The hard work to stay clean?

Yesterday a friend complimented me on the hard work I have done to stay clean and to get my son back. It’s funny… Normally when somebody says something like that my first thought is “What hard work?” because I don’t feel like I’ve worked very hard. Or have I?

When my ex, Megan, came back with her then four-month old daughter, I’d been struggling with my addiction. “Relapse” is hardly the word for where I was because it had been going on for two years and nine months. That’s longer than I had been clean the first time before the relapse (nine months) and also longer than I have been clean since. (Two years. A sobering thought.)

That last point really is a sobering thought. I’m proud of my two years clean, but not that proud. I’ll be a whole lot more proud when I get to three years clean (Actually even two years and ten months will mean more than two years), simply because I want my time clean to be longer than the last time in active addiction. After that, every additional year clean will be a cause for celebration, but the one that will really mean a great deal to me is eight years clean, because when I get there, my clean time will be longer than all the time I used.

Getting back to the question of whether I worked hard… When Megan returned, I’d felt for a long time that I didn’t want to use, but could not stop. But I was fooling myself. The fact is, I didn’t want to stop. But stop, I did. It was impractical to use, and then tweak all night on my PC with a woman and four month old baby sleeping in the same room. So I stopped.

Staying clean was the most difficult at the beginning, when I was still chemically dependant on the drug. I went to work the following day, and sat in a team of seven people very close together, but struggled to stay awake. I had to get up and walk around, then take many coffee breaks, only to take a seat and immediately start to nod off again, but after about two days, I was able to function normally. Driving home, past the place where I used to park and meet the dealer, was torture. Normally I used to call him as I drove to ensure that he’d be there twenty minutes later. So first, I had to force myself not to make that call, and then not pull over where I used to meet him. It was two temptations in one because I could still have changed my mind and met him even after choosing not to make that call.

That initial difficulty lasted about two weeks, after which I began to feel good and could enjoy being clean. Others at work noticed my change in personality, and incorrectly assumed it was having Megan back with me that brought the change. (Indirectly it was, but they were incorrect in assuming it was my love life that had changed.) Of course that dealer still called me often. I blocked his number, but would occasionally bump into him while shopping in a local grocery store. Then he disappeared, and I have not seen him in over a year. (I hope he’s dead or in prison.)

Then came the anger management issues. For about three months after cleaning up, I had almost zero control of my temper. It would flare up over the tiniest things, resulting in rude and sarcastic attacks on everybody around me. I’m sarcastic at the best of times, but this was something else. Around that time, my son had an eye operation. There were some complications around that. The social worker assigned to us told us we could go see him at the hospital, but his foster parent, my brother, didn’t want us to be let in. In retrospect, I can totally understand my brother’s reaction: Every time before that, when Megan had come back to me (and it had been several times), my drug use had worsened. In fact, my initial relapse after nine months clean only happened after she begged me to get drugs almost every day for three months. So that was my track record: Megan was, in the eyes of many, the reason that I used. Nobody knew that this time around, having her there had given me the inspiration to stop using. Nobody knew that I was clean, and it would be a while before anyone believed me, and before I got back anybody’s trust. So I made a scene in the hospital after forcing my way in. My son has not forgotten this, and every so often he asks me about it. He knows about the drugs now, so that makes it easier. I just tell him that daddy and his brother had a disagreement, but it’s a long time ago and it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s very important to me that we all get along, and that my son learns that sometimes, blaming people does not help. (My brother was only doing what he thought best to protect my son. I didn’t understand that at the time, and instead somehow expected everybody to know that I was clean.)

Gradually my temper tantrums ended, and I felt normal again. It did take a few months though. Then the situation at work worsened. There were issues there, though not of my making, many of which I tolerated while I was using because I didn’t really care then, but when I’m clean, my attitude changes. The last straw for me was when the company employed another drug addict to work in the same team as myself. He was a Methcathinone addict. (Something the HR person said to me led me to believe they knew… But contracted him out to Multichoice anyway, which I thought was unethical. He was a good guy, and the fact that the HR person picked up that something was wrong during the interview told me that they just cared about making money, not about their clients, and certainly not about their employees. This guy needed help, not to be exploited.)

But did I work hard? I’m still not sure. Does it count as hard work when all I did was ensure I never gave in to the cravings and temptations to use? Those cravings were sometimes severe. Psychologically, it was difficult. I went from being a person who not only relied on meth to function every day, but also who was accustomed to the state of mind that comes with tweaking (which is the way the drug gets a hold over you), to being a person who had to get used to not being high on meth all the time, a person who had to relearn what it meant to have normal energy and a normal state of mind.

Normally when I heard about people working on their recovery, it was in the context of working the dreaded 12 steps. I did attend an outpatient program, since one of the things I had to do was comply with a court order requiring my participation in such a program, but I didn’t attend such a program until I was already 17 months clean. And oh, how I hated that program! To go there twice a week, and attend their NA meetings once a week for those three months, that was tough! I had to hear people repeating all those stupid ideas, that their addiction is a disease, one that can’t ever be cured but can be treated with a spiritual program. How absurd!

If it is a disease, one would expect a medical treatment of some sort. The 12 steps teach essentially that we need to be saved, not unlike the message of Christianity. (We need to be saved, need it perpetually. We must work on those steps and ask to be saved by a god, but always remain in that state of needing being saved, and never stop being addicts.) As an atheist, that offends me. I take responsibility for my own life, for my own choices and their consequences, however good, bad or ugly they might be. And then hearing the true believers stating that anyone who didn’t do what they did, anyone who didn’t repeat their fallaciously inspired 12 steps over and over again is not truly in recovery. (No True Scotsman.)

