I am ten and a half years sober from a drinking problem and seven and a half years sober from an opioid problem. Since the last time that I placed any mood-altering substances into my body was December 7th of 2010, that is the date that I count myself as first getting clean and sober. It’s the date that I annually celebrate as my “sobriety birthday.” However, whenever the discussion comes up with others about my recovery, I usually lead with the fact that I am a recovered alcoholic. I never provide an initial opening about my history with drug use until I am either comfortable, or the situation deems it necessary. Sometimes I never do, if I am just going to be honest.
I never really thought about this until recently when I began tossing the idea around about writing a memoir. Many have pushed me to do it, but I have remained hesitant. I had a pretty decent track record with my alcoholism. There are many parts of that story that are not pretty, but it was really the opioids that finally brought me to my knees in 2010. I had first attempted to get sober in 2008 and became convinced that I was an alcoholic by the way I drank. As long as I was drinking, I wasn’t functioning. I could never meet deadlines, never follow through with obligations and constantly made poor decisions while being intoxicated and in or out of a blackout. By the first time I realized that I might have a substance abuse problem, I began to easily see how I needed to quit drinking. Nothing good ever came from it, and there had never been one time in my entire life where I had drank and not gotten drunk. Not even once.
But the prescription painkillers were a whole other story. A prescription from a doctor was an easy way for me to validate taking them. And at first, it didn’t make my life unmanageable. In fact, when I would take some hydrocodone, Oxycontin or whatever I had at the time, it gave me energy. In the beginning, there was no nodding off, slurring of the words, or taking desperate actions to get my pills. Instead, the medication, which was initially prescribed for chronic back pain, quieted all the sounds in my very noisy head. This was the reason that I drank alcohol for so long, except I couldn’t get anything productive done while I was drinking. With the opioids, I worked harder and no longer had my crippling effects of social anxiety. It worked for me for a good while – until it didn’t.
I won’t go into the dirty details about everything that happened towards the end, but if you have ever suffered from opioid addiction, you can probably take some pretty good guesses. Similar to the way that alcohol began to affect me, my soul began to die during my opioid addiction. By the end, I was basically a shell of a person and did things that I NEVER would have done if I had been sober.
The point of my recovery, no matter what substances that I was using, should be that I got sober. I surrendered, had had enough, and had to make a decision as to whether I wanted to die or live.
When it comes down to it, while they all produce different effects on the mind and body, I believe that addiction is addiction. However, it seems like we have separated alcoholism from the other substances when we are talking about it. Why am I so comfortable telling someone I am a recovered alcoholic, but hesitant to tell people that I am a recovered drug addict? I can understand why certain 12 step programs do it (AA, NA, etc.) It helps with what they call the singleness of purpose and is really meant to protect the groups, its members, and the cause. But what about outside those rooms? What about just general conversation?
For one, our culture has socially accepted the use of alcohol to the point where it is now in your face everywhere you go. In this respect, it was harder for me to quit drinking than the other things. Whether you’re at a restaurant, the grocery store, or even a sporting event, there it is. It’s not like I go to all those places and have to go through aisles of Vicodin or pass a vendor booth that’s selling Percocet.
For two, when it comes to drug use, it tends to push people to crime more than alcohol use. Well, let me clarify – crime that usually involves theft. Why this is, I’m not sure. Maybe because it’s easier to get alcohol? But the bottom line is that people have different visions when they see an alcoholic versus a drug addict. Nevermind that alcoholism causes a long list of actions that are crimes (violence, DUIs, etc.)
Is it all in my head, or am I on point here? I can’t say that I am totally sure yet, but I do know that I want to start being more open about opioid use. It’s a HUGE problem in this country and is commonly associated with one specific type of person, which is far from accurate. I have seen people from all walks of life suffer from addiction. It does not discriminate against anyone regardless of sex, race, or social status. I just wish more people would wake up and realize that. I think at least we are making progress in that area.