Let me start by offering my brief understanding of addiction. The characteristics that make up the core or basis for “addiction” are selfishness, self-centeredness and self-seeking, followed by an uncontrollable urge to seek and use drugs. When I am operating on an animalistic level, I will run through, manipulate, steal and hurt anyone to obtain that “next one." My entire life and thinking are centered or fixated on finding, getting and using more drugs. It is progressive and insidious in nature, resulting in the same conclusion every time. For me, these consequences included dereliction, jail, rehabs or institutions, and an emotional-spiritual death.
There are many families and friends who also face the harsh but true reality of physical death that addiction can end in. Many nights I truly prayed to God that he would just take my life because the daily struggle, shame, grinding and withdrawals had begun to break me, and every day I woke up to a resentment that my prayers had not been answered. My addiction had progressed to a point where I was using against my will; I could barely manage an hour before I was using again. If anyone would have told me that someday I would be approaching four years clean and sober, I would have placed it right up there with my belief that the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus exist. I was broken and hopeless.
Living the life of an addict and criminal “in recovery,” I have lived experience of being stigmatized and feeling judged. Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular quality, circumstance or person,” and is affiliated with terminology such as “shame, dishonor and tainted." Many people have heard the slogan, “once an addict, always an addict." Yet, for those addicts seeking it, there is a solution. There is hope.
I have a hard time describing what “hope” feels like — but through these words and my daily testament, I can tangibly and honestly tell you that recovery is possible. Again, describing what recovery is proves difficult; there is no cookie-cutter answer or single solution. It consists of a multitude of wraparound services and supports — clinical, community and spiritual. Recovery means many different things depending on whom you speak to. My recovery itself has grown, evolved and matured in stages. Where I am in life today is far from where I was at 30, 60, or 120 days sober. My first six months were primarily focused on just not picking up a drink or getting high — breaking the barriers and patterns I continuously went back to in previous attempts.
Recovery for me began with surrender. If I could have stopped using drugs on willpower alone, I would have done so a long time ago. I had to acquire the ability and self-awareness to admit I cannot do this on my own, as well as the humility to ask for and accept help. As a recovering addict, I will consistently place conditions upon myself; self-willing my journey and decision-making with “I know better” or “Let me tell you how to help me." Therefore it was crucial, especially in the infant stages, to allow someone else to monitor and guide me. This is never more critical than when utilizing medication to treat addiction. My first six months of sobriety involved detox and stabilization (the process of ridding the body of toxic substances) under clinical supervision and intensive outpatient therapy. These, along with a supervised medication for opioid use disorder program, were instrumental and vital in reinforcing my early recovery foundation. They removed my “obsession and compulsion” to use. My daily cravings that had been complemented by an endless stream of thought processes began to fade away. Gradually, I began to feel and believe I could make it throughout a day without having to get high in order to deal with what life had in store for me.
Recovery to me is also being able to openly and honestly admit “I am an addict," that I have made poor decisions and hurt many, many people — most of all myself. I am also a human being and I am not perfect. I make mistakes. To be vulnerable used to be considered a weakness. Today, I believe it is an accurate measure of courage. Today, I am perfectly broken. I did not have to steal today. I didn’t sell anyone an overdose today. I didn’t harm my family or friends today. I showed up for life today. Among other core values, today I am strong, accountable, reliable, open-minded, and honest. Today, I am able to stay centered in the now. I am an addict. I am in recovery. Today, I am not alone.
You are not alone either, and if no one has told you today — I believe in you.
"With the disease we have, we can't just put everything on pause."
Bryan Bush is a certified recovery peer advocate at Confidential Help for Alcohol & Drugs and a steering committee member of the HEALing Communities Study, a multi-year, multi-state research study to reduce opioid overdose deaths through the implementation of evidence-based practices. If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, call (315) 253-1522 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.