Sobriety is a Journey
What’s it like to be sober for 10 years? Strangely enough, deeply intoxicating.
I don’t feel ten years older. I still feel like a 21-year-old kid. But I’m not. It’s been ten years since I put a pill on my tongue or a bottle in my mouth. While I celebrate my 10 years of sobriety today, I’m overwhelmed by how far I’ve come from the man I was.
Time to Remember
I don’t let myself look back often. It’s not that I’m afraid, I’m just careful. Remembering a time when I hurt everyone I loved is not something I dwell on often.
There are a lot of feelings attached to the past, like how a soldier remembers war. Even when you “win” a war, you remember the carnage and the innocence destroyed. You think of those who stood with you and fought, the brothers-in-arms whose lives were claimed in the war. You ponder the deeds you committed and the damage you caused.
3,652 Days Without My Crutches
The hardest part of recovery was realizing that I had to walk without a crutch. My drugs and alcohol had propped me up for a number of years and walking without them terrified me. In a world like this, it’s hard enough to live a good life; it’s harder still without the support of the crutches we all hobble with.
Addiction is something deep within us that is dying to get out. Unless you deal with your underlying issues, the self-destructive behaviors and problems will come out—even if you’re “sober.” For me, it was drugs and alcohol, and then it was food. In the 10 years of my recovery, I gained 100 pounds. The most painful experiences I’ve been through were times when I harmed myself and damaged my own body. It’s especially painful to realize how little respect you’d had for yourself. I’ve lost 80 pounds in the past two years, reclaiming my dignity yet again. Overcoming the weight gain helped me to remember my sobriety and practice what I’d learned. It was another reminder that we never are recovered, only recovering.
I know some of you reading this right now are addicts. You can’t go a day or a weekend without a drink. You can’t stop smoking. You need that fast food. You starve yourself to feel beautiful. You put yourself in dangerous situations that risk the ones you love.
We’re not so different, you and I.
The Choices We Make
At the height of my addiction, I was presented with two options: life or death. It might seem like a simple decision. To addicts, not so much. We push life to the limits for the pursuit of that which pleases us. We long for something more to get us through the boring days. We dream of a feeling that is pure and total ecstasy and in the process we walk toward death.
The confusing thing is that we don’t want to die, it’s just a symptom of using. The consequences of addiction can lead us to the grave. I was 21 years old and I had to make a choice. I wanted to live, and I knew the only way that I could was by abstinence from drugs and alcohol for the rest of my life.
Some people told me that relapse was part of recovery, but that didn’t work for me. I’d tried to quit on my own and relapsed. Most addicts have. When I had a second chance at life, I was going to do more than survive. I wanted to thrive. The people who loved me helped me to do just that.
The Comforters in My Life
There are so many people who have touched my life in the course of my recovery. Our help comes from a variety of sources. These are not targets or opportunities, people to use and abuse. They are life rafts on which we begin our trek back toward land.
I was deeply ashamed of how I’d hurt my family, but they didn’t give up on me. My father sprung to action to help me find help. He believed in me when the rest of the world said that 95% of addicts relapse. He forced himself not to visit me in rehab so that I would develop character. His mix of tough love and kid gloves was the perfect combination for me. He is as tough a man as I know but as gentle as I could dream of. My mother was in complete denial about my addiction. The prospect of my endangerment terrified her. Although I broke her trust, she helped me rebuild it and encouraged me every step of the way. She attended Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings when I picked up my white keychain, the marker of surrender in NA.
I didn’t know my wife when I was in my addiction (thank God). To be the spouse of an addict takes immeasurable patience and love. She has seen every aspect of me in my recovery. Even though I’ve been sober, she’s seen my dark side manifest itself in other ways. She is the soundproofing to my screams and the bed on which I collapse in weakness. Before I ever met her, I would dream of her. I worked daily to improve so that when I found love, I could give selflessly of myself.
My grandparents were the only people I visited with just before I checked into rehab. I stopped by their house on the way. I just wanted to hug them and have their support. Never mind that I had stolen painkillers from my sick grandmother, I was still theirs and they loved on me every step of the way. Before I checked in to rehab, they gave me a Bible. It was this Bible that led me to a spiritual awakening.
I always felt safe talking to my sister about my addiction and my issues. She was a sounding board and someone who understood me. There is no way I could have done this without her.
My in-laws (mom, dad, sister and brother) welcomed me into their family. They have become central to my existence and some of my best friends. They have learned more about addiction than they ever planned. But they did it in love and understanding of someone they cared about.
Vitor was the first friend who took me to task for my drug abuse. He told me, in words I won’t use here, that my life was a mess and I needed to change. He never sugarcoated the truth.
Mark and I performed together in college and he was my best friend. He would stay sober with me at parties in solidarity with my recovery.
My theatre professor in college was the first person to call me out on my behavior. He knew I needed help and didn’t look away. His words still echo in my head: “You have a SERIOUS problem and you need to get help, Chris.”
Another college professor showed mercy to me upon my return from rehab. She helped me to get back on my feet and afforded me dignity.
On February 8, 2005, Officer Voyles called my mother and had to explain that her beloved son had an addiction. He was kind and reassuring and an angel of mercy in a time of chaos. It took me 10 years to find him and thank him, but I was determined to express my gratitude for his care and concern for me. Yesterday, the day before my 10-year anniversary, we made contact. It was liberating and exciting to speak to the man whose name became synonymous with hope in a time when I felt hopeless.
An amazing couple showed me care while I was still in recovery and graduating college. They believed in me and had experienced deep hurt from drugs and alcohol in their own family. They took a chance on me after seeing the play that I wrote and gave me my first job out of college.
From Sufferer to Supporter
The most important comforters in our lives are the extraordinary “ordinary” people. And none of these people are even close to ordinary.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re either on my side of the fence or theirs. You are either the sufferer or the supporter. Never downplay the role of the support beam in recovery. We can’t stand without people like these. It is my sincere hope that as we move through recovery, we shift from sufferer to comforter.
Ten years is a big deal. I respect my recovery and the work I’ve put in. It’s no accident that I’m sober, but I also feel blessed.
What I’ve Gained from Sobriety
Most people believe sobriety means having to give something up, but they’re wrong. You gain self-respect, clarity of mind and a sense of worth. You have many incredible opportunities you wouldn’t have had during your addiction.
Here are a few of my most humbling accomplishments during the past 10 years:
- Writing a well-received play (Mourning in Bohemia)
- Acting in a successful play (Margo Veil)
- Acting in a feature film (Sydney White)
- Producing a feature film (Kill Zone)
- Having my recovery story published (On the Road to Hope)
- Becoming a Christian
- Marrying Jenna
- Experiencing professional success
- Buying my first home
- Becoming debt-free
- Overcoming weight gain
There is no way I could possibly explain what this 10-year mark means to me. It’s been an emotional week. I know that this is a forever journey, but a worthy one. I have never lived better than when sober.