The title pretty much sums up last week.
My dead bird tattoo* makes my arm itch like hell, in part because the tattoo artist insists on shaving my arm (why can’t they tattoo around the hair? for me?) and in part because every time I get ink I scab up like a muthafucka. Luckily, half of the other addictions counselors I met this week were former tattoo artists who gave me helpful advice on taking care of my dead bird. Nevertheless, I peeled off half my scabs and my arm looks like shit. Nervous habit. Back to the shop.
If you ever venture to an addictions counseling convention, you will find that many of your colleagues are also ex-cons and ex-junkies. This provides for lots of entertaining dinner conversation. I met a former shop teacher who was caught with two grams of blow on school grounds (oops) and a guy whose fourteen year old daughter helped detox him as he quit his crank habit (ouch). My main buddy for the week was a notorious drug dealer for roughly fifteen years and finally decided to quit during a ninety day stint in solitary. This is, believe it or not, the norm. My own mentor at the office once lost her car in another state and didn’t remember where she parked it when she woke up the next morning and found herself at home, two hundred miles away from the previous day’s destination. No addict wants to hear how not to do drugs from a squeaky clean clinician who has never taken so much as a recreational valium or forty — your credibility is gained in part from having gone through the recovery process yourself and come out on the other end alive, productive, able and willing to laugh at the insanity, and overall, okay.
I’m supposed to come up with a program out of thin air for drug-addled adolescents in my work community, most of whom are into huffing, the stupidest high I can think of. I myself have been privy to quite a bit of illegal substances, but never huffing. Dumbasses. I never really drank until well after my 21st birthday, at which point I made sure to make up that sober time and then some. But nevertheless, I’m hard-pressed to come up with some exciting and educational stuff for the kids because I really identify with their adolescent angst and boredom and part of me thinks they should get it out of their systems while they have the opportunity to have it wiped off their records on their eighteenth birthdays. I’d like to think that they’ll grow out of it like I did — my own extensive record shows nothing but a couple of traffic tickets at this point — but some aren’t so lucky. I had the privilege of good insurance and, oh, three times locked up in a mental institution because of my insistence on getting high and being a really, really bad liar. And a bevy of therapists because my parents are just that crazy (not I).
The real turning point for me was tricking myself into liking Narcotics Anonymous. During my final (to date) time in a boys’ home, I connived my parents into picking me up and taking me to a local meeting, because that was the only time I could get out of the damned home and chainsmoke. Plus, the old timers had fucked up stories. But soon I found myself among a bunch of like-minded souls and I kind of liked it. And then I worked some steps, and hey, I wasn’t so depressed anymore. And then there was no desire for the drugs because they clearly weren’t working in my favor, and ta-da, you had yourself a sixteen-year-old baby-junkie in recovery for his alarming prescription pill habit.**
I stayed clean for a long while continuing to go to NA and work the steps until I realized it was no longer necessary for me.*** Later on, I filled a once a year pot-smoking quota until I realized that weed is boring and I don’t need help being lazy anyway. And here I am, clean from my DOC for over ten years with only a few transgressions and nevertheless a serious, but healthy, obsession with fine wine.
But like my biker buddy once I decided to quit, I quit. No real temptation, no real trouble. The trouble for me, as it is with many addicts, is less of the drug and more of the change in lifestyle. Where do you go on a Saturday night if not the bar? Who do you call if not your old friends? The new playmates, new playgrounds gig is more than difficult, and I found myself pretty much alone and struggling with my recovery for over a year before I was able to make non-using friends and come up with shit to do other than drop acid and drive to an abandoned building in the countryside to watch the sun come up. And despite all the bullshit I had to endure and all the pain I caused friends and family, some of those times are still some of my favorite memories and best stories: Arrested on acid and telling the officer I was pretty sure they couldn’t arrest ovaries, caught stealing a car and refusing to let the officer take the puppy (whose puppy?) I was holding, wholheartedly believing that I could damn well change the world but forgetting the plan once the drugs wore off, and realizing the meaning of life.****
Right. And now I’m the boring old counselor telling kids to just say no and abstain from using drugs despite their small town boredom, their parents’ alcoholism and drug addiction, and their own maniacal depression. I feel for them, I do — but I also know how bad it can get, and thank my higher power I never got there. For that I owe the old timers that told me their stories, and in doing so, gave me a life I would have otherwise passed over in favor of oblivion.
I love a good recovery story. Share yours, among other thoughts, in the comments.
*Still not kidding. At this point you can see a series of faded spots where I dropped ink. Damn.
** My mother’s Xanax, mostly, but any pill would do. Later, lots and lots of acid. Lots.
*** The reliance on god and the group for many was obsessive and bothersome, my higher power being activism and everyone else’s resembling a Judeo-Christian god that I just couldn’t stomach. I find that atheists have a difficult time in step-recovery because of the insistence on relying on higher powers, in addition to many counselors pushing the god bit and refusing to validate a higher power that isn’t an omniscient being, in part because they believe that someone who picks a chair or the recovery group as a higher power just isn’t serious about getting clean. Regardless, clinicians are not supposed to be connected to groups like AA and NA, and an ethical clinician in recovery will find him or herself a home group that isn’t in the community they serve. This isn’t always the case, and sometimes non-addict addiction counselors will find ways to monitor the activities of these anonymous groups by mandating them in punitive Drug Courts and prying during therapeutic sessions. Just so’s you know, your therapist should never ask you anything about your time in AA/NA except whether or not you are attending and whether or not you think it’s working. Anything else is out of bounds because of the tenets of AA/NA, these tenets of emotional safety and anonymity being the reason that people are able to commit to such groups despite social stigma.
**** Brace yourself, this shit is deep: Life is fucked up. But it’s not just fucked up, it’s seriously fucked up.