Category Archives: Stories of Reccovery

If I Could Travel Back in Time, What Advice Would I Give My Younger Self?

 

First, don’t try to get clean and sober alone. It doesn’t work. Ask for help. In my personal experience, no one has ever been successful at getting clean alone. I’m not saying you have to go to 12 Step meetings – but I do suggest you try them out to see if they work for you. Instead of 12-step meetings, your help might come in the form of inpatient rehab, an intensive outpatient program, a weekly church group, a therapist, spiritual advisor, self help books, a sober mentor or peer… the list goes on. Most likely it’ll be a mixture of these. The more help you can get, the better.

I’d tell my younger self to reject the “It’s okay to try anything once” philosophy. I’d say Joseph, the first time you shoot up crystal meth, you’re going to spontaneously say aloud, “I want do to this everyday for the rest of my life.” One hit and you’ll be full blown addicted and, what’s worse, you’ll know it and won’t know how to stop.

Oh, yeah. And get ready for some stigma. There’s nothing Hollywood chic or hip about being a meth head – unlike, say, with heroine, cocaine, alcohol or prescription meds. With your drug of choice, you’re merely a tragic tweaker on your way to being mindless, homeless and toothless. And absolutely no one wants to hire a recovering meth addict. A recovering alcoholic or oxycodone popper, sure. Let’s give ‘em another chance. They’re in recovery, after all. But the assumption with meth is: you can’t ever really trust the person because, hey, it was meth. So brace yourself for the stigma. (Of course, the good news is there will be many people who will embrace you and your recovery. See above: don’t get sober alone.)

And, finally, I’d hammer home: That you are not morally weak or lacking in character because you’re an addict. Young Joseph, you have a disease. The medical community considers addiction to be a “chronic disease,” just the same as high blood pressure or asthma. The difference between a meth addiction and these other diseases is the location of the malfunction. With addiction the malfunction is in the brain – so the illness affects feelings and behaviors. Because of this, those who don’t know any better view addiction as a moral issue, a matter of willpower or character. But the truth is: addiction is a biological process in a brain that is malfunctioning. Remember this and try not to shame yourself for becoming a junkie. Yep, Joseph, you’ll become a junkie with a pipe in mouth and needle in your arm.

So, younger Joseph, I’ll end by reminding myself: Don’t believe the negative hype. You CAN quit crystal meth.

In your future travels, you’ll literally meet hundreds of recovered addicts who are now living a life free of meth. Oh, yeah. Take some notes for crying out loud. You’re going to start a writing project on “quitting” before too long.

An Open Letter to Crystal Meth (guest post)

 

Well, after all these years, the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the ins and outs, finally it’s all come down to this moment. Am I such a fool to think that I can actually end this relationship we share, somehow find my way back home without that endless string being somewhere attached to my body, to my soul, just waiting to tug on me in some future that soon enough becomes the past, all the while nothing has really changed.

Even when I’m away from you, I can feel you close, closer yet still, waiting for me to seek your never-ending embrace, of warmth, of mindless sense of purpose, of circular cascading thought, of peaceful chaos within. Do now I see the truth of what you really mean to me, or am I only trapped in a lie among lies, a story within stories, where the next chapter is never the last chapter, and the hero never comes home.

I have to end this relationship. I can’t go on living the lie, a lie that exists both while clean and while using. A lie that allows me to believe I can walk away, only to find myself back again soon enough. A lie that I can manage this, even though I feel like shit, my priorities are totally fucked, and I ignore and avoid my family and friends. I know you don’t make me feel good. I know that staying up all night focused on endless mindless shit that isn’t real, isn’t any good for me either.

Why do I see you as a companion, a treat, a source of warmth, peace, serenity, focus, purpose, when the reality for each of those words you are in fact the opposite or a path that leads away from where I know I want and need to be, not toward it. How long will I cheat on myself with you, letting you take my days and nights, my weeks, into nowhere and nothingness, letting you rob me of my hobbies, my natural interests, my on balance view of sexuality, my physical ability to enjoy it.

How long can I let you convince me that the emptiness I feel with you is actually happiness, that the void in fact is contentment, that the purpose is in fact without meaning of any nature I can comprehend. Am I such a fool to believe that I can actually walk away forever? Is there such a thing as forever with you, or apart from you? The seemingly endless banter and needless chatter that run together forming something perhaps only you can understand. That racket, this noise in my head, the pounding, the feeling alone when I’m with you, alive when I’m dying, awake when there’s nothing left of me.

