News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

From Strung Out to Sober: When Does the Misery of Getting Clean End?

I kept falling but eventually I started to learn how to not fall so far down, and how to pick myself up a little sooner.

Want to get the latest on America's drug & rehab culture? Sign up for The Fix's newsletter here.    

Since the publication of my first book,  Tweak, four years ago, I’ve been travelling around the country speaking to different groups and organizations about addiction and recovery. I’ve spoken at high schools and colleges and at fundraisers for big name rehabs like Hazelden and the Caron Foundation. Usually these events consist of about a 45-minute share of my basic story, followed by 15 minutes of question and answers. And, for the most part, the talks I give are all fairly similar and the questions people ask are pretty similar, too—although of course, the specific details tend to be different. 

A few weeks ago, however, I was speaking at an event on a Native American reservation just a few miles outside of Saginaw, Michigan when an older man from the community stood up and asked me a question that made me have to re-think my entire presentation. 

He was shouting and I could see that he was angry. Not with me, exactly, but with addiction in general. He spoke about watching his kids and then his grandkids struggle with this disease. And then he went on to say that he listens to people like me speaking about how bad things were and how the drugs destroyed our lives but then suddenly we seem to jump to talking about how we’re sober now and how we are all happy and everything. What he wanted to know was: how did we get from being strung out and miserable to being happy and sober? How did we get from A to B?

I wasn’t totally sure how to answer. 

I know that for some, getting from A to B in is a fairly straightforward process—which isn’t to say that it’s easy. Though perhaps it’s easier to explain. They use drugs and destroy their lives, then they go to AA, where they get a sponsor, take commitments, work the steps and go on to live lives that are happy, joyous, and free.

But that wasn’t the way it worked for me.

I’m envious of people who got recovery like that. I remember back when I was first getting clean, I was in a Sober Living house and going to meetings with these kids my age, and a lot of them are still sober today. They followed that path and it worked for them.

I was the one that continued to fuck up over and over and over again.

I went to AA just like they did and did everything that was suggested, but then I still went out and relapsed. Maybe I just didn’t do it right. I don’t know. And there’s no easy explanation for what finally worked for me. Every time I thought I found the answer, I’d end up relapsing again.

At one point, I went to this new agey treatment center in the desert and spent a lot of time talking about childhood trauma and releasing the memories from my body and stuff like that. I did EMDR and Somatic Experiencing and got into blaming my parents. I did meditation and got in touch with my feelings and then I thought, “Okay, awesome, I’ve fixed myself now.”

But then I went out and started drinking so much that I was soon waking up in the morning and downing mini-bottles of flavored vodka ‘cause they were only 79 cents on sale from the local liquor store.

After that, I pretty much decided I was done with rehabs and AA but would try outpatient and just good old-fashioned therapy and psychiatric medication.