Monday, October 20, 2008

Personal Growth

"Do one thing every day that scares you."

This is a line from a song I remember from awhile ago and I think it's appropriate to recovery. It's important for addicts to stretch their wings. When I speak to groups about recovery, one question that is always asked is: What do you do to fill all your time now that you're not using?

Being an addict takes a lot of time. From looking for drugs, to doing drugs, to trying to figure out how to get more's a full time job. Just the ritual of using consumes huge amounts of time. So what do you do when you find yourself sober with vast chunks of time on your hands?

Here's what I tell the women who ask me this question, since it's typically women I'm speaking to. Think back to your childhood - the time in your life before you started using. What was it that made you happiest? What did you spend most of your free time doing? Maybe it was reading, or drawing. Maybe it was riding a bike or other sports. Or what have you always wanted to do? It doesn't have to be some grand undertaking. It does have to be something that makes you happy, and it should be something that challenges you.

For me, it's writing. I've always loved to write and even in the depth of my addiction, I kept journals. When I was flailing around in early sobriety trying to find ways to fill my time, I experimented with different things, but it was always writing, and reading, that I came back to.

At first it was mostly reading. I've been reading since I was four years old and it's been a life long passion. As a meth addict, though, it's almost impossible to read a book. The concentration just isn't there. So when I finally got sober, I read voraciously - two, three, four books in a week. It was like I was trying to catch up on all the reading I had missed.

Writing was harder. My brain was still healing and the words didn't come as easily as I wanted them to. But I kept writing anyway. I think I wrote myself sober.

So when I asked myself, at the prodding of my therapist and people in my recovery groups: What would I do if I could do anything I wanted? The idea was to answer without fear or insecurity. Two things came immediately to mind and one of them was to be a professional writer. (The other was to be a stand up comedian, but that's a different story)

So I decided to do it. I had been sober for about three months when I wrote a fairy tale and sent it out to eight agents. All of them rejected the story, but four of them gave me specific feedback instead of the standard, "Not for us" note. Specific feedback is a rarity and I was thrilled! I made my own book out of the story and it sits on my coffee table in the living room. It's not the best writing I've ever done, but the book is beautiful and it represents the first book I've completed - let alone having the guts to send it "out there".

So I began writing more. I've entered a national contest, which I didn't win, and have entered another recently. I've completed the outline for the book I'm writing and I've signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. The goal is to write 50,000 words toward a book during the month of November. I have high hopes. There are social events related to the challenge and I'm really looking forward to getting started.

All of this scares the hell out of me - but I'm doing it. There are times (a lot of times) when I'm filled with insecurity and doubt about my writing - but I'm doing it. I may never win a contest or be a published writer - but I'm doing it. I'm doing it for me and that's what matters.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The First Step

In A.A., the first 'step' is to admit that you are powerless over your addiction. As I've said before; while I'm not comfortable with organized groups, I do believe that true sobriety can not be achieved without specific changes.

But that's not exactly what I want to discuss. I want to talk about being (or feeling) powerless. However you want to phrase it or whatever cliche you use, surrendering is, I believe, possibly the greatest thing one can achieve. It also seems to be the most difficult. We want control. We want to believe that we have the power to make things the way we want them to be, but it's such a waste of energy.

Now, I'm not talking about setting goals and reaching them. I'm not talking about the big things like, "what do I want to be when I grow up," or, "do I want to do well in school or at work?"

What I'm talking about here are the "little" things. The day to day routine things. The reason I've been thinking about this is because my car broke down the other day. Dead. Nothing. Out of the blue. It was working one minute and just wasn't.

I know, I know. You're thinking, "what does all this have to do with recovery or addiction? And why am I still reading this crap?"