Can I really walk away, or am I doomed to repeat the story, a story that’s been told so many times by so many souls over so many years, but it never seems to get old, old enough for them to wake up, for them to take notice, that the grand lie you so elegantly and faithfully execute exists nowhere outside of their self-inflicted minds. That the hallways lead nowhere, the sun isn’t really shining outside, the feelings, the pacification, the show you put on for those around you, the stunning sense of how you must appear to them, almost as if you are outside of yourself, removed from soul, alone in the shadows of a former sense of self.

I can’t permit you to make be believe that one more will ever be enough. That keeping the run alive is actually living. That I’m anywhere near as alone as I feel. That turning towards you leads to pleasure when in fact it only leads to pain. That I can hold it together with you when in fact I’m falling apart. Why must I be forced to admit that freedom from you is finite, just as life with you has become.

Somewhere, sometime, somehow, I will have to stand up to you, be forced to betray myself against you. For I know that the only real strength I have, I have when I’m not with you. That the further I dare stray from your gingerly grip, the easier it becomes to forget you. Then why do I return to the warmth of my torturous existence with you, over and over again, like a horror movie that endlessly loops, luring you in while appearing amenable, only to terrify you over and over again.

Today is the day, when my twisted relationship with you must come to a close. I have no choice as I simply cannot find, pursue, and become my destiny, exercise my true purpose, achieve my true greatness, while I permit myself to even consider you a valuable crutch, a worthwhile treat, a much needed escape. I can no longer allow myself to cheat on myself with something/someone that I know deep inside only exists within me. This inner struggle has no end, and yet I hardly recall the beginning.

The realization that you are part of me and yet I must remove you from myself, feels like I could be self-amputating a limb, killing my best friend, killing some part of myself forever. When in fact I know deep in side that the truth, the lie, the comprehension of your existence within me, only can exist because I allow it, only because I choose to say yes, to a lie you once told me, that I never stopped believing, and now I must forget, if I’m ever to rediscover my true and genuine identify, purpose, place in this world, conscious, alive, awake, at peace, eternal.

(written by and anonymous guest who submitted it to the site)

The Bottom: Do I Really Have To Hit It First?

 

I hear a lot of talk about “hitting the bottom.” Oftentimes it’s when I overhear someone talking about another addict. It’s not usually compassionate. Here’s what I hear most often: “She just hasn’t hit her bottom yet. Once she does, she’ll get recovery. Until then, anything you say [recovery wise] is a waste of breath.”

Is this true?

Is it a waste of time to try and get someone into recovery who’s not yet hit his or her bottom? In the official literature of AA, it talks about “raising the bottom” for those who don’t have to lose everything first – in short, for those who don’t really hit anything remotely like rock bottom. They can, rather, see where their addiction is taking them, glimpse that bottom on the horizon, and choose to enter recovery before calamity strikes.

I know a woman who finally quit when she reached the very last moment of being able to keep her meth usage secret and hidden from her family. Her health issues were mounting. The next run would push her over the edge to where everyone in her family would find out and all her friends would know. She told me if not for her aging parents, whom she knew expected her to take care of them one day, she would have most likely let the drug win, even to the point of losing her apartment and living on the street. But she couldn’t put her mother and father through that suffering. Her older brother had died from meth use and she knew how much it would hurt her parents if they found out she too had this addiction. It would have “broken something inside them” for the rest of their lives. This knowledge—realization—was close enough to a “bottom” for her. She checked into an out-patient rehab, which she chose over an in-patient so her parents wouldn’t wonder why she’d disappeared from her life for 28 days, and is still clean today.

She didn’t so much as hit a bottom, as find motivation—motivation to start the recovery process.

But, don’t get me wrong, hitting a bottom can indeed help one’s motivation. I believe we can hit several bottoms that do not, individually, have to be “the” bottom. In the book, I write:

Let me tell you about my first bottom. I was hospitalized for a blood clot in my leg, due to my IV use of crystal meth. If the possibility of the clot traveling to my lungs or heart wouldn’t make me hit bottom, what would? I was in the hospital for five days and firmly resolute that, after I left, I’d continue the clean and sober life with a program of abstinence and several support meetings a week. I left the hospital hobbling on a cane, with an ankle and calf swollen to the size of a small watermelon.

