This is what Recovery looks like

Started out my morning with a huge orange and measured cup of blueberries. Brewed a cup of matcha Japanese green tea. Took Ginger, my Golden Retriever, to her breakfast kennel, fed her and my two Australian Shepard dogs, Brandy Delilah and Lucky Samson (Sambo) before filling my mixed breed cats’ bowls with their Cat Chow breakfast.

Before I leave the house at about 9am to go to my orthodontist’s office, I will have done some dumbbell lifts. Life today is about taking care of myself and taking care of as many of God’s other creatures as my finances will allow.

Life to me today is also about balance. I try to stay interested in many things, and to obsess on nothing. My highs are not that high and my lows are not that low. I live neither in a state of euphoria nor depression. I experience God, but am not a religious fanatic or zealot. I do not depend on God as if God were a drug.

I have recovering friends, friends who are social drinkers and family members who still use cannabis and alcohol. Many of my friends were never addicts. I do not restrict my relationships to only people in recovery. It is not necessary for me to do so today. I am happy with my life. Using drugs would interfere with much of what I enjoy today, so only rarely are they even a temptation.

I am a writer. I write about many things. I love reading the recovery stories and daily thoughts of others, but with over twenty years of non addiction history behind me, my mind is not focused on my recovery or abstinence from drugs twenty four hours a day. It is focused on hobbies, my pets, my loved ones and doing the next right thing. It is focused on what I can do to help others experience the fullness of life I do.

I recently retired from full time service, and hope to begin part time counseling work soon. The publishing of my recent novel, Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions, was about lifting the stigma associated with addiction, as well as the mistrust of the recovery process. I want everyone to know recovery is possible.

Recovery that does not end in relapse is not about the years involved, though those years can teach much. It is about the quality of one’s life. What else are you doing besides abstaining from drugs and alcohol? That is the question you need to ask yourself. Who are you close to who never used drugs non-medically at all? What can you learn from non-addicts about drug free life skills?

If you have been drug free for over six years and are still dependent on 12 step meetings to keep you sober, you need to expand your horizons. At this point, you should be attending meetings to teach others how to stay sober, as well as to encourage them to do so. The fullness of the life you don’t want to lose should do it for you. If it doesn’t you have not learned how to use your recovery to expand positive life experiences, and you may well be one of those bored lifeless examples I hear so much about who relapse to drug use after years of recovery.

It isn’t that you quit attending meetings or “focusing” (obsessing) on your recovery after all those years. It’s because you never really started living drug free in the first place. Your options remained to use or not to use. How small is your world? When you discover a drug free life for real, the questions and your options change.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Never Let Go

I attended church this morning. The message was about never giving up, and dealt with three very difficult situations encountered by the early church in Acts chapter 14 of the Holy Bible. The point was that the most difficult times often produce the greatest blessings.

The final hymn was titled “You never let go,” and emphasized how God never let’s go of his children during difficult times, or even when they betray him. The lyrics, “Oh no, you never let go, through the storms or through the cold,” portrayed a friend who understands our ugly times, our angry years, our active addiction history, yet chooses to stay.

Isn’t a friend we can trust with our weaknesses the only kind of friend we can trust at all? I don’t drop friends or sponsorees when they reject me in favor of relapse. I don’t tell them to call me before the relapse, not after. I just tell them to call me. I’ll be there whether you’re drunk or sober, high or straight, during your successes and failures.

Who knows but what I may be somebody’s only link to recovery and life. Many were there for me when I did not deserve it. The God of my understanding calls that grace, and it’s the only thing that has brought me this far. Never let go.

Undercover:Our Secret Obsessions

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The Courage to Change

I often hear it quoted that “acceptance is the answer to all of our problems.” All? Really? With all due respect, I beg to differ on this one.

The famous serenity prayer prays for “the serenity to accept the things we cannot change.” Some things, not all, can’t be changed. It seems to me this focus on acceptance as the ultimate solution to “all of our problems,” overlooks the second part of the prayer, which calls us to have the courage to change those things we can.

As practicing addicts we tended to procrastinate, be inactive, and wait for our problems to work themselves out magically with little or no effort from us. The tendency to accept the status quo, passively waiting for “God” or something else to resolve our issues comes all too easily for us, and feels like “an easier softer way” to me.

Acceptance is only the answer to problems we can’t change, and we can impact most things in our lives either for the better or worse. It is amazing how many seemingly hopeless situations can be improved if we simply stop accepting them as unchangeable.

