Time to Come Clean
I’ve smoked off and on since I was twelve years old. Okay, so I had my first cigarette at 12 & then only occasionally until I was 17 when I almost convinced Philip Morris that he needed a Marlboro Girl alongside his iconic cowboy. (Actually, I smoked Camels back then, but I don’t know what you call a girl camel… and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want anyone calling me one anyway.) I smoked for 5 years, then quit when my first husband and I first moved in together. I picked up again when I went through my first divorce. (I mean, with all the other crap I started putting in my body then, what was a little nicotine?) Since then, I’ll be quit for a year or two then go back to it for another year or so. I just quit my last year-long smoking stint at the end of my first semester back in school, so I suppose that means I’ve been quit for about a month now. Cool. Whatever. Totally not the point.
Smokers get a lot of grief from the rest of the world – a lot of pressure to quit. And, yeah, we know we need to, but… dude, lay off, already! So, whenever I thought I was ready to quit, I would tell everybody and they would all be giddy. Sure enough, my abstinence would last for about a day or two before I was back at the gas station shelling out my hard earned dough for a little dose of lung cancer. The next day, my relapse would be met with complete disappointment from my fellows and I would feel like a total looooooooser with a capital L. (Seriously, folks, your nagging totally doesn’t stress me out so much that I want to go chain-smoke this carton I just bought.)
Enough of those letdowns & I learned to stop telling folks when I was planning to do something they thought was going to be good for me. When I finally did quit the first time, I didn’t tell anyone… just in case I didn’t make it. I remember being on the phone with my dad ragging me big time about my smoking when I finally told him, “I’ve been quit for 6 months! Get off my ass!” In the 14 years and 7 lifetimes since then, I’ve tried to find a balance between blurting out all my best intentions and running off into the shadows from where I can burst forth fully transformed. (Yes, I’m a drama queen. If you don’t know that by now, you haven’t been paying attention.)
All of this behavior is totally fear-based, of course. The vast majority of my life has been a series of fear-based reactions. Of course it has been; I’m an alcoholic, for Christ’s sake! That Marlboro Man image is just a facade. In reality, I’m a sniveling little girl… but don’t tell anybody.
In recovery, we try to get past all that fear-based behavior and start living life intentionally. The fear is strong in this one, though, and I often have a hard time giving up old ways of thinking. About 6 months ago, I made a fear-based decision that became intentional action somewhere along the way. When the change happened, I was too afraid to tell anybody. Sometimes I dream way too big and then I feel foolish when I hear the words come out of my mouth. A seed was planted, though, and a dream grew from it. I didn’t even tell my husband at first. He saw it on me, though, and he knew this was a dream I had to pursue. Frankly, I believe he told me he’d kick my ass if I didn’t. Oh yeah, it scared the crap out of him, too, but he has the most amazing sort of quiet faith in me and we quickly realized that we had to get serious about making this thing happen.
When I got sober, it certainly wasn’t the first time I had quit drinking and drugging. Not too long before the week that the whole world fell down, I had actually managed to kick on my own & string together two clean weeks. At the rate I was going at the time, this was HUGE! I had absolutely no support, though, because no one new what was going on except for the one person who needed me to be sick, too, so that he wouldn’t look so bad in comparison. (Narcissism is such a lovely disease, isn’t it?) He came home one day & said just the right thing to get me back off to the races: “I met this guy who’s got some bad ass white.” Oh, that foul demon cocaine! I could never resist her.
Once I had made the decision to throw myself into AA and had a few 24-hours under my belt, I told everyone! This was commitment on a mammoth scale and I needed accountability everywhere. I was like a competitor at the Special Olympics – completely surrounded by positive people cheering me on. This was one of the big differences from when I had tried before and failed. I couldn’t hide what I was doing anymore. I had to be open and honest from the beginning. If I faltered or failed, I had to do so publicly so that others could help keep me from going back to the depths of hell.
All that was to save me from going backwards, though. Now, I am going forward into uncharted territory for me. And it’s scary as hell. I have failed at a hell of a lot in my life and it’s hard to keep putting myself out there. I’ve never known what I wanted to do with my life, though… until now.
Just over 6 months ago, I was working at a place where I did very, very, very little work and got paid a buttload to do it. I mean, literally, I spent most of my days simply watching Netflix. I felt guilty, like I was stealing, but there honestly wasn’t anything for me to do. The organization came under new management and I feared that soon they would realize they didn’t need me anymore. I didn’t want to go back into medical billing, where I was before, but I wasn’t really qualified for anything else. I started panicking a bit and finally decided I just needed to go back to school so that I could actually learn something useful.
Around that same time, Philip Seymour Hoffman died and the interwebs blew up with armchair psychiatrists delving into the psyche of the addict. I read all manner of idiocy. The absolute worst, though, came from this “expert” on addiction. I don’t know what made this guy an expert aside from the fact that he had read a lot of books and had some fancy letters after his name. He essentially said that AA killed PSH. (Like, literally, he may have actually said those exact words.) In this man’s expert opinion, the only thing an addict needed to do to get and stay sober is to think about all the good things in his life – his job, his family, his money, etc. He spewed so many lies and misconceptions about 12-step programs that I honestly could not believe this man knew anything at all about addiction or recovery. I refuse to link to this man’s article on PSH or give his name because I don’t want to give him any more traffic. (Plus, at this point, I have gratefully forgotten what his name was so I can’t stalk him and send him threatening letters… not that I would, but I have been known to hold some serious grudges… alcoholic, remember?)
Yeah, I held a resentment toward that “expert” for a while before I figured out what to do with it. Before I actually started school, but long after I had made the decision to do so, I finally put two and two together. After securing my husband’s support, I secured the support of my first professor who is also the department head for my chosen field of study. Slowly, I have opened up to a few family members & friends and have received mixed feedback. Tomorrow (today), I will finish my second semester back in school having earned my Associate’s degree and 15 hours of 4.0 GPA. And everything just feels right. It’s not like before when I just ended up somewhere (I mean, someone with crappy customer service skills in San Antonio is just going to wind up in medical billing, that’s all there is to it) or said, “Eh, I like doing this, so I guess I’ll do this and see how it works out” (English, math, physical therapy… hell, I’ve had about every major imaginable). I actually love what I’m studying now and have an idea for how I want to use it! I always envied those folks who were born knowing what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was nearly 36 years old before I figured it out for myself.
So, yeah, what separated me, who had actual experience in addiction from this addiction “expert” who had absolutely no clue what addiction was? He went to school, read a lot of books, did some studies (at least I hope he did) and wrote a book. I can do that shit. And when I’m done, I won’t sound like a complete jackass. Or at least that’s how the initial thought came to me. Once it all got fleshed out it was more along the lines of, “Seriously, why are there no good statistics on recovery methods? Could someone who has actual experience in this become someone respected in the academic community and finally help to change the narrative? Can I bring a different perspective to the research on addiction?” And ultimately, “I honestly don’t care what I find out, I just want to study addicts because I am fascinated by these tortured and miraculous souls.”
They say if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. I don’t have long term plans. I have a short term goal to finish my Bachelor’s hopefully by December 2015 and to apply to a few graduate schools. I also have a little dream seed that I’m watering every day. If it matures, I’ll end up with my name on some pertinent studies and maybe a funny hat and a couple of extra letters to carry around with me. Suffice to say, the next couple of years are going to be interesting. One day at a time.