I assumed this physical consequence would be enough to make me quit. Whenever I had the urge to use, I looked down at my monstrous “cankle” and remembered what a disaster my using had been. But it was barely ten days before the pipe was back in my mouth. My blood clot was, however, the beginning of the end of my using. It took three more months of stopping and starting, but eventually sobriety stuck.

So for me, it wasn’t one BIG bottom, but an accumulation of misery and, let’s call them, mini-bottoms that came with using. It could have gotten a lot worse. And has for many people.

Just know that, for you, you can make the decision to quit whenever you want. There doesn’t have to be a burn-life-to-the-ground bottom. You can “raise” the bar, see clearly, and recognize the bottom headed your way, so as to stop beforehand.

David Sheff writes in Clean: “Though hitting bottom does describe the beginning of recovery for some addicts, it is a dangerous construct. Many addicts are alive because their families didn’t wait for them to hit bottom. [My emphasis.] And for every person who hit bottom and wound up in treatment, many others kept falling further and further downward. They’d have catastrophes that would have been a bottom for any sane person, but addicts are addicted — many don’t stop even after multiple calamities. For many there’s no bottom — it’s a bottomless pit…. [Insisting that an addict must first hit her bottom is] like letting a diabetic lose her foot before addressing her diet…. The idea that addicts must ‘hit bottom’ is an archaic and potentially deadly myth.”

Whether you get to your own unique bottom (of a sort), find yourself forced into treatment unwillingly, or stop on your own before hitting rock bottom, what’s important is that, at one point, you decide to actively participate in getting well. In other words, you become self-motivated to be in recovery. I can feel the old-school AAers bristling at this notion. But it’s just a fact that many a recovered addict began his or her journey to sobriety without hitting bottom, per se.

If you’re addicted to meth or have a loved one addicted, remember, an accumulation of misery (getting honest about how awful the drug really is) combined with positive motivation to quit (your friends, family, career, and so on) is a powerful recipe as well. It can be just as powerful as hitting that mythical “rock bottom.” You don’t have to wait until you die—or almost die—to get recovery going.

But maybe you do. I hope not. I hope you can look around, accept the misery and that you don’t want to live this way anymore and then find some positive direction to move—a rehab, Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings, private counseling, all of the above, going off to do missionary work, something—that moves you in the direction of healing and recovery.

Ultimately, it’s more of an “up” the addict must experience, than a bottom, when it comes to getting and staying clean in the long run. Once more: you can make the decision to quit now. It is not required you hit rock bottom first. You can “raise” the bar, see clearly, and recognize the bottom headed your way, so as to stop beforehand.  Stop now.

photo credit: haunts of solitude via photopin (license)

The Latest Scientific Data About Recovery from Crystal Meth

(SPOILER: IT’S SOME VERY GOOD NEWS!)

Since the publication of Quitting Crystal Meth: What to Expect & What to Do, several new studies have been published on meth recovery, withdrawal timelines and what to expect during the first six months after quitting. I’m happy to report none of the studies conflict or contradict what you’ll read in the book in any substantial manner, but they do augment and, in some cases, give a few new insights into our first year of recovery.

When the second edition is published in 2018 (it’s important to keep up with the latest data), I will include all of this information and, hopefully, more. For now, however, I didn’t want for you to have to wait. So here’s what the scientific and medical community has learned about our journey of quitting.

On Cravings:

  • After you get through that awful first month of withdrawal, though you may feel much better emotionally and physically, studies show that “cue related” cravings actually begin to increase. These cravings usually peak during the third month of abstinence.

This was a surprise to me, at first, but, as I thought about it, I began to see how this fits into the current timeline outlined in the book. Though the more acute withdrawal symptoms from using tend to ease up over the first month, lessening as time goes by, one’s cravings from “external cues” (triggers from people, places or things) or “internal cues” (triggers from emotions) begin to intensify substantially. Though the brain is healing and you might be experiencing a “pink cloud” (see the “Withdrawal” excerpt from the book), your mind is poised to be triggered. Here, it’s important to follow the book’s instruction on how to avoid, triggers and counteract cravings (see “The Honeymoon” and “The Wall” chapters). Two related blogposts on triggers, how to avoid them and, ultimately, deal with them, are here and here.

