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My name is Brad, and I was an addict.
For almost a decade, I was addicted to a variety of opioids, crystal meth and crack cocaine.
On New Year’s Eve this year I’ll celebrate two years of complete sobriety. I have just spent my second Christmas sober. It was spent at home, with my wife and family, and is something for which I am more grateful than words can describe.
Most addicts have similar stories, so I don’t think that sharing the details of the terrible things I did during my years of active addiction is necessary. Just know that I did the things that most addicts do to support their habits, and all that goes along with the consequences of our actions.
I lied, stole, cheated, committed fraud.
I have been arrested and have spent my fair share of days in court.
I’ve been homeless, slept in parks, public restrooms and on benches.
I was like a tornado - causing destruction everywhere I went and hurting just about everyone that I came into contact with. As is the case with most addicts, the people I hurt the most were the people that love me the most - my wife and my family.
In the grand scheme of things, two years is not a very long time, but it is significant when, as most addicts will know, sometimes just getting through 24 hours requires every bit of strength we can muster. I am proud of being two years clean.
At about 23:00 on December 31st, 2016, I was alone on a bench outside a hospital.
I had used just a few hours before.
I could hear fireworks going off as people began to celebrate New Year’s Eve with their loved ones, and I realized that I had come to the end. Either I was going to end my life, or that moment would be the end of my time as an addict.
I hated myself. I hated what I had done to my family. I hated that I was alone. I hated what I had become. I hated what drugs had turned me into and what they had taken from me. I had tried to stop using before, but something was different this time. I was so filled with hatred for drugs that it lit a fire within me that I still don’t quite understand.
I spent that night outside the hospital, and as the sun started to rise on January 1st, 2017, I began to walk.
I walked about 30km (over 18 miles) and checked into a rehab. I had the clothes on my back and a plastic bottle that I refilled at gas station restrooms along the way.
At rehab, I went through withdrawals - an experience that I would honestly not wish on my very worst enemy. I fought with everything that I had. I cried, I screamed, I threw up; I was in so much pain that I would hit my harms against the walls to try and make the pain in my bones go away. Anyone that has experienced opioid withdrawal will know what I’m talking about.
After about a week the withdrawals subsided and my body began to detox. The biggest challenge for me during the detox phase was the emotional rollercoaster that my brain went on. Experts say that it takes about 28 days for the dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain to return to normal. I was an emotional wreck!
After rehab, I was still homeless. I roamed the streets for a while. It was in that time that I knew, never again would a drug enter my body. If I could be on the street, feeling as hopeless and cold and beaten up as I did, without wanting to numb those feelings with drugs, I was going to be okay.
My wife and my family invited me home - something that could only have been orchestrated by God.
I say this because despite all the pain that I had caused, they welcomed me with love.
I did not walk into a million questions or any kind of hostility. I walked into a home full of unconditional love, and this has made the greatest impact on my recovery.
However, addicts often forget that it is not just them that need healing – our loved ones have been hurt over and over again. When an addict faces consequences, we at least generally acknowledge that those consequences are a result of our own actions. Our families and loved ones have to deal with consequences that they did not create.
My faith, my family and my incredible wife have got me to this point. Yes, the fight in me has kept drugs out of my system, but without God, my wife and family, that fight would have lost its endurance long ago.
Being two years clean doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. Far from it.
Financially, things are tough. I still deal with the consequences of my actions. In fact, as I write this, exactly a year ago today, when I had been clean for almost a year already, a police tracing unit arrived and arrested me. What I can tell you is this: dealing with these consequences would definitely not have been easier with drugs in my system. Drugs and alcohol do not make anything better. There is no upside.
It’s amazing how similar most addicts’ stories are. Most of us come from broken/divorced homes. Most of us have abandonment issues. Most of us have suffered some sort of trauma as a child. Most of us have, for a large part of our lives, felt that we are not good enough. Most of us used drugs to numb the pain associated with feeling anything.
My parents got divorced when I was young. I felt abandoned by my father when he left me at boarding school and moved to another city with his new wife. I grew up feeling as though my mother’s endless stream of boyfriends meant that she didn’t love me.
My mother would hit me for no reason.
To this day, I hate eating in silence because my mother once broke a thick wooden spoon on my jaw because she could hear me chewing.
