7 things I learned in my first year of Recovery:

1.    That Alcoholism is a disease.I was so na├»ve to recovery, getting sober, AA, alcoholism – all of it.  I knew nothing.  All I knew was what I saw in the movies.  When I got to AA someone told me to read the Big Book, the first 164 pages, I did just that and I was flabbergasted at what I read.  Did these guys have a microscope into my brain? How did they know what I was thinking and feeling? I was relieved to know that my disease was just that – a dis-ease.  It wasn’t willpower and it wasn’t bad morals – I had a three-fold disease of mind, body and spirit.  Ahhh, OK, this made much better sense.

2.    That other people want to help you – you just have to ask for it.
I didn’t get sober on purpose. I wasn’t crawling into an AA meeting saying I can’t stop drinking and my life is horrible. However, I couldn’t stop drinking and my life was horrible.  I didn’t know where to go for help and I was too scared to call my family or tell my employer.  It was only after my 2nd DUI that my attorney suggested I get to an AA Meeting, so I went – because I didn’t know what else to do.  At this meeting the overflow of people, women specifically, that wanted to help me was overwhelming.  I didn’t know how to handle that, so I just kept going back to meetings and soon enough I got a sponsor and started doing the deal.

3. That no one can make you get sober - you have to want it for yourself.
I realized pretty early on in recovery that getting sober wasn’t anyone else’s responsibility but my own.  And if you, my Mom, or my boyfriend told me I needed to get sober I would have said eff off  - I needed every last drink and drug I ingested so that I could understand that I wanted to get sober for me.  No one else. 

4.    That AA isn’t a cult.

After being sober for a little bit, a friend I went to High School with commented to me that he thought AA was a cult and that it brain washed people.  I knew what he meant, but my mentality had been, take what you want and leave the rest.  Personally, I needed my brain to be washed a little because my best thinking had my life a mess.  I was fine drinking the Kool-Aid if it made my life better.  People need to realize that AA saves people’s lives and makes them better.  So lay off.

5. That I’m a responsible and accountable adult and my actions matter.Pretty soon after I got sober one of my vices was driving fast and although it didn’t replace the adrenalin rush that alcohol and drugs gave me, it worked for a little while.  However, one day when I was driving I had my sponsor with me and she commented to me that while driving fast may be fun, it’s not really sober living.  I didn’t get what she meant by that initially; but when we started talking about it – it made sense.  Living a sober life means that we do the right thing – maybe not all the time – but for me it’s much better to be a law abiding citizen who pays her taxes and isn’t stealing the Hotel towels any longer.

6. That helping others makes me feel good.
Helping others is the best way for me to get out of myself, because in early recovery I learned that I was selfish and self-centered to my core.  That was a tough one to digest.  But when I saw how I was trying to control and manipulate others to get what I wanted – sober – I knew I had to start doing service.  Service for me was talking to newcomers, making coffee at a meeting and just trying to make someone else smile – as someone else had done that for me.  Pay it forward. 

7. That living a life of recovery is a daily process.Living life sober can be quite easy actually – however, it’s hard to do each day, every day.  I would love to just skip around on the beach, go shopping, travel and have fun – but yeah, life doesn’t work that way.  Staying sober and following my daily rituals have definitely made life easier for me.  I know that each day I need to pray, meditate, focus on my day job, get to a meeting and help others. I know I have a much better chance of staying sober if I continue to do my daily dose.

I ran a sober living home and thank god I didn’t relapse!

It was during the economic downturn in late 2009 where I found myself without a job and no steady income.  I had been unemployed for months and in early 2010, an opportunity came to me through the Fellowship.  One where I would have a private room, free meals, a gym membership -  and I would be able to keep Lucy.  My soon to be Boss Lady knew that Lucy was my lifeline (my 5 year old boxer mutt) and that I needed a job quickly.  Boss Lady was getting ready to open a sober living home and she needed a House Manager.  By this point in my sobriety I was almost five years sober, and I ran a good program – I had a sponsor, I worked the steps, and I went to a lot of meetings – I had my shit together.  It was an easy decision for me to make and within a week, I moved into a gorgeous, sunny, five bedroom fully furnished house complete with a pool and ocean view.  It was like moving into my own Golden Door Spa – until the sober housemates showed up.

Our first client was just released from the local 28 day treatment center and she was as fresh as a 19 year old girl could look. Dewy perfect skin, gorgeous healthy hair and a sparkly smile.  She was a little soft spoken who came across quite shy.  She was a heroin addict who didn’t look like she had ever spent a minute with a needle in her arm.  We soon found out that most young female addicts were just that.  Heroin addicted and sparkling fresh.  None of these young girls resembled skid row heroin addicts.  They were all sent their by their parents and none wanted what I had - sobriety. 

