Today I celebrate 55 months clean and sober from alcohol and drugs. Double nickels. Twin 5’s. I look at my life now and am filled with gratitude at what I have. A loving wife. A beautiful 10-month old daughter who is the light of my world. I just published my first Poetry Anthology. There’s my beautiful home. Money in the bank.
I have lots of furnishings and belongings that I didn’t have on May 12th, 2016, the day I entered jail. Suffice it to say, I’ve spent a lot of money over the last 2 years amassing comforts of home and surrounding myself with antique books, and a respectable Stephen King collection.
When I left jail the sum of my belongings equaled about 4 medium sized U-Haul boxes. Mostly clothes really. I remember being pissed off at the time that all of my other things were taken away by my alcoholism. I missed a lot of days of work, so I would have to sell my beautiful watches. Collections of baseball cards. Jewelry. I fought with myself to get over being so mad for weeks. I finally did so.
It’s Only Stuff
Even after being on my own from November of 2017, until my wife arrived in-country in January of 2019, I amassed very little. Saving money was not something I was good at. My apartment was very modest. Most of it filled with donations from Veterans programs. There wasn’t even a t.v. until mid-2019. When my wife arrived I had very little to offer her. But, I don’t want to get ahead of MY STORY, since I am still writing it.
You are going to find this amusing: sometimes I get depressed thinking about how, when I die, I won’t be able to take my beloved belongings with me. Will my wife and daughter keep my library? What’s going to happen to my trinkets? I’ve actually made a list of the most important books I want them to keep in the family.
Books might one day become obsolete, so I want the written word in my family for as long as possible. Maybe it has everything to do with being afraid of being alone in death; without the comforts I have been able to surround myself with over the last few years. Maybe it’s the worry of being erased off the earth and someone else has my shit. Yeah, I don’t know why that is, exactly.
But being 55 months clean and sober isn’t just about reclaiming a stake in the world of possessions. Hell no. I have transformed my way of thinking. My way of doing things. The choices I make about how I want to be, act, feel. One of the most important components of my recovery is ACCEPTANCE. It’s one of my 5 Pillars of Recovery.
I no longer live each day pissing and moaning about all the small perceived injustices in life. News is not a part of my daily life. Everything is not a personal affront. I do not get caught up hassling with the minutiae of life. Acceptance has been the key to my success; of course in addition to my other pillars. But acceptance is at the heart of my recovery. The Serenity Prayer is at the core of my existence. I no longer have an attitude problem with people I perceive as inferior. I do not judge people anymore.
As a result of practicing acceptance, I am so much more at peace with myself and life. I no longer try to force life to bend to my will. That futility was fueled for years by my addiction. My addiction helped me to build giant walls within myself. Arrogance and abrasiveness ruled the day. It was how I kept people at bay.
Recovery is my greatest possession. Without it I would most certainly be dead or in jail. I am very proud of the fact that I have enjoyed 55 months of sobriety without relapse. I don’t buy into triggers because I keep the golden rule of my recovery always as the first line of defense: DO NOT PICK UP.
As long as I do not pick up, I know I can stay the course. But that just means I am sober. Living in true recovery means living a better way than I did before. It means coming to terms with the past. Letting go.
It means I don’t ruminate on the future while I waste away my present. The way I view the world and myself in it has changed drastically. I changed the habits I had formed from years of abusing drugs and alcohol. I changed the way I think, period.
Change For The Better
And you know what? Change is good! No longer do I live discontented. I am much more content and satisfied with my existence because I am no longer avoiding reality. Daily engagement of self-destruction has ended. Chaos no longer reigns supreme in my life. I accept life on life’s terms. It’s so much less exhausting than the way I was living before; always trying to control every variable within and without myself.
Without getting all caught up in other people’s way of being, in the experiences I was having–good or bad–and by simply living in the now and being present has made all the difference in the world. Many of my long-time readers know the level of importance I give to living in the present. Carpe Diem! It simplifies things when my mind wants to wander back into the misery of the past, or the unknown of the future. It allows me to be firmly grounded in the only time that I have: NOW!
