Getting sober and clean for the first time is probably one of the biggest events in the life of a person with substance-use disorder. For some it is the biggest event—exotic trips, first kisses, graduations, engagements, weddings, even births seem to pale in comparison to how it feels to suddenly become lucid after a prolonged time of too much fun, chaos, blackouts, misery, anxiety, numbness… Everything seems new and scary, and that’s because it is. Where you were once the life of the party like me, or someone who relied on crime to support herself, you are now in the world where all the rules you’ve ignored are still very much in place and in order for you to survive, you need to start obeying them. A woman once shared in a 12-step meeting how she would go out to a restaurant and at the end of the night she’d think nothing of swapping a bottle of wine from behind the bar before going home. She was never caught. It became a “funny” ritual of sort. When she got sober she remembered all those times and the restaurant became a place of constant reminder of her shame (she has since made her amends and restitution).
For many of us, going back into the Real World might not be such a hard landing—we still have family and friends around who are there and willing to help and support us through our recovery. But even with those around us whom we trust the most, the remorse of days past can be overwhelming. To a newly sober person, the world becomes a place full of strangers. It’s important to remember that this is an illusion, especially when it comes to people who know and love us. They have loved and known us all along, and most of them will probably stick around to see us recover. Don’t let the remorse and guilt overwhelm you to the point where you feel you need to isolate and hide until you are “all better.” You are all better just by taking that first step to getting sober. Let people witness your recovery, and if help is available, let them help you.
For those of us who aren’t so lucky, who are more-or-less on our own, the world is a place full of strangers – it might seem hostile, unwelcoming, scary. You might feel like a loser; there seems to be nothing redeeming about this business of getting clean. It’s so painful. Even if the doctors, counselors, nurses, and people in 12-step meetings all mean well, having everyone in your face like that can be truly overwhelming. You might feel so threatened and anxious that you consider going back to what you know, which is addiction and its familiar warm glow (that—how quickly we forget!—is always followed by a total annihilation of self).
But here lies the truth about your journey: You’re not a loser. You’ve actually won—and won big! Maybe you’ve lost all your material possessions, your relationships, and/or your reputation because of your addiction, but you can get so much of that back… if you give yourself a chance, if you stick around. Those strangers in meetings who seem to be doing so well (you could even call some of them “smug”) have all been where you have. Even if their life circumstances were different from yours (for example, they came from wealth, you didn’t), their beginnings in sobriety were exactly like yours—internally.
We’ve all felt the same fear, desperation, guilt, remorse… hope, too. The loud people in the rooms of 12 Step meetings (or any other groups) who seem so sure and solid, were exactly like you when they first begun their road to sobriety. Some were possibly worse. The well-dressed, well-spoken, calm ones were once shaking and sweating with unwashed hair and bruises all over their bodies. Remember that. They are not better than you are.
The majority of people in the rooms of recovery know exactly how you’re feeling right now, in your lowest moment. They might be strangers and many of them might not be the friendliest even now, but all of you have the same thing in common—you’ve been to hell and came back. Now, walk into whatever room you need to walk into to get your recovery and feel proud of having come back. This place might see as if it’s full of strangers, but the truth is that every one here has shared your pain, and with time the strangeness will wear off and, hopefully, you’ll feel like staying. For good. This is your place. This is your recovery. Fight for it.
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