September 3, 2020

Finding recovery, I know, is a strange concept. After all, if recovery is returning to health after a period of sickness, it seems like abstinence and time would be all the necessary ingredients. If I’m sick with a sunburn—overuse or abuse of the sun—I stay inside and in a couple days I’m better. If I’ve got a bellyache from too much apple pie, I avoid eating for a bit and give my digestive system a chance to clean itself. Moving from the physical to the emotional, if I’ve got a broken heart, staying away from my beloved for an extended period will get me right as rain. Why isn’t this true for drugs and alcohol?

For some people it is.  Lucky bastards. If it is for you, I wish you luck and good fortune. You may be fine folks, but you are not my people. 

For most of us at Hope, abstinence and time were never enough. Like sponges left to dry under a sink for days, weeks, months, even years, something inside us always yearned to get just another taste, whether of dope or booze or meth or whatever. In fact, for people like me, abstinence without a program of recovery was worse than any drug or alcohol issues—or at least life was less livable. Between the ages of, let us say, 12 and 47, I had two periods where I was denied access to drugs or alcohol for an extended period of time. At the end of each of those times, I was actively suicidal. Really. 

The first time came when I was hospitalized for heroin addiction at 19. Turned out they wouldn’t let me smoke hash or even drink while I was in that program. After three weeks, I slashed my wrists, covered a floor with blood and ended up in an Army psychiatric ward. Luckily for me, they gave me Thorazine, which may have flattened my affect but it did take away my hunger. I was returned to the rehab program, finished up in a week and returned to my unit, having learned my lesson. I didn’t shoot dope again, increasing my intake of booze and hash to make up for the loss.

A few years later, I was a Baptist minister while finishing up my ministerial studies. During my first year in seminary, I’d been able to drink fairly regularly—a couple beers a night, getting drunk maybe once or twice a month—but once I moved to the town where the church was, I had to stop drinking. Once I did, the timer of madness started ticking. Within a month or so, I was back to slashing my wrists, although I did add a fun new game called “stair surfing.” I’d stand at the top of a flight and leap out, arms over my head like Superman and use gravity to fly me down the stairs. Back into the bin, this time for two heavily-medicated months. When I got out, I left the church and began drinking the way I was meant to drink.

If abstinence were enough, I could have stopped drinking, should have stopped drinking, would have stopped drinking at either of those points. I didn’t. If you are my type of addict or alcoholic, you wouldn’t have either. Taking away booze and drugs does absolutely nothing to solve the problem those substances were so effective at: making life bearable. For the non-using addict or the non-drinking alcoholic, life demands some kind of solution.

Luckily, there are solutions. Tomorrow, we’ll examine some.