Friday, October 28, 2016

Eighteen Years Clean

About ten minutes ago by the calendar--and about four minutes ago by real time, according to the police report filed that morning--I officially marked the passage of eighteen full years since the last time I used any mood-changing, mind-altering substance. I know better than almost anyone that clean time does not equal recovery, by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm not going to show false modesty, either; it's a long time to be clean, over a third of my lifetime. And it is a milestone I am not taking lightly, or for granted.
I often say that I cannot imagine a circumstance that would cause me to smoke crack again, and I still feel that way. Whether I am done using everything, for the rest of my life, is a question I can't answer. The great thing about recovery, in a 12-Step program, is that I don't need to quit everything for the rest of my life; I just have to do it for today. And as of this moment, that has been the case for a lot of consecutive days now. Six thousand, five hundred seventy-five of them (6575), to be exact.
But I do not take my clean time for granted. I have actually been more involved in the fellowship and been going to more meetings in the last few months than I have in probably fifteen years. Part of that was to continue giving back to those that are coming in after me. But part of it is also because life as I had been leading it for a long time got very unmanageable and I started feeling very squirrelly this summer. My daughter, the Pole Star of my life, is almost a full-fledged adult now, and we have had more struggles in the last year than in the previous sixteen of her life. I lived through two incarnations of the Queen, and then looked on, horrified, as her inevitable relapse finally arrived in the summer after our second split and took a toll it that was impossible to imagine happening in such a short period of time--and the current challenge regarding her, for me, is figuring out just what she is to, and means to, me and how best to be supportive and helpful without becoming an enabler, and without exposing myself to even more hurt and pain (and I will be the first to tell you that I honestly do not know the answers; it is another area where "one day at a time" is not a cliché. My feelings and thoughts vary day to day, sometimes hour to hour, and I am actually somewhat thankful that her journey is going to take her to a place where outside contact will be very limited for about three months. It will give me some respite, and a chance to figure out some of the puzzle). I got involved with, for about six weeks, the single most dishonest and toxic woman I have ever met in my life, and I feel fortunate that I escaped with my sanity and that I possessed enough backbone to see her, belatedly, for what she is and to completely cut her out of my life (I have never blocked an actual person's phone number from my phone account in eleven years of having a cell phone before now, and the letter she wrote to me I refused delivery of. I am dead serious; she is like one of those poisonous toads you read about in National Geographic that a mere touch on your skin will kill you). I went through nearly six months of unemployment before landing a job, have worked night shift for six months, and am finally looking to move to a more or less "normal" job--although the undeserved traffic ticket I got yesterday may affect that move somehow. We adopted a dog yesterday, something I have wanted to do for many years; one of the truest victims of my active addiction was my beagle Waldo, who lost his best friend of seven years in a frighteningly short period of time and only saw him again once, many years later near the end of Waldo's life (and that final visit, which my daughters Rachel and Jessica made possible, was one of the most devastatingly poignant moments of my life. It was 2004, and Waldo was old and feeble. It took him about a minute for sight and scent to kick in and for him to remember who I was, and then, as he allowed me to pet him and hold him and scratch his back like I always used to, he had a look on his face that I swear said loud and clear "Where in the hell have you been?"). Speaking of old and feeble, my mother is 81 and, although not in need of nursing home-type care, is at the point where caring for a house and property, and herself for that matter, is problematical. I've known since the day it happened that as shocking and painful as my father's death was, him dropping dead was preferable to the long, drawn-out decline phase more common with aging people--and my mother is only confirming that knowledge.