During my ten months as House Manager, there were five young women in particular; all attractive, all H addicts and all very good liars, cheats and manipulators.   But isn’t that what addicts are?  You bet your fake urine drug test they are.  We had had to learn the ropes the hard way.  We soon figured out that they were buying fake pee and that they were in cahoots with their housemates and would trade pee when needed.  When we caught on to the fake pee circulation, we had to start following them into the bathroom and watch them pee.  We also learned that you could insert a tube of fake urine into your vagina and pop it with a pin to give you a steady urine stream.  Genius. 

Additionally, most were taking Suboxone® and I was the keeper of all meds.  We kept these meds in a safe as I would have to dole out their Suboxone® individually and watch it dissolve into their mouths as these girls were also swapping pills with each other.  One girl came back from a weekend pass saying she had caught the flu from her Mother and that she was really ill.  Within 24 hours we realized she was dope sick and had to kick her out of the house - as it was her third strike.  She’d had a few months clean prior to that relapse.  Another girl was selling her Lyrica® pills to her boyfriend (who was living in a men’s sober living home) and using the proceeds to purchase Suboxone® from the girls in our house.  We found out about her shenanigans by going through the text messages in her phone.  Nothing was off-limits to us.   

We also had women in the house that were traditional alcoholics who really wanted to get sober.  These women were a little older and they had more life experience.  They too would try and hide their drinking from us.  However, their relapses weren’t as routine as the H girls were.  In addition to random drug testing, we also performed random breathalyzer tests – it was a revolving door of wondering who was high and who wasn’t. 

Since I was the House Manager of the home, I was involved in these women’s daily activities, as I was also their chauffer driving them to meetings, job interviews, the store, the gym – wherever they needed to go.  I soon developed friendships with some of them – and just when I would feel safe and think  I’m her friend now, she won’t lie to me – they’d spin their addict web of lies and relapse. 

This job had me feeling like I was a Doctor as I was on call 24/7.  Even on my days off - there was no respite for me.  I’d be sitting in a movie and my phone would start blowing up with texts and phone calls;  she didn’t make curfew, she needs a ride to work tomorrow, she needs to visit her Mom, she and she got into a fight tonight, Lucy ate her stuffed animal –on and on it would go. 

It got to a point where my own sanity and sobriety were at risk.  I couldn’t go to a meeting and share about “what was going on with me” nor could I confide in anyone at the house.  I never knew who to trust and who to believe.  My sponsor was on speed dial, as were my other sober sisters.  I soon heard the alarming statistic that anyone working in the recovery community has a much higher chance of relapse.  As soon as I heard that, I knew I had to step up my recovery and start focusing more on my program.  I went to Boss Lady and confided in her that I needed to take care of my sobriety as the last thing any of us wanted was a drunken House Manager.  I never really wanted to drink, but I had access to the safe where we housed all the medication and some of those pills were addictive.  A little harmless pill would be nice – just to take the edge off.  Just one.  That thinking kept churning around in my head – but luckily someone else would relapse and I’d be jarred back to the reality of the disease.  Cunning, Baffling, Powerful -- it was happening every day right under my nose. 

After ten months, my life took a drastic turn and I was summoned to move back East and assist with my ailing mother.  It was January and moving back East wasn’t something I was longing for -- but I’d much rather babysit and take care of my own Mother than keep trying to be a Mother to some who weren’t ready. 

I have stayed in touch with some of those young girls and although they still needed to live out their own story of addiction and recovery, most are all now clean and sober.  They are the lucky ones, as am I.  

Did I also mention I was a Recreational Cocaine user?

