A former resident shares the story of his recovery. He came from New York in search of a solution and found Stepping Stone. His willingness and the help of our program led to an incredible transformation.
Here is his story:
I was in my early fifties, semi-retired and living in New York. I had recently sold the business that I had successfully run for 25 years and was considering what to do next. However, I had been using multiple substances for many years and drug use was woven into my life. I had pills to get up, pills to sleep, and pills to get through my day. Pills and alcohol managed my obsessive worry about the future, my depressive rumination about the past, my anger, loneliness and fear. I used crystal methamphetamine when I was bored and also to celebrate. I had discovered at an early age that drugs and alcohol allowed me to numb any negative feelings, and I could forget my worries and be happy, at least for a while. Drugs and alcohol were how I lived, how I coped and managed: they brought me comfort, were reliable, readily available and had worked for me since I was fourteen.
To me an addict was typically destitute, homeless and unemployable and I was none of those things. I had functioned for years and that coupled with my habit of alternating between different substances fueled my denial. In my early twenties, living in New York City, I had graduated from alcohol to opiates, benzos, coke and ecstasy. I tried crystal methamphetamine and intuitively understood the addictive power of meth so I was careful to use it only sporadically, binge using every now and again. I alternated between substances and convinced myself that I was not addicted to any one substance. I argued I was not an alcoholic because there were nights when I could have a couple of drinks and stop. However, there were nights when a couple of drinks turned into a trip to the meth dealer and I could never predict with certainty which nights would turn into a meth binge.
For many years I was tired of using but didn’t know how to live any other way. There were numerous occasions when I weaned myself off all substances for a short while but the withdrawal was so painful physically and mentally, I would eventually go back to using. I lived this way for years, heavily addicted to opiates and benzos and using crystal meth sporadically.
That was my life, chronically addicted, isolated, reclusive, disconnected, and constantly rounding off the rough edges. I medicated any discomfort and avoided any situation or circumstance that might be uncomfortable or unpredictable. I sought certainty and predictability above all else; I had lost my curiosity about the world and I engineered my life to limit my interaction with a world I perceived as threatening and dangerous. I woke up in fear most days wondering what calamity or disaster might befall me. Even though I had become HIV positive as a result of my meth use I minimized the consequences of my using and convinced myself that becoming HIV positive was a consequence of being sexually active. And the drugs had stopped working. I was taking huge amounts of pills just to function and my day was taken up figuring out how I could get the next prescription and computing how long it would last.
When I sold the business, I had owned for twenty-five years I found myself with time on my hands and little or no accountability. I had intended to go back to school but when I started using meth more frequently, those plans were shelved. Occasionally developed into every few weeks, and every few weeks became each weekend: soon it was daily. I tried to convince myself that I was still in control, even though my using resulted in dangerous situations, isolation, weight loss, psychosis, lethargy, profound depression and anxiety. I was now taking a combination of Oxycodone, Xanax, Meth and GHB and my physical condition had deteriorated to such a degree I realized that continued use would end up in death or incarceration.
But even with that realization I really didn’t want to change, I just didn’t want to die or be jailed. I considered myself an educated, intelligent person who had been successful in New York and could think my way out of most situations but this was one situation I could not figure out alone. I had gone to some Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings but meetings alone were not enough for me to get clean and stay clean.
As a child, I had decided that adults had failed me and better not to trust or rely on anyone because ultimately that would lead to disappointment. I felt in my heart that people were not capable of helping me because I was somehow unique and beyond help. I believed that asking for help was a sign of weakness and besides there were always strings attached. In fact at the time, I considered going to treatment a huge humiliation, a sign of defeat and failure. But the drugs had truly stopped working and even in the fog of my addiction I could see the havoc that resulted from my use. I understood in my heart that my life depended on doing something different and just couldn’t figure out what that was or how to get there.
A friend had suggested spending some time away from New York and travelling to San Diego where I could stay with him and perhaps think about rehab. Though reluctant to even consider rehab at the time I got on a plane and travelled to San Diego with enough methadone for a couple of months, so I wouldn’t go into withdrawal. I started making meetings at the Alano Club and it was there that I heard about Stepping Stone.
I attended “First Things First”, the orientation session held each Tuesday at Stepping Stone, more to be able to say that I looked into it and found it deficient in some way, rather than seriously considering it. However, I was immediately impressed by the patience and compassion shown by the staff and I heard the message of recovery with a clarity as never before. I was both surprised and intrigued by what I had stumbled upon; even in the fog of my addiction it was clear that here was an organization with a mission of service and compassion. Though the idea of rehab had crossed my mind, I never really seriously considered it and it was a shock when I discovered that the program at Stepping Stone was six months. I had isolated for so long I didn’t think I could live with thirty other people or last six months in a structured environment. However, I continued to attend “First Things First” for many weeks, full of hesitation, denial and ambivalence. Each time I came to Stepping Stone I was welcomed, I never felt judged and I felt accepted and at home. After about six weeks of vacillating back and forth, I had a moment of clarity, I realized that I needed help and that Stepping Stone was the best fit for me. So, I set aside my pride and my fear, summoned up the courage and took a leap of faith: I entered the program in April of 2016.
