The road to recovery is always under construction. It doesn’t lay out conveniently like a Google Maps route or my 2016 Nissan Leaf’s navigation assistant, with its soothing, pleasant voice guiding me to take a turn in 3.2 miles. It does, however, start with a crashing decision, and willingness that must be individually indelible and unshakable. For me it was being able to say the three magic words that somehow, I was finally able to acknowledge, and, on bended knees, utter out loud:
Please. Help. Me.
I was willing. But, my body, brain, heart and soul needed care and repair. Addiction is a biological, psychological and social disease and I was like that abandoned house on a quiet street in a good neighborhood. You know, like the ones that were everywhere after the banking crisis and the mortgage collapse of 2008 — unsettlingly unkempt, silent, Christmas lights hanging in July. The kind of thing that only a full restoration, including a thorough, gentle, and massive dose of self-care, could salvage.
The first step was abstinence. There could be no other way, make no mistake. Total and complete sobriety was the only way for me to be well. The willingness to make this first important choice was simply the single most important decision, that I finally made in November of 2014. It changed everything.
The next most important move was to get involved in an intensive outpatient program or IOP. As an incredible lucky break, I met a lady named Patty, a tough old bird, a drug and alcohol counselor who guided me with a thundering velvet hand to the place I needed most to be. To get a crowbar underneath my emotional manhole cover and pry it up. To let the air in my soul and to meet the real reasons why the drinking and using had begun all those years ago. To finally face me. I was the problem.
Guess what? Just stopping drinking didn’t make me “all better.” I will admit that it was a relief to wake up physically in a healthier place. Not having a fuzz head sounding like the hip distortion pedal in my guitar rig felt much, much better. I didn’t have to go searching my memory for where I was or what I was doing the night before. No spinning beachball, cool. I had more money in my pocket and I knew where my car was parked. Dig that. I didn’t have to apologize for multiple texting offenses I may have committed the night before. That was a relief.
But I still had to deal with the other aspects of beginning life in sobriety. You see, a lot of the early problems I was to encounter had to do with the physical and psychological changes that occured after the chemicals had left my body. My brain had to undergo a massive change to cope with the fact that I was now not putting poison in me. I have heard this described in the medical and recovery community as Post-Acute Withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. And trust me, it’s not that fun.
All addicts and alcoholics suffer damage to their bodies and nervous systems from drug/alcohol use, accidents (remind me to tell you my broken ribs story sometime) and poor nutrition. As a Type II diabetic, this period was even more serious to me, as I struggled to adjust to the change in sugar and carbs from the booze I had been ingesting. I experienced an inability to think clearly or concentrate, memory problems, being on pins and needles emotionally, whacked-out sleeping patterns, stress, and the fact that I still had cravings and urges. Dealing with early sobriety was a lot more than just stopping.
I certainly was not “well” yet. But I was better. Slowly, after some time and some good counseling, I started to live each day differently. I started to believe that a new life was possible and I was witness to some real miracles that were happening. Wow… I caught myself smiling one day. Smiling! And laughing! When was the last time I had really laughed out loud? This was working, and I was really getting better. I had a glimmer of hope that I could be well.
I know now that all of this would not- could not- have happened without the three magic words that I was finally able to say. The first step of faith into a new life:
Please. Help. Me.
Till the next time, all. Hang on, Steady on.
Reach Marc Lee Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Angelo Merendino. Editor’s note: Marc Lee Shannon holds the trademark to “Sober Chronicles.”