  • Another study shows that after you’re clean for six months cravings decrease substantially.

So to summarize in brief: science says six months is the magic number for the easing up of cravings, with three months being when they are at their peak. Knowing and expecting the upswing in your cravings during months two and three can help you prepare for them. And holding on to the fact that after that third month the cravings dramatically start to fall can give you hope to get through the early months. It get’s better, but it’s somewhat of a rollercoaster at first.

On the Healing of the Brain:

There’s some very good news from the new scientific data available on brain healing.

  • When tested, meth users who were abstinent for five years or more and non-meth using control subjects had similar neurochemical levels. In short, after 5 years the brain can often show no sign of meth destruction.
  • A group of meth addicts were compared to a control group of age-matched non-meth users.  Just upon quitting, the meth addicts performed far worse on measures of cognitive performance and neuropsychological functioning, as well as emotional distress. But, after a year of continuous abstinence from meth, these subjects performed comparably to the healthy control subjects.

And for those of you who have severe brain impairments, like hearing voices and bouts of continued paranoia, take comfort in this:

  • Among those meth users who stayed clean for a year, those with the worst brain-damage related impairments showed the greatest improvement when retested.

It’s not exactly new information as the book notes the one year mark as a significant turning point. However, in the book, the “magic number” for major brain healing is two years (anecdotally, I found that was usually when the fog had seemed to completely lift). But the scientific data tells us that usually this significant healing happens earlier. It is something I will change in the next edition.

Bottom line and great news: for most of us who can stay clean for a year or longer, studies show substantial thinking improvements and visible brain healing. For most of us, the brain can come close to being completely healed in time.

So spread the news: it gets better. This takes only two things: not using meth and clean time.

Let any addict who’s struggling in their early months know these new facts:

  • The cravings will probably increase in month two and peak in three, but they will have decreased substantially by month six. (As I recall, it was around this time, my cravings and using dreams dwindled into obscurity.)
  • As far as brain healing goes: it does heal dramatically in merely one year.

Great news… Evidence-based… Facts…

 

 

Guest Post: My 9/11

 

Today’s guest post is by Don Miller, a recovered crystal meth addict and life coach. For more of Don’s wonderful writings on recovery and life, I encourage you to check out his new website LifeMeansSoMuch.com. Back to my regular posting next week. For now, enjoy…

My 9/11 by Don Miller

It would either kill me, or change my life forever.

Mistakenly, I had believed I had a choice.

And until this moment, I have spoken to no one of the two weeks of my life that eclipse in importance all others.

My first glimpse of any hope or lucidity came at some point on Sunday, September, 11, 2011. Bedridden, unshowered, unshaven and in my pooled sweat for a week, I had awoken from week-long hellstorm of hallucinations. No idea if it was day or night…it didn’t matter anymore. Blinds and drapes had long since been drawn in preparation. Once the busiest front door in town, it had been unopened for a week. Voice and text messages were gathered in such numbers on my chargeless phone I scarcely cared to plug it in again.

But I was awake. And it wasn’t the kind of awake that I’d been accustomed to for so many years. I was awake and I could feel.

I knew I could feel because I had just turned on the television thinking I might catch up on what had transpired during the past week. I had been alone without a single visitor. The world could have easily ended escaping my notice. And fortunately for me, in a very tangible sense, it had.

The TV images were predictable for that day. The tenth anniversary of the terrorist bombings in New York and other points. Services, memorials, reflections of survivors. Not exactly the kind of programming to watch after a week of crystal methamphetamine withdrawal. I had not cried during the prior week but I could see I was entering that next phase and the TV news of that morning was to be the divine catalyst.

Lucid was probably an overstatement. However, something had changed. The fevered stupor of my addiction was breaking and I could actually reason from one thought to the next in succession. Despite this glimpse of hope though, it was ragingly apparent the worst of it was yet to come.