Well, I know it may seem trivial, but here's the thing:
See, I have a feeling there's an electrical problem and that I may not be able to afford to have it fixed. Before I got sober (and even in early sobriety) something like this would have set my whole world on tilt. "My God! Why do these things always happen to me? Right now is SUCH a bad time for this to happen. What did I do to deserve this? What am I going to do? AAAAUUUGHGHG!"
I would have been very uptight and wasted a lot of time an energy worrying about what I should do and yadda, yadda, yadda...

But when my car broke the other night, I wasn't upset at all. None of those thoughts went through my mind. And I was so grateful when I realized this. I know how stupid this may sound, but I don't care. I truly believe that there is a reason I don't have my car right now and may not be able to afford to have it fixed. I think the reason is that I needed to get off my ass and start exercising. The car thing has forced me to either walk or ride my bike to work. I think that's the reason. It's likely that I'm wrong.

The thing is: it doesn't matter. There's not a damn thing I can do right now about my car. It's broken. I'll have it towed to a mechanic and see what's going on with it. Then I'll go from there.

I've just been thinking about this for the past couple of days because I've surprised myself. It kind of blows me away that I didn't spaz out or waste a second of how good I've been feeling lately on something that's completely out of my control.

So I think the whole "surrender" thing is applicable to more than just admitting to not being able to control addiction. The truth is, there are a whole lot of things we don't have control over... and it's okay. And for me, anyway, the less I try to control, the happier I am.

Then again, I only live about two miles from work...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday. Not my belly-button birthday but my other, more important one. Today marks my 20th month of continuous sobriety. Has it been difficult? Sometimes. Especially the first six months or so when my body and brain were first starting to heal and I had cravings all the time. And using dreams. Those were worse for me than cravings.

My dreams would be filled with drugs: finding them, seeing them, going through the rituals associated with smoking meth and using. I've done a lot of different drugs in my life but the only ones I've ever dreamed about are meth and, very rarely, cocaine. It's the meth dreams that are most disturbing. In them, I always realize, just before I wake up in a panic, that I've just blown everything. All my hard work down the drain and I'm right back where I started and it terrifies me. In a cold panic, I try to think of a way to get the meth out - out of my system so I can have do-overs. In the dreams, I'm overcome with the realization that 'this is it'. I've sacrificed my sobriety and now there's no turning back. I'm filled with the dark, overwhelming knowledge that I don't have the strength to go through the battle of getting sober again. I will use for the rest of my life. I will die as a using addict.

Then I wake up and slowly start to realize that it was just a dream. I'm flooded with emotions, mostly gratitude. And fear. Fear because I know that the dreams are not far from reality.

I can never say, "I'll be sober for the rest of my life." If I start thinking that way, I'll get complacent and that's when I'd be in trouble. I have what I think is a healthy fear of 'falling off the wagon' as the saying goes. I guess you could say that I respect my addiction. But every day I stay sober is one day further from the nightmare I lived for so many years of my life.

I'm grateful for every one of the past 600 days.

So, happy birthday to me! Today is going to be a great day.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dual Diagnosis and Recovery

Once it became painfully clear that I needed to go to rehab for meth addiction, I knew I also needed a dual diagnosis program. It wasn't difficult to find one. Many addicts have mental health issues in concurrence with their addiction problems. I don't know the exact statistics but as I said, finding a program that would treat both addiction and underlying pathologies wasn't hard. The hard part was finding a program that actually treated mental health rather than just using the catch phrase 'dual diagnosis' as an advertising gimmick.

* * * *

I've had chemical depression all my life. This is different from the depression that most people go through at one time or another. The chemicals in my brains don't work like they should. Much like a person with epilepsy, I need daily medication to be able to function.

Unlike epilepsy, though, there's a huge stigma associated with mental illness. Especially depression. In the past twenty years or so, it seems everyone is on some kind of anti-depressant. It's almost chic. People even put their dogs on medication for depression and other 'puppy pathologies'. There are television and print ads all the time for one drug or another. "Tell your doctor you want (fill in the blank). It will open up a whole new world for you."

