One way to avoid relapse is to take what they call “contrary action.”
But I thought about it for a while before I finally did the right thing. Because last week I was in a bad neighborhood.
Here’s what happened: I got paid last week. It was the biggest paycheck I’ve gotten in a while. I was encouraged to spend a little bit of it on myself. Actually I was encouraged to spend more than a little bit of it on myself, but because I continue to feel bad about myself and my addiction, I made plans to spend only a little bit. What I decided to do was to reorganize my study—the place where I write this blog and other stuff.
It was also the place where, for a long time, I used.
I’ve heard of people making “shrines” and “temples” out of the places where they used, and I didn’t want to enshrine this room, but I wanted to change the way it looks, and to create more storage, because I simply can’t stop collecting books and media.
In the days of detox, in 2008, I’d gone through this place with a fine-tooth comb, looking for every last little bit of stuff I’d hoarded away. You know what I’m saying?
I was on Suboxone at the time and if I’d used what I found, it wouldn’t have done any good. Suboxone blocks the ability of other opioids to stimulate the receptors. I got rid of the stuff and it wasn’t very good stuff (at the time, I was used to Very Good Stuff)—it was crap stuff, and I didn’t feel bad about it. It wasn’t Real Drugs.
So there I was Sunday, with a big huge garbage bag in the middle of the room, cleaning out some drawers, trying to get the place tidied before my husband came back Monday, and I come across some drugs. Some good drugs. Very good drugs.
The feeling was instantaneous—one of elation and relief—FINALLY! Finally I had an insurance policy. The plan that formulated itself immediately in my mind was: I would just put these behind some books on my shelf, or even in the safe deposit box, for the rainy day when, eventually, inevitably, my life would come crashing in on me. I only have 19 months sober, and I still feel like the other shoe could drop at any moment. Many shoes dropping.
How can I describe the feeling in my body when I came across those drugs? My belly squeezed, and I took an involuntary deep inhale. Then held my breath, looking at them, admiring them. Then sighed—FINALLY! … They say your addiction is always somewhere outside, doing push-ups, waiting to ambush you. It’s true. I felt it: big strong bouncer-guy in a muscle-shirt, sweaty, out of breath, peeking around the doorway and grinning at me. My Old Manager.
Another part of me was desperately unhappy, like, Fuckin-A, I thought I’d gotten rid of every last bit of stuff in this room, good things are happening for me, why do I have to find this shit now?
“Because you were ready to learn from it,” my sponsor said today.
And all these memories of my insanity came back. I could taste it on my tongue: it would numb my taste buds, and in feeling the numbing of my tongue I could look forward to the quilted blanket of numbness that would follow. Being totally opioid-naïve, I could look forward to days and days in which I wouldn’t have to feel the fear anymore. My Manager’s vehicle (imagine it: a black-and-yellow Hummer, gaudy, loud, wasteful) would transport me out of that Bad Neighborhood. God knows where we’d finally end up, but I wouldn’t have to worry about that because he would be in control, and I’d be numb anyhow.
(I might even be dead, that’s how strong this stuff is.)
I sat there, looking at what I’d found.
I thought about what Robert Downey Jr. told Rolling Stone last year (I try to learn from anyone who’s trying to stay sober, even a “celebrity”):
The ramifications of a little slip are not what they used to be. It’s not kid-stuff anymore.
Meanwhile my son was sitting downstairs in front of the TV.
I put it all in an envelope, sealed it shut, and went about my business, took my son out to dinner, but I didn’t sleep well that night. I was thinking about Amy Winehouse. I couldn’t fall asleep till 2, and I woke at 5 when a fire truck blasted its horn nearby. And by Monday morning I was really crazy.
“Mom, why are you so angry?” my son asked me at least twice. Making me realize I’m usually pretty calm and even-tempered these days. But not when I have drugs on my mind, in my house. That was when I knew I was either going to choose to use, or I was going to choose to get rid of the drugs.
I’d never thrown away good drugs. When I detoxed, I used until I thought I didn’t have anything left. I’ve had to tell sponsees, “I’ve never thrown drugs away—I don’t know what that feels like.” I tried to imagine it and couldn’t. My brain was fast shrinking into rat-size, worrying only about where I might be able to hide the stuff until I “really needed it.” Which, because I am an addict, could be at any minute.
“Why didn’t I ‘recoil from it as from a hot flame’?” I asked my sponsor this morning. “I must be in pretty bad shape.” She said:
Why don’t you stop using the measuring tape against yourself.
I knew I was either going to keep this all a secret and wind up trapped in the Hummer again, or I was going to be honest about it with someone who would be kind enough to lay out other options.
“You know what you need to do, sweetie,” my friend Jacques said yesterday. I love Jacques; we’ve known each other since he was sober about a year, and he has 25 years.
You need to just get rid of that shit. You’ve busted your ass this past year and a half. You don’t need to go back to square one.
This nudged me away from the spot where the Hummer was idling its engine. Then I told my therapist, and she helped me imagine throwing it away. By last night when I picked up my husband at the airport, sober, I’d told two people, and it was starting to become inconceivable that I could actually use after having told two people I trust. If I imagined using, I’d also have to imagine either lying or telling the truth when they asked me what I’d done about the drugs.
I went to my sponsor’s home group this morning. The chair read from a book about what happens when we get healthy. We start gaining back people’s trust. We find release from care, boredom and worry. (Ha! I thought ruefully.) Our imaginations would be ignited. The most satisfactory years of life would be ahead of us. Back in 2008, when I was in detox and reading this at my first sponsor’s behest, I wrote in the margin, Yeah, this hardly seems real.
Today it’s real. I have good work, the respect of people who know me (and even some who don’t), the love and trust of my family, and freedom from financial insecurity Just For Today. And I still want to use? I thought, sitting in the meeting.
It came my turn to talk and I told the meeting I’d found drugs. A few little gasps escaped people’s lips. I said I had in fact not used (“Look at my pupils,” I told my sponsor), but the drugs were just sitting at home. I said my problem was I couldn’t accept Life’s Good Stuff.
Just plain old self-sabotage but of course I had to make it sound all Dramatic and shit.
My sponsor, whom I love and who is an awesome mentor, said matter-of-factly, “We’re going to my house and getting rid of the Darvocet I’ve had since my surgery last October, and also the Vicodin.” (You have Vicodin?? I said.) “And then we’re going to your house and getting rid of your stuff.”
And that’s what we did. She opened her bottles and dumped them into the toilet, cringing. “I hate doing this,” she said.
“Why?” I asked. She has more than 20 years clean and sober.
“Because I’m an addict!” she said. “You see how we help each other?” Step 12.
I cried as I got rid of mine. “Am I going to be OK?” I asked, like a child.
“You’re already OK,” she said.
Now I know what it feels like to throw drugs away. I’ve earned it, and was given the opportunity… But I need to walk the walk pretty carefully. I need to wear it loosely, but wear it.
Read the follow-up to this story here.