I would be irresponsible if I didn’t start this story by saying that I don’t advocate suicide. If you are in that dark place, I understand. Talk to someone. Many times, it’s the only way out. The story that I am about to tell is one of hope. Things worked out for me, but that’s not the case for so many of us. And it is an “us.” You feel alone. You’re not. Talk to someone. If not to someone you know, the phone number for the Suicide Hotline is 1–800–273–8255. Just speaking the words out loud to another person can save your life. I didn’t take that advice. Not really.
One year ago, at this time, I was caught in the cycle of active addiction. For a good portion of my life, I have been addicted to cocaine, and more often than not, its psychotic twin brother, crack cocaine. There have been long periods of recovery, as well, but the times of addiction always seem to steal the spotlight. The end of 2019 was proving to be the worst, and no one knew. Those who view addiction from the outside often imagine an addict partying and laughing and having fun with their drug of choice. At the same time, they hide their fun from those around them that might disapprove. This may be the case for some. Not for me, and I don’t believe for the majority. My experience with addiction is fear. I can’t tell you why I pick up the drugs again that first time. I honestly can’t, but once I do, I find myself trapped. I’m scared because I can’t stop. I’m alone because I can’t tell anyone. Who would I tell? And, it’s only getting worse. Every day. Every moment.
Here’s the problem. Breaking an addiction and getting yourself out of that downward spiral is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do. You’re trying to tackle this challenge at the exact time that you are least mentally equipped to do so. Life looks wholly dark and hopeless, and escape seems all but impossible. You’re trying to work your way through this labyrinth using a mind that is either altered by heavy drugs or, worse, withdrawing from said drugs. It was not unusual to find me driving to get my next supply, the only thing that would make the pain stop. All the way, chastising myself out loud over the topic of how badly I was destroying my life. In short, there was no fun. There was only pain and fear, and then the brief periods where I could make everything go away, which were getting shorter and shorter.
So, we arrive on New Year’s Eve. I had seen my future, and this was it. It was a never-ending cycle that was set forever on repeat. It was days of drug use, followed by a full 24 hours of sleep. At that point, my head would be just slightly more clear than it had been, and I would think I was done. I had beaten it. I was stopping. Then, I would be in the car going to get more. Repeat. Again. And again. I couldn’t do that anymore. It all had to stop, and I couldn’t stop it. Now, quick addition to this story. In addition to being an addict, I am also bipolar. As such, I have about seven or eight prescription medications that I take every day. For those of you jumping ahead, you have figured out what happens next. I can’t continue my life the way it is. I can’t see any way that my life is going to change. Therefore, my life has to end. Trust me, when you’ve been smoking crack for months, there’s really no arguing with this logic. So, I take about two-hundred pills, and I lay down on the bed to sleep.
Why am I alive? Well, the details after that point are a bit hazy. I know that something told me to call my friend just to hear her voice one last time. See, I’m madly in love with her, and it seemed to make sense that I would talk to her one more time before I was gone. Was that a call for help? Probably. I don’t remember the conversation. I know that I found it odd that anyone got there in time to save me. She didn’t even know my address? I remember seeing police officers standing over my bed at some point. I remember a vision of my friend standing by my back fence while I was carried on a gurney to an ambulance. The next memory is being in the ICU two days later, and I know I was pissed off that it hadn’t worked. So, was it a call to be saved? I really don’t know. How did it all happen? I’m really not sure. Was it an unfair position to force upon someone you love? Absolutely. You bet.
With all of that backstory to put things into context, I now arrive at why I wanted to write this story. See, what I have come to realize is that there was a death that day. Over the following week spent in the ICU, followed by the mental ward at the hospital, followed by rehab and intensive therapy, I made a decision. If I was going to continue, I had to do things differently than I had ever done them before. I had to be a different person. In every way. Not just when it came to alcohol and drugs, but in every aspect of my life. The “me” that had previously existed had to die back in that bedroom on New Year’s Eve, and someone new had to be born. That was the only way that life, a real life, was ever going to be possible.
Of all the things that I learned in therapy, two stood out in flashing neon. The first was that my self-love and self-respect were nil. I really could not find any positive contribution that I brought to the world. No wonder I was so cavalier about ending my life when I felt it wasn’t worth anything. The second was that I was unbearably codependent. Not really all that surprising. I was looking for worth through the eyes of others because I couldn’t find it in myself.
And, so, I had to start fresh. Truly fresh. I had to be a person that I had not been before. This time, I would be a person inside that I had worked so hard to have others see on the outside. I would be the person I could be for short bursts of time in the past, but I would be that person consistently. One definition of integrity that has always impacted me is being the same person in private that you are in public, even when no one is watching. That. I wanted to be that.
And, guess what happened next — something completely unexpected. 2020.
2020, by all rights, has been just a horrific year, for everyone, but here’s the thing. It may have been precisely what I needed. Sure, it would have been preferable if I could have somehow accomplished the same thing without the virus and all the death. Still, somehow, through the strangest twist of circumstances, I may have been forced into the perfect surroundings for my rebirth. Let me explain.
I am finishing a year that I was forced to spend, for the most part, with me. Just me. When you spend all day, every day, with someone for that long, you get to know them pretty well. And, I can say without reservation that I have never been more self-aware. What’s more, I like myself. Maybe for the very first time. In a year that has been widely reported as incredibly challenging for the recovery community, I am about to celebrate an anniversary of being clean and sober, and I am reaching this milestone without a great deal of outside accountability. So, what’s the difference? Why this newfound solid foundation where things have crumbled so easily in the past? Well, I did things differently. I did it for me this time.
I have gotten clean and sober in the past, but I always did it for external reasons. I didn’t want to lose my wife and child. I didn’t want to lose a girlfriend. I didn’t want to disappoint my friends and family. Here’s the thing. If your motivation for putting away the alcohol and drugs is not to lose someone, and then you lose that person anyway, it’s challenging to maintain your desire to not simply make everything go away. But, this time was different. I wanted to get clean and sober for me. See, my mind was clear now, and I wanted to live. I wanted to see my daughter grow up. I wanted to pursue a career in a field about which I was passionate. I wanted to have an impact on the world around me. And, there was hope. That was a significant change. It felt like there was hope for the future. Hope, where there had been none before.
There was a death that day. New Year’s Eve. December 31, 2019. And, after a week of transition, there was a rebirth on January 6, 2020. That was the day I walked through the doors of a rehab facility. I entered as a clean slate, ready to learn. I knew things had to be different, but I had no idea what that meant. I was willing to learn, though. Over the next month, I absorbed every piece of information and advice that my therapists taught and that we discovered together. That experience built up a new man — a man who had not existed before.
Therefore, I have two important dates coming up. An anniversary of a death, as well as a new birthday. Due to the world in which we are currently living, I will celebrate both of these dates alone, which is emotional, no doubt. There is a feeling of melancholy to not have friends and family around me during such a critical time in my life. Still, perhaps this is the time to be alone. To stand on my own and reflect and evaluate where I go from here. After all, a year is a milestone, but it’s only the beginning. I didn’t reinvent myself merely for a year. I have a lifetime ahead of me, full of hope and mystery and anticipation, and it’s no time to let up now.