There are many ways in which we may find ourselves at the doors of recovery, it might be a devastating rock bottom, a binge session that got out of control or a, “I can’t go on like this,” moment. However we arrive, we find ourselves lost, vulnerable and hopelessly unsure of what to do. We reach out to others who have achieved what we feel is almost impossible, and hope they will guide our way.
The thing with addictions, be they substance or behavioural, is they affect us all in different ways and for different reasons. It is often said, that there are as many differences in how we are affected as there are people with addiction problems. The same can be said for recovery, we have the opportunity to design and define a recovery that fits our individual needs.
The Early Days
I, like most, had little choice in where I could reach out to. There was a helpline and a meeting and that was that. In truth it didn’t really matter, to get myself in the company of others who had succeeded was just a must. This was my only option and luckily a step in the right direction. So I rang and I went.
I had taken a leap of faith, started a journey in which I had no idea where it would lead, or what would be required of me. That leap was an admission of complete failure and recognition that I had no other choices that would not lead to oblivion.
The first week still remains a blur; I drifted between sleep and a semi-consciousness, at any time of day or night.
I was isolated, loneliness stung like nettles. I had taken myself away from friends and family and was living in a small village where no one knew me. I clung to the small comfort of a radio talk show both to alleviate the loneliness and to distract the incessant chatter of my mind.
Cravings hit like lightning strikes. Thoughts, feelings and emotions danced a sinister frolic in and out of my senses. Confusion reigned, time crawled. Quite astoundingly i found myself back at the meeting announcing, “For the first time since my late teens I had lived one whole week without drink or drugs.”, to the rapturous applause of all present.
Highs and Lows
This meeting marked a change in my moods, a feeling of euphoria swept over me, i felt light, positive and grateful. My mind started to clear, and thought became more focused, honest and coherent.
I rode the wave enjoying its highs and in doing so I was clocking up more sober time. Warnings and a few less than compassionate comments from my meetings were brushed aside.
I found a trade-off acceptable, I could attend the meetings which I found alien in beliefs and concepts, in return I could join the after meeting coffee and chat with fellows in recovery. Conversations were free and open and these encounters were proving invaluable.
The euphoria evaporated as fast as it had appeared, to be replaced by a tsunami of feelings and emotions. I was plagued by guilt, shame, anxiety and worst of all deep black depressions and suicidal thoughts. My mind became the torturer, relentlessly thrashing me for the destruction I had wrought upon myself. I was totally overwhelmed and I shared this, but nothing that was said to me made any sense, the sensation of impending doom was absolute. I relapsed!
The next morning I locked the house, and leaving the key under a stone I headed out into the mountains that surrounded the village. My intention was to find a desolate place where could throw myself into a ravine and be disposed of by wild animals, such was the point that I had arrived at, such was the shame of relapse. Quite how serious I was about this, I remain unsure as I took some food and water with me.
As I walked in this wild and wonderful landscape, I became acutely aware of all around me. I stopped for a while under the shade of an old twisted olive and studied the antics of a procession of ants, busy with their task of collecting seeds for the coming winter. Bees buzzed around the flowering broom bushes, birds chattered in and out of the trees, the rugged rocks against the sky took on a passion of colours and forms that I had never seen. A small rosemary bush struggled for life as it protruded through a crack in a rock. The wizzen trunk of the olive held me intensely transfixed for a long passage of time, awed by the pure natural art it displayed.
I wandered around for hours, staring wonderstruck by all I saw, as if seeing for the first time. Something touched me deep in the core of my being, I felt like a window to a new world was opened and I was allowed a glimpse. I did not want to leave that place, it felt like home.
I spent the rest of the day discovering this new world. I ate wild figs and oranges, ecstatic with the flavours. As night began to fall, I returned to the village infused with a new life.
A Recovery that Fits
It's not that all of a sudden everything was easy and manageable, far from it, there were to be many difficult challenges. But what I had experienced in that walk through nature could not be undone and had given me a foundation to build on. Hope where there was none and acceptance that although my recovery was in my own hands, I was not alone.
Every day I took to walking the countryside after feeding myself as healthy a breakfast as my meagre finances would allow. I registered with the local town hall’s free internet service, where I spent hour upon hour scanning the wealth of information available.
In a nearby market town I connected with another group where I found kindred spirits in recovery, they too were my teachers. Practices that were recommended and that fitted, like meditation and journalling, were incorporated into my daily routine. Immersing myself in nature had already become my favourite practice.
I learnt to accept that life goes on as it should, with all its ups and downs, twists and turns, successes and failures.
Gratefully I accepted sound advice on how best to deal with depression and anxiety.
It became obvious that there were underlying reasons for my fall into addiction that I would need to address. Realising that I was the sort of person with a sensitive and overactive mind, that was also the source of my creativity and joy for life, I needed to retrain my mind as a compassionate housekeeper rather than the brutal slave-driver it used to be. I found a path that I could follow.
Things I Wish I Had Known In Early Recovery
*In the next blog I write about Triggers, Urges and Relapse as this demands to be dealt with in depth.*