I was 17 and it was the summer of 1984.  I was eager and excited to visit my longtime childhood friend, Kimberly, in Northern California.  By now, smoking pot and drinking beer were weekend occurrences with me and my suburbia Philly friends. 
            Unbeknownst to me, Kimmy and her boyfriend had been recreational with cocaine.  I was ignorant of cocaine use and wasn’t remotely interested in trying it.  I was scared of it.  John Belushi had just died from a cocaine overdose, and I saw Scarface.  Tony Montana made cocaine very unattractive to me.  I’d rather stick to pot and beer.  As the three of us were sitting around Ronnie’s kitchen table making screwdrivers, Ronnie mentioned to Kimmy about leaving to get the stuff.  I wasn’t aware of what he was referring to.
            When Ronnie returned with the bindle of coke, I was so intrigued by the notorious white powder that I could barely focus on my screwdriver.  He started chopping it up with a razor blade on the glass kitchen table and was moving it to and fro with a credit card.  Wow.  This was real cocaine.  The word dangerkept flashing before my eyes in neon lights.  I felt pressure to be cool and I wanted to fit in.  I neglected the road block screaming DANGER DANGER pulsing in my head.  
            Ronnie cut out two lines for Kimmy and him, and I felt left out.  I was uncertain about even trying this drug. People have heart attacks, overdose and die ingesting this stuff - why would I want to even jeopardize my own existence?  Kimmy and Ronnie each snorted up their line and it looked weird to me.  I’ve never put anything up my nose before, except my finger.  Ronnie started chopping out two more lines.  I looked over and pondered for a minute, should I try this?  My hands were sweating and my heart was racing.  I felt fearless.  “Hey Ronnie, cut one out for me. I may as well try it.”  This was the start of my twenty-year love affair with cocaine.
By the time I was 19, I was dating the local cocaine dealer.  I knew him through friends and we partied almost every night.  I got to know how his side lived—the blue collar drug addicted side.  I enjoyed it immensely. Or did I just enjoy the coke?  Who could tell at this point?  I became so addicted to the guy and his drugs that I wouldn’t have cared if he looked like Weird Al Yankovich.  From the first snort up my nose to the immediate high and rush that accompanied that, along with a swig of my vodka jungle juice and a drag from my cigarette – nothing ever compared. It got me.  To the core of my being this shit got a hold of me.  As soon as I drank that first sip of my vodka drink, I needed to know when and where I’d be getting my hit of blow from.  My life became a constant rush, experiencing blasts of adrenalin with him and his gang of degenerates.  I knew that my new crowd wasn’t the type I would have invited over for Sunday dinner.  It didn’t deter me, though, since I liked the hectic pace and being in the center of the drug network.  I felt that I was above these people, and somehow it made me feel better being around them.  I felt like we had what everyone wanted.  I was the new IT girl of the group.  My low self esteem and self loathing made it quite easy for me to sequester myself with people that were, outwardly, less than desirable.  It made me feel like the new ice cream flavor at Baskin-Robbins that people wanted to try. 
            Our weekends started on Wednesdays, where we would go to the local watering hole and I would shuffle into a cramped one stall bathroom, wipe down the back basin of the toilet with one-ply tissue and dump out some blow.   Customer number one would enter and I’d swiftly push the coke into a line to feed myself and the frequent flyer of the evening.   It was an insidious life, filled with contradictory highs and Spike Lee moments of Not Doing The Right Thing.  I knew being involved in a drug operation was unethical, but I really couldn’t make myself care.  Taking part of this fast inner circle blinded me to any potential problems. 
This relationship crashed and burned within a year and within the next year or so, I was dating another cocaine dealer.  Dating your dealer made the best sense to me.  This way I always got what I wanted.  Granted, these relationships were just as insidious as my drug addiction, but I didn’t care. 
I upheld this sordid lifestyle for many many years and later when I moved to California, it only increased my usage as it was much easier to get.  By the time I was 37, I was doing cocaine a few times a week, as I needed to try and uphold some sort of a career.  I considered myself a recreational user.  Usually Thursday through Sunday was the norm.  Each time I used cocaine it worked for me.  It made me feel good, it made me feel like I mattered - it made sense.  I loved the instant rush of snorting the line and having the drip down my throat within seconds.  BAM! That was it.  My own A-Ha moment.  I could stay up for hours drinking, snorting and smoking with whomever person of the week there was.  Playing poker, Yahtzee or just talking Shit about Shit.   It didn’t matter.  I loved getting the bindle, chopping it up and sifting out the lines into perfect matchsticks.   I loved the routine of it.  I could start tasting it minutes before I would even have it in my possession.  It was all consuming; so much so that I would bargain away anyone and anything at any cost.  I lost relationships, friendships, jobs, money – but mainly my self-respect.  All because I wanted what I wanted.  Most nights, I would barely make it to bed and stroll into my office high with no sleep.  I am amazed that I was able to maintain that routine for as long as I did. The interesting thing though is that I only used cocaine when I drank.  Alcohol was my number one drug of choice, then cocaine.  I never used it without alcohol.  The combination of alcohol and cocaine was perfect for me, as I could drink longer when I had the depressant of alcohol and the stimulant of cocaine in me.  It just completed me. 
The last time I did cocaine was a few weeks before I quit drinking.  When I quit drinking, I quit cocaine.  The ying and the yang were no longer.  I had finally had enough of having enough.  Being clean and sober was my new drug of choice.