After just passing my seventh year anniversary of being clean and sober, I thought it was important to spend this week really looking back over my life and my battle with drugs to search for tools that help me successfully stay clean. After thinking back over my life, I started to write about all the things I feel are the most important to bring awareness to. It is kind of like I am trying to write a user manual for myself and the things I find important to help me stay away from drugs or any kind of addiction. If they help me, I figured they might just help someone else.
Here is my story and the 3 things I find most important to bring awareness to and keep an eye on.
Drugs were a huge part of many years of my life, but I kept it very secret. Drug use simply was not accepted in my family and in my mind, it was not acceptable either. During my double life I accomplished quite a bit. I thrived in high school traveling around showing horses on the weekend and successfully lettering in academics and being involved with sports, clubs, and activities at school. I had become very good at keeping secrets while living my double life and I told no one around me about my drug use. I think I was most afraid of having to quit using drugs if someone told my secret.
I kept this up all through college and into law school, but at some point, I got tired. I was exhausted, and I walked away from the dark side of my double life on a whim and didn’t even flinch. Now looking back at that time of my life, after all the years of drug use, I must say the way I quit was an impressive dismount. I walked away mostly unscathed and proceeded to higher ground.
For seven years I kept my toe out of the water, but my depression began seeping back into my life and the pain that haunted me from my past had crept its way to my center stage once again. Desperate for relief, one night I ended up at a bar. I ran into an old friend that just happened to have a pipe. Like riding a bike. I picked it up like I had never skipped a beat, and off I went.
I believe that my past departure from the drug world was too easy. Walking away unharmed and in an uneventful manner made it too easy to return. I had no fear. I had successfully lived a double life before and with the turmoil and depression that was occurring once again, the drug world seemed like a viable option for distraction.
This time was much different, I had a lot to lose and a lot more money. I bought everything else in bulk, so why not these magical drugs that I only remembered as making me happy. Surely, I do not need to dignify that nonsense with an answer. As I sit in federal prison, I realize that mentality was ridiculous.
Before my indictment I was shot in the back of the head by the police and shortly thereafter I was indicted by the feds. I remember being so sick. I battled with my equilibrium, constantly losing my balance and I threw up all the time. I do not know if it was the gunshot wound or the quitting drugs that was worse. I was a mess. For some reason, the gun shot was not as scary as the indictment. Getting indicted scared the desire to use right out of me. This time I ran like hell away from the drugs like my life depended on it because it did. This time escaping the drug world was a much different journey and one I will never forget. That might just be what I needed.
After being federally indicted, many people are kicked back into the free world on what is called pretrial release. It is basically a pre-probation and a warmup for the crazy ride you just hopped on. The three years I spent on pretrial was full of one trauma after another. I will never forget those years for as long as I live.
I often felt like if I could survive the stress and turmoil from those 3 years and stay clean, then I had it made. Anyone that has battled addiction should know that the last sentence is one of the most dangerous. I have been clean for 7years now and the last 4 have been spent in prison. As I have passed the 7-year mark, I am proud of myself, but I know I must remain vigilant since my last round of being clean lasted 7 years. I realize I will never truly be out of the woods and there is no magic number on the amount of years you have been clean before you are safe.
I know how important it is to analyze my past and search my soul for tools that will assist me in remaining clean. To do that, I have started writing my own user manual and so far, this is what I have come up with.
- Bringing awareness to your habits
I have heard people say, “I’m a creature of habit.” We, as humans, are our habits. Habits are the core of our being and bringing awareness to the way you move and what makes you tick is the most important tool to defend against addiction. It is the best way to study yourself and learn more about yourself. What seems to be an unimportant, harmless habit can lead to a slippery slope to where you do not want to end up. You have to be aware at all times to know what is happening.
When I get up in the morning, I set my intentions for the day as I brush my teeth. For instance, if it is a jogging day, I set a goal and look forward to attaining that goal all day. I set my day on a positive note starting at 5 am. It sets the tone for the day and keeps me from negativity.
From morning until night, we weird humans follow pattern after pattern and don’t bother to notice. We are so wired to slip into auto pilot and for someone that is prone to addiction, this is a huge danger to sobriety. I do my best to look back over my day each evening and review my human behaviors. I do a quick reply and scan to see if my intentions lined up with my actions. There are times I do this and find myself rather disappointed, and I wonder how I got so far off track. Well because I am a human, that is why.
As an addict, I realize how important it is to closely steward even the most minute habit. I know how easily it is to grab for something without thinking and make a sharp pivot to head down the wrong path. My best example is drinking soda. It is so easy to grab a cold soda on a hot day and the next thing you know months have passed and day after day you are drinking one soda after the next. Soda is not part of my diet and yet is a seemingly harmless act. Unfortunately, it represents so much more, and I know it is just that easy with drugs, and that scares me.
When you look over your day filled with habits, notice the positive habits that line up with your intentions. Those are what you nurture and build on. When you realize you have a habit that is negative, it’s important to weed it out as quickly as possible. Whatever is cueing you to do something that is not lined up with where you want to go, look for that cue and the reward your crazy human brain is seeking and figure out another way. Keeping a close eye on your habits makes a correction much easier.