Two weeks prior, I had been wearing an orange jumpsuit and was confined to a hard metal cot in a large room with hundreds of very creepy men. I had little hope that my environment would change any time soon. A week before that, my arrest and subsequent discovery of my habit by my family and friends had been a forced hand thank you to the detectives and swat team that raided my hotel room, home and car after months of surveillance. The confiscation of thousands in cash and even more thousands in drugs of all kinds was undoubtedly their biggest bust of the week—perhaps the month—according to the detective who had first cuffed me at the elevator of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas.

In total, I had saved around $23,000 cash, the remaining profit of what had been a highly lucrative illicit drug sales business from the past few years. But after the denied theft of my cash on hand by the arresting detective team and the documented $5,100 cash taken from my home during the raid by the S.W.A.T. team, I had about $15,000 in cash and other hiding places which I reserved for such a day. As I watched the footage of the 9/11 memorial events on the television, reality had begun to hit me as I started tallying the immediate rest of my life. It was the first hopeful thought I could muster.

The money situation had taken over my selfish mind for the moment, but as I watched the tragic recollections of the events ten years earlier, I was overcome by a reality more important. I put the pad of paper and pen down at my bedside and as I watched, I was overcome with feelings of loss and grief I had never before experienced. I no longer cared about the money. I didn’t even care about the future. The present, for all intents and purposes, was irrelevant. I had become fixated on the past.

The program host on the TV was doing a segment on the orphaned children of 9/11 whose fathers and mothers, police and firefighters, had lost their lives in acts of heroism and compassion on that day. The children, now a decade older, were recalling the fond memories of their parents with pride. It was that moment when the tears came. I wish I could say it was for those children of 9/11 pictured on the screen in front of me, but it was for my own.

I would have rather rewound the week and returned to that sweaty, hallucinatory hell than to have to face what I knew was the most profound loss in my life of addiction. The stories of the noble fathers and mothers, selfless in compassion, bold and courageous in their efforts, was as far away from my self-image as the east is from the west. The stark contrast between who they were, many posthumously, and who I had become as a parent, sickened me. I vomited myself. The hardest thing I had to face from here on out wasn’t going to be the possible 25 year prison sentence for eight felonies and a high level drug trafficking charge. It wasn’t what attorney to choose and how many thousands I didn’t have to pay him or her. It was how I was going to again face my own three children.

The moment of my arrest should have been a foreshadowing of this. I vividly recall the moment the undercover officer called my name, grabbed my right arm and cuffed me at the east elevator entrance. My second thought (my first was an obvious two words,) was “Andrew.”

Andrew is my youngest and my only son.

Now a vibrant, genius level student in his first year of college, he and I had remained closest during my addiction. My two oldest were already on their own, smart and perceptive women, who otherwise might have caught on more quickly to the secret I’d long been hiding. I had kept them, and my extended family members, at a distance. But my son was a minor still and custody arrangements with my ex gave me a couple days a week with him, more if I wanted. I rarely exercised that privilege.

In every father, there is an instinctive paternal concern to be with, care for, protect and support his children. I had never lost that instinct. Rather, I daily subdued it and pushed it down in deference to the drug, rationalizing that I was managing my dual lives quite well and without having raised any particular curiosities from my family. My son, I thought, was perhaps the easiest, albeit most vulnerable, of the marks of my deception. I still went to Boy Scouts with him on Monday evenings, often high, but he never seemed to know. I picked him up from school, shared a meal, a drive, a movie or some other activity to buffer against what might otherwise be detected by him until it was time to return him to his mother’s home and race off to make my next drug deal or host a drug party that would likely last for the next couple days…at the very least.

More than once, having suddenly remembered my commitment to him that afternoon, did I race to shower, dress and get out the door and shoo my guests so that I could meet him in time to have a nice, unsuspecting, quality encounter with him.

I vomited again.

The recollection of these kinds of deceptive events were now coming in waves and the steady progression of shame I felt through my tears was punctuated by an occasional glance at the TV to hear yet another story of a proud son’s word’s ten years after his father’s heroic death.

I had been no hero.

I believe it is a paternal instinct for a father to want to raise his children to think heroically of him.

Worse, I was not-only a non-hero, I had become the enemy from which fatherly heroes rescue their children and theirin, become heroes.

I cried alone for hours, maybe days. It was still dark. I awoke crying. I cried on the toilet. I cried in the much needed shower I finally brought myself to take. I am crying even now as I recall this reality.

It would either kill me, or change my life forever.

