I realize that my last post could be construed as being negative, but that was not the intention. The intention was to state that recovery is difficult, and that if you go into it naively, as I did, expecting some sort of scientifically-inspired formula, something based in rational thinking and not faith, you might be sorely disappointed, and find that you have very little in the way of a life-line, that is it doesn’t provide anything substantial to hold onto – to motivate you to stay clean.
In fact the comments to that post are a perfect example of one of the points I wanted to make. A religious person, with good intentions, tried to help me by explaining what God is. Their explanation highlighted the difference between myself and someone who has faith. There is no meeting in the middle. You might be tempted to say that neither of us will budge, but that’s not quite true. Their opinion is based on the assumption that God exists, and that they must not question it. Even though the God of the bible only “created” the world, and actually didn’t know about the rest of the universe. Why didn’t He know? Because when mankind created that God thousands of years ago, they didn’t know about the universe. If a real “God” had contacted man, and inspired the writing of the bible, don’t you think he would have told them a little more, like “I created this, and many other worlds”? No, the God that has been handed down to us for thousands of years is entirely our own creation. All the data that is required to deduce that this God isn’t real is right there, in the bible, but rather than see it for what it is, some religious people will go as far as interpreting that data literally, and denying science and reality, despite all sorts of evidence. (They call themselves Young Earth Creationists.)
Getting back to the difference between myself and the kind-hearted, well meaning theist who commented a couple of days ago, the conclusion that neither of us will meet in the middle of our contradictory beliefs, is one that is mistaken. My (lack of) belief is based on evidence. There is no evidence that God exists. His/hers is based on faith. Unlike the opposing opinion, mine has changed several times over the years. My argument against theism improves with time as I grow intellectually, while the opposing argument remains static: You must have faith. But as rational and logical as my argument is, it’s unlikely that any true believer will ever see the sense in it.
I have no real interest in arguing over faith issues with anybody, but my problem is that the accepted way, the assumed correct way of doing recovery, involves having some sort of faith-based belief. Not only does the accepted approach to recovery not work for me, I am also judged harshly for not following it. This is a catch-22 situation. If I actually rely on the nonsense of the 12-step program and the “fellowship” of NA, which is nothing more than a false sense of fellowship with people who merely made the same mistakes as myself (for totally different reasons), I will most probably fail. But by not attending meetings and not working the nonsensical 12 steps, I risk being judged as not being “serious” about recovery or accused of “not truly being in recovery”. (As mentioned in my last post, this is a fine example of the No True Scotsman fallacy.) It’s more than a little annoying, but is not my subject for today.
Most other people I have met in meetings (NA meetings, in recovery) have some sort of faith-based belief. And most therapists I’ve met have similar beliefs, which means that some major parts of their therapy will never work on me. These posts are intended for those like me, who will probably never have such beliefs, and for whom the 12-step plan and God placebo will never work. A major reason for my writing these two related posts is the reaction I had in a meeting a few months ago when I spoke up against theism in the NA. The only other atheist in the room became quite emotional about it because I had hit a nerve and expressed something that she had been afraid to say.
So how do you stay clean without some sort of faith-based belief? What it comes down to is: How do I motivate myself to stay clean without a belief in magic?
Ultimately, I don’t know why I am still clean. I can write what my approach has been, but note that somehow, somewhere along the way my attitude changed and my recovery got easier. At some point, and I can’t even say when or why or how it happened, it was like something clicked for me (excuse the cliché), and everything changed. Until that happened, recovery was hell, getting through even one day clean was a near impossibility because I used to crave all the time, and I thought I’d never make it.
As you may realize, I never got past step one of the twelve steps, so I can’t write anything about the twelve steps besides that. But my step one was a little different to most…
I didn’t only admit that I was powerless over my addiction and that my life had become unmanageable. That’s not enough. I also had to admit something that I have preferred not to write here, because my objective originally was to write this blog both for addicts and non-addicts alike. The fact is, nobody who is not an addict will ever understand this one: I admitted to myself that I would always love to use; in fact I would prefer to continue using, despite all consequences, no matter how severe they may be. That is, while I was in active addiction, I not only did not want to stop, I would continually choose to use no matter what, and I loved it.
I’m not sure if I believe that addiction is a disease of the brain, and if it is, I think it’s a little different to what the current research suggests. The fact is, I did have a choice. I chose to use, and without finding a way to change my routine, I would continually choose to do so, regardless of consequences. That is, I wanted to use. This directly contradicts what somebody like Dr Kevil McCauley says, which is that choice goes out the window because of cravings. I say that when we crave, we give in and make that choice to use not because the craving prevents making a choice, but because we want to use.
This left me with an apparently simple decision to make: I had to choose not to use, despite the fact that I wanted to. (Note the past tense. It is important.) That is, one day when I was as high as could be, I decided that it had to end. I decided that despite the fact that I wanted to continue using, I must choose not to do so. I had to take the rest of the meth that I had, and flush it down the toilet, and take all my drug-using paraphernalia, which at that point consisted of a 12-volt light bulb, a cut off stem of a plastic pen, and some insulation tape, and throw it far away. Then I had to go through all my drawers, and my cupboards, and look for all the little plastic packets that contained minute amounts of meth that I’d saved for “emergencies”, and throw those far away too. The only thing I didn’t do was delete the one remaining dealer contact number off my mobile phone. Instead, I set that number to be barred, so I could never receive a call from him again. And if he called from a different number, which he did, I ended the call as soon as I recognized his voice.