In short, the outside influences, the storm around me if you will, has not really abated as time has passed. The issues are different, my capacity to deal with them is certainly different (and better), and I rely much more on principles and the God that I regard as the source and inspiration of those principles regularly, much more than I think I do in my darker moments. When I lose my temper or act in a way that I wouldn't if God Himself were standing in front of me, I sometimes feel like the sickest person in the world--but on balance, all it proves is that no matter how much clean time or recovery I have, I remain a human being. I have had personality conflicts in the last year, but a sign of progress is that I have been able to walk away from them before they blew up explosively. The McHale Experience was one instance; breaking off the actual romantic relationship with the Queen when it got ugly, twice, was another. There is someone in the fellowship that was intent on causing a conflict, and I bit the bullet, stopped responding to provocations, and stayed out of the person's way as much as possible for months; the relationship still has not been repaired, but at least we can co-exist in the same space without the conflict bubbling up now. I have dealt with some very difficult young people at my job without losing my temper or acting unprofessionally, and exercised patience I didn't know I possessed.
At the very first NA meeting I went to, one of our pamphlets was the topic, and there was a phrase contained within it that I have never forgotten: "We used drugs trying to change our reality; what we needed was to change our ways of coping with it." And if nothing else has happened in the last eighteen years, I have learned to cope with the realities of life much differently than I did in 1998--or 1994 or 1988 or 1982 or 1978. And my coping skills continue to evolve, sometimes almost on a daily basis, and they are changing for the better.
I honestly don't feel like I deserve many kudos for passing eighteen years clean; not using has been second nature for me for at least the last sixteen years or so. But I do feel like I have changed drastically, and if you are going to congratulate me on something, do so because of the progress and changes I have made in that area. And all of the thorny situations described above have been marked by my response to the pressures being much different than they would have been in the past, both distant and recent. I never would have stayed loyal and faithful in a relationship like that I have had with the Queen for any length of time, much less two years. I struggle with my mother's stubbornness at times, but by and large, I am able to be useful to her without being overly burdensome. The ability for my behavior not to be an issue at my place of employment is a development from circa 2012 onwards; I survived by the skin of my teeth numerous times at my previous job, but I have not been in any real danger of losing my job for behavioral issues for five years or so, with either employer. And while parenting has proved to be much more difficult later in Sabrina's adolescence than it was in earlier years--she does not drink or do drugs or act out in any significant way, and she does not have the emotional baggage I had at 17 and is not going to acquire it. 
I may not be where I want to be at times, but I have accomplished a lot in the time I have been clean. I would not have done any of it without Narcotics Anonymous, and I do remember to thank God and the people of NA in my prayers most of the time for having given me a way out of the morass I was in when I got clean.
Do I want eighteen more years clean? That would make 36, a year more than my age when I got clean. And as much as some of me does not want to get old, I have long since known and internalized that I do not want to die, and will go to considerable lengths to ensure that I do not... and more to the point, if my life seems troubled and unbearable, I found the means and ability to change it drastically long ago. I do not fear change anymore, and even though I may fight it at times, once I am convinced on a course of action, I do not look back. That is one of the secrets of a manageable life, and for me, it is proof of my faith in and reliance upon God--if my motives are good, I am confident enough in my abilities to stick with a decision, and I am not afraid to admit I was wrong should I be necessary, as well. But I'm usually not, and in any event I have become willing to take the actions I legitimately can and trust that God will make His will clear to me as I do so.
And if there is a major difference between October 28 of this year and October 28, 1998, it is that I am willing to let events take their course. I remember, even as the arrest was going down, feverishly trying to manipulate the situation--Sabrina's mother, the third addict we were arrested with, the arresting officers, the officers at the jail, the judge I was arraigned in front of at 2 AM, the dozen people I called trying to get bail money from, the people in A-Pod when those efforts failed and I was actually incarcerated, and the correction officers inside the jail. And it was much more of the same for a long time afterwards--I was still manipulative as hell two, three years into recovery. And even more than the life of an active addict, I don't have to live like that anymore. Is it all fun and games, smooth as silk? Hell no. But it's better than it ever has been.
And it will continue to be that way, as long as I make a conscious and active effort to continue on the journey that started eighteen years ago this morning.

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