Normal people often create “to-do” lists for typical daily tasks like shopping, picking up the laundry, gifts to purchase for Christmas, etc. As an addict, I had my own “to-do” list. The first three items on one list I remember were: 1) rob Walmart, 2) purchase stripper shoes, and then 3) get that stripper job! Not the list for a normal person, but this represented my daily thought process. I checked off the items on this list and those stripper shoes led me straight to a job at a local strip club frequented by bikers, of which my future boyfriend was one. After a hard night of working, doing drugs, and drinking, an argument ensued between him and me, and my attitude was, “I’ll show you!” I woke up in Vegas the next day married to a fellow stripper named Star. Mind you, I am a heterosexual female, but Star was really hot and, according to our wedding videos, we had one hell of a night! We got the marriage annulled the next day, and that was the only time I’ve ever walked down the aisle.
That’s not the only time I’ve woken up in a strange place. Once I woke up on a very old bus in the hills of Mexico wearing a poncho and large straw hat that were not mine. Sadly, I was drooling on the elderly Mexican man next to me, surrounded by pigs, chickens, and goats, wondering how the hell did I get here and how the hell am I gonna get out of here! I ended up living a street life in Tijuana, wandering dirt roads and listening to caged chickens and peacocks, as locals laughed at me because I continually nodded off while eating my once-a-week hamburger. I had dreads in my hair that were not intentional, and which provided housing for little friends called lice. Personal hygiene consisted of a bird bath in a white paint bucket once a week. And I believed this was normal. I had adapted. This was my life and I knew it would always be this way, since I had failed in my attempts to get sober at many different treatment centers. Heroin and cocaine had brought me to my knees.
Eventually, I felt I had to try one more time. Broken, battered, frightened, hopeless, and very angry, I crawled into treatment once again. I went to a behavioral modification program in Pasadena that most feared to go. I banged on the gates in absolute desperation for them to let me in. It was what I needed. My behavior needed to be adjusted because I knew no other way than to live like an animal. I was introduced to the 12 Steps and force-fed Narcotics Anonymous. I worked the first few steps, pathetically, never came to believe, but remained clean and sober for 7 1/2 years running on fear and “half measures.” I have always preferred the “easier, softer way.” I used that to build a life, get a high level of education, become a professional—I certainly didn’t need meetings or a sponsor. I became normal, or so I thought.
But the feelings inside of uselessness, ugliness, and unworthiness were still there–that gaping hole. But I adapted to that blackness as well. I accepted that I would never feel any different, because I WAS that person and always would be. Everything outside me changed, but the inside remained broken and hollow. After nearly eight years of being clean but not in recovery, I took one drink on vacation. Hell, I was normal! I could have one–I had earned it.
Nearly three years later, I lost my home, could not finish my master’s degree, could not function at work, nor could I stop drinking even when it appeared I would lose my nursing license. In the end, I lost my license for 5 years. Even that did not stop me. Consuming benzo’s, and drinking into daily black- out’s beginning at 6AM, and making honest attempts to kill myself drove me to try to get sober one more time. I tried a few of the more “cush” treatment centers. I was too good for that regimented place in Pasadena—I knew how to make my own bed, shower, and brush my teeth at that point. But I usually drank the first day out of camp Foo-Foo. There is an emotional bottom for me that becomes intolerable, driving me to seek help when I find myself broken again, hopeless, angry, lost and living in despair. I finally went back to Pasadena and asked for help one more time. Although I could make my bed, comb my hair, brush my teeth, and talk like I was educated, I still had no idea how to live, or what to do. I didn’t believe in anything, and looking back, I don’t think I ever did.
Once again I was compelled to work the 12 steps, but this time it wasn’t “force fed” to me. I knew it was the only way for me–the easier softer way had failed spectacularly. But how was it possible for someone to recover when the concept of a higher power was impossible? The word “God” sent a cold chill down my spine–a visceral reaction of loathing. How could I believe in God when he dealt me such a shitty deck of cards and called it a life?
I always believed that I should have one of those spiritual experiences that people talk about, falling to my knees and crying out in glee that finally I had come to believe in an entity of light, love, and happiness. I waited for that bliss. It never came. For some of us, the road to comfort is a rough one, and for me it came down to one word: trust. I never knew trust, was incapable, feared it, and refused to let anyone in. Trust was foreign to me. But without it I was dying.
So I thought I would try. While I was in treatment, I approached a woman I had never met and asked her to be my sponsor, because we had to have one. Her requirements included working the program as she did, following her rules, and generally doing it her way. At about the third meeting she took me to, I sat next to her in the church pew listening to the speaker, and an epiphany actually happened. I realized that this stranger had made a commitment to me, and she wasn’t there to be my friend but to sponsor me. She made time to pick me up from treatment once a week, take me to a meeting, and began taking me through the steps once more. She said yes, she would help a broken, crazy, angry, desperate, and hopeless woman she didn’t even know. She said yes because she wanted me to stop killing myself more than I did—and she believed it was possible. She had never met me, yet she cared. Her only goal was to show me a new way that didn’t include me hurting myself. She wanted me to live. Right then and there I became willing to trust this stranger and my new journey began. We call it a mustard seed, and with this small realization the door opened and I realized that I too could believe. She led me to many spiritual doorways until I found the one I could walk through.
My road this time has not been easy. Just because I got clean and sober again didn’t mean I got the “pink cloud” of euphoria some feel after detox, or that my financial situation would reverse, or that all the promises of sobriety would quickly unfold. No, it has been a struggle facing financial insecurities, being close to being homeless multiple times, unable to obtain employment since I cannot work in my profession, and many sleepless nights. Fear still grips me, but I don’t pick up. All I wanted when I came back through the doors was peace, just some peace, and in those moments when I am not gripped by fear, I finally have some peace. Because finally I have come to believe. I have hope and I feel. I am adapting to a better way to live. I am adaptable.
I am writing this to the person who is out there suffering. The person who has failed in countless treatment centers, or who has relapsed after having some time. There is no easier softer way for some of us. I can look back now at my stories and laugh with my friends, but living through them was a nightmare. They broke me, left me crippled by shame. But we do recover. It is possible even for those like me. It might take multiple attempts, multiple failures in treatment, more wreckage, and broken hearts. But keep getting up. Listen to that little voice that says “Go to treatment one more time. Try just ONE more time.” No treatment center is the same, and it doesn’t matter if it takes one time or, like me, nearly 20 times. Yes, 20. It just takes one more time to succeed, just as it only takes one more time to die.