To The Future Then
Today I am grateful for 55 months. Today I am content with my life. No, my life is not perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. By focusing on what’s before me I am able to keep a razor-sharp focus on gratitude and acceptance. I am able to take on what I need to take on without being overwhelmed or setting myself up for failure.
Staying in my own lane is a high priority for me now. I focus on my side of the fence. I try not to get caught up in social media. Not the news. Not the madness of the minions. Just my little world. With my beautiful wife and baby. I have a strength of resolve that is stronger than it ever was for any time in my life.
And you know what? It’s sustained. It is sustaining. I don’t have time to look for monsters under the bed. I o longer allow my childhood trauma to define me. Today is what defines me as a man; not the past.
And when my mind wants to play games with me and try to lead me into wonders of ruination and things said and done, I firmly fix my being in the present and simply accept with gratitude the new life I’ve been able to build because of my recovery.
Special Note: I use lots of pictures, videos, animations, flipbooks, and other cool layouts and features which can be best appreciated by reading this post on my blog. Mobile View will not give you the very best experience.
From jail, to the end of my treatment in 3 different V.A. Treatment Centers, this part of My Story uncovers the journey of my recovery. I vividly, and candidly chronicled my day to day struggles with recovery, mental health, amends, and dealing with the V.A. empire on my blog from October of 2016, to the end of 2017. You can find these musings in the Archives. However, in the coming weeks, I look back at those experiences and give you a more coherent story of my life In Recovery. I look back on that year with more insight as to what was happening, and share with you the principles and actions that built the foundation for my ongoing recovery.
I arrived at the Cherry Street CWT Program towards the end of April of 2017 with high hopes for seamlessly gaining my autonomy. Boy, would the next 7 months be as challenging as it could ever get for me in my recovery. Cherry Street is the name of the location of a three story split residence that housed male Veterans in the VA treatment program.
Having actually changed VAs, I had to start all over with a new support team, new therapist, new everything. It was quite the adjustment for me to go from dorm living to apartment living.
The building that Cherry Street occupied was massive. It had four separate entrances. It had three floors each. The residents numbered about about 12 of us. Each having a room of our own. I ended up on the third floor, by myself fortunately.
The main campus, the VA in Northampton (or Leeds more accurately), was to be the site of our therapies and participation in CWT. The program is strictly geared towards establishing safety and security, and moving rapidly towards independent living.
All the participants were assigned a Social Worker, Psychiatrist, Primary Care Physician and Case Worker. This was a so-called “dream team” of professionals whose main objective was to ensure wellness and strengthen our individual recoveries through the use of Compensated Work Therapy: CWT is basically a paid job at the VA without having taxes taken out of your pay.
Kurt the Conqueror
Kurt Z. was my Case Manager who had a Napoleon complex. He was a very short and tiny man with a big ego. I disliked him upon first meeting. That disdain only grew exponentially with each mandate he attempted to use to control is “subjects” at Cherry Street. His female counterpart, Kristine W., was cut from the same cloth.
Kurt operated Cherry Street, a VA Program whose policies are mandated by VA Regulations, as if it were his own special island with special rules made up just by him. I would end up vehemently attacking his departure from VA Regulations in the coming months.
Kurt was a “my way or the highway” dictator who did not adjust well to those who challenged his authority. His demeanor was not of a helpful Caseworker, but that of a Conqueror who knew what you needed better than you knew yourself. Over the coming months I waged different wars of self-advocacy to combat Kurt’s omnipotence and penchant for always being right.
Dr. A.M. Psychiatrist Un-Extraordinaire
If Kurt Z. operated Cherry Street like a mini Napoleon, Dr. M. was certainly his sidekick. I was assigned Dr. M. as my psychiatrist because, well, he’s everyone’s psychiatrist. Talk about a wet can of paint. Watching paint dry was more exciting than talking to this bozo.
I mean, truly, he was the worst psychiatrist I have ever had in my life. By the end of May, 2017, it was apparent that he was certainly no Dr. Ticlea or my other psychiatrist that I had during my time at the Reach Program in Brockton.
You could ask him 5 questions in a row and he would not have an answer for any of them. A psychiatrist is not only a prescriber, they are also trained to do SOME therapeutic work. Not so with Dr. M. He was all business and no empathy. Didn’t matter what was troubling you. He struck me as an individual who was exhausted with his position and should have retired years ago.
