“I have a feeling disease,” said Phillip.

“I will do anything to change the way I feel.”

I was uncomfortable in my own skin. Irritability was like sand in the bottom of my shoe. The edges of my nerves quivered all over. I could feel my unhappiness in the roots of my hair. I wanted to scream, but it just came out as a whine.

A joint, first thing in the morning, would take away my jangles. Four o’clock cried out for a strong cup of espresso and a glass of rich red wine. But by dinner time, it was time for the heavy artillery.

My white coat irritated the back of my neck. The lack of exercise and the extra weight I was carrying left me with only a wispy sort of energy. My end-of-the-day headache arrived right on schedule. Not to worry, though, another joint or four, a full bottle of wine, and several large syringes of cocaine would make everything alright.

I would do anything to change the way I felt. If I couldn’t stand living in my own skin before, now I couldn’t stand living at all. About this time, they sent me to rehab. Fortunately.

In rehab, every Wednesday morning we would travel to the County Detox in downtown Atlanta to share an AA meeting with the clients there. But mostly we went to observe our own behavior reflected in them, a process known as mirror imaging.

One morning we met Phillip, a young black man, who taught me a lesson about the disease we shared.

It was a nasty moonless night, shaken by a hellish Georgia thunderstorm, when the police delivered Phillip to detox, half-naked, barefoot, and in handcuffs, out of his mind. Phillip was a young, well-muscled black man, tall and angry, very angry. He had gone soldiering in the Middle East for his country and returned with a purple heart and a monkey on his back. He lived on the street and shot heroin.

On his first day in detox, Phillip covered his head with a blanket and refused to speak. He was so angry no one dared speak to him. The second day, he pulled the blanket over his shoulders like an Indian brave and glared at everyone in the room. Still, no one had to courage to approach Phillip. On the third day, he raised his hand (his medicines were beginning to kick in) and gave the best definition for addiction I’ve ever heard.

“My name is Phillip,” he said gently, “and I have a feeling disease. I will do anything I can to change the way I feel.”

As addicts, we tried to fill the hole we felt inside our chest, that terrible longing, with drugs and alcohol, with sex, or with the pursuit of material goods. But none worked very well or very long. Without them, we were terribly uncomfortable in our own skin.

My friend Robert said, “If I can do something that changes the way I feel, and I can do it twice, I can become addicted to it.” Today, I know that to be true.

For me, true happiness could not be found in any pleasure or entertainment outside myself. It was recovery that helped me discover the peace and joy that had always been inside me. Happy, joyous, and free from fear has replaced restless, irritable, and discontent. I like the way I feel today. There is no going back.

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