They also tell themselves that when the program doesn’t work: “I wasn’t working the steps” or maybe “I wasn’t truly working the steps” or “I wasn’t committed enough“. (Yeah, just redefine what recovery is every time the only program you know doesn’t work. Redefine it to exclude the individual, and never make the only real logical conclusion: The program does not work.) But at the same time, they never move past being addicts, and always accept that it is somehow OK to relapse. (No. It’s not fucking OK. You didn’t relapse because you have a disease, and you can’t use that excuse to duck the responsibility while simultaneously needing to be fucking saved. You relapsed because you gave in to pressure and chose to use drugs. It’s that simple.) The one thing that truly put my recovery at risk was listening to that nonsense… listening to the underlying message that contradicts itself by saying that it is not my fault but I need to pray to a god to be saved – so I am not good enough to be clean on  my own, listening to the veiled threats giving the message that I wasn’t doing recovery right, and couldn’t stay clean, just because I don’t believe in bullshit. Also, they had power over me – in that a bad report stating that I was not cooperative and did not improve whilst participating in their program would have prevented my getting my son placed back in my care. Unfortunately courts place much value in 12 step programs – I think it’s like that all over the world.

Aside: Being an atheist and skeptic automatically puts one in a position in opposition to the accepted “correct” approach to recovery (of 12 step programs), while simultaneously it does not empower you to succeed, not in and of itself. This is because there are also a large number of skeptics who condone using drugs. Just like they defend the right to “immorality”, many in online skeptical communities defend our right to fuck ourselves up with drugs. So if you want to be clean, and are an atheist, it isn’t terribly clear where to begin.

Then right after I finished that program, Megan left, taking her daughter with her. I was afraid at first, afraid that no longer having the reason that I cleaned up around would put my recovery at risk. And it was difficult. For nineteen months, I had nurtured her little girl in a way I had missed with our son’s first few years. I took her to crèche every morning and picked her up every evening, played with her every day, showered her with gifts. I took her to the shops with me, took her for walks around the garden and played with a ball with her, and I took joy out of teaching her new words every day and hearing her say them. It was to me that she came for help with her puzzles, not her mother. In the end, I think Megan became jealous of the bond between me and her daughter. (Also, Megan still blames me for our son being taken away. It happened with my cooperation, and I had warned her that it was going to happen for nearly six months before it did, before I knew how to help it happen. Back then, when he was 18 months old, I had no control of how he was looked after when I was at work, and had warned her every single day that he would be removed from her. In the end, he was removed from us, and I helped make sure that happened.) It was difficult coping without her daughter, but I didn’t think of that as work either. I just coped.

Ultimately my son and I are closer than ever, and my relationship with other family members couldn’t be better than it is right now. And I do see Megan and her daughter roughly every two weeks. The bond between myself and her daughter is as strong as ever.

There are other difficulties that I’ve had to cope with. Although most people I tell about my addiction respect me for it, not everybody does. I still get judged for some of the choices I made in the past. I remained loyal to Megan for years after her infidelity. I supported all kinds of terrible decisions that she made. Then I had to hear about how I did so because I was on drugs, because I was incapable of making decisions. The truth is, every time I supported her, I thought of the morals my father had taught me. Our relationship was the centre of our family, and supporting my chosen life partner was, in my mind, my moral obligation. I did so because of my morals, not despite them, even though it hurt.

Even in the worst times years ago when we both used meth, my objective was always to fix what was broken, to clean up and help Megan to be clean as well, to mend the relationship and enable us together to be a team, to be a family for our son as my parents were a family to me. To me, that meant that even when I found out that she had stolen money from my mother, I had to support her anyway, and find a way of making her understand that stealing was unacceptable, and help her to make amends. When she cheated on me, I understood that she had less control of her sexuality while under the influence of meth than I did, and I took it as my responsibility to help her, even though every time she did so, it hurt me a little deeper.

Every old friend who chose not to accept my Facebook friend request hurt me a little too. Knowing that someone could judge me, just because of a few years of bad choices and the stigma of addiction, hurts more than I can explain. Having close family members misunderstand me back then, and say hateful things such as that I was not the person they knew when I grew up… Those things hurt, because I never stopped being that person. It’s so easy for people to judge, so easy for them to fail to see their own inadequacies and judge others, and there were many times these last two years when giving up and going back to using drugs, in order to feel good and escape the pressure, would have been so much easier than staying clean. But I didn’t, and most of those pressures are over now.

But still, I don’t think that I worked hard to stay clean. Yes, it was difficult. But no, I did not work at this. I just coped. I coped with some extraordinary difficulties and sometimes I do think that I overcame odds that really were stacked against me, and I am glad to have done so. Of course I do appreciate the compliments I have received when people congratulate and respect me for my sobriety; it just hasn’t felt like work. And on some level, it leaves me feeling more guilty than anything else. I shouldn’t have to be complimented just for being drug-free and normal.

To conclude, I don’t know if what I did can be defined as work. Maybe not yielding to temptation could be, but it’s a stretch. I coped with difficulties, some self-imposed, and some not. I don’t think I have managed to convey how difficult it was though, how deep in my mind meth found its home. That’s what it does… It takes over your life, every aspect of your life, and getting back up after it has taken you down is incredibly difficult. But I did it, and will continue to live my life without drugs. And if I can, so can others. We all do not realize how strong we can be.

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