Do you have the courage to change the things you can? If not, try praying for it.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Recovery gives you what addiction only promises

When I was a kid my dad would say jokingly, “The old men give you what the young men promise.” He loved me, and didn’t want me to be disappointed by some guy who was only collecting notches on his belt.

Unfortunately, I believed many lies. Addiction was one of them. Addiction seduces the user with promises of emotional well being, unlimited confidence and euphoria, rarely delivered for long. Instead, it leaves you with emotional instability, low self esteem and in a state of poverty, both financially and spiritually.

Recovery, on the other hand, promises nothing except hard work and the possibility of putting your broken pieces back together one day at a time. Suddenly, at long last you realize your drug free life has gradually given you everything addiction didn’t, plus restored what addiction tricked you into giving away. Recovery gives you what addiction only fools you into thinking you are getting.

Undercover:Our Secret Obsessions

Like the Casanova Cowboy, addiction doesn’t keep it’s promises.

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Anonymity Equals Acceptance of Stigma

As a very young person I hitchhiked private airplanes from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to Orlando, with plans of reaching Atlanta to see my newborn niece. I had used so many drugs in my short life that my judgement was clouded. I was picked up by police in Orlando, walking down the city streets after dark. I don’t have a clue what time it was.

After spending about three months in a mental health facility, I entered a junior college to complete my college education. I had a strong desire to let people know recovery from mental illness was possible. I did not even realize I had a substance use problem. I just thought I lied about using drugs to keep from getting into trouble with my parents and the law.

I didn’t tell my story many times before learning people were embarrassed for me, and felt I should be embarrassed too. It didn’t take me long to learn to be ashamed of my recovery history, or to accept that sharing it would cause others to believe I was “still sick.” This was true as an undergraduate student of Georgia Southern University, even though I maintained a 4.0 GPA, and became a member of Gama Beta Phi, an honorary society for exceptional academic performance.

Years later, when I discovered stimulant drug use had probably been the catalyst of my mental illness, I again discovered I was expected to keep it quiet. The very support groups encouraging me with hope were also promoting the expectation that I remain silent and shameful about the miracles still happening in my life.

I was a child of the 60s, who watched racial discrimination become unlawful, women’s rights become expected and finally the rights of gay and lesbian couples being upheld by many in our country. What these groups had in common was a refusal to accept shame or a marginal existence as a way of life. They succeeded because they refused to accept anonymity and shame in an attempt to be invisible.

It’s time for those who suffer from mental illness, addiction, or both, to throw aside the shackles of shame and discrimination. We can and do recover. I am living proof of that truth. For years I have watched mainstream society mistrust our recovery, stigmatize us, and silence us with threats of still more shame and stigmatization. It’s time to stand up and say enough is enough.

Our silence hides the truth that we are present in the millions, strong, have years of constructive life behind us after our experiences of addiction and/or mental instability, and are no more likely to relapse than a non-user is to use drugs, or someone with no mental health history is to experience mental instability. In remaining silent about our recovery, we allow the public to only hear about those who relapse.

Anonymity is not the spiritual foundation of our recovery programs or effort; it is our passive acceptance of the stigma that destroys hope for many, and keeps examples of successful recovery histories well kept secrets. I say “Come out of the closet before they nail it shut.”

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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The Least of These

Years ago, my best friend, and sponsor at the time, often stated that the true measurement of substance and quality in a human being was found in how he treated those who could do absolutely nothing for him. When living the addicted lifestyle, we often lied and manipulated for money to support our habit, or in order to replace money we had spent on drugs or alcohol that should have been spent on necessities. We had little time for those who could not meet our needs, financially or emotionally.

Those who could meet our needs usually only heard from us when we needed something, or had managed to find ourselves in yet another crisis of our own making. We did little, if anything, to offer support or encouragement to others.

Recovery is not simply about not using drugs or alcohol. It involves radical life changes through which we learn to give back, not only to those who have given to us, but also to those unable or unwilling to do so. You might be called upon to emotionally support a person who has no job, money or emotional stability. You might be called upon to love someone who has lost the ability or capacity to love themselves or others, even if you know they are attempting to exploit your concerns for the purpose of supporting their active addiction.

