I’m not sure what recovery means to you or what you’ve learned about people in recovery but to me it’s been the most amazing experience and opportunity for living a prosperous life. Why I’ve been so fortunate to end up in recovery I’ll never know. The majority of people that suffer from addiction face incarceration in one form or another, die a horrible death, or become the walking dead.
As a person in long-term recovery, enjoying my 25th year of complete abstinence from mind and mood altering chemicals including alcohol, I’ve been able to prosper like few others that suffer with addiction. I’ve learned that being “present”, that is taking on each day without anything to alter my mind, is the best way to live life although that’s not our culture’s norm. There’s a stigma that comes with not using drugs and alcohol. There’s actually a continuum along which this stigma lives.
Before stopping my use of mood-altering substances, I fell near the normal end of the cultural continuum. The few days before I began my recovery I was near death. On one end of this spectrum there are a segment of people in our culture that drinking is the norm and if you don’t drink you can’t be a man. I still hear this type of comment when I’m at parties. What’s interesting about this group of people is that they often talk much more about drinking than they actually drink.
Farther along this continuum, people that heavily drink rarely notice that I don’t drink since they’re so involved with their drinking. Many people in this segment are against illicit drugs in any other form but alcohol is cool. I find it interesting how big drinkers judge people that use marijuana. They drink all the time and even drive under the influence. In their mind, “who doesn’t”? Their thinking is “I’ve only have had a few”. It’s their own form of “drinking responsibly”.
The next segment of people I’ve been with use marijuana and drink. They only use drugs for a “good time” and don’t think there’s any issues with this because they don’t use “real” drugs. Then there’s the segment that has crossed this line and uses “real’ drugs or illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, speed or others.
These people usually end up with addiction and have crossed the invisible line that they never planned to cross. For some reason they have grown accustomed to the mental “pain” relief these drugs provide. Then somewhere along the continuum they lose control of the use of these drugs.
Wherever addicts end up on the continuum before entering recovery they experience stigma and perpetrate the stigma too. They say things like well I may drink a lot but I’m not a drug addict. Or I’m addicted to marijuana but I’m not a real drug addict. I only smoke pot but I’m not an alcoholic. There are many forms of the stigma that I’ve experienced in these communities.
The stigma of addiction has not stopped me in my recovery. I’ve been fortunate that way but one of the reasons is that I don’t look like an alcoholic or drug addict. Even when I was using some of these substances, that fact helped me get away with many things. When getting in trouble, the people that had the power would tell me not to do it again and they’d send me on my way. But believe me I’ve had my share of trouble too.
In my recovery I’ve been able to get an undergraduate degree, which took 13 years part-time, and a graduate degree. I was 40 years old when I got my undergraduate degree, which is 21 years after dropping out of school because of my addiction. The undergraduate school I attended supports people in recovery like few other organizations in the world and is one of the recovery colleges of America. These degrees opened doors for me that led to working in a top 35 US company. But during this time I had a secret.
Very few people where I worked knew I was in recovery. I hid this from 99% of the people I worked with especially when working at the largest pharmaceutical company in the world. There were 3 types of reactions I received from the few people I confided in. One was “your secret is safe with me”, second was “congratulations” because they knew someone in recovery, or third was people who wanted to discuss their problem with addiction.
During my time in recovery its been interesting how challenging it is to participate in the corporate world because of the excess drinking of a few and idealization of drinking by others that don’t drink much. In so many corporate situations people talk about drinking to deal with their uneasiness and to break tension during meetings.
I attended numerous Christmas parties wishing I could avoid them but knew it was necessary to attend for career purposes. I worked in an advertising agency with a bar on premises that people would drink at work after hours if they had to work late. I just didn’t fit in, received odd looks, or got ridiculed because I didn’t drink.
This may not sound like traumatic stigma to many people and that I should just suck it up and deal with it. Well I did deal with it and succeeded greatly. I didn’t fit in with most people but so many people partied so hard that I moved up the ranks while they came in with their hangovers. Many wondered why they didn’t get promoted and I did. I didn’t wonder and neither did the people who promoted me.
What does prospering in recovery look like? Well as I mentioned I received two degrees during recovery that have opened many doors for me. My family has the son/uncle/brother they almost lost, I’m healthy and in shape, I’m financially sound, own a home but best of all, I eventually began traveling the world.
My first big adventure was with my graduate school to China. The highlight was being able to meet and interview the woman that brought AA to China in 1998. I learned from her that no one in China ever stayed sober or abstinent from drugs on a regular basis until they began recovery meetings there.
I’ve been to meetings in Hawaii including a meeting on surfboards at Waikiki Beach in the shadows of Diamond Head. Flying over the Grand Canyon is one of my favorites. I’ve met people in recovery in Italy, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Columbia. These people treated me like I was a superstar just because I was in recovery. That’s prosperity in recovery to me