Five Steps Forward
Almost 5 years later and I’m on a 1st step again. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable. How different it is when it’s not about the dope anymore. It’s funny because for as hard as it is putting the drugs down, that’s much easier than admitting my powerlessness and surrendering control in other areas of my life.
But what a beautiful thing I get to experience. I get to actively take a look at my life, decide what’s working and what’s not, then change it for the better. Now, maybe that comes naturally to you guys, but me? I need a step by step “Guide to Becoming a Decent Human Being: For Dummies.” Oh, what do you know, we have a little thing called the 12 steps that gives me just that. So, it took me four and a half years to finish my first round of steps. Could I have gone through them a little faster? Sure.
When I’m not careful, the pain wears off a little bit, the motivation to change can sometimes slip out that barely open gate that is way in the back of your brain, who’s only job is to guard things from getting in and out. And most of the time, that gate does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It keeps that memory alive, the dirty, gross nagging of just how desperate and alone it feels at the end of the road. But over time, things get good. I spent a lot of time working really hard on myself – working on the inside. I’ll never forget when my first sponsor called me a “dressed up trash can.” Boy, was she right. I stopped using, but I hadn’t found a new way to live. I had so many defects that were tools of survival when I was using, that were absolutely worthless to me clean, but I didn’t know I could let them go. Learning how to identify, then change the harmful patterns and behaviors, or the self-sabotage because I didn’t feel worthy; worthy of the second chance and the beautiful life that was blossoming in front of me.
It was as if I felt the need to continually punish myself so that I wouldn’t forget how bad it was. How bad I was. The more I surrendered and the less I acted on self will, the better my life got. And the image of me sitting on the porch in 90 degree weather with no one but my dog and a few pills, or heroin, or whatever I could scrounge up that day, that image begins to haze over and I can’t quite make out that crisp, pit of nothingness, that shell of a human being I was. And I forget. I forget so much so, that same gate that keeps my disease out, opened just a crack. And that very same disease can now come and go as it pleases. See, I had heard about this ‘built-in-forgetter’ that we have, or at least addicts have. But I didn’t really know that all it really was is an open gate. I thought that if thing were going well and my life was getting better, clearly I’m doing a lot of changing.” And I WAS changing. I was working on me. And so was that forgetter. With a few years clean, it brought me to my knees. I remember laying on my bed in Florida, Jack and Sally on either side, and just wondering to myself if anyone would really miss me. You know, the kind of thoughts that you don’t want to linger too long because you’re afraid. Afraid that you’ll come to the conclusion that in fact no one will miss you. And that you’ll make one decision based off that one thought. And it’ll all be over.
Thank God for grace. He pulled me out of that by setting my ass on fire for more change. Not by changing my surroundings, not even just by changing my insides, but by changing the way that gate opens and closes. It’s not like once something goes out that gate, that its gone forever – out in the abyss. It’s like a turnstile. You can’t go out the same way you went in. And that’s how my disease works. It doesn’t come at me in the same way. It lies in wait, sees the tiniest opening, inserts a quarter of a millimeter of it’s shape shifting shadow into that opening, and just sits. And waits. And grows and grows until the gate’s wide open again and I’m left wondering, “How did that happen?”
Once I got clean, it stopped coming at me so much with thoughts of using, and started coming at me in insecurities. anger. resentment. worry. fear. doubt. All sorts of words that don’t deserve proper punctuation or capitalization and I oftentimes wish didn’t even exist. Because the thing about that turnstile is that things get good again. We take five steps forward but because life is a continuous loop around the sun, and my disease is on a continuous quest to get back in line leading to the gate, while I’m taking five steps forward, my disease is taking one step backward. And because I am my disease, I’m taking five steps forward and one step back and it’s like when you’re swimming in the ocean. Just treading water and enjoying the view. But before long, your legs get heavy and you start bobbing a little lower in the water than you’d like, so you kick your legs harder but it’s just making you more and more tired and suddenly, you’re gasping for air between what feels like years under a current. You don’t know which way is up and which way is down. Your chest is full, and you want to scream. But you can’t.
It’s like when you want to use a free trial but you’ve already used your email address so you create another one, and another one, and another one just to get the perks. And my gate never stays on the up and up and says, “New gate. Who dis?” My gate gets old and worn and creaky and eventually lets things slip. And before I know it, I’m drowning in my own body, not a drop of water in sight.
Not until the pain gets great enough (again), do I decide to do a little maintenance and work on tightening that gate. Not until I’m fully submerged (again), do I decide to do something different. I take everything to the bitter ends. The amazing thing is that it’s not magic. Life doesn’t just magically get better. It takes work and dedication and perseverance, commitment, honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, and love, just to name a few. It takes the spiritual principles that I learned about in these crazy simple (yet I overly complicate it) steps that I can apply to my life every single day and I don’t ever have to be back in the fetal position crying to my dogs about how miserable my life is (again). The longer I’ve stayed clean, the lower my pain tolerance has gotten. I usually get into the solution rather quickly. But, there are a few very apparent parts of my life in which I allow my disease to win day in and day out. And I’m sure we’re all “guilty” of it in one way or another, in one extreme or another. Actually, I don’t like that word guilty. That implies a negative connotation to the human experience of feeling. Feeling anything. The feeling of a lack of self worth, or importance in this world, of wondering where our place is, who our people are. Those are feelings and we aren’t “wrong” for thinking that. It’s just not conducive to a productive, joyful life to live in the delusion that is our diseased mind’s fantasy.
