Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Gates of Hell are Open

"Recovery does not promise to open the gates of heaven to let me in, but it does promise to open the gates of hell to let me out." - Anonymous

Most addicts fall into active addiction before reaching adulthood. For me, that was not the case. I drank socially on occasion until I was 24 years old. As a late-blooming addict, I can testify to the fact that substance abuse was merely a symptom of my spiritual malady. I was sick long before I picked up a drug, and using became habitual because it provided temporary relief from the emptiness I felt inside. Eventually, my brain and body adapted to the toxins, and I was physically and mentally dependent on them for my very survival.

I always felt out of place and socially awkward. By nature, I am quirky, not graceful, and I involuntarily spit out random facts about whatever the topic of conversation is, so I come off as a smart ass. Growing up, very few people tried to get to know me and I was picked on relentlessly. I was a chameleon, changing how I dressed and acted according to what I thought others would like in an effort to be accepted. Occasionally, I was part of a social circle, but even then, I was still miserable and lonely.

I had no concept of who I was, what I liked and disliked, or what I wanted to do in life, and I had an overwhelming desire to be loved unconditionally. Fantasies reminiscent of childhood fairy tales played over and over in my mind until my sole mission in life was to find the perfect husband and play housewife and mommy forever. I thought that a man could fill the emptiness in my heart. I was so wrong.

I started dating my ex-husband when I was 16.  I moved in with him when I was 17. By 19, we had our first child. But this story is a far cry from happily ever after. I didn't have any friends outside of our relationship. I was dependent on him for every bit of my social interaction, moral support, and fun. I went completely crazy whenever he went out with his friends or did anything without me. I resented him because he had the life I wanted, and I couldn't figure out why that life didn't automatically transfer to me as his significant other. 

My insanity pushed him away, and I sought attention with other men, still seeking that happily ever after. I was used and taken advantage of time and time again. I suffered from depression and fits of rage. I tried psychiatric medication, going back to church, and seeking answers from other religions and spiritual paths. I learned a lot of valuable information on how I should live my life, but even when I tried to practice the principles and live by the values I knew, I was still empty, alone, and miserable. Eventually, I slipped into active addiction to ease my painful existence.

I don't remember anything about my first anonymous meeting except for the 12 Steps up on the wall. As soon as I read them, I knew I was where I belonged. Here was the practical application of everything I learned growing up Catholic and in my own search for answers. The part that I had misunderstood was that feeling of emptiness. I wasn't empty at all. In fact, I was so full of fears, resentments, entitlements, and justifications that there was no room for God to come in and act in my life. Even worse, they were eating me alive and causing me to self destruct.

I kept attending meetings. I listened to the stories of others and realized that there were others who felt just like me. I imagined them as broken and defeated as I was and I was amazed how the 12 steps had changed them. The gates of hell were open. I could now choose to either stay miserable forever or practice a program of recovery and set myself free. 

I have now been clean and sober for 16 months. I can say with confidence that I like anime, World of Warcraft, Magic the Gathering, Harry Potter, writing, and messy art projects with kids (or without them!). I have friends who accept me for who I am, even when I am a smart ass or I awkwardly say the wrong thing at the wrong moment. I am no longer driven by self-seeking motives, but a desire to do God's will. Most importantly, I am at peace and full of joy!