Recovery Is More than Not Using Drugs

Strength + Courage
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Finally, I ran out of ideas and was forced to surrender.

Derek J.

"Life became this delicate balance of using different chemicals to try and offset the side effects of the chemical before it."

Q: At which facility did you receive treatment?

A: I have been to a few different treatment facilities: Three times to Center City as well as other inpatient/outpatient programs, detoxes, hospitals, and psych wards. I most recently attended Center City and have been clean ever since.

Q: What is your sobriety date?

A: February 12, 2014

Q: What was it like, what happened, and what is it like now?

A: I started using at a young age, thinking prescription pills were "harmless" because doctors prescribed them, so how bad could they really be? From the first time I tried them, I knew I had found what made me "complete," so I made sure to never run out and to always have them in my system.

As my tolerance increased, it took more work to make enough money to support my habit, and supplies ran low as I cleared out my suppliers. My solution to this was to switch to heroin and start selling drugs. This seemed like a bulletproof idea at the time, but things went downhill faster than I ever thought possible. Life became this delicate balance of using different chemicals to try and offset the side effects of the chemical before it. Meth countered the drowsiness of the heroin but made me feel anxious, so I would use Xanax or alcohol to counter the anxiety. This combination resulted in a different type of drowsiness that I would try to counter with a different stimulant, and then I couldn't eat or sleep for days, my next solution was to use marijuana to try to eat and "come down."

I was my own doctor but I had no idea what I was doing and couldn't get the recipe right. I was miserable. And as if all that wasn't bad enough, I started having legal problems, I was homeless, living in hotels or couch-hopping, and I was overdosing on a regular basis. My family wanted nothing to do with me, I was frequently in dangerous situations, and to top it all off … the drugs that caused all of this weren’t even working anymore. I was using just to avoid withdrawals because any bit of fun had ended long ago. But I couldn't stop.

Finally, I reached a point where I was willing to take my own life just to escape. I am grateful that I didn't follow through with that decision; however, I am equally grateful for the feeling of desperation that came from that thought. I wanted to try to find a new way to live.

I had been to treatment a few times before, but only to avoid this or that consequence, and I never intended on staying clean. This time was different. So I checked myself into treatment again, but this time I was there with the desire for change. The only issue was that I still thought heroin was the only problem. I was in and out of treatment, each failure teaching me something new. I thought I could still use as long as I didn't use a needle. I thought I could still smoke weed. I thought I could still drink. I thought I could take party drugs as long as I only used them at parties. And each time I would try one of these "workarounds" to what they taught me in treatment, I would end up back in the same situation until I checked myself back into treatment again.

Finally, I ran out of ideas and was forced to surrender. I actually did what was suggested and the funny thing is, I am still clean today. I go to meetings, I have a sponsor, I work the Steps, I volunteer to be of service, and I surround myself with people who want what is best for me. Today, life has never been better. In fact, I had no idea life could be this good. I have regained all of the things I lost from my addiction. I have a home, I have a great relationship with my family, I make money legitimately, my health is great, and I am grateful to be alive. I get to do things I love today as well. I am playing music in a band again, going to the gym, disc golfing, snowboarding, traveling—the list could go on forever, but the point is I can do whatever I set my mind to today without being tied down with chemicals. I wouldn't trade my recovery for anything.

Q: When did you realize you needed help—what led you to treatment?

A: The combination of legal problems, homelessness, overdosing and alienation from my family made me miserable. There was no joy in my life because the drugs were only being used so I could avoid withdrawal. The gift of desperation finally led me to get help. I am sure I could have used some help long before that point, but I never really thought of it as an actual option until all of these circumstances came together.

Q: What was the toughest aspect of quitting for you?

A: Quite simply, it was staying quit.

It became too easy to check myself into treatment, go through the withdrawals, and have all the drugs out of my system when I left a month later. It wasn't fun, but it wasn't hard. The hard part is getting there, and doing what is needed after leaving. I would say the hardest part over all was changing my lifestyle. I knew I wanted to quit using, but I didn't know how to live any other way than how I was. I had to change the people, places, and things in my life in order to move forward. And when I finally did, that's when I started succeeding in recovery. Recovery is about so much more than not using drugs. Once I understood that, it all made a lot more sense.

Q: Do you have advice for the still-suffering addict?

A: Do what is suggested. I hated hearing that when I was in treatment, but it is the solution I was looking for all along. Another big piece for me is accepting addiction for what it is. It's not about the drugs, it is about the behaviors and personality traits I have. When I focus on that, and being the best me that I can be, my recovery is strong.

Q: What is the best thing about being sober?

A: Being me again. Or learning who I am for the first time. I get to remove the masks and be the person I really am. I get to do the things I love or things I have always wanted to do. I get to be a productive member of society. I like the person I am. I have real relationships with people, friends, and family. I like being the best me I can be.

Q: Do you have a favorite recovery phrase or slogan?

A: We never have to use again.

Q: What do you find inspiring in recovery?

A: Seeing a newcomer who keeps coming back and wants to get better. Watching them grow and celebrate increments of clean-time. I love witnessing everyone's successes in the program. Seeing the way people look at the key tag that signifies a clean-time increment. It's just a cheap piece of plastic, but there is nothing in the world we have ever worked so hard to earn.

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