The truth was, and still remains, that the choice for an addict must be both. The want to die to self and to drugs and addiction and the want to have a changed life are inseparable desires for recovery to be sustained. Singly, it is one of the greatest epiphanies I have ever had the pleasure of meeting to date.

Now, clean, sober and two years later, much of the healing has taken place with my children and family. Much is still left to accomplish. I’ve learned how to be a father once again. Unfortunately for me and my children, we both missed and cannot ever recover those years. Many important events happened during my addiction for my daughters and within my family. And when they come up in conversation, I am embarrassed without recollection of them. I simply wasn’t there. And even if I had been, I still was not.

Without having had a lifetime to build up resistances, mistrusts, walls and resentments, children can be quite forgiving. Mine have been when they didn’t have to be.

But the knowledge of the walls I created within them that I still am working to tear down make the tumbling and crashing of the twin towers of September 11th and the proud but fatherless children of heroes who also remember that day…vivid, visual reminders which will always make me contrite and somber and thankful, especially on that anniversary.

Today is September 12, 2013.

I am very glad it is.

I am very proud to be a father of three incredible heroes who survived my holocaust.

 

Again, thanks to our reader Don Miller for this guest blog post. His blogging can be found here at Life Means So Much. I encourage you to check out his site.

Hitting “The Wall”

 

Not too long ago, I spoke with a young man who was in day 46 of recovery from crystal meth. Let’s call him Bill. He was full of joy and excitement about his recovery, riding high on a “pink cloud,” as it’s sometimes called. When I asked if he’d heard of the five stages of meth recovery, Bill shook his head. No.

“You’re in what’s called the Honeymoon,” I told him. “It’s the second stage.” Then I explained the first three stages of meth recovery as understood by many counselors and rehabs centers.

The first stage is “Withdrawal,” of course. That usually lasts from 3 to 15 days. Usually. All these numbers of days are approximate and depend upon the individual—upon your age, gender, how long you used, how you used, etc. But one thing that is pretty constant is: once the Withdrawal stage ends, you experience the Honeymoon, where everything becomes pretty effin’ wonderful. Dopamine is pumping again and you’re just so damn grateful to be living a life free of meth. You’re feeling joy at little everyday things for a change, maybe even extreme elation like Bill. Then around day 46, and this was why I was talking to Bill, the meth addict usually hits the third stage known as “The Wall.”

The Wall is where everything seems to turn to shit. Life becomes suddenly hollow and empty. Why? Because you literally lose the ability to feel pleasure. The medical term for this is “anhedonia.” It’s a real physical condition, this inability to feel pleasure, and most of us will experience it in hurricane force sometime just before the end of the second month of recovery. Like I said, usually around day 46, but it could be as early as day 30 or later than day 60, depending on the individual. Regardless, most of us experience The Wall soon enough. And it’s important to be prepared for it.

The good news is it usualy lasts 2 to 3 months and then you’re onto the fourth stage, “Adjustment,” which is definitely more pleasant (though not a walk in the park, either).

Bill wasn’t happy with my news. “Why did you tell me that,” he said like I was messing with his high. “Now I’ll be expecting it.” But that was the entire point. It’s going to come for almost all of us early in our recovery, this Wall. And if we know to expect it, we can not panic. Try to remember this sudden lack of pleasure is a normal part of recovery. (It’s literally a side-effect of the brain healing itself from meth’s previous damage. So it is actually a good sign.) But if you don’t know that, you’re likely to pick up and use again. Come on, if life is going to suck this much, why not use again—right? That’s what the disease in our brain tells us. But here, knowledge is power in your recovery. That’s why I wrote Quitting Crystal Meth: What to Expect & What to Do.

If you know hitting The Wall is normal and to be expected, you can reframe your lack of pleasure as a sign of progress – again, it’s literally a result of the brain healing itself from meth’s earlier damage – and you’ll be much less likely to pick up over it. You’ll be able to ride it out. Also, The Wall only lasts a couple of months and may not be so constantly intense. Just don’t believe your disease when it lies to you, saying, “Come on. Just a little hit and you’ll feel pleasure again.”

Knowledge is power. It’s important to know what to expect so you can tell when your disease is lying to you.

photo credit: Game Texture Images via photopin cc

Old Using Buddies Can Become New Sober Friends

I’ve been visiting Los Angeles for a couple of weeks. It’s always interesting to return to the scene of where most of my meth damage was done.  But it has me thinking about the times… and the people.

