by JD M.
I arrived at rehab because of a problem with drugs. After decades of using various forms of “recreational” chemicals, which I had always been able to stop when things got too bad, I had finally met my match with crack cocaine.
I agreed to treatment mainly because I needed a rest. I’d been using heavily for well over a year, eventually holed up in my house trying to run my business by telephone and avoiding direct contact with colleagues, friends and family. Long runs of sleepless days and nights had left me exhausted. I felt hopeless.
After several weeks of treatment I was refreshed, ready to go home and carry on with my life. If I just didn’t pick up the first one I’d be okay – how hard could that be? After all, I’d had many periods of abstinence in the past. I had good willpower and was particularly motivated – and I’d resolved never to go near crack again, that’s for sure.
Long-term treatment had been recommended but I knew they were just after my cash and, besides, I had a life to catch up on. My counsellor had said that I had little or no chance of making it to a year. My peer group had voted me “least likely to succeed.” Oh yeah? I’ll show them!
Driven by my own stubbornness and defiance, I did go to meetings (128 in the first 90 days) and hung out with others in early recovery. But I was skeptical and scared of the “god thing” and thought the 12 Steps were a scheme to convert me to religion. I thought that most of the other people I saw at meetings were losers.
That “program” kept me abstinent for the next few months. But the relative ease and relief I’d felt immediately after treatment eroded as time wore on and I began to dread a lifetime of abstinence.
Luckily, in my fifth month I met an old-timer named Fred. I shared my anger and skepticism, particularly about having a spiritual experience – whatever that was. Fred listened patiently, then asked me to tell him about treatment. One story I told him was about a game we’d played, pushing coins across a table, with funny names we’d made up for various shots, and how we’d laughed – some of us for the first time in years.
Fred stopped me at that point and asked how I had felt when we laughed. At first I wasn’t sure what he meant. With his prompting, I was able to say that in those moments I had felt happy and connected with my fellow addicts. Fred said that what I’d had was a spiritual experience. Oh.
He then asked me what it felt like when I had my first drink or toke. I told him about feeling at ease, able to relate better to those around me. He said that these too were spiritual experiences. Oh.
Then he really got my attention. He told me that recovery wasn’t just about abstinence – although that was a necessary start. It was about learning how to have spiritual experiences using healthy methods. He said I could learn how to deal with the fear and aloneness that had dogged me all my life.
Now that appealed to me! I was willing to work toward that. Since Fred seemed to know what he was talking about, I asked how he did it and he said he’d show me how.
He got me going with the basics. The only feelings I could readily identify were anger and elation. He asked me to try “sad, mad or glad.” I struggled, but started to pay attention to what my body was telling me. Often it was painful – but Fred assured me it would get better. He said that my job was to experience the feelings, to “make them my friends” and to watch that I didn’t act out in harmful or destructive ways.
This was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I had been raised in a family and in a community where feelings were taboo and to admit any weakness was just asking for trouble. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.
But, with Fred’s support, I started to listen to others share about their feelings and to realize I was not alone. I started to experience a sense of connection and belonging. Just what Fred had promised.
Since then, my recovery journey has deepened and broadened. I still have times where I feel my guts in a knot, where I experience fear and sadness. But they don’t scare me now. I know they will pass. I don’t have to numb my feelings with chemicals or act out in harmful, shameful ways.
Best of all, at times I experience a quiet bliss, a connection to and compassion for others. And by sharing my experience, strength and hope, I may become someone else’s Fred.