(This post is part four in a series on addiction written by my courageous friend Celia O’Keefe. You can find the other posts in this series here, here, and here. I am very honored and grateful that Celia chose to share her experience and wisdom with me.)
Not all addicts are in active addiction.
This post is meant to illustrate what living with the disease is like when you’re not in active addiction– when you’re in a sort of “remission,” if you will.
I’m sure many were expecting a hard resolution or happy ending to this story and if you’re one of those people, I have bad news for you- there is no resolution. There is no “cure.” As much as people will speak of Narcan, rehab and “free cures for addicts while ‘normal people’ suffer trying to afford regulatory medications like albuterol or insulin:” sobriety isn’t some final state of purity you’ll never fall out of, and Narcan isn’t a cure. (I might add, if I may, that the ambulance ride and hospital stay aren’t free, either.) If you’ve been reading and come to respect my point of view because I seem “well spoken” or “healed” then, surprise! I have more bad news. I’m still an addict. In fact, there will never be a time when my disease is healed and gone forever. I am far from the only person with a story like mine to share, and some people going through this may be closer to you than you think. So, take this into consideration: It takes time and hard, tumultuous work to shed all the guilt and shame that comes with stigma against sexual abuse & trauma survivors and those who suffer mental illness- yes, including who suffer with the disease of addiction. For your part, don’t buy into the stigma. Any of it, at all. We are not junkies, whores and crazies. We are humans! Friends and family, deserving of basic human decency and empathy.
This is not to say that you can’t set personal boundaries with someone in active addiction, or distance yourself from them if need be. Most of us must hit a rock-bottom before we can pull out of it- some of us never do. “You can lead a horse to water…” but until someone is ready to live for themselves, no amount of begging, pressuring or providing resources can do a thing. This is something I re-learn every day and believe me, learning to love yourself enough to live for yourself is no small feat. I’m no pillar of self-confidence, but I look both ways before I cross the street now. I may not be soaking in a bubble bath with candles all around, but I’m drinking more water (and more, and more.) I’m wearing sunscreen when I plan on spending an extended amount of time in the sun, I’m trying to be good about wearing a seatbelt and I’m taking my vitamins. These small things are all acts of self-love. I’m loving myself enough to live for myself, and this is the key I’ve found in staying active in my recovery. If I can despise myself enough to snort a hot line of meth, I can love myself enough to choke down another lime-water. While some days it’s hard and I think of my boys and how I can’t let them down, but that by itself isn’t always enough.
Though I’m not currently in active addiction, I struggle almost every day. While some triggers I know well and can prepare myself for, others I have no control over. Imagine cringing at the touch of your own child. The guilt and sadness that washes over you, coupled with a longing to get rid of those feelings- to be able to receive their love like a “normal mother.” There’s a flash of craving for a drug that would turn it all off, but I’ll fight it. I’ll think to myself in those moments, “Why? He is my son, my baby boy…” but the immediate, emotional reaction is still there, and we work on it every day. People may argue I shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce because of that, yet I know my children have a perfectly acceptable amount of physical affection and will grow up to have healthy physical boundaries. Sometimes, simply missing too much sleep causes me to think very seriously about using meth again, “just for a while, to get a few things done and maybe lose some weight, too!” Things like “I’ll hydrate and brush my teeth this time, and I won’t do it too late at night so I can still sleep!” will run through my head. Because of this, it’s still hard sometimes for me to handle amounts of cash larger than $200.00. Often I’ll find myself buying semi-useful things like another shower curtain or a big candle to burn in the kitchen by the diaper-pail, ensuring I have just enough cash to pay for what I need to pay for & have none left over. This isn’t always, and the reaction to having cash isn’t consistent. In fact, I’m all right most of the time now, but sometimes I know I’d better buy another really cool teether for the wee-lad, before I spend months trying to bounce back from a relapse again.
See, as a mother in America you’re always pushing yourself because the societal norm is to work, go to school, be present to your kids/friends/rest of your family, maintain a “healthy weight” or appearance- lest you come off as sloppy or slob-ish- and keep house like Martha Stewart. You’re celebrated for getting it all done and shamed or judged if you don’t. In my mind, the mind of an addict, there’s an easy solution to this work-school-mom-play conundrum; speed up! And I have. I’ve relapsed twice and had two small lapses on meth since I’ve been clean from everything else. (Lapses are more like a one-time slip-up, while a relapse is falling back into active addiction.) These weren’t “back out on the streets” relapses, these were studying hard and/or working and having enough money to pay for it relapses. Almost nobody caught it. In fact, I’ve been accused of relapse when I was sober as a judge and congratulated while spun outta my mind.
I bring this up to illustrate that you have no idea who you might be talking about when referring to “junkies” and “crackheads.” It’s not always the guy begging for change or the girl asking if you need any favors. It could be Cheryl on the PTA who almost died in a horrible rock-climbing accident 10 years ago, or your cousin going for their third college degree and never taking a minute to slow down for themselves. Addiction knows no bounds and there is no finality in sobriety, nor is there a cure for this disease. Addicts in recovery grapple with and wrestle down their disease every single day. In writing this, I aim to shed some light for some of you on what others are going through, but I also bring this part of myself to the table to say that recovery is possible. I hope to inspire hope in others- know you’re not alone, it’s worth it to fight for yourself, to love yourself, and you’re never too far gone to pull yourself back.
I’m now about 5 years clean from heroin and crack, and about one year completely clean, no lapses, from meth. My house is not as clean as I want it. I probably drink too much coffee (shout out the 10% of Americans who don’t!) I gained back all my weight. I’m not in school, and I’m doing my best to be present to my kids and throw myself into healing, writing poetry and making music & art. I want to say that it does get easier, but it never goes away. Some days it’s so hard that I can barely stand it, but it is absolutely not all darkness and despair, and we should ALWAYS celebrate every single win, no matter how small. I can make French Toast and sprinkle brown sugar on top now, and if the sugar touches the pan and melts, the smell doesn’t send me into a tailspin. I can use clear glass cooking pans and the smell of hot glass is usually fine. I can use steel wool to clean my pots and pans, tiny pieces of plastic grocery bags don’t phase me, when people say “that’s so dope!” to express how awesome something is, I (mostly) don’t feel a strong urge to slap them, and as of last year, I can keep foil in my house again instead of thinking of it as paraphernalia and being unable to look at or touch it.
My name is Celia. I am your daughter, sister, mother and friend, and I will always be a recovering addict.
(image via Pixabay)