September is Recovery Month. For me, it is a time of reflection, because without recovery, I would not be writing this. I am amazed by the changes that have taken place within me and in my life as a result of staying clean and working a program of recovery to the best of my ability, one day at a time, for over 28 years now.
I was a very anxious, self-conscious kid, who for some reason believed I had to be good…or else. I had severe separation anxiety and was afraid of everything. I had no self-esteem. Then in middle school, I discovered “gateway drugs,” and realized that getting stoned took away that anxiety and self-consciousness. I clearly remember the moment in time when I “found the answer” to my shyness. Fast forward ten years, and I can also remember the moment in time when I realized that I was an addict.
I had been going to a 12 step program for about a year before the first step — admitting that I was an addict — worked me. I didn’t go to meetings because I thought I had a problem. On the contrary, I thought I was “fine” because I went to work every day, paid my bills, took care of my daughter, and was, you know, “functional.” Truth be told, I went to meetings because my friend was on the “pink cloud” of happiness that many experience in early recovery, and I wanted to see what all the excitement was about.
I didn’t think I had a problem, but I listened. I was moved by the level of honesty with which people shared their life histories out loud and in public. I related to the feelings that drove people to use or keep using, and eventually came to accept what I did not want to be true–that I was an addict. I have been clean ever since.
I struggled with the realization that I was an addict. I was ashamed and horrified, because at that time, I believed in the negative stigma that surrounds addiction. But today, I am proud to be a recovering addict. In fact, I am grateful for my addiction because without it, I would not have found 12-step recovery. Recovery has given me a life that I could never have imagined for myself and has afforded me the opportunity to help others who struggle with addiction. I am passionate when it comes to my recovery, helping people who suffer with addiction to find their recovery, and reducing the stigma that still surrounds addiction.
I find it difficult to describe my passion for recovery in a single paragraph, as the changes in my life have been monumental. As a result of working the steps and practicing them to the best of my ability, I have become authentically ME. I no longer feel like a “fake” waiting for the proverbial “they” to figure me out. I am comfortable in my own skin. I am able to tolerate painful feelings, even unbearable grief. I am able to walk through fearful situations and know that I will be okay. I am able to trust and am trustworthy. And, most importantly, I am able to have meaningful, healthy relationships where honest and open communication is the norm.
September may be Recovery Month, but recovery takes more than a month; it is an everyday, on-going process. It is more than remaining abstinent and going to meetings. Twelve step recovery programs are just that – 12 step programs. The steps may be intimidating or off-putting at first, but given the chance, they provide a conduit for self-exploration and meaningful change.
There’s more to the steps than meets the eye. Don’t let the fear of opening up about your past, or skepticism about a new belief system keep you from exploring an opportunity that just might save your life. What have you got to lose?
Denise Connelly is a licensed clinical social worker and certified addictions counselor at The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Maryland.