This has been a crazy summer for me. Not “crazy” in a wild and fun way either (sorry to say) but crazy in an unmanageable “life on life’s terms” way. This is my first summer in New York City without air conditioning and the hottest recorded summer since the 1800s. They decided to re-wire my building (an old brownstone in the Village) and hired one electrician to do all the work. I struggled through one major heatwave after another, sitting inside my apartment feeling like a dog locked inside a car with the windows rolled up. I found myself crying at my desk for no reason. I’ve discovered that severe conditions can bring on feelings of despair and depression – go figure! I had to turn down several clients because I was in no shape to help anyone and writing was impossible. Instead, I went to visit my folks in Canada for a couple weeks and expected to come back to air conditioning. Well –
what do you know – Con Edison went on strike so there is no one to do the inspection. There will be no air conditioning this year. The upside is that I knew enough to leave town to rejuvenate my spirit and have since put myself on graveyard hours so that I can bike in the cooler evening breeze for fresh air, write at night, and see as many matinees as I possible. I’m making my situation as manageable as I can because my mental health matters to me. I am powerless over the circumstances but not powerless over my ability to make choices to improve my situation. I needed topics for this blog to simplify my workload so I asked for help.I got a lot of suggestions. Phil wrote me this, which I felt was appropriate to use first:
Recovering addicts are always asking as to what they can expect to “manage” in the sober future and what they cant. -Phil
When we look back at the unmanageability of our lives during our using days the list goes something like this: jobs lost, apartment evictions, regularly living without a phone or electricity, calls from collection agencies, owing everyone we know money, significant others leaving after many tears, fights and drama. Our health deteriorates and there are trips to hospitals, jails, and psych wards. Paramedics bring us back to life and even this doesn’t strike us unusual. What’s worse than the exterior unmanageability is our inner life – we can’t handle experiencing negatives feelings yet they seem to be the only feelings we have. Our only coping mechanism was to keep using in the hope of finding some inner peace.
Clean and sober, unmanageability in our lives can look like this: jobs lost, apartment evictions, regularly living without a phone or electricity, calls from collection agencies, owing everyone we know money, significant others leaving after many tears, fights, and drama. From neglecting our health there can be trips to hospitals. If we don’t change our behaviors we can end up in jail and there could even be times we end up in psych wards.
In recovery, even when our external life can remain manageable, our inner life can be filled with anxiety, self-loathing, pain and torment. “Why is this happening to me?” we cry as our thoughts return to the old solution – getting high.
Recovery is the process of changing our behaviors and our response to situations so that we don’t back ourselves into an emotional corner where getting high seems to be the only way out. If any addict stays in pain long enough, s/he will use.
It’s our responsibility to manage every area of our life in a way to keep chaos and drama at a minimal, We learn to start paying bills on time, communicating honestly, become willing to renegotiate or compromise in relationships, We address health and mental health issues, earn money the old fashioned way of working for a living. The hilarious thing writing this is that I know everyone reading it is thinking “Of course we have to do this. Tell me something I don’t know.” It sounds easy to live an upright, ethical, honest life clean – but is it? I mean – really?
This is what I have seen over the years: some addicts gets clean and lives a very rigid life – so rigid and fearful of making errors that the first chance they get to let their hair down, they get loaded. Then there’s the addict who continues acting out deviously in some areas all the while spewing wisdom of recovery louder than anyone else. I call this the “Spiritual giant who goes home and beats his wife and kicks the dog”-syndrome” (not gender-specific) who, without change, will also eventually gets loaded. And then there’s the middle ground – the category that most of us fall into – we hold onto old behaviors as long as they work for us before we become willing to change. And we only are motivated to change by pain.
I didn’t learn how to pay parking tickets until my car was towed, pay my phone bill on time until I got sick of losing money to reconnection fees. It’s true – there are a lot of people in the world who don’t go to the dentist until they are in excruciating pain but for addicts being in pain brings a cry for drugs. Non-addicts experience unmanageability the same as we do. The difference is that they will not respond to it by self-destructing.
It’s important to understand how the disease of addiction gains ground. It LOVES when we are angry with ourselves. No one can ever treat us as badly as we treat ourselves inside the privacy of our own mind. This is why we need the love and support of other recovering addicts. They remind us to give ourselves a break, teach us how to find working solutions to the problems of daily life, let us know that our fantastic idea on how to beat the system is insane, talk us out of that one last heist, help us recognize when the criteria for a boyfriend is different from the criteria for a sugar daddy. Recovery teaches us how to live without being motivated by the fear that if we let go of our old hustles and irresponsible behaviors, our need to get over on the system, that we won’t make it.
It’s unrealistic to expect to come into recovery and immediately live a life 100% according to new recovery principles. We do our best. We grow in leaps and bounds in some areas and stay sick and stuck in others. The pain from unmanageability in the form of drama, chaos, and from the consequences of our actions is what teaches us who we really are –in our hearts not in our minds. We discover that don’t want to keep hurting ourselves by living this way and this gives us the strength and courage to change. This is a good thing. Because we don’t want to suffer, we learn how to do things differently.
In recovery we can be free. Not just free from the enslavement of addiction but free from senseless self-made suffering. The calm and inner peace we feel by living a life of less drama and unmanageability will eventually guide us in all our affairs. Nonetheless, shit does happen – economies crash, people die, lovers leave, personalities clash. Sometimes we may have a long string of bad luck and feel like life is not fair. We cry, “Why me?” and an old voice will whisper back, “Fuck this shit. You didn’t feel this bad when you were using. Fuck this recovery bullshit.” Yep – the disease never gives up, always waiting for a moment of weakness, always quick to point out the hopelessness of it all. During these times lean into recovering friends for support, love and guidance. When times get dark hang on because this too shall pass. It will and it does.
Recovery is harm reduction for day to day living.