Today I celebrate an anniversary of 15 years of sobriety from alcohol. I cannot state any revelations at this milestone, except to say that I’ve diligently worked over the 15 years to increase the protective factors in my life that combat a chronic brain disease. I’ve never ceased to see what I have as something that I will be cured from because I know it’s a progressive and fatal disease—as an addiction specialist I’ve seen first-hand that addiction kills and not just its victims. It kills families, it robs children of parents and parents of children. It’s as deadly as any virus—if not more deadly. Over all these years in recovery, I’ve seen attitudes about addiction change very little and that perhaps pains me the most as I celebrate sober years. There’s still so much shame surrounding addiction and there’s even shame surrounding recovery. It’s interesting because as much as I want to celebrate it, I want to also rebel against having to consider myself “recovered” from something that the society tells me was somehow my fault. Because that’s how we still think of addiction—at least majority of us. As something that you bring on to yourself because of a flaw in your character or lack of solid moral values.
To me that kind of thinking is nonsense, but I can’t get angry about it any more because that’s not productive. I can only work towards society changing those attitudes by sharing my story and showing you that, yes, you too can recover and lead a successful, happy life.
My story isn’t that shocking for those of us who struggled with addiction. I got sober in my 40s, after a medical incident, started with acute detoxification, residential treatment to stabilize, IOP for 24 sessions, then continued through connecting and staying connected with like-minded individuals who I trusted shared my wellness goals and helped to hold me accountable – all the while investigating causes and conditions, most notably environmental/ cognitive ones (including stopping smoking tobacco 11 years ago) of addiction. I didn’t find god or that spiritual Higher Power as I was instructed to do in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, and that searching was one of the darker sides of my recovery. Feeling less-than, and even ashamed of my lack of spiritual connection made me doubt my recovery more times that I care to count, until I finally realized that I did have a Higher Power all along and it was not the one suggested by Big Book advocates or old-timers in meetings. My Higher Power is simply Reality.
For me, Reality meant that I was honest about my diseases and that I understood that it would kill me if I didn’t take it seriously and diligently pursued recovery. I like to say that I pursue Reality relentlessly—with more fervour and energy that I’ve ever given my addiction. This is the only way to do it—my obsession with recovery has to always be stronger than my obsession to numb Reality used to be. Is Reality always pleasant? Of course not. Of course there are times when I’m exhausted and feeling like I just need a break—but a break from what? I used to take breaks all the time and then it got so confusing that I could no longer function. I couldn’t live a day without taking a drink, couldn’t be social without it, couldn’t relax without it, couldn’t think about it not being in my life. It was everything to me and it was destroying me. Fifteen years later, I know that I was just running away from what was in front of me all along, which is my own life and my own Reality. I will not stop chasing it, believing in it. And I think I can do all that for the duration of my chronic brain disease – for the rest of my life that is.
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