The meth journey was DARK, no doubts there. But it’s also true to say, for me, I met at least three amazing people, all now sober, while we were all neck deep in the throws of addiction. One of these men, perhaps my closest friend in recovery, is actually – wait for it – my former dealer. So anything’s possible, right?

Since sobriety, I’ve met two couples (one gay, one straight) who successfully quit together and grew their love and relationship stronger through recovery. Both speak of their partners as “my best sober friend.”

Though most of my so-called friends from my using days were there for the high and couldn’t be counted on for anything, except maybe to steal some of my stash if I wasn’t looking, it’s not true to say that all the souls I met during that bleak time were dark. True, some were mean, thieving and bordering on evil. But most were broken, wounded, hopeless and sick. And I did meet at least three men, who once they became sober, became people of amazing character. And I’m proud today to call them my friends.

So “for today,” as the NA book says, I’m grateful for the few brilliant bright souls I met during my darkest days. Three of them who I know have survived. The others have vanished like vapors in the wind. Whenever I’m out and about here, I’m on the constant lookout for familiar faces from my using days. But I rarely come across someone I knew from that time (well over 2 years ago now). Let’s face it, many of them are either institutionalized or dead.

There’s a Zen saying: From a withered tree, a flower blooms. I get that. From the withered tree of my using days, three flowers have bloomed so far. And who knows? As I’m in L.A. for almost another week, I could, by sheer fate, run into a former using buddy who is now sober. I would really like that, a happy ending to a wonderful working vacation.

But, for today… I’m thankful for my three sober friends who travelled my particular path with me.

In a Meth Addicted World, Silence Still = Death

 

It was one of the earliest lessons from the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s, especially for those of us who were affected by the disease: we had to break our silence. At first, the shame associated with this mostly sexually transmitted illness had been so overwhelming, a silence had settled in. But as we watched our friends and neighbors die by the dozens, and then hundreds, that silence itself became shameful.

In the days of epidemic, we quickly learned Silence = Death.

No less is true today with the epidemic of crystal meth addiction. In 2010, it was estimated that more than 350,000 people in the United States used crystal methamphetamine. Worldwide, the estimate came in at a cool twenty-five million.

If we have a moment of clarity, we see it is not just “those people” in the inner city skid rows who are addicted to crystal meth, nor merely the partying youth of the gay culture. We see beyond those well-meaning public ad campaigns that depict the average meth addict as some street-person derelict with a sunken, scabbed face and rotted teeth. The reality is, this is only a fraction of the meth-using population.

Yes, it is where many of us will eventually end up once the drug takes its final toll, but that may be years away, if ever. In the meantime, meth use is the quiet little secret of housewives across middle America who have to raise the kids while holding down two jobs, or the overstressed college student who is pushed to stay up night after night studying, or the white-collar father who must work 60 plus hours a week to support his family.

Who’s addicted? 25 million of our neighbors, cousins, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters.

And if you don’t think crystal meth addiction is stigmatized on the level that AIDS was in the late 1980s, you haven’t been paying attention. The medical community considers methamphetamine addiction to be a “chronic disease,” just the same as high blood pressure or asthma. The difference between meth addiction and these other diseases is the location of the malfunction.

With addiction, the malfunction is in the brain—so the illness affects feelings and behaviors. Because of this, those who don’t know any better still view addiction as a moral issue, a matter of willpower or character. They are wrong.

According to evidence-based science, the truth is: addiction is a biological process in a brain that is malfunctioning.

We don’t blame someone with high blood pressure or asthma for the physical malfunction happening in their bodies. And we certainly don’t shame them for seeking treatment.

Why is it different for the meth addict? It shouldn’t be.

From the likes of tennis star Andre Agassi, singer Amy Winehouse, and super church evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, crystal meth addiction has proven itself to be epidemic across all social, economic, racial, gender and national boundaries. On the planet Earth in 2013, Europe, Asia, even Afghanistan, are being overwhelmed by growing numbers of new meth addicts. Indeed, crystal meth use is not only epidemic, but pandemic.

A crucial step toward combating this great tragedy in today’s culture is to come out of the closet, especially those of us who have fought the addiction and lived to survive.