I was also molested by my half-sister for a number of years. For a long time, I felt unworthy of love and as though I had nothing to offer. I hated feeling any kind of emotion.
These are not excuses for my actions, but they are a part of my story.
When I got clean, these feelings did not just go away. In fact, they very often became more intense. I had felt these things for so long that they had become all that I knew. They became my truth.
The process of healing is not a quick one. It is important to understand that while it may be a slow process, once we get clean, it is a process that simply cannot happen when drugs or alcohol are still a part of our lives.
I’m healing. I’m trying. I mess up.
I still revert to old ways of thinking or responding sometimes. I don’t have life or recovery all figured out. Anybody that tells you that they do is lying. Nobody is perfect, and nobody has all the answers. Personally, I am learning to look to God for answers. As a Christian, I believe that only God can fully restore me and completely heal the parts of me that still hurt.
I am learning that I have to do what is good and healthy and positive for me. When I am healthy - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually - I can be healthy for those I love. I cannot be good for other people until I am good for me.
A big mistake that many of us make is to set out to heal for other people. While other people can be a driving force, we have to heal and change and recover for ourselves first. This revelation only occurred to me in the last few weeks - until I am good for me, I cannot be a good husband, a good son, a good brother, a good friend, a good employee, a good member of society.
I have to be able to look in the mirror and say, “I like who I am.” So many addicts struggle with self-loathing, and until we address that, we will continue to make decisions that hurt ourselves and those we love.
As I get closer to entering my third year of sobriety, I can say that for the first time in a while, I am seeing the good parts of me more and more. I still have a lot to work on and there is still a lot of healing that has to happen, but I am learning that I’m not perfect, and that’s okay. There will be good days and bad days, but that is something that is common to every human being on the planet.
Recovery is not easy, but boy is it worth it!
Yes, I have stuff to deal with. But that makes me human. What really matters is that I have not had a single drug in my body for almost two years, when at one stage I could not go more than about 6 hours without using. I am surrounded by my wife, who has been a pillar of strength and encouragement, and by my family who has shown the most unbelievable, unconditional love and support, despite my past. I am trying to heal, to continue to grow and to become good - for me, for my wife, for my family. I’m not there yet, but I’m certainly a lot closer than I was two years ago.
As long as there is breath in our lungs, we are still in the fight. There is hope. I have been so deep in that dark hole of despair that the thought of ever seeing the light again seemed impossible. I was there a little over 730 days ago. But here I am today, sharing my story, surrounded by the people I love more than anything on earth.
I’m going to say something that used to annoy me: If I can do it, so can you. If it can happen for me, it can happen for you. I only say that now because I know it to be true.
There is hope. It is a battle for sure, but it is a battle that can be won. No matter how far gone you think you are, your life can turn around. It won’t be perfect, but it will be incredible.
Remember that no human being is perfect, no life is perfect. That’s okay. It’s what makes our stories so powerful.
You’ll notice that I started this article by saying that my name is Brad and I WAS an addict.
I want to clarify why I say that. I was once addicted to drugs. I am not anymore. I made the decision to no longer refer to myself as an addict. I freely refer to myself as a “former addict,” but it does not define who I am.
It is a personal preference rooted in my faith as a Christian. I believe the Bible verse that says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” I know that my beliefs may not be your beliefs. I’m not here to Bible-bash anyone or pass judgement. Trust me; I’m the last person worthy of passing judgement on anyone.
I completely understand why most NA and AA groups say it is necessary to refer to oneself as an addict – it is important to 1) verbalize the fact that we acknowledge that we have a problem, and 2) acknowledge the fact that addiction can rear its head at any time, regardless of how long one has been clean.
I will never hide the fact that I was once an addict – it is a part of my story. I share openly that I spent many, many years in active addiction, but I feel that it is important, for me, not to remain bound to my former self. As I say, it is a personal preference, and something that works for me.
I have found that recovery does not have a “one size fits all” solution. Instead, recovery, to me, has been about coming to the realization that we are all imperfect people, who struggle with various things, to varying degrees. I still have issues and brokenness, but that doesn’t make me an addict. It makes me a human being.
If you need help, reach out to someone. It is the first step. You will be surprised how much freedom you will experience just by saying the words, “I’m in trouble and I need help.”
You are valuable. You are full of worth. You are loved. You may not feel that way right now, but it makes it no less true.