by Kendall Baker
The counter on my phone counts it for me down to the seconds, which, at the moment of this writing is rolling over to 11,472,931.
The counter is one of those little things that keeps me going in moments where I really want to throw in the towel–moments where I’m so desperate for relief that I debate whether it might be worth it to reset that clock. Of course, I’ve reset that clock enough times to know that it’s never worth it.
The crushing shame that comes with hitting the reset button should be enough to keep me on the right path, but anyone familiar with addiction knows that moments arrive where nothing is “enough” to keep an addict on the straight and narrow.
There is a feeling of emptiness that comes along with early recovery
It’s not popular to talk about because, obviously, it’s not the best motivator to convince someone that recovery is worth the fight. But it is real, and in my recovery I’ve discovered that refusing to talk about unpleasant topics doesn’t actually make them go away.
On the contrary, they seem to feed on themselves when left in the dark, like a cancer that goes undetected until it’s spread so far and wide that the only thought of those that finally discover it is: How could we possibly have missed this? We miss things because we don’t want to address them; they are ugly to look at and uncomfortable to talk about.
The emptiness is there, regardless.
No matter how much I’d like to be on a pink cloud (a recovery saying for the high-on-life feeling of newfound sobriety), more often I find myself alone in a crowded room or exhausted before I even start my day. It’s the feeling your needs will never be met. It’s a shapeless void that cries out constantly, sometimes louder than others, but persistent in its agonizing groan. And what does it cry out for? You guessed it…the poison of your choice.
For me, it’s fentanyl or heroin—either will do
A catch-22 if I’ve ever encountered one. I can silence that deafening cry that’s begging me to fill it up with something—I know I have just the thing to satisfy it. And how badly I want some peace and quiet in my own mind. I don’t think I can adequately express what it would mean to me to have a peaceful, still mind.
Of course, there’s the other side of things
It could kill me in an instant, and anyone who knows anything about either of my drugs (or my personal using patterns) will tell you that it should’ve by now. The future I’ve been working so hard for could be ripped away, whether by death, an arrest, or just the consequences of using one more time (being kicked out of my house, losing my job, etc.).
The trust I’ve been rebuilding with my family would return to ground zero. Again I would see the pain and disappointment in my mother’s eyes—a sight I’m not sure I could stand to see even one more time. And the guilt and shame I would undoubtedly feel, followed by the unparalleled self-hatred. All these negative after-effects I’ve listed are pieces of the puzzle in convincing myself why-not-to.
Other pieces are more positive
Life really isn’t shit all the time. It’s not all hard. I’ve expressed the chaos in my mind, and while that is painfully true and accurate it doesn’t negate the positive progress I have made in so many aspects of my life in just the past four months. There is a sense of peace I get to experience in watching a more authentic version of myself emerge from the wreckage of addiction.
I’m learning what I like, what I love, what I don’t like. That is the best. In some ways, it’s like meeting a stranger, and learning all about her. I’m learning that the reason I never had an answer when people used to ask, “What do you like to do for fun?” or “What are you passionate about?” wasn’t because I couldn’t have fun or because I didn’t have any passion, it was just untapped, lying in wait for me to discover it when I was finally ready.
I genuinely enjoy time spent with friends and family now. I love more deeply and fully. Even this skeptic has to admit, there are pieces of this recovery life that make it so incredibly worth it.
Even still, there is a bigger and more logical reason why not to use. Here it is…the big secret: Using doesn’t actually work.
Somewhere along the way, during one of my most recent relapses, the realization hit: that aching void cannot be filled with the drug that my brain so urgently cries out for. It’s as if the void is a malleable amoeba, ever changing not only in its shape but also in its needs.
One of the things I loved about the drugs is that they were always consistent and predictable. The void is not. Sometimes I’d get closer to filling up in the way I needed to, but I never found exactly what I was looking for.
Don’t get me wrong, I won’t deny that getting high feels good. Of course it does, or nobody would do it. But thinking that it’s going to fix whatever is wrong is not only insane, but a waste of valuable time and resources that need to be dedicated to figuring out what’s hurting and why, and what I can do to help it start to heal. And the cherry on top of that course of action?
Getting to the bottom of what’s “wrong” and working towards healing. That falls perfectly in line with my goals for the future. So while it is difficult work, I’m finally swimming with the stream instead of against it; I am no longer working against myself.
Let me not understate the difficulty of this work
It. Is. Hard.
And I’m not even close to being done. But I can feel growth within myself where I once felt stagnant frustration. There’s something incredibly beautiful about that.
Day by day, minute by minute, and second by second, I’m choosing this path now. A more difficult path in some ways than the one I was on before, but far more fulfilling than I even knew to hope for.
We’re at 11,478,290 seconds now. One second at a time.