The idea of treatment was a huge blow to my ego, but crestfallen as I was, I was pragmatic about my situation; I understood my desperation and that I was out of options, so I got humble and decided to embrace the program. I felt that I had nothing to lose and though I didn’t believe that Stepping Stone could teach me anything substantial, I hoped that they might. And it wasn’t easy; I had gone cold turkey from methadone and benzos and was sick, sleepless, nervous and irritable for the first few months. As I got clean, I felt as if I had parted company with a lover; meth, pills and alcohol had always been there for me and now they were gone. Stripped of my drug use I felt lost and exposed; I had to find a new way of living and that is ultimately what Stepping Stone gave me.
It was a long challenging process, but I just stuck with it. I participated in group, opened up to counselors and therapists, followed the rules and guidelines and I started putting together time. Day after day, group after group I started to learn healthy tools to deal with triggers, cravings, anger, negative emotions and stress. I learned about self-care, healthy communication, conflict resolution, assertiveness, cognitive behavioral therapy, refusal skills and relapse prevention. I learned healthy sexuality, how to negotiate safe, drug free sex and how to protect myself and my partners. I started working the steps; I attended meetings, got a sponsor, reached out, created a sober support network and was willing to be of service.
For the first time in my life I had the time and space to reflect and work on myself. I had carried so much anger with me because of HIV/AIDS and I directed that anger at others, the world and myself. I started to talk about my sexuality, HIV status, and my partner Greg who had died of AIDS in the 1980’s. In grief group, I grieved his loss, and the loss of many friends lost to HIV/AIDS. As I did, I started to slowly discharge the sadness and anger I had kept buried inside for so many years.
I realized that I had become this sad, angry and shame bound person, at war with himself. I discovered that though openly gay I had internalized a lot of shame around my sexuality. I had internalized the language of the church I had grown up in and my inner dialogue was framed in right or wrong, good or evil, judgement, penance and retribution. Consequently, my own inner dialog and thinking was extremely black or white. I had developed a binary thought process that labeled events and people good or bad. There was no gray area in my thinking; it was all or nothing and I defined myself this way and held myself to impossible standards that robbed me of the freedom to make mistakes and the ability to be human. I expected myself to be perfect or superhuman in all my endeavors and whenever I encountered setbacks or failure, I believed that I was a failure. As a person I felt flawed and beyond help of any kind. My thought process further compounded my low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness fueled my drug use. I was afraid to look at myself for fear of what I might find.
Ultimately, group therapy and in particular a group called “New Choices” which I attended every Monday while at Stepping Stone, was the venue where I found healing. As a new group member, I watched others talk about shameful, traumatic experiences and was able to look at their experiences objectively and understand and identify. Once I felt safe and watched the catharsis and healing that other group members experienced, I started to share my own experience. I risked exposure and the results were healing. By exposing my shame bound hidden self, I externalized the shame I had kept hidden within and received feedback and perspective. I was no longer alone. Others can bring understanding and perspective to our secrets that we lacked in addiction. Once we come out of hiding, we start to see ourselves through the mirroring, loving eyes of others and shame is unraveled and becomes unbound.
The more I was willing to talk about the past and bring closure and healing to it the more I arrived at self-acceptance. I was able to see old beliefs and habits as coping mechanisms forged in moments of crisis that helped me make some sense of the world. Beliefs and scripts, I had formulated as a child and lived by for so long were simply that, they were just beliefs or schemas with little or no truth to them. They were stories I had told myself to make sense of the world. I realized I was the author of those scripts, so I could rewrite them however and whenever I chose. Much like the scripts I lived by, the critical language of my inner world had outlived its usefulness. I could learn another language with which I could converse with myself, a gentler language that does not speak in black or white terms and allows for me to make mistakes, to be less than perfect and to be human.
Because of Stepping Stone, I was able to reach deep within and discover the “why” of my addiction. The experience was truly transformative and healing. I reclaimed my life from addiction and learned how to live clean and sober. Because of Stepping Stone, I have been clean and sober since April 18, 2016, one day at a time, and for that I am truly grateful. I am going to school to be an AOD counselor. To be on the other side of a problem that I once considered unsolvable and terminal is a gift I want to share with others. Today I’m lucky that the obsession to use has lifted. I feel a sense of purpose, of belonging and connection. A sense of hope and optimism has taken the place of anger and fear; I feel at peace with myself and the world and I no longer dwell in a state of depressive rumination or compulsive anxiety. I cultivate a spiritual life, a relationship with a higher power and I choose to live in gratitude for the gifts I have been given. The 12 Steps and recovery have organically replaced drugs and alcohol as a way of living and in a surprising twist, the comfort I sought in drugs and alcohol I ultimately found in recovery.