What I've Learned in 15 Years of Recovery.
Rick Baumgartle CADC II
Today is my birthday. I won't say how old I am, as vanity is still a character defect I am working on. I will say that I have been alive a lot longer than I deserve to be, and much longer than most sane people would have bet on me living. I can absolutely attribute the fact that I am in recovery to having remained on this side of the ground as long as I have. 15+ years of recovery and almost 10 years of working as an addictions counselor has provided me some insight into this disease of addiction, and as it is my birthday, and I am feeling somewhat nostalgic, I thought I would share some of the insights I have gathered in that time.
1. Addiction is a disease- Look, this should go without saying, but some people still don't get it. So, let me just say that every major psychological and medical organization in the United States, headed by people with far more education than most, has determined that is so. It's not up for debate. People don't choose to have this disease anymore than people choose to have cancer, MS, diabetes, or any other disease.
2. It's a disease that can be put in remission- I have seen it first hand and have kept mine in remission for 15+ years. It can be done. Addiction CANNOT BE CURED (sarcastic apologies to Pax Prentis and his Kool-Aid cult at Passages in Malibu). However, people can live long productive lives if they manage to put and keep addiction in remission.
3. There is no such thing as “Drug of Choice.”- Saying “Drug of Choice” indicates that a person's issue is with one drug or another. As I have written about in previous articles, it is not about a particular drug. Drugs are not the problem. Addiction is the problem. Drug and alcohol use are a symptom of the disease the same way high and low blood sugars are a symptom of diabetes. Just because a person stops using one drug or another, does not mean that they no longer have addiction. I realize there are those who have a favorite. Not every person in addiction, was or is, like yours truly, acting like a human garbage disposal for substances (my drug of choice was “more”). BUT...substance use in addiction is a lot like going to a Chinese Buffet. You pay your money, go in, and really want that General Tso's Chicken. When you get to the buffet, much to your dismay, they are out of General Tso's. Are you going to walk away? Hell no you're not. You're going have some Mo Shu Pork or Szechaun Beef, but your not going to go hungry. The sooner people figure this out, the better off they'll be.
4. You can't do this alone- I preach support more than almost anything else to people in recovery. There's a reason for that. Addiction is an isolating disease, and continued isolation just helps fuel it. Hanging out in your own head, while your mind chatters away at you is not going to help. A person does not need an entourage. They don't need to spend every day, for the rest of their lives in a meeting of one kind or another. However, they do need support, and by that I mean recovery support. Recovery support is people who understand, through experience or education, what you are going through, and who most importantly, are not emotionally connected to the outcome of your behavior. Family support is important also, but in terms of recovery support, they are a poor substitute usually, because they are simply too invested in your choices.
5. You need to develop a tolerance for emotional pain- Life can suck sometimes. Things are going to go terribly, horribly wrong (thanks Kelly Wilson). You are going to experience loss, sadness, despair, stress, anxiety, and a host of other experiences you would just as soon not have. Welcome to life lived without a net. If you continuously try and find a means to escape, ways to distract yourself, ignore, or put off dealing with those painful, unwanted inner experiences, you are going to have a pretty low quality of recovery. There are any number of professional therapist and counselors that can help people develop the skills necessary to cope with all that stuff. I am huge believer in Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and use it in my groups, individual sessions, and in my own life. I highly encourage people in recovery, and who are otherwise struggling, to seek out someone who is versed in that particular therapy to talk to.
6. It is worth it- I am not going to be one of these people who tells you that my worst day in recovery is better than my best day using or drinking. That's just a lie. I had some great times, believe that. But in the end my life was a horrific nightmare, and all I wanted was out. In my 15+ years I have experienced a lot of pain. I have had days where I just didn't want to show up, and it certainly would have been easy to go back to my old short term solution. I didn't because I would lose all that I have. I am quite sure I have one more run left in me, but I am not so sure I have one more recovery. It's not worth the risk, and I hope if your reading this, it's not worth that risk either. One of the founding women in AA, who ran several treatment facilities, had a sign that hung in the cafeteria of all her treatment centers. The sign simply said, “I never said this would be easy. I said it would be worthwhile.”
I am blessed to have an amazing job, working with amazing people, who are just as passionate about this work as I am. At Recovery Works NW we have a staff with decades of combined experience in treating the disease of addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling please give us a call. We would love to help you and add you to the list of people who lives got better as a result of putting addiction in remission.
If you want a Dr. who will tell you what you need to hear, and not want to hear, then go to him. He will help you, but you have to want to help yourself! I give him TEN STARS! I appreciate him and his staff more then he will ever know.