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How do I begin my recovery from substance abuse?



My psychiatrist told me that I had used up a lifetime supply of drugs and alcohol and the cupboard was bare.


I was sitting in Cameron’s group for newcomers. More than anything, I was glad to be out of the chaotic hateful world that had been my life. No one was supposed to know where I was, and the center was not allowed to acknowledge that I was here. If I was isolated from the world of my old life, at least I wasn’t in the middle of it anymore. I had no idea what to expect but I did my best to pay attention.

“Setting out on a long journey can take a lot of preparation,” said Cameron. “I may need to find a house sitter, stop the newspaper, put the cat in a kennel, order tickets, make reservations, and so on. The spiritual trip you’re beginning will occupy the rest of your life, so a lot of getting ready will be necessary. For some of you, the difficulties involved will cause you to quit. That’s cool. You can always come back later if you want to. But for those of you who succeed, the difficulties of the path must be balanced by the depth of the commitment you make at the start.”

“I want to read you something,” she said, opening a book. “When the world has beaten you over the head for so long that your eyes are filled with blood, when your chest is so heavy you can’t breathe and when your children won’t return your phone calls, it’s hard to believe that human beings are essentially good. When your best drinking buddy steals your wallet, your girl, and your stash, forgiveness won’t be your first thought. When the IRS is knocking on your door, the power company has cut off your lights, and the checks you bounced have come home to roost, it’s hard to find joy in the morning. And when all the lies, deceit, and pain you have caused others becomes a burden you can no longer carry, it’s time for a change.” She paused and looked up. I, of course, was sure she was talking to me.


She continued, “The image of essential goodness, based on that tiniest piece of divinity burning inside each of us, is a powerful idea. To move from hopeless to hope, I had to grasp the idea that I was a good person. That I was basically honest, no matter how many lies I had told. That I was kind, no matter how many people I had hurt. That I was capable of change, no matter how many times I had failed. Finding hope in the midst of my ruined, burned out world was absolutely essential. I had to learn that I was worthy of love.”

“Hearing the stories of other alcoholics gave me reason to trust. When I heard my story come from their lips, I knew I wasn’t alone. We had shared the same experiences. They understood. Our position in society, the size of our fathers’ checkbooks, or the cars we drive are insignificant compared with our common dilemma.” “Somehow tied up in all this was the idea that we are all children of God. I took hold of this notion without much understanding of what it meant, for it filled some hole in my heart that needed filling. If we were all children of God, then we all had value, even the worst drunks and junkies of the world. If I was a child of God, my nature was good and only my behavior was bad. If I were a bad person, there would be no help for me, but if I were a good person with bad behavior then my behavior could be changed.” She put the book down.

“One of our former clients wrote that.”

After the session, my roommate Larry told me this, “I couldn’t conceive of never drinking for the rest of my life. That just wasn’t possible. But maybe I could do it for just one day—today—then come back tomorrow. That was all they asked. Just one day.”

I nodded and he continued.

“My psychiatrist told me that I had used up a lifetime supply of drugs and alcohol. The cupboard was bare, she said. Somehow, that seemed to make a lot of sense.”


(Yeah, that's me, oh so long ago.)

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