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The Hell of Recovery

I have really struggled with the thought of this post. If you’ve read much of my stuff you may be aware that I believe that God has called me to painful transparency and openness in my walk. Most days I don’t mind it. It is uncomfortable but still much better than addiction. Sometimes God calls me to a place I don’t want to see, much less talk about. Today is one of those days. If it makes a difference, please know how extremely uncomfortable I am writing this. This post is, without a doubt, the hardest one I’ve written to date.

As I’ve talked about before, addiction comes from a place of brokenness. There is some wound deep inside that we seek to numb. In order to stay sober, we have to search out that brokenness and find healing for it. If we don’t then we run a real risk of relapse or cross-addiction. For some addicts, the wound is known. They might have suffered some major trauma in life. Maybe they were abused growing up (sexually, physically, emotionally). Maybe there was a divorce in their family and one parent left. It could be many things, but it is identifiable. Sometimes the trauma is not as easily identified, but just as powerful. Either way, the addiction has kept us from having to find, feel, and deal with those traumas. In recovery, we have to go looking for those hurts so we can feel them finally and deal with them so addiction isn’t simply managed, but destroyed at the root, through the healing of that wound.

If recovery is healing, why is it hell?

Recovery is hell for several reasons. I don’t say this so non-addicts will feel sorry for addicts. I say it because if you’re reading this then you’re probably either dealing with addiction or you love somebody who is dealing with it (or has dealt with it) and you want to understand it better. Addiction is not something that can be beaten alone. If it were then addicts wouldn’t need rehab. Addicts need people to walk with them on the journey of healing. If you are on that journey of healing, or you are walking that path with somebody you love, it is helpful to understand the journey you are on. This is not a subject I enjoy talking about, but I want to give you a peek through the looking glass so that you might be able to be the best partner possible for this journey. I believe all addicts walk a path similar to the one I’m about to describe, but who knows? Maybe I’m the only one.

The healing is painful

The thing in our past (whatever it is) that we have tried not to feel for years, is the thing we need to go looking for and deal with to find healing. That is a very scary thing, it is intentionally seeking out pain. That pain may very well bring healing but that fact doesn’t prevent the hurting we have to endure. Imagine a horror movie where a monster lives deep in the woods. This monster is strong, ferocious, and fearless. It is hard to find, catch, and kill. It has been coming in the night while everyone in the village sleeps and slaughtering people. Near the end of the movie, the villagers always gather their strength and go in search of the monster to do battle with it. The monster of addiction is very real and just as ferocious. If we’ve reached a point where we are willing to search it out to do battle then we are well aware of the fearsome task in front of us. The freedom and healing at the end of this conflict are obviously worth it, but that doesn’t make the task any easier. That is why we need those around us to prepare themselves to go into the woods with us because we’ve already proven we cannot do this alone.

The transparency gets old because it hurts

Just before I went to rehab, I accidentally overdosed and blacked out while driving. I had 2 of my daughters in the car with me on a Sunday evening in February 2016. This was a very traumatic event for my girls. I drove for almost 20 minutes completely blacked out. I have no memory of that event. I have no memory of the driving or the yelling. I have no memory of my 2 children crying, begging, pleading for me to stop the car while I was literally driving 100 mph and swerving all over the road. I have no memory of pulling over (one daughter jumped out of the car) but I was unable to put the car in park, and backed across the highway into the median, with the younger of the two still in the backseat. I have no memory of the deputies showing up and having me transported to the hospital. I have no memory of being chained to a bed because I was fighting the doctors and nurses who were trying to treat me. I have no memory of my wife being at the hospital for 4 days worried about the kids, receiving very few answers as to what was going on with me, and not knowing what we’d do next. All I know is I began waking a little bit Wednesday night, but I was still pretty well out of it. I remember waking up Thursday morning and being told the short version of what I had done.

My oldest daughter hasn’t really talked about it much, even almost 16 months later. But once, about 4 months ago, she asked a few questions about that night I couldn’t answer because I don’t remember. A week ago she read me a letter she wrote describing her feelings that night and what she feels now, when she hears a siren, or if I accidentally hit the rumble strip on the side of the road. She described in great detail what she felt. Then she asked me a question. She said, “Do you wish you could remember those 4 days?” No, I don’t. I don’t believe I could handle it. I don’t want to talk about it because I’m afraid of what I’d feel. I’m afraid I’d have to tell somebody what I feel and I don’t want to do that. Transparency is painful. But I’ve discovered that transparency is vital to my recovery.