A few weeks ago a friend of ours asked both Jeffrey and I to share at an anniversary meeting. And every once in a while, the thought of having to share in front of a bunch of people blows up in my mind and I feel sick. I’m not good enough. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t deserve this. I won’t do a good job. Those sorts of thoughts, right? And to compound those feelings of worthlessness, last week, a girl that I would pick up from a treatment center to take to outside meetings, she decided to pick up one more time. She overdosed and died. I couldn’t save her. Am I really even helping anyone if they just keep dying? Last night, Jeffrey and I decided to start re-watching Game of Thrones and we were so into the first episode, that I missed a call and a few texts from that same friend about a story she really needed to tell me. I texted her this morning and said I’d call today, then that thought immediately sauntered out the gate at the back of my brain. I can picture it now. It’s like when Rhea’s shoulders glide up and down as she stalks her prey – usually Lotto. That was my thought – I watched as it sauntered down the lane and out the gate. I forgot. My disease was winning. So, today during my lunch break, I was writing on my first step and my friend text me and said I could call her. Because I’m self centered, I thought it had to do with me and something about sharing at the anniversary meeting this Wednesday. And she goes into this big chain of events describing to me this perfect storm of God’s amazing work. She told me how she didn’t want to go to a meeting on Friday because it was a torrential downpour but her sponsee said, “Would you go out in this rain to get dope?” Since we all know the answer to that is yes, for all of us, she went to the meeting. And there was a new girl there so my friend gave her her number and said call me. And the new girls rarely ever call. But, low and behold, she called her. And they were chatting about what recovery looks like and how when you stay clean, you get a service position and you can go into treatment centers to do this thing called H&I, going into hospitals and institutions in which addicts can’t leave to go to an outside meeting to bring a message of recovery to them. And this girl says to her, “Oh yeah, I know what H&I is,” and went on to explain that last fall she had been in a facility for something completely unrelated to drugs and how after being there a few days, didn’t want to just sit in her room, so she went to a meeting. And there was this woman that came in and shared her story. The woman shared her own story, but also this girl’s story. And in that moment, her life changed. The next day she called her dad and told him she had a drug problem and asked for help. And 8 months later, with 40 something days clean, she walks into a meeting, gets my friend’s number and actually calls her. So my friend asks her to describe the woman and maybe by some off chance, she might know her. She describes a very tiny, blonde woman. And my friend just says, “I know her.” And by this time, the girl is on the other end of the phone bawling about how she never thought she’d see this woman again and never get the chance to tell her that her life changed that day, but now she can. And as my friend is telling me this, I’m sitting in a conference room at work with picture windows all the way around, anyone can see in, and tears are just rolling down my cheeks. It’s me. I’m that woman. I matter. My story matters.
Your story matters.
It’s not a coincidence what happened today. It’s not a coincidence what happened on my bed that day in Florida, or last fall when I went into the treatment center, to last Friday, the day this girl went to a meeting, to yesterday when this realization transpired to today when I heard about it. My friend told me, “I just couldn’t keep this selfishly to myself. I had to share this joy.” Even when I don’t stay on his path, He anticipates my next move and He knows how to meet me where I’m at, just like I try to meet sponsees where they’re at. He meets me where I’m at, through other people. We are all vessels. We are all a part of each other’s stories. At any given time, we are all each other’s second step – the restoration to sanity for someone else. My friend was that for me today. Today my disease can’t tell me that I don’t have anything to share, that I don’t deserve to share at an anniversary meeting, that no one will relate to what I have to say. Today my disease can’t tell me that I’m unique or that I don’t belong or that my life is too put together to need this fellowship anymore. Today my gate won’t let my disease in.
I’m good at putting on a smiling face. I’m good at being who (I think) you want me to be. I’m good at looking the part. I’m good at being a dressed up trash can. And all those things that were so vital to my active addiction, I’ve learned to start letting go. I must shed the weight on my shoulders that tells me I have to be perfect. I must unlock the shackles that keep me thinking I’m in control or that I have control or that I can control (Jeffrey, poor guy). I must wake up in the morning, thank God for another opportunity, and go to bed at night thanking him for another day clean. And trust me, in between those two planned prayers, I make lots of mistakes and say lots more pleas to God. But I hope I also do a lot more things right. Each day I can try to cause a little less harm. For all the mistakes I make, I can help someone else get through the same thing. For all the pain I’ve experienced, I can help someone else with that same gut wrenching pain as she wonders whether or not it’s worth hanging on to the last strand of hope tethering her on this side of life. Tonight I can go to bed snuggled between 5 puppies and the one man God fashioned on Earth to withstand being my husband, and I can take five steps forward and one step back. But maybe tomorrow I’ll take five steps forward and only a half a step back.