The day I realized I was on the right track I had committed myself to a rehab program to seek help addressing my alcohol, crack and heroin addiction of over 30 years.
I had been in a lot of rehab programs, all for the wrong reason. My focus was always to either get out of trouble or to get back in good with my family. Full of selfish reason and self-centeredness, on 8/12/98 I was living in a cardboard box behind an abandoned warehouse in downtown Tampa. I am also a Vietnam Veteran, suffering from PTSD which was later diagnosed.
I got into the rehab program, and for the first time, it was because I wanted to change my life, not to just get out of trouble or get back in with a family I had long lost. I was tired of living the sort of dishonest life I had been living. You know how they say “when the pupil is ready the teacher will appear?” Well, I believe the pupil also has to be looking for that teacher and I was finally looking!!!
The program was going well, I was following whatever was asked of me and I had decided that in order to change, I had to let others show me the way. Was I willing and strong enough to follow? It takes courage to change, to follow direction, deny years of bad habits and rules of survival, that until now I had always lived by. All my life I was a survivor, but I no longer wanted to just survive, I wanted to live. For the first time in my life, I wanted to live.
One of the first projects suggested to me, since I was removing something from my life (my daily routine, my addiction), was to find something to replace it with: a new habit to replace an old habit.
I had always wanted to be an artist but lacked the skills, so I chose to try a paint by numbers canvas. Looking over the different paint kits, I choose the “Lords Last Supper.” I figured I could help my spirituality and start a new habit that would bring me pleasure and joy, creating something of beauty; to be honest I was at this point hoping.
When I opened the kit, I saw so many different colors and spaces. I thought maybe this would not work and fear of another failure set in. I had learned that creating plans was a way of living life and making the right choices, so I came up with a plan to start painting all the number 1’s, and once I had done a section, I would paint all of the number 2’s.
I started off great, a little nervous and a little shaky, but after painting a section of 1’s I started painting the 2’s in that section. To my dismay, while painting the 2’s I began smudging the 1’s. “My plan sucked,” as usual, but I realized this time that I needed a new plan, I needed to not give up and develop a new plan. This time I sought help.
I contacted the recreation department, I checked out a book of painting from the library, I learned to buy additional brushes, to cut the tips to fit inside the different small spaces and I obtained a balancing stick to steady my hand.
In my new plan, I would start a section and try to finish a section of the painting with all the colors. At first, I planned to spend a small amount of time each day, but as I began to paint and see the quality of my work, my interest peeked, and I started to spend more time on the painting. I even got into character, wore a beret, and as I painted, I would listen to classical music.
The more I painted, the better I got. The more time I put into the painting I even started adding colors of my own choice and was enjoying my work. My mind became less confusing and I was involved in something I was creating. This brought me pleasure, joy and a sense of accomplishment; something I had lacked for a long time.
When the painting was finished, I looked back on my work, and as I appraised the painting I realized that what I saw was my life and the beginning of my recovery; a new life. At first, you could see the unsureness, the shakiness and the lack of commitment. As I continued to examine the picture, I could see the missing of lines and going outside of the lines. However, then I saw a commitment to the painting, more definition in my approach, I was staying inside the lines and the color was clearer and brighter. By the end, I saw a life of recovery, a life worth saving, and what it took to start anew. At first, I was not sure of what I was doing, but after seeking help and following direction, the changes began to develop and my life took on a new zest for living, just like the painting.
Today, I still have that picture that I painted 22 years ago. It reminds me of the start and the commitment it takes to live a life worth living and the commitment it takes to enjoy life. One space at a time, one color at a time, one day at a time.