After all the years I spent trying to get sober, it was almost a relief when I was sent into a rehab facility for a few months. I had never been able to put together more than a couple of days of continuous sobriety and I knew that I just needed to stop using heroin and the majority of my problems would go away. I was really shocked when that didn’t end up being the case. In the first couple of weeks of sobriety, feelings I had forgotten even existed began to come up. I was angry, scared, resentful, depressed, shameful, ungrateful, and selfish; sometimes all in the same breath. Now, these long lost emotions were coming out for the first time in so long and I chalked it up to, “Well, I’ve been numbing for so long, this is probably temporary, they will eventually regulate and I’ll be fine.”

I waited, and I waited. Months went by and I wasn’t feeling drastically better. I did feel better in some ways. For the first time in a couple years, I was eating meals regularly, had access to clean clothes and personal hygiene products, and was sleeping in a bed. In the external sense, things had absolutely improved; anyone could look at me and figure that out! What I really wanted to know was why on the inside, I was feeling worse than I had ever felt. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to continue my lifelong trend of filling my internal void with anything that would make me feel better. Most recently the “solution” to my void was drugs and alcohol.

When I was in the coed rehabilitation center I learned that when I was receiving attention from other people, mostly men, I had that sense of temporary relief that drugs and alcohol also gave me. I was finally feeling better in recovery; I just didn’t realize it was at the expense of myself. For the rest of my stay in rehab, and some of my stay in sober housing, I used men and relationships as something that temporarily made my internal condition better. When I was getting attention of any kind, whether I wanted it or not from that particular person, I felt better. It is easy to look back in the rearview mirror and notice this pattern of behavior, but when it was happening I had no idea.

Some other things that I found improved my internal condition were energy drinks, cigarettes and food. Now, just because I used these things to filled my own personal void, doesn’t mean they are all bad, all the time. But much of the time that I utilized these things I was using them for relief. Anything in my life that I am using for any type of relief is something that I need to take a look at. I didn’t like the way I felt about myself and these things could help me to feel better. Even though it was temporary, it was better than nothing.

I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time, as I said before. Once I began to gain some knowledge about the disease of addiction/alcoholism, I learned that I had actually been doing this my entire life, even before my substance abuse took off. Before I ever picked up a drug I used self-harm as a tool of temporary relief. The longer I stayed sober, the more I learned about my problem, and the solution. I learned that my biggest misconception was that my heroin addiction was the problem. My heroin addiction, ironically enough, was my solution. The self-harm, attention from others, cigarette smoking, energy drinks and food were all solutions to the real problem.

Are you ready for change concept on green blackboard with businessman hand holding paper plane

What is the real problem? My real problem was the way I thought, behaved, and reacted to life. So my problem was pretty much everything except what I thought it was. Things were beginning to make sense to me and I got involved in the twelve steps, also known as the program of action. At first I wasn’t entirely sold that this was going to work for me. I mean, NOTHING had ever worked for me before so why would this be different. This was different than any other experience I had ever known in my life. As I truly committed to living in the twelve steps, my life began to change right before my eyes! I learned how to connect with a power greater than myself, which began to fill that same void that I had been filling all those years before. I have heard some people refer to it as a “god sized hole” and I really liked that. Having a connection with God and living my life in the twelve steps was the permanent relief I was always seeking in those temporary solutions. As long as I am vigilant with my program and remain close to God I trust that everything is going to be okay. And so far, in my five years of living this way, it has been.

I always had so many misconceptions about the steps and what they were actually about. I thought that I was going to have to go to church and get really religious, which I was not exactly open- minded about. Some huge relapse prevention tools that I use in my life that I learned from the twelve steps are prayer, meditation, pausing, and service work.

Prayer and meditation are huge parts of my life and continue to evolve as I grow spiritually. It is very important for me to connect with my higher power on a daily basis. This hasn’t always been the case, but today it is a building block of my recovery. I hear people say things like, “When I pray I am talking to God, and when I meditate I am listening.” This was something I really liked and use in my life. Sometimes when I meditate it is a quiet sit, a daily reading or contemplation about my day. Regardless of the phase my prayer and meditation are in, they are essential to my recovery.

Pausing was something that was completely new to me. I remember when I used to get angry or fearful I would immediately react. There was absolutely no space between me and my action or words. Today, through a lot of work, I have learned how to pause. If I don’t know what to do or say, I don’t have to do anything at all. It is such a freeing feeling to not have to be so attached to everything!

Service work is a huge part of my sobriety. A huge problem with the person I brought through the doors of AA was my extreme selfishness. It was the only way I knew how to live. Helping other people and just being available helps me to get outside of myself and is a huge relapse prevention tool. The steps are a wonderful tool, but if I don’t practice the twelfth step, which is giving back, I would not be able to continue to grow in my spiritual program.

I came into AA to learn how to stop using heroin and if that was the only thing I got I would have been satisfied. I got that and I got so much more. I got a life that I never knew was possible. I got freedom and happiness in a way I never thought imaginable!