As a former young addict and now a slightly older recovering addict, I don’t have anything original to contribute other than my own experience. My story isn’t remarkable except for the fact that an absolute miracle happened 11 years ago, and I continue to be blessed everyday with a life that I never could have imagined. Reflecting on my experience in the context of Our Young Addicts as a place for parents and recovery professionals to gather, I began to think about things I wish my parents would have known when I was a teenager and young adult and a few things I’d like to share with them now.
This list comes from my personal experience with addiction and recovery, but hopefully it will resonate with some readers and provide some insight, comfort, and hope.
1. You didn’t make me an addict.
There wasn’t a lack of parenting or warning signs that you missed. Long before I took my first drink or used my first drug, I started on a path that led me into my addiction. At least in my experience, no amount of intervention could have prevented me from making the choices I made. I was a deadly combination of naïve, stubborn, foolish, and scared, and I got there on my own. It’s not because you missed a single opportunity or series of opportunities to “make everything better.” Even if genetics or learned behaviors played a part in my path to addiction, ultimately I am responsible for my choices.
It’s not your fault. (Honestly, I’m better off for my experiences, so there’s no need for blame.)
2. No amount of education or warnings could have stopped me from my addiction.
I am a proud graduate of the D.A.R.E. program, class of 1992. I was well aware that drugs were bad for me before I started using them. In fact, that was part of the allure. While trying to keep up appearances, I enjoyed secretly engaging in a forbidden activity. I had very little self-respect and didn’t care if I was harming myself. I already had it in my head that I wasn’t worth much, so it wasn’t a huge leap to actively hurt myself. I knew there was a family history of alcohol and drug abuse. I knew the risks, and I really didn’t care.
Just like in recovery, reasoning and mental exercises are not very helpful to change the behavior of an addict. I knew logically that drug abuse is not good for us, but all the knowledge in the world couldn’t heal a sickness in my soul.*We could have talked and reasoned through my situation, and it wouldn’t have done any good. I had to get to a place where I could love myself before I could accept the love and caring of anyone else. I had to experience a fundamental shift in my belief about mySELF, God, and the Universe before I could really listen to what anyone was saying to me, even those with the best intentions.
3. I couldn’t stop until I was ready.
I went to my first AA meeting a few months after my 21st birthday. I had been using for years, but decided that I wanted to try stopping and realized that I couldn’t stick to any of my plans for abstinence. That was when I really got scared. I didn’t want to use anymore but couldn’t seem to stop. I’d like to say that was the last time I ever drank or used drugs, but I wasn’t ready to change. I spent the next two years in and out of recovery, rationalizing and experimenting.
I thought, “I’m too young to benot as big of a deal as I’m making it. Other people I know do it more than I do. I can always quit when I’m older, or maybe I’ll just outgrow it!” These and many other thoughts that I tried my best to drown out kept me from really committing to changing my life one day at a time.
When I went back again to that AA clubhouse on a cool September evening, someone finally said it to me in a way that made sense: “You hit bottom when you stop digging.” It’s probably just another recovery cliché, but that night it really made sense to me. How bad does it have to get? I had been using daily, driving under the influence more times than I can remember, holding everyone at arms length, losing all self-respect, having no direction, and feeling hopelessly stuck. I suppose I could have kept digging, but I decided to stop. Hearing those words didn’t cause me to stop, but for some reason, I was finally open to hearing what I needed to hear.
That was the miracle. I can’t say where that readiness came from, but it was real, and I’ve carried it with me. It was nothing that I did and nothing that you could have done for me.
4. Just because I stopped using, it doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect.
Some of my most difficult days have come since I’ve been in recovery. After removing the drink and the drugs, I was still stuck with myself and my own twisted view of the world. Don’t expect everything to suddenly change. There have been many times while perfectly sober that I have been selfish, dishonest, greedy, insensitive, hurtful, and downright obnoxious. At times I may be seen distant than before. In some ways, the addiction can keep everyone closer. We all play our parts to maintain the status quo. When a big change happens, it shakes up the whole family dynamic.
On more than one occasion, I’ve been told that it was better or I was more fun when I was using. To be blunt, that’s too bad because I’m finally living a happy and fulfilling life! I get it – change is hard and painful, but the rewards are too good to pass up. (Not to mention that change is the only thing that’s certain.)
When someone makes a big change, the hope is that everything will be better, but we can only count on the fact that things will be different.
We’re responsible for our own perception of whether a change is “better” or “worse.”
5. Love yourself and take care of yourself first.
The last thought that I want to share with you has very little to do with me other than the fact that I learn more from your actions than your words. I know that you want the best for me and care deeply for me, but you can’t give what you don’t already have.
It’s a tremendous gift for you to find your own happiness and peace. Then you can give from a place of true generosity and selflessness, regardless of the outcome. I’ll leave you with a quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which I truly believe:
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
And we’re all in this together, just trying to figure it out – parents and children, addicts and non-addicts. I am grateful for all my experiences and for the life I have today, so to my parents I say, Thank you.
I love you.
*I firmly believe that addiction is a sickness of body, mind, and soul. For me, I had to have a fundamental shift on a spiritual level as my primary focus, however I would encourage anyone with physical or mental health concerns to seek out a medical and/or mental health professional as part of their recovery as well.