30 Years of Recovery From Addiction: Ya Gotta Wanna!
On July 18, 2017, I officially celebrated 30 years clean and sober. That’s something I never expected to happen when I began my recovery from addiction in 1987. At that time, I had no idea I was addicted, even though I was receiving as much valium, codeine and oxy as I wanted from the doctors who were doing their best to treat my Crohn’s Disease. In their defense, at that time, people weren’t talking about addiction the way they do today – so I’m sure they had no idea of the potential danger they were unleashing upon me with all of those many years of prescriptions. Unfortunately, there are still physicians who prescribe in that way, even knowing what we know now about addiction. But 30 years ago, this was not the case.
All I knew was that, as the years went on and as I continued to put those drugs into my body, life looked more and more bleak as I grew more and more depressed. I was also smoking pot daily by the end of my addiction – and I simply didn’t know that all of those substances (including alcohol occasionally) were acting as depressants in my system. By the time I experienced my breakdown in June of ‘87, I was so depressed that I seriously considered taking my own life. I certainly had enough pills to do it. And I was thinking about it – a lot.
Today, all these years later, I can’t even put into words how happy and grateful I am to have received so much compassionate help when I so badly needed it. I am so very glad that I made a different decision and chose to stay alive. There is so much I would have missed out on had I not taken the fork in the road that put me on the path to recovery. Yes, it’s true that I would have missed the difficult times – those moments (that sometimes actually lasted for weeks and months) when it still felt easier to give up and just stop trying to live life without my addictions. But what I’ve learned is that, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel our very real pain, we also block out the joy that we have inside. And I would have missed all of that too.
What It Was Like…
When I realized that I was indeed feeling suicidal, I allowed myself to totally wallow in it for a short time. I knew I could kill myself – I had a plan and I had plenty of opportunity to carry that plan out.
, even while feeling absolutely miserable, I made the decision to reach out for help without even knowing if any help would be there. It’s almost as if a larger part of me went on autopilot – some kind of faith kicked in and some amazing assistance appeared.
My first action was to call the Vancouver Crisis Line. Thirty years have passed since I made that call and I don’t remember who I talked to. I don’t know if it was a man or a woman, and today that doesn’t matter to me. What mattered at that time, what I remember from making the call that evening, was that the person who was on the other end of the telephone line cared about me. I could feel it; I knew it to be true. In that moment, somebody on the planet cared whether I lived or died – something I hadn’t been at all sure of before. They talked with me for as long as I wanted and I recall being on that call for quite some time, quietly weeping and angrily wailing and despondently sighing through it all.
It was only when I felt more stable – and when I’d made the commitment to that person to stay alive that night – that we ended the call. And by then, we had worked out a two-part plan for the next day. That person was going to call me back and check in on me, and I was going to get myself to SAFER, a suicide prevention counseling service here in Vancouver.
I honored the decision I’d made to stay alive, at least until the next morning. That amazingly compassionate volunteer did indeed call me at the allotted time, and I did get myself to SAFER. My recovery from addiction had officially begun.
A psychiatrist at SAFER suggested that I voluntarily sign myself into Vancouver General Hospital’s psych ward so I could get the professional help I desperately needed. I really wanted to feel better, so I agreed and stayed there for about a month. While there, I met a couple of other people who were trying to overcome drug addiction – they were attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings daily and suggested I come along.
Gradually, one day at a time, I did what I was told. I ‘kept coming back.’ I got a sponsor. I worked the Steps. I took a year cake, then a 2-year cake, then a 3-year cake…. I made the decision to not relapse, because I knew I’d just have to start at the beginning all over again and I didn’t want to do that. I listened intently when people who had relapsed came back to meetings and shared their experiences. I learned that it wasn’t so great “out there,” which was why they were back at meetings. I made it through the toughest of days – often dealing with the unspeakable physical pain of Crohn’s Disease without medicating myself. I learned about alternative ways to support myself in that kind of discomfort and just did my best, always one day at a time.
As I look back, I know for sure that I needed to get clean in order to understand how sick my body had become. The truth is that I had not treated myself well for many years – physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.-Candace Plattor
When I was nine months clean, I discovered I needed to have major abdominal surgery because a part of my bowel was so diseased that it had to be taken out. As I look back, I know for sure that I needed to get clean in order to understand how sick my body had become. The truth is that I had not treated myself well for many years – physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.
The doctors and nurses simply didn’t understand addiction in 1988, certainly not in the way that they do now – and the proof of this was that, even after telling them I was an addict in recovery and making sure that was in my chart, I woke up from the surgery on a morphine drip. I knew I was in pain, but who cared? I remember thinking, “Just give me more of that stuff and everything will be fine!”
But deep down I knew better. I loved the feeling of the morphine and I knew that, if I stayed on it, I’d have to either withdraw from it at some point or live out the rest of my life as an opioid addict. So I made the determination that two days after the surgery, I would stop taking it. And that’s what I did; I stayed with my plan. I asked the nurses to remove the drip and bring me some ice packs – and to keep them coming. The strongest pain medication I would allow myself to take was extra strength Tylenol.
For several days, I laid in that bed moaning – sometimes screaming – in pain. But because this wasn’t my first surgery, I knew that the incision would gradually heal. Once again, some kind of faith kicked in – even while the nurses grew impatient with me and just wanted to medicate me so I’d shut up, I wouldn’t allow that. My pain did begin to ease and I became better, one pretty excruciating day at a time.
I had definitely earned my nine months of recovery and I wasn’t about to give it up!
And What It’s Like Now…
That experience, as well as many other difficult physical or emotional times that I went through, really prepared me for the life I’d have as an addict in recovery. I knew that because, if I could make it through that one clean and sober, I could hopefully get through anything. I discovered that my recovery was a choice, as my addiction had also been. I still believe that today.
No matter how or why we get started in addiction, we don’t have to stay there. We can make a different decision at any time. It’s never too late as long as we’re alive and can think. No matter what our situation is, we don’t have to stay trapped in addiction if we don’t want to. I remember a Narcotics Anonymous meeting I used to go to in Vancouver – all the meetings had names, and this one was called “Ya Gotta Wanna.”
That’s what recovery from addiction takes – we gotta wanna.
And once we do want recovery more than we want addiction, all we have to do is make that often difficult – but doable – leap of faith, believing that someone will be there to help us and to catch us when we fall.
My experience is that there will be. Someone was there for me – and it didn’t take long before I knew that I wanted to be there for the others who also wanted recovery more than they wanted addiction. I believe, without question, that someone will be there for you, too, as soon as you really want it.
If I can do this, so can you. Please take that leap of faith and reach out. If you’re the loved one of someone struggling with addiction, please know that change is possible – there are hundreds of thousands of recovering addicts just like me all over the world who are living proof of this. Please don’t give up – but do learn how you can best help the addict you love instead of enabling them, as this often makes all the difference.
The years that I have been clean and sober have sometimes gone by slowly, and sometimes they’ve passed very quickly. Some days it’s hard for me to believe I really have 30 years of recovery, but I’m so grateful that I do. My plan now is to rack up even more time in recovery – and I’d love it if you joined me on the path to my next 30!
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