Having done that, I had to make the same choice again, hundreds of times that day. That is, choose not to use, even though I wanted to. I had to sacrifice what I wanted for the greater good, for what everybody that I cared about wanted. Firstly for Josh, even though he didn’t know about the choice I made, because it was what he would choose for me if he could, and choosing to use would mean choosing to lose him forever. And I had to tell myself that every time, which was more difficult than I have words to explain, because I wanted to use one more time so very much. Then for my mother, for my brother, for all the people I worked with in the past, and for all the people I would be able to work with in future as long as I remained clean.
The following day, I had to make that same choice all over again. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s just one little choice, after all. But it’s not simple. It’s hell, but I had to do it… Choose over and over again, not to use, even though I still wanted to. Then I slept for most of a few days, which gave me some short relief from making the choice. This carried on for about two weeks, and then quite suddenly, it got easier. I found I was enjoying being clean, enjoying the fact that I wasn’t always confused.
I did go to some meetings, but not many, and found that spending time with Josh, which I couldn’t do before, was so much more beneficial than listening to a bunch of people whose only connection to me was that they had made the same mistakes. I craved frequently though, and found one thing interesting about the cravings: When I craved, I remembered how good it felt to use. I remembered every little detail about the ritual of using, throwing the meth into the bulb, lighting the lighter, watching it melt into a liquid and the bulb filling with smoke. I remembered the taste, and the incredible sensation it gave me as I drew it into my lungs, as well as the instant pleasure of the meth high. I remembered how much I loved feeling that, and how I loved to tweak in that state. I did not immediately remember all the bad things that happened after the first hit. I had to force myself to remember the bad things.
Actually I seldom get those kinds of cravings anymore, unless I force myself to get them. Being something of a masochist, I do force myself to feel them. (I kid you. That’s not the reason.) One guaranteed way of getting a craving of note was to describe using. I’m having one right now. I can taste it; I can feel it. But those cravings are easy to deal with: Just go down that road (but only in your head) and realize the awful consequences of that one hit. For me, it would be to go right back into that state of wanting to use and not wanting to stop. I force myself to crave by thinking about the act of using, just to make sure I also force myself to remember the consequences. Making the choice now is almost effortless, in that the craving doesn’t even last half a second before my mind has already decided to choose not to use. I force myself to go through this just in case I ever find myself in a situation that is jeopardous to my recovery; for example, being in the presence of people who are using, or being confronted by a dealer who has a “present” for me.
But getting back to the start of my recovery after my relapse: I can not describe how incredibly difficult it was at first. I truly have no idea how I got through the first few weeks. And it remained difficult, albeit less difficult, for some time. It was only after Megan returned that staying clean suddenly became easy. Ironic, because when we stayed together in the past, it was she who dragged me back to active addiction after my first nine months clean. But this time around, she, and her daughter, are my anchors. Especially Aishah – somehow seeing that beautiful little girl every day, and knowing that she has me, clean and sober, which Josh didn’t have at the same age, is the most motivation I have ever had to remain this way.
The longer I am clean, the easier it is to stay this way, but I have one more trick up my sleeve… A little psychological self-deception to help myself stay clean, based on the NA concept of just for today…
Just for the next twenty years
I’ve always said I don’t like the idea of “just for today”. I mean, what’s a day?
- 24 hours
- 1440 minutes
- 86 400 seconds
- 86 400 000 milliseconds
I could go on, but the point is, a day is just the duration of the planet’s spin on its axis. It’s a random number, as far as I’m concerned – one that has nothing to do with my recovery. In truth, if you have been in active addiction for several years, as I was, then even one day clean is a fantastic achievement, one to be proud of. However, in a successful recovery, one day is very little. Once you have some clean time, one day means absolutely nothing; one month means no more; one year means very little if you have to remain clean for long enough to be reunited with a child who was removed from you because you were an unfit parent; two years may be enough for reunification but it doesn’t mean that you will remain a fit parent for as long as your child deserves; five years sounds like plenty but is still less than the time I spent using. Hell, even ten years isn’t enough! Relapsing after ten years might not only ruin your child’s life at a time when their schooling will suffer – it might also expose them to drugs at just the right stage for them to become an addict themselves. That would defeat the entire purpose of my recovery, which is not for me, but for everybody else I love, as well as for everybody I let down, and everybody I will never let down that way again.
Now I know I’m missing the point of just for today… It’s really a way of staying focused on the here and now, and doing what you need to remain clean for now. Then tomorrow you say just for today again.
With that in mind, I say fuck “just for today”, and I tell myself “just for the next twenty years”. It’s the same principle, but if I’m going to pick a random number and insist on remaining clean for that random number interval, I’d rather pick a bigger number.
Why twenty years? Well, twenty years from now Josh will be 26, and Aishah 21 years old. They’ll both be adults, who have been taught that they may have inherited a personality that has a high probability of becoming an addict, if ever they use drugs. Also, it’s a hell of a big number for me now, big enough for me to tell myself I have not made a success of recovery yet, because my minimum milestone is still a long way away.
And if I ever get there? That’s the trick… just like “just for today”, I will continue to say it. Just for the next twenty years. Chances are, I won’t live that long. My father died at 57 years old, and last year his youngest brother died at the same age. I’ll be 43 next month, and while I hope to live until a good old age, I don’t expect it.