My first attempt at getting clean, after a 17-year downward spiral to the depths of my addiction, was through a long-term women’s treatment center in Memphis in 1985. They only offered AA meetings and used AA literature at the time because other 12-step fellowships had not been around long enough to have long-term recovery. Alcohol use was not the primary manifestation of my addiction, so it was somewhat difficult to identify. (Today, the ladies of that same facility are offered a variety of fellowships and recovery literature, and I am grateful they have that choice.)
I was there for 9 months and started using about half-way through after my priorities got out of balance. When I got caught, I was given the choice to start over or leave. I chose to leave because I wasn’t going to use anymore. Wrong! One is too many and a thousand is never enough, and I just couldn’t stop.
My addiction got so much worse, so quickly. It wasn’t long before I resorted to: “Dear God, please help me” (not go to jail, not OD, etc.). Finally, one of my cries for help paid off. I ended up in another treatment center on January 20, 1987. A few days before my discharge, I made a phone call to the Narcotics Anonymous helpline and asked the young girl who returned my phone call for a ride to a meeting the day I was scheduled to get out, and I also asked her to be my temporary sponsor. You see, I knew that I had to put my recovery first this time, starting with day one.
The suggestions I followed in early recovery I still follow today. I have a sponsor, go to meetings, work steps, read the literature, pray, fellowship, and serve others. Recovery gave me the ability to hold a job long-term, raise my son as a single parent, the tools to cope with whatever I might be going through – to live life on life’s terms in the best and worst of times.
I’ve had my ups and downs in recovery. At 10 years clean I found out that I had Hepatitis C as a result of my active addiction, and surviving 2 rounds of interferon treatment is nothing short of a miracle! My son grew up and moved away from home around the same time as the Hep C treatments. I felt so alone. I was super depressed and continually sick from the treatment. I was beginning to slack off in using the recovery tools that had kept me clean. After making some poor decisions, and then finally getting out of the mess my life had become, I began to make changes for the better again. My health improved. I started going to more meetings. I got a new sponsor. I started over in my steps. I renewed my service efforts!
One of the greatest gifts of recovery has been my relationship with the God of my understanding. I prayed when I was out there using for God to please help me. When I realized I could pray those same prayers for help in recovery, I started to feel more hopeful, to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to start believing that I could stay clean. The Episcopal chaplain at the treatment center I was in helped me to realize that through God, I could receive the willingness, strength, courage, and faith that I so badly needed in early recovery.
I had started working at an Episcopal church shortly before my relapse in 1986 and the love and support given to me by this faith community (and my 12-step fellowship) made the difference between me staying clean or facing a life of jails, institutions, and ultimately death. I was thrilled to realize that the Episcopal church had a national recovery organization (Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church), as well as a local diocesan commission on addiction and recovery.
I’m eternally grateful to have found this new way to live. I know that I can’t keep what I have unless I give it away, so I’ve stayed involved in helping to carry the message of recovery through both my church and 12-step fellowship since 1987 and hope to celebrate 29 years of recovery later this month.
-A grateful recovering addict in Memphis