This website averages approximately 20,000 unique visitors each month, 75% of whom are here for the first time. My blog is ranked, by readership, as the 40th most popular blog about recovery in the world. (I was once told, “That’s not bad for such niche market; it’s not like you appeal to all kinds of recovery, just meth.” I responded it was obvious they didn’t understand how huge of an epidemic meth is around the world.) This is not to brag, but to give you a fuller picture of the scope, here, and to point out I get a lot of emails. I make it a point to try to answer every email I get because I know as well as anyone how lonely and isolating the disease of meth addiction can be. And I want you to know: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. But there’s a particular question I sometimes get that I want to answer here, in a blog post, as opposed to a private email.
That question: What does your personal recovery program look like today, Joseph? Well, glad you asked. Here goes…
For me, my personal recovery isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. Rather, it’s an eclectic mix of modalities and programs I’ve found that work best with my particular personality and, well, quirks.
True, I’m a fan of the 12-step approach, primarily because it offers “meetings” where I can find other recovering meth addicts like myself and thus avoid my biggest triggers (loneliness and isolation). I’ve worked through the steps with a sponsor more than once. It’s indisputable that, since it’s inception in the 1930s, the 12-step approach has helped millions of people worldwide get and stay clean and sober. But it’s also indisputable that for many the 12-step program simply isn’t a good fit.
It’s arrogant when an AA guy says, “Well, these people just didn’t seriously apply themselves to the program.” There’s no one size fits all path to recovery when it comes to quitting meth or any other drug. I’ve also been in a 90 day residential rehab program – Cirque Lodge in Sundance, Utah – that included various non-12 step intensive therapies and can’t speak highly enough of that experience either. My lineage of recovery includes everything from Buddhist meditation practice to Christian Bible Study, from group and individual psychotherapy to inspirational readings and, most importantly, it includes helping other addicts, either through this website or in person, here, in Southern California.
Bottom line, what has worked best for me is to keep an open mind. Like I said, I’m not a “one model fits all” type of guy. My program of recovery is eclectic, individualized, and always evolving. And that’s just fine. Don’t let someone tell you there’s only one way to get clean (usually, their way). Factually, that’s simply not true.
Here’s a rule I live by: If I’m keeping a secret, I need to tell it to someone I trust. This not only disempowers the secret, which might easily push me into using again, but it lets me get the collected wisdom of my friends and fellows in recovery, reminding me that I’m not doing this alone. And this doesn’t just apply to secrets that have to do with wanting to use or using, but all secrets. For once I’ve got a secret stuck inside my psyche, my addict brain says why not keep some more. The addict brain will say: “No one else needs to know about all those using fantasies you’ve had lately, Joseph. Just keep these to yourself.” If I keep the secret, before you know it, I’m in relapse mode. (By “relapse mode” I mean when I’m headed into the circumstances that would be prime for a relapse.)
And, speaking of how I do it, here’s my favorite “trick” (really a technique) to combat cravings that I used a lot during my first year of recovery – and still use on occasion when I need to. Whenever a craving comes and I want to so desperately use, I strike this bargain with myself. The bargain: I won’t use tonight, but, if when I awake tomorrow morning, I still find myself wanting to use, then the party is on – without hesitation. (And, this way, I’d have time to relapse in style. I’d have the day to get my party in motion and prepare properly: like purchasing new paraphernalia, since I tossed the torch, pipe and points long ago, and stocking up on Gatorade for hydration – you know, the basics.) Even though I’m being a bit flippant now in writing this, at the moment I’m making the bargain of “wait until you wake up tomorrow morning and then see,” I’m 100% sincere. That’s the only way I’ll go to sleep that night, knowing a better planned and executed party awaits tomorrow if I so desire upon awakening. But guess what? Without fail, every morning when I awaken the next day, I feel only one thing: immense gratitude that I didn’t use the night before. My cravings long past, I am just so happy I haven’t relapsed. It’s a technique that’s never failed me yet. And I know scores of other addicts who have used this technique to their advantage as well.
In an interview, I was recently asked if I have a “bucket list” I want to accomplish. It’s an interesting question because I definitely had a bucket list when I was using (usually around meth-fueled sex, but not always). As I thought over the question, I realized today I purposefully don’t keep such a list. Instead, I try to live each day fully and when my mind finds something that’s worthy of a true bucket list, I try to do it as soon as I possibly can and, if I can’t, let it go… so I might experience the miracle of life before me in the present moment. Sure, I still dream big, but it’s not something that I need to accomplish for my life to feel complete. What I need to accomplish is to stay clean and sober and, then, in my experience, the other stuff in life, like my dreams and goals, generally work themselves out one way or another. For example, this fall I start a two year Masters in Psychology program – back to school at my mid-fifties. It kind of fell into my lap and I was clean enough to recognize it and take advantage of the opportunity.
What about daily rituals or practices? Today, I don’t have a set ritual of morning prayers I practice daily, like most of my friends in recovery seem to have. (I might in the future, however, but not today.) My morning takes the form of being present and awake to “what is” before me in life. Then, throughout the day, I try to remember to ask the Universe to help me be of maximum benefit to others.
I also try to get exercise, take a walk in my beautiful city of Palm Springs and the mountains surrounding it, and I hit the gym when able. Mind, body, spirit – all are integral to keeping myself meth-free. When one of these, or especially two, are out of whack, I’m almost always in relapse mode and need to catch myself before a slip might actually happen.
And, as for “service” which, if you’re in a 12-step program, is always emphasized, in the past I’ve been secretary, treasurer, and phone list person for various meetings. But today, my service commitments to 12-step programs are informal, like giving someone without transportation a ride to a meeting. True service to others can take many forms – from volunteering at the local animal shelter or soup kitchen, to spontaneously buying a homeless person a Big Mac Combo. At its core, service is just helping others and being kind, loving, and compassionate. As far as I can tell, loving kindness is THE central teaching of the world’s great spiritual traditions. Service work is loving kindness in action. So I try to mix it up and be eclectic in my service, like the rest of my recovery.
And that’s how I’m doing it today. The only certainty is that in some time in the future, my recovery will evolve in some way, large or small, and I’ll find my psyche and heart journeying into new and unchartered territory… all to maintain a meth-free life.
When I was in the height of my meth use, it was all about escaping my life. Not today. Today, it’s about living life, while keeping an open heart and mind. That’s a life worth living, if you ask me.