by: Margot M. (Munro, 2007)
Each of our stories has different details, with different people and different circumstances. But each one of us comes here broken and defeated; utterly devoid of the energy to go on fighting. My experience of addiction was just that: a fight. A fight against an overwhelming craving for alcohol and cocaine. A fight against the guilt and shame when I would give in to the craving. A desperate fight to prove to myself and others that I was okay, that I was simply a social user caught in an unfortunate series of progressively worsening circumstances. Ha. I never intended to get addicted—I was simply a sitting duck.
Up until about age of 14, I had been subconsciously attempting to soothe the troubling emotional state that defines us as addicts: a natural-born sense of dissatisfaction with life, separateness from others, self-loathing, and unrelenting fear. And then came the vodka: warm comfort serum that solved all my problems before violently tearing my life to shreds over the next 15 years.
I came into the 12-step rooms kicking and screaming. I wanted no part of this God business y’all were preaching. And I definitely didn’t want to sit in a goddamn circle blurting out catchphrases in synchronized disgrace.
By the time I got to Renascent, I was homeless, unemployable, and often suicidal. I had been through countless detoxes, treatment facilities, psychiatrists, psychologists, group therapy sessions, and a few disquieting stints in Toronto lock-ups. I was 27 years old, and I was lying in a detox bed with an ominous timer ticking in my mind. I had been previously banned from that detox, but they had allowed me back in “for 48 hours, that’s all”, due to my desperate condition. Tick, tick, tick. I had been faced with a choice: I could go to the dreaded 12-step facility that my poor mother had frantically set up for me, or face the unsettling proposition of not knowing where and with whom I’d lay my head down at night. The choice was clear. I packed my meager belongings and made my way to the front steps of the Graham Munro Centre.
When I got out of Renascent, I had attended more meetings than I even knew existed. Against my own will, I felt a deep sense of belonging at these meetings. I heard the people there talk of things I believed were my own private hell only. They put names to phenomena that made up my miserable existence. “The mental blank spot” describes an addict’s absolute inability, at times, to recall the horror and suffering of the last binge. Not only that, some of them had found a way out of drugs and alcohol, and seemed genuinely happy. They said they had been relieved of their “spiritual malady”, the name they put to the emotional and spiritual void we addicts are born with. I knew that the people at these meetings were my people, and that this place they called a “meeting”, would be my new home. This sense of belonging, combined with the beautiful gift of desperation that crack cocaine had afforded me, kept me in the seats of these once scoffed-at meetings. My story, like many others’, is not one of immediate continuous sobriety following treatment. A few half-hearted recovery attempts, swiftly followed by several vicious relapses, ensued. It was under this misery and despair, that my lifelong rebellion and defiance broke, just enough to let the light in. I surrendered; I put up the proverbial white flag.
I did what was suggested to me by my sponsor. We call these suggestions the 12 Steps. It was on this journey through the steps, in my home fellowship of Cocaine Anonymous, that I met a girl named Carrie. I first spotted her in the church basement of my home group one Saturday evening; dishevelled, scantily clad, frantically searching for something that I don’t think existed. Aha, now there’s my kind of girl. I approached her and shook her hand, welcomed her to the group. I had 8 months clean and sober, and she was going to be my first sponsee. I had diligently taken direction from my sponsor from steps 1 to 11. I was prepared to begin other suffering addicts get the newfound sense of freedom that had been given me by following this process: working with others, the twelfth step. The feeling of being freed from my lifelong dis-ease, is indescribably amazing. And here stood Carrie, broken and defeated, a shell of what I could tell was once an intelligent and articulate woman: a perfect candidate for me. I would spend the next few months meeting with Carrie three to four times a week to take her through the 12 steps. We would arrive early at our home group to set up chairs, make coffee, and welcome new women with a warm smile. And Carrie got recovered too.
I don’t know exactly what it is about the 12 steps that works. I don’t know how following these simple instructions of clean-living and service to others somehow mingle and give rise to a completely new state of mind in the once dysfunctional and disillusioned. But they do. They did in me, and they did in Carrie, and they have in countless other grateful addicts.
Today, I owe everything to the 12 steps: my simple ability to function day-to-day, to be at peace, to know quiet contentment. Today, at six years clean, I show my gratitude by continuing to work with other addicts in the meetings, and in my job as a counsellor at Renascent. I raise my two beautiful children, and have a steady stream of laughs with my best friend, Carrie, who is now a lawyer and a mom too.