That’s what my sponsor told me the first time I came to her crying about what I had done to my life, to those who cared most about me…and more specifically, about the trouble I’d gotten in while trying to get and stay in a state of constant oblivion.
I can laugh at it now, but when she spoke those words to me, it really hit me:
I was a junkie and a drunk. I’m not special. I could very well end up in prison and it won’t matter how many college degrees I have or how smart I think I am.
In my addiction, I would tell myself ridiculous lies like “I’m not really a drug addict because I just do prescription drugs, not “hard-core” street drugs. Never mind the fact that I was very “hard-core” about the way I did prescription drugs. Another favorite justification of mine was, “Well, drinking is legal and everyone around me drinks so how different am I, really?” Despite all of that bullshit, the day two girls from an Oxford House picked me up at detox and dropped me off at a treatment facility out of what I thought was charity (yes me…a charity case), that day the smoke screen came crashing down on me. There was noone left in my life that I hadn’t done so much damage to that they would even give me a ride. I had lost my home, my job, my man, and caught new charges. I had even managed to isolate myself entirely from my family. Noone even knew where I was. This was it…the turning point everyone talks about. But those two girls? They didn’t feel sorry for me. It wasn’t charity at all. It was empathy. That hot, dry July afternoon I was keeping them sober. I couldn’t even keep my own head up, but I was the reason God gave them not to drink or use that day. That I understand this now is a miracle in and of itself. I’m grateful for that.
But for all of my bravado and grandiosity, which I later came to realize were my defense mechanisms, the untruths I told myself so I wouldn’t see what I had really become, when I got to treatment that day I was beaten – period. No mincing words this time. I’d had my chances for the easier, softer way. And I had failed…miserably. I failed at my previous attempts to get sober for the same reason I would fail today…if it were still just me out there flailing around on my own. Because I can’t do this. I’M. NOT. CAPABLE. Not then and not now. For those of you who are “friends”, you’ll know that this is the jumping off point…Step One if you will.
Over the course of the next few months, I would come to realize that my way of living was not conducive to any kind of life at all. My way of thinking made me ill-equipped to handle life on its own terms. You could’ve taken a pic of me at any given point in my using days: me passed out on the floor, me stealing bottles from the liquor store, me stealing pills out of my friends’ purses, houses…actually, let’s just say me stealing anything would be an appropriate snapshot. And you could’ve captioned the photo: “Life. You’re Doing it Wrong” and started a meme on facebook which people probably would have commented with a snide “God what happened to her?!” In short, I was a dysfunctional human being, flawed to the very core with no real understanding that freedom, or happiness, was not something I can do, but rather something that happens to me. And it did. It happened to me and all it took was a little, tiny, miniscule amount of willingness.
For all of you reading this who are of “above-average” intelligence (and I know this is what you’re thinking because I was once too smart for my own good too), I’ll beat you to the punch. Right now you’re thinking: if this is really a disease, and you can’t control it, and your will power is of no good whatsoever, how can you talk about willingness as a starting point for your recovery? I would tell you willingness and will-power are two totally separate things. I would probably follow up by saying, you know, you can’t be too dumb for this program. But you can be too smart, so careful not to let your intelligence get in the way of your capacity to learn anything. (Disclaimer: I would love to take credit for all these snarky pieces of insight, but alas this one is yet another gem from my sponsor, whom I’m sure stole it from her sponsor and so on. Basically, anything I say has been said to me. Hard as it is to admit, I’m not that clever.)
So willingness is a decision I make every day. I get up in the morning, get my coffee and after I stop hating the world for being awake before I want to be, then I pray. I ask my Higher Power to make me willing. Willing to do what? To get up, make my bed, decide I’m not going to drink or use today, to do whatever it takes. You see, it all stems from the moment I decide I’m willing to go to any length to stay sober. And it goes beyond just that, willingness is an attitude…the one thing I actually have control over. So I ask that I be willing to turn the rest of it over, to do God’s will throughout my day. There’s some magical kind of release I feel when I’m able to govern my attitude that way. Everything else can come as it may. I ask for the willingness to do the next right thing, even when I don’t want to because I know that I can live myself into right thinking but I can’t think myself into right living.
So, these are some things I’ve learned through working an actual program and listening to the experience, strength, and hope of those who’ve gone before me…who have what I want. Another perjured line is that I will never graduate from this program. I’m never going to get a gold star and a pat on the head and then be done. Noone’s going to say “Wow, Lacey, your recovery is so much better than so and so’s recovery.” For the first time in my life, validation has to come from within. My worth and that of my recovery is not contingent on what you think of me anymore. I practice humility and ask God to put me in a position to keep learning…to stay teachable which is something that hasn’t come easy since, well you know, I used to know everything. And occasionally, I receive little signs from God that I’m on the right track. Those days are awesome. I’ve learned that in my weakness, in my imperfection, is where my Higher Power enters my life…through the very cracks I did my utmost to hide. All I’ve done since that first day is been willing to let Him change Me. God knows I tried to change myself. I tried to control myself…convinced myself if only I was strong enough, I could become the kind of person I knew I really wanted to be. But it never happened. I just kept falling deeper and deeper until I didn’t even recognize the face I saw in the mirror. That is, when I could even stand to look in it. What’s happened in my life, happened TO me. I was saved by grace. Me, the intellectual, the girl who tried so hard to look like she had it all together, the perfectionist, in the end all the smarts in the world could never have saved me. I chose to accept that finally, and with that acceptance came the gift of release. Freedom from the bondage of misery and suffering out of which I could never seem to find my way. Today, I am in conscious contact with God. Today, I don’t need to drink or use to make myself comfortable in my own skin. Today, right now, I’ve been granted a reprieve. And the only thing I did, was be willing.
They say pain is the mainspring of all growth. Nowhere has this been truer than in my life. I used to go to meetings before I “got it”, and when people would talk about how they didn’t regret their past nor wish to shut the door on it, I couldn’t understand that. I wanted to forget all the shitty things I’d done in my life. They were half the reason I would get wasted in the first place. Now, I realize that the pain of my past is what brought me to the point of change…of willingness, of growth. It’s just one of those realizations you have when the program is working in your life. Another opportunity to be grateful.
These days, I have opportunities to do service work. Sometimes I even get to go pick someone up and bring them to treatment. I don’t do it because I feel sorry for them. I do it because I know there’s a solution…a way to live and a way out of whatever hopeless despair they may be feeling. I keep what I have by giving it away and I’m willing to it give away because it was so freely given to me. I do it so that what God made possible in my life, can happen in the lives of others. I try always to be mindful that I’m only one drink, shot, pill, line or hit away from being right back where I started. The only thing that stands between me and rock bottom…is willingness.
*Lacey Callahan is a “novice” writer and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. Lacey is the Director of Marketing for New Hope Recovery Center. As of March 11, 2016, Lacey has eight months clean from drugs and alcohol.