2. What are you talking/thinking about?
The conversations you are having with yourself and with others, what are they consisting of? Are they positive or negative? Are they heading in the direction of your intentions? Where are your thoughts? It is so important to bring awareness to these things and analyze what you are dwelling on and where your brain is spending the day?
Bring awareness to the thoughts in your head when you are all alone. Your thoughts will lead to conversations, so it is a good practice to cage the negative and get rid of it before letting it come out of your mouth.
People that insist on complaining about anything and everything or those that insist on criticizing others or gossiping, keep themselves hostage in a negative world. Do not give an intolerable situation more life than it deserves. You must seek the positive and dwell there.
Addicts tend to get caught up dwelling and reliving the past. I call these drug stories “war stories” and people that have been involved in the drug world normally have some interesting/entertaining tales.
I will admit I have fallen prey to this. I had to completely cut myself off from engaging in war story time. I have some good ones and I am incredibly animated so I can draw quite a crowd. As fun as it can be, it is not conducive to moving forward and it is not healthy. There have been some conversations that made me feel that I had already relapsed as just speaking the words took me to a dark place.
I had a very dear friend that held my hand during the first years of my sobriety. This was my life coach and taught me some things that irritated me at the time, but now I look back with gratitude. Engaging in glorifying any kind of past behavior was not acceptable. If I jumped into my passionate storytelling, he would immediately reel me in and shut it down. Looking back, this was one of the most important lessons I had to learn. You can never move forward living in your past. Now I find myself shutting that kind of talk down all around me. Sometimes teaching and helping others is the best way to learn and to remember.
War stories are fun, but it is just another way to keep your toe in the water. You are going to go where you focus. When your mind is still living in the gutter, then that is where you are, or at least where you are headed. I used to argue that it was important to get these stories out but telling stories like that does not purge your pain. Humans are desperate to connect and if all you can think to talk about is drugs, you are headed in the wrong direction and will end up in the drug world again.
If you were to make a pie chart at the end of each day how much of it would consist of negative? How much is positive? Try it. At the end of the day, replay your conversations of the day. Did you use words that were optimistic or pessimistic? Make yourself a chart and visualize which side you are leaning toward, positive or negative. Getting a hold of your thoughts and your words makes a huge impact on the quality of your life and gives you the ability to stay on the right track.
3. Focus on purging your pain and becoming transparent.
My indictment and my prison sentence have been the perfect opportunity to purge all the painful and ugly baggage of my life. There is no more hiding and no more secrets when you are on the news, in the paper, and all over the internet. It is terrifying to be on that stage. With nowhere to hide, I took the opportunity to embrace my problems and stop living a double life full of secrets.
I believe becoming transparent is the magic ingredient to sobriety. I feel it is the only way to get clean and stay clean. It is time to just let it all out and spill all your broken pieces. Through this purge you sift through the wreckage and pick up the good pieces and find your identity. It might not be your forever identity, but it is your base and it is where you start building the person you want to be. Someone you can respect and someone you want to love and nurture.
Many addicts have been victims of heinous acts and events and turned to drug use to cover up that pain and shame and look for a way out. It is so important for people to realize this is not who they are. Whether you need to grieve the atrocity that was done to you or mourn the innocence you lost, do it. Do not let it be what defines you and do not let yourself see that harmful act as being who you are. This is all easier said than done, but there is no reason to hide. Do not run, because addiction will only resurface fiercer than before.
Emerging from addiction you must find an outlet and a way to let things go completely. This needs to become a priority because you must get out all your pain. Do not be embarrassed and do not feel alone because millions of others are going through what you are going through. Humans crave connection so much that a lot of people gravitate to group therapy. Meetings and therapy groups are sometimes just the ticket. Some people find a single therapist and feel they are successfully making progress.
Personally, I like writing. Putting a pen to paper to organize my thoughts helps me to understand past events and helps to make sense of my life. Sometimes I just let myself write like a crazy person with no punctuation and no concern for grammar. When I do this, I am often shocked at what comes out and sometimes more shocked at what doesn’t. Do not worry, you do not have to keep it. This is your therapy. For me, it is the best vehicle to get out all the ugly trapped inside.
This is not something that happens in one setting. This is where you roll up your sleeves and get to work. These are not war stories glorifying drugs in any way. This is getting to your truth and coming to terms with all that is you. I have been working on this for 7 years now, and I still have a way to go. I learned to fall in love with my journey and embrace the pain from my life.
In conclusion, after looking back over my life and my battle with addiction, I have taken some time to really think about the tools that helped me the most. Bringing awareness to my habits, watching what I am saying and thinking, and focusing on getting out any old pain are my top three weapons in my own personal war on drugs. When I keep myself on a close leash and not allow myself to go on autopilot, I am much more in control of myself and my actions. I do not want to be that person that makes pie charts for myself, but there are days I do it if I need to. I believe everyone is different, but these are the things that help me, and I hope by sharing them, they will help others as well.