Transparency gets old because we’re tired of disappointing people

The very first time I was tempted to use was about 3 weeks after I graduated from rehab. A guy I worked with offered me some pills, for free. I knew what I needed to do was call people and I didn’t want to. I had spent almost 13 years disappointing people and hurting them. The last thing I wanted to do was call somebody 3 weeks out of rehab and worry them that I was thinking about using. I didn’t want to disappoint my wife. That was the hardest text message to send. I knew it would fill her with fear, anxiety, and disappointment. But I knew that failing a drug test would hurt her so much more, so I sent the message. She was thankful that I did but it was still a hard thing to do. I just wanted somebody to be proud of me. I just wanted somebody’s confidence in me to buoy. Looking back I discovered that I accomplished those things by being transparent but I didn’t know that at the time. Even now, after over a year of sobriety, it is hard to tell somebody if I’m struggling. That shame starts speaking about what a disappointment I must be telling somebody that loves me that I feel like using after this much clean time. I can only imagine what it feels like after 5 years, or 10, or 20, but I know what it feels like after a year. It feels just as bad as 2 weeks out of rehab. Please understand that being transparent hurts and it’s hard. If you love an addict you have to make transparency as easy as possible and a rewarding experience. If they are made to feel less than or are punished for being open, then they won’t be……ever. Grace and mercy make transparency possible, even probable.

The battle for healing and sobriety are not the only battles we’re engaged in

If we as addicts could withdraw from life for a couple of years to deal with our hurts and just focus on healing that would be great. That’s not how recovery works though. We still have to go to work, deal with pending legal issues, pay bills, have kidney stones, lose loved ones, wake up and the car not start, and do all of the other things that happen in life. In the past, every one of those circumstances would’ve caused us to use. Dealing with life’s difficulties sober feels much harder than they are. But keep in mind that while we face life’s trials we’re still fighting the fight to heal the hurt that caused our addiction and fighting to maintain transparency and accountability. It’s a lot of battles at once. Please be patient. It doesn’t excuse or justify how we respond sometimes but it should, at the very least, help you to understand that it isn’t personal or even directed at you. It is a symptom of a broken soul who is still healing.

Expectations help make recovery (at times) a living hell

There are a few areas here we should look at:

  1. Our expectations of ourselves: we want to be healed. We want to be over addiction, completely. To feel the hunger inside, desiring to use, disappoints us in ourselves. It also causes us to believe we are a disappointment to those around us. Disappointing those who have remained with us in this walk, maybe even begun to rebuild faith, is the last thing we want.
  2. Other’s expectations of us: grace and mercy is the key again. Berating an addict because he has failed in some small thing is very detrimental. At the end of the day, if you are walking with an addict along the road of recovery there are a great many things that should just be let go. If it is an issue that genuinely needs to be addressed then sit down with them face to face and talk about it. Don’t stew over it. Don’t sit around imagining things and wondering. Pick up the phone. Sit down in person. Communicate clearly, concisely, with grace and mercy, and do it quickly. Don’t leave somebody who is already doubting themselves and struggling emotionally to keep their heads above water, to twist in the wind wondering what the issue is. Lack of resolution in an issue increases stress which increases a desire to use. Deal with it and move on.
  3. Our expectations of others: this goes 2 ways. Sometimes our expectations of how people will respond to us and how they should respond to us are unreasonable. Addicts should be made to feel comfortable in expressing their expectations. If they are being unreasonable, explain why they are (in a loving and gentle way). We do also have reasonable expectations that are sometimes unmet. If you build a healthy and open line of communication with an addict in recovery they should feel safe to discuss their expectations. If they are reasonable and fair then we who walk alongside them should do our best to meet those expectations, or at least communicate why we can’t.