While supporting another’s addiction with financial means is only wise when it is a life or death situation, and temporary, forming relationships and bonding with loved ones who are still using may be their only link to sobriety and sanity. Of course, conditions must exist regarding behavior you allow in your presence or in your home, and visits may need to be short and/or far between. Being somebody’s emotional lifeline my include being emotionally neglected, abused or rejected. You will definitely need to obtain your own support and encouragement elsewhere.

Whether or not you are aware of it, many suffered with you through active addiction, or you would most likely not have survived it. Who was that person you knew to call when you were finally ready to ask for help in the form of detox or treatment? Much is said about tough love in addiction circles, yet one need only be tough as it involves supporting a person’s addiction, financially, or otherwise.

Motivational Interviewing, a best practice of addiction treatment, involves bonding with addicts who remain in active addiction, and are not even ready to consider quitting, yet through being guided by nonjudgmental, non confrontational communication, eventually break through their own denial system to choose change. What are you doing today for those who can do absolutely nothing for you?

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Serenity

In all honesty, serenity is not always easily obtained even with the best of intentions. In fact, this counselor’s disposition can move from warm and fuzzy to red hot in a matter of seconds.

Recently, I published an article honoring a dear friend and coworker who died last week of liver cancer. She was without a doubt one of the most patient, kind and effective staff I have witnessed working with client consumers in my over twenty years of counseling experience.

Some were offended by my raw honesty about others involved in her work life; however, and I was verbally assaulted by a credentialed professional on LinkedIn who felt my focus on my friend as a non-credentialed staff who was often more successful with clients than those of us with credentials, was insulting and disrespectful of credentialed Counselors.

I wrote two or three angry posts on LinkedIn before I caught myself,
acknowledging I had lost my positive focus and become totally unglued over what I felt was an attack by an overly proud and arrogant person, on my giving credit to someone with neither a degree, certification or license to treat clients.

Forgive me for believing that people care little about how much you know until they know how much you care. I make no apology for lifting up a humble kind person who lacked professional status in my field.

I am very offended by fellow credentialed staff who actually believe having a few letters after our names means a thing about how valuable we are to clients as Counselors.

Stop fooling yourselves. Nobody cares about those letters except those who wish to collect fees for services, and quite frankly, addiction treatment would be more effective if it were not conducted in a for profit environment.

About serenity, if proud arrogance can affect me negatively after years of both recovery and counseling experience, just imagine what it might be doing to our client population.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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What Are You Doing For Others?

Martin Luther King Junior is quoted as saying that we have not begun to live until we get past our own petty self interests and begin to serve the needs of others. Jesus Christ implicitly stated that “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do also for me.”

Now that we are in recovery, our lives are looking up, we’re less shackled by guilt and shame and our bank accounts are growing, what are we doing for those still suffering? Don’t forget that by many we were probably considered among the ranks of “The least of these” when in active addiction.

It isn’t necessary to have a graduate degree or high social status to serve. As Dr. King stated, “You don’t have to be able to make your subject, verb and predicate agree to serve.” Eloquence or superior speaking ability is not required, though King certainly had both.

You don’t have to be near the top of the corporate food chain to serve. You don’t have to be among the wealthy, though those who are can certainly participate, and many do. In the end, all people will remember is how you made them feel, worthy or unworthy. How are you making others feel today? Are you loving them until they are capable of loving themselves?

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Speaking Truth To Power

When you speak truth to power in an attempt to reverse injustice, do not expect to be rewarded by those confronted. Expect instead to be challenged in every way imaginable.

If justice were to occur, many would lose money, status and power; therefore expect to be attacked and lied about, because you most assuredly will be. You must look to a higher power, ethics and your own sense of justice for support, not others, as many will be afraid to support you even if they secretly believe you are right.

Unfortunately, most power structures tend to protect, serve and support themselves, not those they were created to serve. It is the nature of the beast. If you plan to defend the powerless as the Old Testament prophets and Jesus of Nazareth have done before you, you must do so at your own risk.

Undercover: Our Secret Obsessions

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Changing Attitudes & Changing The World

Sometimes I feel so small and insignificant when my very existence is overwhelmed by everything I want to accomplish. It seems I’m not making any progress with my goal of reducing the stigma of addiction for those who suffer from it, or even being heard at all.

My circle of friends and acquaintances is small when compared to the number needing to be reached, and this alone causes me to doubt myself and our ability to make an impact. What can a small group of people do? Actually, according to one very well known individual, a lot.

“Never believe that a small group of concerned citizens cannot change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Undercover : Our Secret Obsessions

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