by Andy H.
Visions of violence, pain and suffering. Voices of fear, doubt, anxiety, and torture. Thousands of men, women, and children losing their lives for one more euphoric release, not knowing it will be the last. Addicted. I need it for my peace, I need it for my comfort, I need it for silence. One more hit and maybe I can finally feel the end to my suffering, the sweet embrace of death. Death never came but I needed a comfort and freedom. Recovery from addiction is fought with unconventional weaponry; fellowship, mindfulness, and integrity are my armory.
The fellowship aspect, or connection with others, has been the largest piece of this ever-learning battle. Similar to soldiers fighting a war with nothing to hold onto but a friend, even if only for a moment, I have finally been able to connect with other human beings on a level of understanding and compassion that I had never experienced prior to recovery. This has taken work. I regularly attend AA and NA meetings where others are also trying to learn what it’s like to live without the use of mind-altering substances through the help of each other. This means I must regularly talk to other human beings and relay my past experiences, as well as my current thoughts, and emotions. For example, I was struggling with learning to live with emotions, which I had never done before. I wanted so badly to numb out the anxiety, depression, and anger, that seemed to be hitting me all at once, by using drugs. Instead, I did what I was taught to battle this. I called another individual in recovery, and they were able to relay their own personal experience and struggle, which was familiar to me in that minute. I felt a sense of relief in knowing that I was not alone, was able to spend time with that person but most importantly, I didn’t get high. The unselfishness and camaraderie of this person gave me hope and strength.
Mindfulness is paramount to living a life of recovery from substance abuse. The memory that I have that best exemplifies this is as follows. At around 3 months of no substance use due to fellowship, regular attendance at meetings, work with a therapist, trying spiritual practices and other things I had been taught, I woke up wanting the embrace of death to numb my thoughts. I had not been mindful of where my mind was in the days leading up to this but knew I was in a fearfully comfortable head space that I knew all too well. Addictive delusions rose in my head like an assassin in the night. I needed to fight it and because of my friend’s suggestion, I did just that. I decided to try kayaking. By doing this I was able to appreciate the beauty around me. I got to experience the lush greens of the flora, the crystalline shimmer of the water, and the sound of the steady flowing water caressing the banks of the river. My mind had finally been calmed. I still use this as a mindfulness practice today.
Prior to recovery, I could not truly define what integrity was, at least not in practical application. I constantly lied, manipulated, stole and lived a morally flexible lifestyle. Integrity to me today is simply defined as doing the next right thing with or without getting caught, no matter the circumstances. Being free from the mind-altering prison of addiction has given me a unique opportunity; to attempt to do the next right thing and to be a man of my word. I am by no means perfect at this, but it is practice. A personal experience of mine to better paint a picture of this is about helping my mom clean out her garage. I had told my mom on a Wednesday that I would help her that following weekend clear some of my late father’s belongings out of the garage because it was emotionally difficult, as she was still mourning that loss. That week was a 60-hour work week, I was exhausted both emotionally and physically, had a desire to get high, and didn’t want to witness the emotional pain of my mother. My mind gave me many excuses to call her, back out of this commitment, and to go get high. I instead called that same friend from earlier for advice, took a deep breath, and I was able to practice integrity by sticking to my commitment of cleaning out that garage. After getting this done, I felt a sense of pride, accomplishment, and integrity, which was still foreign to me.
Recovery from substance abuse has opened my eyes to concepts which I never believed I could grasp. The concepts of fellowship, mindfulness, and integrity are essential to my life today. They do tend to intertwine and are at times a difficult practice. However, if I can use these tools to guide me in my recovery, weaponize them against my addiction, then I can win this war. I can live a life that is truly happy, joyous, and free