Last month, I returned to the place where I was reborn, Oaks Recovery. It was a special occasion. I was celebrating six months of recovery. I decided some time ago that, if I made it to six months, I'd pick up my chip there during their commencement night. My own commencement from Oaks wasn't that long ago. It was June 9th. I graduated from their short-term program. Unlike high school or college, this commencement is different. I was a bit taken aback from my first commencement experience. It was powerful, moving and inspiring. Every Friday evening, all of us washed-up drunks and addicts would gather to celebrate those graduating the program. There was a keynote speaker, and there was always at least one commencée who'd have their family in attendance. Someone always cried. Truth be told, I cried. At every commencement. When a person graduates from the program, they get to choose someone to introduce them. After that, the commencée shares a few words about their experience in recovery. It's meant to inspire those still working the program. The stories I've heard have stuck with me, as potent as the day I first heard them. You'd think that hearing one drunk's life story would be enough, but for me personally, every persons tale has been powerful. When it came for my speech, I spent most of it pointing out some of my fellow brothers and sharing how each of their stories stuck with me. Inspired me. Touched me. Believe it or not, I really didn't talk much during my time in rehab. I was broken. Lost. I didn't know myself. I really didn't. I was a shadow looking for its owner. I had no desire to fit in or appear cool. My only desire was to hold it together. Everything I had been through these past few years was starting to come to the surface. Probably because I was, for the first time in years, returning to the surface. Returning to the light after living so long in a deep, dark cave. And what happens to someone who is exposed to light after being in pitch black for years? It comes with a bit of shock. Sensory overload! That's a good way to describe my time at Oaks. And the first few months of recovery.
When I commenced the program back in June, my parents came. But they didn't show up with balloons and presents. They were distant and cold. Their visit for commencement marked the first time I had seen my mom in nine months (not counting the time she had visited me while I was in jail... and in case you're wondering, yeah, that was a shameful moment for me. But it was also a turning point. Seeing my mother with tears in her eyes, staring at her through a glass window, jolted me out of some fog. I knew it was time to get help). There was no rush to hug me. They kept their distance. After all the pain I had put them through, I couldn't blame them one bit. They had no idea whether or not I had changed at all. Neither did I.
Something happened after commencement was over, though. I remember running to my mom as she got in her car to return home. I wanted to give her my Surrender coin. I do recall her looking down at the coin after I placed it in her hand. Earlier in the evening, her silence was a strong indicator of her anger. Now, however, it was different. She smiled and hugged me. And then they went home.
I wanted them to be proud of me for commencing the program, but I knew this wasn't the end of this tumultuous journey. It was a step. One small step. But for me, that was a big deal. For the first time in a long time, I knew that it was a step in the right direction.
Driving to Oaks for my sixth month anniversary, I thought about that moment. Comparing it to the present. And I thought to myself, what's so great about six months of recovery? Do I deserve a cookie for not being a drunk or a drug addict? The thought sounds absurd. Yet here we are. Us crazy, selfish addicts, who have done some of the most outlandish things imaginable (I recently had a lady, a recovering Heroin addict, tell me how she once went to pee and ended up with both of her feet stuck down the toilet. How does that happen? Honey, you don't wanna know) and we have devised a celebratory system where we get shiny coins every few months to celebrate doing what we're SUPPOSED to be doing - not fucking up.
"Hey, I haven't been a crackhead for three months!" Awesome! We're gonna cheer you on as you walk on stage to get a shiny coin to commemorate that. It sounds absurd. And yet, our "clean time" really does have meaning to those around us. My family was very proud of me hitting the half-a-year mark. Heck, I was. That was a hard-fought six freakin months. And after I picked up my chip, and the evening was done, I relaxed a bit in bed just looking at my coin and the messages I received. It felt great. Why? I guess because it symbolized returning to life. I was literally killing myself. Putting myself in great danger. Destroying all potential I had. Abusing the ones that loved me. And despite the grip this disease has over me, I've been able to march away a good distance from it. If I'm blessed to make it into having years of sobriety under my belt, I imagine six months will look like a heartbeat. But for anyone who knows what it's like coming out of such a strong battle with addiction... man, that first year is tough and I'm only halfway through it.
Someone said that out of all addicts and alcoholics in recovery, less than 10% will actually make it. Whenever I think about that statistic, I look around the room. Whenever I'm in AA, there's usually about twenty people there. That means only TWO of us are going to make it? That scares me. The odds aren't in my favor. Not one bit. Scientists and doctors and therapists around the world are trying to understand addiction. So am I. I don't understand it. I am trying to make sense with what I went through, what I did and why. I don't think I'll get many answers to the questions I'm asking right now. That's okay. I'm a paranormal investigator. Chasing the unattainable is kind of my thing.
I'm alive today and that's what matters. If you're reading this and are struggling with addiction, my heart goes out to you. I pray that you find your way into recovery. And if you do, that's reason enough to celebrate!