What Recovery Means to Me

How can I put into words something that can only be experienced? It takes my breath away to think of where I was two years ago. I seem to start reflecting on where I’ve been and where I’ve come as sobriety birthdays approach.

And I’m not just talking about substance abuse. People from all walks of life find recovery from many afflictions – gambling, sex, eating disorders etc. Only they know the gut-wrenching hopelessness that arrives in addiction’s death grip. Only they know the indescribable joy that comes from triumph in the face of certain tragedy.That makes the word “recovery” so applicable to what we endure. When weather disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes happen, obliterated towns pick up the pieces, rebuild and commence on the road to recovery. Substitute a hurricane with addiction, the town for my personhood and you’ve got the perfect analogy of recovery.I remember riding in the car one day with a drug dealer. Not something I’m particularly proud of, but it happened frequently in active addiction. In the course of conversation, he casually mentioned that a man he sold heroin to overdosed and died. The words rolled off the dope dealer’s tongue as casually as someone talking about the weather. It was incredibly disturbing.

In that moment, I knew if I continued navigating heroin’s dark alleys, I’d be the dead man in a drug dealer’s causal conversation. And nothing more.Even heroin couldn’t pacify the emptiness I started to feel. It was my own personal zombie apocalypse. I consumed everything I held dear like a brain-thirsty walker. When I finally reached out for help, there wasn’t much left.

Maybe you never used heroin. Or alcohol. Or marijuana. Or cocaine. Or methamphetamine. Maybe you gambled compulsively. Maybe you used sex like a drug, constantly chasing the next partner to satisfy an insatiable appetite. Perhaps it was an eating disorder, where you constructed a fairytale body image and starved yourself in order to attain it.

It really doesn’t matter. All of us used something to control the way we felt. It became normal for us. Yet we knew, deep down, something was disturbingly wrong.Then the transformation happened, usually at an impasse of death and dire consequence. We finally faced the fact that life was no longer worth living like this. Change wasn’t chosen, it was necessary for our survival.

So we set about on a path of uncertainty. We weren’t sure who we’d become, who our friends would be or what life would look like. Resistance conspired with doubt to sidestep any progress. Old thoughts returned frequently, dancing with the temptation of a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer day.

But they were there to guide us – the people who walked through the same despair and fear to find recovery. They showed up to show us the way, and we listened. We followed their suggestions, despite how irrational they sounded.

Days slowly turned into months, and months turned into years. Through the principles contained in recovery, put in practice with the guidance of compassionate individuals, we rebuilt our lives. Our innate talents emerged like a phoenix rising from the ashes. In our wildest dreams, we never thought a life like this possible.

That is where we stand today. It wasn’t easy, but dammit, it was worth it.What recovery means to me isn’t just hope. Recovery means an entire transformation of my life from top to bottom. In the process, I receive the greatest gift of all – the honor of helping others revolutionize their attitude and perspective, both internally and externally.

Recovery is contagious. You can’t help being affected when it surrounds you. That’s why it’s so important to stay close to the people who radiate recovery. I need them. And they need me.

What recovery means to me isn’t just love. Recovery means an altruistic affection that transcends traditional conceptions of love. Where else can you walk into a room completely broken and find men and women ready to walk with you on the road to redemption?What recovery means to me isn’t just perseverance. When a person has been biochemically altered to literally require a substance to feel normal, yet decides to walk away from the very thing that was more important to them than food and water, that’s something else altogether. The word “perseverance” doesn’t do it justice.

But above all else, recovery is an experience – something that can only be lived. You can see it behind the eyes of those who pass it along. It’s a twinkle in the eye that betrays an overwhelming satisfaction.

On True Detective, Russ Cole said there were times he thought he was mainlining the secret truth of the universe. When I’m in those surreal moments made possible through recovery, I know what he means.


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