A quick aside: doesn't asking a doctor for medication as opposed to having one recommended make him/her a drug dealer? Just an observation...

I don't want to have depression. I would do anything to not be the way I am. The thing is, I just am this way. For good or ill, I'm playing the cards I've been dealt. Sometimes I play them better than others.

The stigma associated with mental illness resides in my mind as much as it does in society. There are times when I need my medication adjusted. There are times I forget a dose here and there. It's during these times, when the depression breaks through, that I feel like a freak. I can't stop crying about nothing. My motor skills deteriorate. It's difficult just to get up and make it through a day. Sometimes I think the worst part is that I know how weird it is. I understand how difficult it must be for the people around me who see me fall apart for no apparent reason. Most of all, I know how helpless it makes the people who love and care about me feel. All of this, of course, makes me feel like more of a freak.

I believe much of my addiction was an attempt at self-medicating. The hideous flip side is that I've done even more damage to my brain through years of meth and other drug use. Some say the additional damage is permanent. Some say my brain will repair itself with the passage of time. Regardless, I know I have to take medication every day for the rest of my life.

The biggest obstacle for me, though, isn't the medication. It's not even the stigma. The biggest obstacle is me accepting me. I know all of this about myself, yet I still get so frustrated and self-punishing when I have to face facts. When everything is going good, my meds are adjusted correctly and I'm taking them faithfully I don't think about it too much. I take things for granted. It's when things kind of get derailed and I feel myself slipping that I start feeling like a freak again and self-loathing creeps back in.

A huge part of my recovery, though, has been getting to a place where I can accept me for me. Over time, I've started to understand that the things that make me who I am - the good and the not so good - are okay. It's how I choose to deal with my idiosyncrasies that will make or break me.

So I'm trying. I'm trying to become comfortable living in my own skin, and I'm getting better at it, too. But sometimes, like today for instance, it takes more work than others. The difference now is that I know I can get through today and things will be better tomorrow if I just do the next right thing...whatever that may be.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cravings and Addiction

When a person is deeply involved in their addiction, their drug of choice becomes necessary to do even the most mundane tasks. I think this is true of all drugs (when I speak of drugs, remember: alcohol is also a drug). I know it's true of meth.

The thing about meth for me, was that in the early stages of my using I was a cleaning maniac. I would clean my house incessantly: vacuum, dust, wash the walls...

But years later, the only thing I did incessantly was smoke meth. Everything else, including house cleaning, just fell by the wayside. I always thought I was getting a lot done, but the reality was that all I did was get high and think about getting things done. Every once in a while, I have to remind myself of that.

I have a thing about doing dishes. I don't know what it is. I have a dishwasher, so you would think it would be easy to stick the dishes in it as soon as I'm done with them. Maybe it would be if the dishwasher were ever empty. I hate it that I'm so bad about doing dishes and I try to stay on top of it. Maybe it has to do with me living alone. There's no one to impress and my seventeen year old son doesn't care. I'm making a conscious effort to be better about doing the dishes, and I have gotten better about it. But I'm certainly not the housekeeper I was in the early days of my addiction.

Every once in a while, I'll have these cravings. I guess that's what they are, because my thinking goes something like this:
"If I had a teener, I could get a lot done today!"
Which leads to this:
"Well, if I had an eight-ball, I could really get a lot done! Why, I could clean up this whole house! Wait! If I had a quarter ounce, I would do deep cleaning. I could re-arrange the furniture..."
It goes on and on.

The thing that gets me through my cravings is playing the scenario all the way out. I know that, for me, there's no such thing as the 'weekend warrior'. I'm an addict and addicts don't dabble. Like I've said before: if I get back on that horse, I'll ride off into the sunset and never be seen again. This isn't because of what I've been told in rehab or A.A. or N.A. I know this because I know myself. I know my addiction

So, if the dishes don't get done in a timely manner, I guess that's a small price to pay for my sobriety.

(Right, mom? he he)