The Sobering Truth…continued
Other people with addictions have said to me, “I can’t get better because I don’t have an amazing wife like you do, I don’t have anybody.” And my wife brought up a good point last night about my previous blog—the “letting love into your life part” is just as much (if not more) about loving yourself than letting someone else love you. The more I thought about it, I recognized that my journey to sobriety really began the moment I first started talking (sober) about what I was going through, after which I started to believe that I deserved to get sober, that I was worth being helped. A whole year of recovery went by (and many, many relapses) before I even met my wife, at which point, I was unexpectedly ready to let love into my life. It wasn’t something I was planning for, or even aware of at that time it was happening, but after a year of trying to get healthy for myself and no one else, I finally met my soulmate. But I did feel completely alone when I first started my recovery, even though I know now that I did have people in my life who had wanted to help me all along—I was completely blind to most of the love that came my way.
After so many years of ditching friends, putting people’s lives in danger by driving drunk, hiding the addiction, and pushing people away—how do you even get to the point where you think you deserve to be helped? For me, the defining moment came when I met with a doctor at the student health services center three days after I first stumbled into the counseling center mid-alcoholic withdrawal. After telling Dr. Ann Ryan everything I had been through (which I had no plan of doing, it just kind of poured out of me), including being raped twice, developing an extensive eating disorder, increasing use of cocaine and heroin, getting arrested, losing my driver’s license, and realizing that I’m gay—everything I was ashamed of—she looked at me with a smile and said, “Wow, you have fortitude.” That was all it took for someone to say to me, and I had the motivation to get my shit together. She didn’t say, “Wow, you really didn’t handle being raped very well,” and she didn’t say, “Wow, you really should stop telling people about all this, it’s embarrassing,” and she didn’t say, “Wow, you’ve been acting very selfishly.” These are things people have actually said to me, but Dr. Ryan didn’t tell me I was weak or fucked up or selfish or that I was wasting all of my potential, she told me I was strong. She told me she was glad I had survived long enough to get help and that I’d be okay.
After my physical examination, Dr. Ryan called upstairs to set up a meeting with a substance abuse counselor. She didn’t want me to leave the building until I at least met this person, and within the first five minutes of talking with Becky Allen, I felt hope. Here was someone who had been through a lot of what I had been through and made it out okay on the other side. I still didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to do to get better, but I at least knew that it was possible. Within the next two weeks, I had a doctor, a substance abuse counselor, a trauma therapist, a psychiatrist, a stress counselor, and AA meetings—my little army of people who knew exactly what was happening with me and who were committed to helping me get healthy. I had appointments and meetings 4-5 times a week, and it was completely exhausting and painful and frustrating at times, but I would not have survived that first year of recovery without those people. This is exactly how the healthcare system should work, and I got very, very lucky to get in touch with all the right people. I have found myself in front of so many healthcare professionals who didn’t listen to me, who thought I was exaggerating my problem, who thought I was just looking for drugs, who thought I was just going through a phase, or who thought I looked completely healthy, and with every visit like that, I left a little piece of my hope and self-respect behind me in the waiting room. I was also very, very lucky to have had health insurance that would cover all of this and that my specialists were flexible with my payment plan when the insurance wouldn’t cover something. Everybody should have access to this kind of care.
So I guess the first step for me was really being completely honest about what was going on—nobody can help you if nobody knows what you’re going through. And again, I stand by the fact that you can’t overcome an addiction alone, but I know that there are people out there to help anyone who needs it. And everybody deserves that chance.