We may call ourselves former, or recovered, or recovering crystal meth addicts — or, perhaps, we don’t like the term “addict” and refuse to define our entire lives by a few years of drug abuse. As with most addictions, recovery begins with an admission that we’ve had a serious problem with crystal methamphetamine.

We are your neighbors, friends, family, and coworkers. It’s time to speak the truth. When you hear from us, try not to rush to judgment and condemnation. Instead, try to open your mind and heart to the courage it must take for your friend, family member, or neighbor to admit to you that he or she has a problem with meth.

Recovery is an ongoing lifelong journey back to one’s authentic self. It’s never an easy road, but the alternative of silence is simply not sustainable in today’s world.

In the days of epidemic, silence still equals death.

They say: God Never Gives You More than You Can Handle

 

And the joking response goes: “Today, I just wish He didn’t think so highly of me.”

I know for me personally this last year with cancer has been the most challenging time of my life. Despite that, almost 30 years ago, my first doctor told me I would be dead of AIDS before I reached 25 (I was 22), this recent cancer was, by far, my worst experience.

In my 51st year, a surgeon cut out a tumor, along with about a third of my tongue. I went through chemo and radiation (which devastated my immune system I’d so arduously worked to rebuild). It’s affected my speech. Sometimes when I listen to myself, I think sound like Harvey Fierstein with a lisp. (Not attractive.)

And though my friends say I don’t sound that way at all, I often wonder if they’re just being kind.

Last month I had a PEG (Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy) tube placed surgically into my stomach. This clear plastic tubing, almost identical to aquarium tubing, extends out of my abdomen wall and hangs about 8 inches. I tape it up to my skin, so as it doesn’t hang beneath my shirt line.

Aside from feeling like one of the Borg (human-machine cyborgs) on Star Trek, it’s been a big adjustment psychologically. I feel mutilated. The closest I can imagine it to be like is a woman who has had a mastectomy. For a guy, I can’t just take my shirt off in public, like at a beach or swimming pool party, anymore. Or I can’t without stares. Overall, I lost 45 lbs of muscle mass during this entire process. I went from a gym bunny to a slim Jim.

I’ve got many more physical and psychological complaints (from thrush to depression) I could add to this list, but I already sound like I’m feeling sorry for myself—pitiful, as we’d say in my home state of Texas—so I’ll stop.

I’m usually pretty good at balancing this very slow healing process. (Because I am, after all, a year later still cancer free.) I don’t go into a self pity mode very often.

So where does God fit into all this?

I was speaking on the phone to my Cousin Sydney a couple of days ago and she said, “God gave you sobriety and a year living sober before the cancer struck. You wouldn’t have been able to handle the cancer if you’d been high.”

My clean date from crystal meth is June 10, 2011. Exactly one year and eleven days later, I had surgery on my tongue, the beginnings of my cancer treatment. Chemo and radiation would follow in a month or so. Just one year of sobriety. I had never put these two together before. But now I truly believe I was graced by a year to get my life and head back together before cancer came calling.

For that year, I am truly grateful. Had I been deep into my addiction, I probably wouldn’t have sought treatment until it was too late. Instead of stage 2, I would have been at stage 4, it having metastasizing throughout my throat, nose and head.

My sobriety, my parents, and the fellowship of sober friends in my new city of Palm Springs held me up through this entire ordeal—and I survived. Clean and sober. So, I’d like to end today’s post with a question:

What life challenge has God given you that you were, to your surprise, able to handle with complete sobriety?

No Regrets For the Dark Side

 

Just a thought to ponder for today…

A friend texted; “When I drove through LA last, I had waves of memories flood in. Dark, triggering, exciting, emotional, a mixed bag. It’s okay though. I don’t regret any of it. I just don’t want to repeat it.” (Los Angeles was where he’d done most of his damage and, eventually, hit bottom courtesy the LAPD.)

Later, when I texted back asking him to clarify the “no regret” thing, he added, “We do not regret the past, nor do we wish to shut the door on it.” That a quote directly from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. But then he said, “Joseph, how would we be uniquely qualified to carry the message if we haven’t been to the dark side?”

One of my favorite quotes from holocaust survivor and philosopher-psychologist Viktor Frankl:

“What is to give light must endure burning.”