I have been clean for 4 months, 1 week, and 5 days

by Kendall Baker

stop watch

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.

Stigma writes me a letter

16 thoughts on “I have been clean for 4 months, 1 week, and 5 days”

  1. Kendall,
    Wow! Absolutely beautiful! Easily relatable, honest and sincere…I hope you will keep us update on your progress!
    On a personal note, I am so excited to hear that while things aren’t easy (never said it would be!) but that your perspective seems to have grown! All is as it should be. Keep growing and never lose hope…love you!

    1. Thank you Erin, and thanks for your guidance and for lighting the way for so many of us.
      I think my perspective has DEFINITELY grown throughout this process. One of the gifts of recovery. Love you too!

  2. Kendall, thank you for the transparency of your addiction. I have never used drugs but some of my family members have and I have watched them go forward and then relapse many times. As a mother, I agree, it is not anger that you might think you see in the eyes of those who love you but fear of losing you to the demon of addiction. I have felt it many times and it is unsettling to my spirit. I know you can overcome this powerful pull of using. Seek God in the midst of your battle and He will fight with you and for you. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up. “If you don’t create the future you want, you must endure the future you get”

  3. ‘the crushing shame that comes when hitting the reset button’- it shouldn’t be!!! I hate that about addiction- it’s soooo unfair. Then contributes to the cycle…….
    Kendall!!! I’m so happy for you. A butterfly coming out of the cocoon. I could imagine a butterfly emerging and looking around at a whole new world and at the same time watching yourself transform. So very beautiful and definitely fragile.
    I would like to say that as a Mother whose son struggled with heroin addiction, when we see that you have relapsed – the disappointment you see in our eyes is for fear of losing our child- death – NOT disappointment in YOU. My son Joshua – my best friend- committed suicide…. I’ve never been an addict. I cannot understand……
    What I do know is this : I’m so very grateful that you are here, and blossoming and I hope and pray you choose to continue on this new journey
    Thank you for sharing and being strong enough in your vulnerability to tell you name.
    And as a Mother, may I say , Im very PROUD of you !!!
    Diane Fielder McCormick

    1. This is so well said Diane, “when we see that you have relapsed – the disappointment you see in our eyes is for fear of losing our child- death – NOT disappointment in YOU.” You are right. It’s out and out fear.

    2. Thank you so much. That means a lot to me. A parent’s perspective is an interesting one that I enjoy hearing about, as that the angle I am unable to relate to. Thank you for reading and commenting, and for your encouragement.

  4. I am so proud of you!!! Keep working your program. Getting clean must truly be one of the hardest things, actually maybe staying clean is. Thank you for sharing here. It matters. You matter. To Thine Own Self be True. 💙

    1. You are right–staying clean is a whole other battle from simply getting clean, which is hard enough! Thank you for your words and encouragement

  5. Wow! What an inspiration you are. I hope and pray you continue on the road of recovery, one second at a time. Thank you for sharing your story.

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