear friend took me out to a shitty diner and asked me, point blank, if I wanted to continue to use and, sooner or later, die, sad and alone… It was painful but it showed me who I really was and simply opened the door for me to see the opportunities I might have if I stayed clean.
I became brutally honest with myself in every situation. This time I was peeling the bone away to see what was really going on inside of me and motivating me to do the things I was doing. When I caught myself telling white lies about seeing a movie which a friend mentioned I’d said I’d seen too, I interrupted them and told them I’d lied, I didn’t see Little Shop Of Horrors 2: Little Shoppier. They stared at me and then moved on. Nothing was too big or small for me to examine and reflect upon.
I learned to cut myself some slack. There is no perfect path to getting sober and no one does it “the right way” because there is no right way. There is only not picking up for today and making peace with the fact that, despite your best intentions, you will fuck up, because you are human and that’s what we do. We eat, sleep, fuck, mispronounce names, and most of us get all the way to the end of a joke only to realise we forgot the punchline. That’s what we do.
Just don’t use for today. That’s it. That is the secret. Don’t think about weddings and birthdays and holidays down the road where you’re convinced you have to be drunk or high because you don’t know a different way. Don’t dwell on the past. Be present and don’t pick up a drink or a drug for the next twenty-four hours. That’s it.
A year ago I was hopeless, broke, and I wanted to die. I believed that at the age of thirty-six it was too late to make a life worth living. I was so scared of myself because I had no idea who I really was without drugs or alcohol.
Today, I moved out into my own apartment (I still have roommates, I live in New York, people). I worked two jobs and managed to finish paying off all the $16,000 I owed to the IRS and NY State because I decided not to pay taxes for years. I left one of those jobs because, after working for a company I love part-time for three months, they offered me a full-time position which I started last week. I got that job because I was sober. I got the promotion because I showed up every day sober and grateful to be able to work. Those things are incredible and I never believed I would be out of debt or have a real job again but those are the small prizes.
Here’s the big stuff: I love myself. I don’t want to die, I want to live a long life and show up clear-headed every day so I can be of service and help those who are in need in any way possible. I know now that I’m a good person who will continue to make mistakes, and that’s okay. I know I am going to be okay no matter what. As long as I don’t use or pickup a drug or a drink for today, I will be all right.
If I can do it, anyone can. If you are sick and suffering right now please know this: I am rooting for you, and if I can change, anybody can. Stop overthinking it. You are not a monster. You are not irredeemable. You are a human being. I hope that you can see that bright, shining door and I truly hope that if and when you walk through it, you’ll see me there on the other side.