Lyn D. Vocational Specialist
The only person who seemed to be of the high quality VA professional one can only hope for, was Lyn D. Lyn was to be my Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist. That means she would handle everything coinciding with my CWT experience while I was at Cherry Street.
Lyn was highly reliable. She was also extremely dedicated to her work and the Veterans she represented. I can tell you that she was a bright light in an otherwise very dark recovery room for me during my 7 months at Cherry Street. She tried to do everything she could for me.
In the end, Kurt was the Program Director and nothing escaped his tunnel vision and some of the decisions that he would make–all the while denying that he was the one responsible for those decisions.
I think towards the end of my time at Cherry Street, Lyn had decided to leave the VA for greener pastures. I can’t say that I blame her one bit. Working in that dog-and-pony-show program, with Kurt the Conqueror at the helm, must have certainly made for interesting staff meetings. Especially when it came to discussing me.
An emotional trigger is any topic that makes us feel uncomfortable. These emotional triggers are telling us which aspects in our life we might feel frustrated or unsatisfied with. As mentioned above, it can vary in each person because we are all struggling with something different.
If you follow any kind of recovery groups, you will find references to just about everything and anything as triggers. I have difficulty understanding how some of the folks I meet in these groups have such a tenuous hold on their sobriety. They cite everything from lack of sleep, to arguments with their significant others, to driving by a neighborhood they once used in as all viable triggers. But, apparently, there is legitimacy to even the subtlest things having the potential to trigger someone into relapse.
When we can identify what bothers us, we can take action to protect our mental health. Even though we can’t avoid all of the situations that may emotionally trigger us, we can take actionable steps to take care of ourselves and develop a strong inner voice to help navigate us through these uncomfortable situations.
What Are Triggers In Recovery?
Early on in recovery I was warned about certain “triggers” that had the potential to lead me to relapse. These triggers had the potential to weaken our resolve and lead us down the path to relapse our therapists warned. The VA did a thorough job teaching us how to recognize and avoid these triggers. They identified the top 5 triggers for us and help us to develop skills for avoiding, minimizing, or managing these triggers.
Stress–Stress is the top cause of relapse. And, many people who struggle with addiction turn to their substance or activity of choice as a maladaptive way of coping with it.
SOLUTION: By making changes in your lifestyle, relationships, and priorities, you may be able to reduce the number of stressful situations in your life. And, when you do that, you will be reducing the likelihood that stress will trigger a relapse.
People & Places–People who participated in your addictive behavior are potential triggers for a relapse, regardless of whether or not they are still drinking, smoking, or using drugs.
SOLUTION: When you’re reminded of your addiction, it’s important to have effective ways of handling your feelings. For instance, if you’re an alcoholic and a group of drinking buddies ask you to go out, or you see people from work going to happy hour, it might help to have a specific response ready.
Seeing or Sensing Object of Addiction–Reminders of your addiction can trigger relapse during recovery. A whiff of cigarette smoke, watching people sip cocktails in a bar or restaurant, or a couple locked in an erotic embrace are reminders that seem to be everywhere in the early stages of quitting.
SOLUTION: Focus on the new life you’re building and the changes you’re making. Think about the negative consequences that you experienced while participating in your addiction—the people you hurt and the relationships you lost. You may think you miss your old life when you see these reminders, but in reality it only brought you pain and hardship.
Negative Emotions–People who struggle with addiction need effective ways of tolerating, managing, and making sense of the negative feelings encountered in daily life. Alcohol, drugs, or addictive behaviors used to provide temporary relief from those feelings, but you can’t rely on them anymore.
SOLUTION: View these emotions as an opportunity for growth and understanding. You can learn a lot about yourself by taking an inventory of what you’re feeling and asking yourself why. In fact, learning how to face your emotions without escaping into addiction is invaluable.
Times of Celebration–Positive situations, such as birthdays and holidays, can be triggers too. You may feel happy, in control, and confident you can handle one drink, one smoke, or one mild flirtation with the attractive stranger. But can you really keep it under control?
SOLUTION: Avoid going into situations alone where you are at high risk of relapse. You might be surprised how quickly your resolve and good intentions disappear once the party’s started.