Watching others in recovery fail is very difficult

Having a great support and accountability system can help us withstand this but just know that we hope our brothers and sisters in recovery will stay clean. When they fail and fall it can shake our confidence in our ability to stay clean. It’s during those times we fall back on our support system. We share a unique bond with other addicts we walk this road with. Losing them to relapse or death takes a heavy toll on us. Be mindful when we lose those we battle with.

Conclusion: this fight is ours

We desperately need people to walk this road with us and fight with us, but at the end of the day, it is our fight. I want to make sure that I point out that when an addict relapses it is nobody’s fault except the addict himself. He might not have the support system he needs. He might have a more difficult path than others but he/she makes choices. I don’t believe any addict chooses addiction. Yes, they make choices, but I don’t believe an addict chooses addiction anymore than I believe that a person chooses an STD because they make sinful sexual choices. I don’t believe an addict chooses addiction anymore than I believe that somebody chooses cancer because they make unhealthy choices in their lives. But I do believe that an addict chooses relapse. After leaving a program of 3 months or more they are clear-headed enough to choose to do the things that will keep them sober. They may be tough choices, but they are still able to make those choices. I am not trying to blame the people who love an addict for their addiction or relapse. I am simply trying to help others see what addicts in recovery deal with. And by so doing hopefully give them the upper hand in helping their addict stay on the path of recovery.

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  1. Great article! By pouring out your heart publicly, you help others try to understand and help their loved ones through this journey. It certainly helped me.

  2. This is an awesome article and testimony. I find myself reading over and over. It has helped me understand so much more the journey my family is going through. It has allowed me to discuss with my children as we currently walk through this. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for this compassionate and sensitive testimony. My son has completed 30 days and we continue to pray for his strength in dealing with his
    deadly addiction. This testimony helped me to be supportive on his journey. Thank you!

    • you are certainly welcome. Thank you for your encouraging words. i sincerely appreciate it. I will be praying for your son and your family on this road to recovery.

  4. Thank you for writing a very real article & allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to share it. It is definitely on point. I graduated from the HOG in 2015. I left there with hope..something I had lost a long time ago. Within 6 months I made the decision to move back to my hometown & relapsed immediately. To say I disappointed my family, my children, and mainly an understatement. I lost the hope I had so passionately wanted & needed.

    Hope wasnt the only thing I lost. I lost my children, my family & any sort of self love that the Home of Grace had taught me to have. I havent seen my children or family in 15 months. The guilt of that alone keeps me in my addiction. I got a phone call today from a good friend of mine. He said if I do my part..then he will hold up to his end & take care of the financial part of my treatment. I thought my brother had given up on me. But, he hasn’t. Instead he has been praying for me. My kids (who he ended up adopting after they spend 18 months in an abusive foster home) have been praying for me. Knowing that they haven’t lost hope in me, that they can see past my bad decisions & character defects..knowing they can see my testimony as being a valuable assest to God’s kindom that will give Him the glory of my redemption, that will no doubt prove that He really is who He says he me some hope back.

    Hope that all of the pain & suffering that my children & myself have gone through will not be in vain. God has promised to turn our pain into purpose. He has promised to use what the enemy meant to destroy us..and use it for our good. And I whole heartily believe in those promises.

    And that is why I’m going to check back into the Home of Grace with a humble & broken heart & ask God to refine me in the fire. To restore everything the enemy has stolen from me. Including my heart, my mind, my family, my innocence & my relationship with God Almighty himself. I am due to check in on Wed the 27th (I believe this is the correct date). And I pray that I can detox myself by Wed & go in their with a clear mind & cheerful heart. I know the enemy is going to be working overtime this week to prevent me from going. So I’m asking for prayers of protection & positive vibes sent this way.. Thank you for this article. Im scared to death to finally have to feel & deal with all the pain I’ve tried to keep buried & blocked out. But, its time to get clean & deal with it. Im ready to switch lanes & play for the winning team.
    All prayers are appreciated. Thank you again.

    • Amy, first let me say thank you for sharing your story. I also want to tell you how very proud of you i am for giving it another try. You are absolutely right that God will not waste all that you’ve been through. I will certainly be praying. My wife and I represent our church on the 4th thursday of every month and speak at the haven. That means we will see you on the 28th. Please introduce yourself. I look forward to meeting you and seeing what God does with your life!

  5. Thanks for sharing the article. I really appreciate all your work.

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