With the sun peeking through the cracks of my black out shades onto my bed, I sat an empty shell of a man, half naked, in my rented room in Dorchester, Massachusetts. A fist full of Valium, syringe full of fentanyl, and some heroin to smoke, this was it; this was going to be the end of me. I was 30 years old, and I had hit bottom, which for me, was an emotional low coupled with a $300.00 a day habit that I could no longer fund. Relapsing into my old ways after two and half years of recovery led me to this point: suicidal and with complete abandon of all self-care. In desperation, I contacted an old friend who picked me up and brought me to treatment. This would start the journey I'm on now. It has been long, arduous and uncertain at times, but I haven't given up.
I grew up in an upper middle class home in central Massachusetts to a loving family. I had all the recourses needed to grow into anything I wanted to be. Unfortunately, I had a terrible problem. It was hard to explain at the time, but looking back it was clear. It was an abnormal fear of the world and its people. I was constantly comparing the way I felt on the inside with the way people looked on the outside, only to fall short every time. I would eat lunch on my lap at times in school, fearful of people judging me. I would run into the woods and use the threat of suicide in hopes of getting out of school; a place I dreaded going.
At 13, something magical happened. I drank 4 mixed drinks, and I suddenly found the answer to all the fear that existed deep down in my soul. I had found the key to relieve the tension of the spring in my stomach that had been tightening for years. The fear: The unbearable dread of being me.
The next 14 years consisted of various moves around the country and massive consumptions of drugs; any drugs. ANYTHING to get that feeling. The ease and comfort felt from putting just one in my system, inevitably followed by putting as much as I could in my system without dying. After all, why die? You can't get high when you die, and I loved being high.
At 26, I entered recovery for the first time. I think it would only be fair for me to try and explain the feelings of early recovery, since many of us addicts have a hard time coping with sobriety, and what that truly means. The pressure this puts on us to remain a certain way, drives many addicts to use once more, and when we take the risk of breaking our recovery, a lot of us aren’t as lucky the second time around.
Detoxing from opioids, if I had to compare it to a feeling, would be like catching your spouse in the act of cheating. The actual moment. When your heart rate spikes and your stomach curls. Your mind tries to comprehend what's happening, only making it worse. Massive amounts of anxiety and fear run rampant in your head. This detox feeling lasts, not only for a moment, but rather, for 10 days. The physical withdrawal is coupled with the emotional turmoil. The feeling someone may get at the end of their weight lifting, or long distance run. On that last rep, or last mile, when you feel your body build up lactic acid and start to shut down. Every bone in your body aches. Every muscle hurts. While detoxing, you don't sleep, and you can't get comfortable. The price to pay for feeling nothing in the months and years prior to sobriety, is feeling everything in abundance all at once. It is brutal.
The months following physical withdrawal present themselves as a person with clinical depression and anxiety. Alcoholism and addiction left untreated can sometimes present itself in that way indefinitely, if not corrected. This insanity of the mind leads a high percentage of people to relapse. Some die just trying to feel normal. Others find a way out. Simply waiting long enough for your brain to even out chemically is a very big part in this process, that's why just "hanging in there" can have great benefits early on.
For me, I always struggled with this. I felt like a hamster on a wheel. The wheel being my thoughts. The faster I run to escape, the faster my thoughts get. I can't catch up and I eventually get thrown off the wheel and relapse, causing me to start over again. Demoralized and confused with a firm resolution to NEVER USE AGAIN. Repeat. For some reason, addicts and alcoholics have terrible memories when it comes to their last use. They don't remember the pain, they only remember the relief, some call this a "built in forgetter.”
What I have found to be true is that one with a recovery program firmly planted and built with fine mortar can recover. I have experienced this. What I have also found is that once I stop doing the things that keep me sober and happy, I fail. My recovery and life can be compared to a bridge that never gets maintained. It starts out shiny, but eventually someday down the road, a big storm comes. If it's not maintained, that bridge will fall taking with it the poor innocent passerby's that happen to be driving over, enjoying the view.
As May approaches, I realize that it will now be 6 months since that dark day in my bed on deaths doorstep. I have started over, once again, after years of recovery. I am new again. I am an addict, and I need help, but that's ok. I work on myself daily to grow into the person I want to be. I will be successful. I will be happy. I will remain sober today. I will not keep hurting myself, and others out of fear. I will be a better human. I will no longer beat myself up. I will love, and be loved.
After all, it’s not about how many times you get knocked down that counts. It's how many times you get back up.
When it comes to addicts, we all have our poison, and although we all may have different stories to tell, there is always one similarity: Once we make that choice to use again, we are no longer in control. We allow our addicted brains to come over us, and make all final decisions. Once that happens, a lot of us never recover, especially if we have already been through a recovery program, the choice to use again usually means that we have given up. It is true what they say about those who relapse, we pick up right where we left off, and like Jacob said, once you stop doing the things that keep someone sober and happy, you fail.
When I first read Jacobs story, I was moved. Not because he hit bottom and survived, but because TODAY, he chooses to survive, and TODAY is all we ever have. That is the thing about recovery: we never know what can trigger us to use again, so making the conscious effort every day to be above that takes a certain amount of strength. I am a firm believer in stories like this being the thing that can help addicts the most. When you read stories about people who know what it's like to succumb under pressure, and make the choice that they know is not the right one, it allows others to think twice about doing the same thing.
It is important for me to note that addicts are still people, and we should never be treated as anything less than someone who is wired differently; someone who has a mental illness. We did not choose this life, but there is something inside of us that challenges our morals every single day.
Thank you, Jacob, for your strength, and your story. Thank you for trusting me with your truth, and allowing me to share your message with the world. Stories like this remind us that we all have our own kinds of struggles, and stories like this remind us that we all have a choice to be better.
SO much love for you,