Reclaiming the Years Lost to Drug and Alcohol Addiction

by Ryan R.

Regret was the heaviest burden on my shoulders in early sobriety.  The weight of all the guilt and shame from the last five years of my life felt like it was crushing my tired spirit.  Plagued with ‘what if’ questions, I felt like I could never move on with my life. What if I had graduated from college?  What if I had kept my dream job, or the woman I loved?

Reflecting on the ‘What If’s” of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

What if I had never picked up a drink of alcohol, or touched drugs?  What if, as Nancy Reagan instructed, I could have chosen to “just say no.”  It was the gravity of these questions that tormented me at four months sober.  I can vividly remember tears welling up in my eyes and running down my face on a crowded bus on my way to a drug rehab center in Austin, Texas, as my mind was spinning around my past.

The book of Alcoholics Anonymous instructs its readers not to “drift into morbid reflection,” but that seemed like an impossible task at the time.  My addiction robbed me of vision.  I was unable to see the beauty of where my life was, and incapable of dreaming about a better tomorrow.  The 12 Steps require three basic principles in order to begin a new way of life: honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness.

I was able to be honest about my past and current struggles at this alcohol rehab center. Not at first, as I was too tightly gripped by shame of people potentially seeing me for who I really was, but slowly, as others tore down their walls, I too was able to get vulnerable.  It is an uncomfortable process for a man to admit weakness.  It goes against everything in my DNA.  I have a strong desire to protect my image and project myself in a certain way.  The problem is, that has never worked out for me.  Over time, I inevitably fail to live up to my own standards, and my image collapses.  The only way to truly make progress is to honestly assess my current status and share that with those who care enough to question me.

Retracing My Steps

I was open-minded enough to have a new experience.  I wanted so badly to retrace my steps and put my life back together the way it looked five years ago.  It took some acceptance to realize that the way I attempted to run my life did not work.  As much as I wanted to go back to my old job and live the same life minus drugs and alcohol, I could not. That life failed me. Or, perhaps, I failed it.

I was willing to put in work. Living in a new city, working at a minimum wage job, and riding the bus an hour each way to get there were far from comfortable experiences. Looking back though, all of this was essential to my recovery.

On that hopeless day on the bus when my world felt like it was collapsing, I thought of the guidance from AA: when times get tough, work even harder to be of service. I started going from bus stop to bus stop picking up trash. I didn’t have the job that I wanted, nor did I have a car, girlfriend, or money in my pocket. But in that moment, I was more free than I have ever been. The burden of my past was lifted. I looked at a sunset, admiring the array of colors painted on the clouds. It was like I was looking at the world for the first time, as if I was awakened from a dark sleep.

My time in sobriety has been far from perfect. In fact, I make mistakes quite regularly.  AA teaches that it is impossible to do everything right, thus striving for “progress not perfection.” Falling happens, but victory comes in getting back up.  That doesn’t always look like pulling on my own bootstraps, but sometimes asking for a hand.  Seeking help brings liberation.

Reclaiming Time Lost from Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Every spring we reset our clocks and lose an hour. Last Sunday we regained one. I lost five years’ worth of hours during my addiction, and now I feel like I am gaining them back, one at a time.  The hours are not the same as they were before, but they are better than I could possibly have imagined.