I recently celebrated my 10th year in long-term recovery (April 8, 2017). In hitting milestones, its normal to reflect back on moments of the journey. I think back to July 2005.
A dark room. Table, desk, chairs. I’m with a staff psychiatrist of the Green Oaks Psychiatric Hospital in Dallas, Texas. My brothers, Mark and Jeff, are sitting at the table across from me. I have a vague recollection of my younger brother rousing me from my bed. My .45 automatic lying on my nightstand. I had become so disgusted and horrified with the “monster” I saw in my reflection that I had lost the desire to live. In my mind, I would be doing the world and my family a favor by relieving them of my existence. The fog and darkness of suicidal thoughts.
Sitting in that room, the residuals of cocaine, Xanax, and Jack Daniels are still coursing through my veins. Questions from the attending psychiatrist pierce my fog and anger like tracer rounds. “What drugs have you taken? How are you feeling? Do you want to hurt yourself? “
In the back of my mind, what’s left of the lawyer takes over. I know that my family can’t commit me, but he can. Proceed with caution. I don’t mention that I had been “practicing” sticking the barrel of the gun in my mouth and dry-firing the gun.
Ripped back to reality. Voices in the room. The doctor is talking to me again. When was the last time I used cocaine? I’m pretty sure it has been recently, since it was all over the room when my brothers showed up. I had become the consummate liar in hiding the obvious cocaine habit and drinking problem from my family.
More questions. Do I think I need help? Will I go to rehab? Sure, whatever will get me out of here? I lash out again. They have no right to do this. I yell across the table. “You have no right to control my life! I am an adult! Mind your own business!” They quietly let me rant.
Blaming them for the darkness is so much easier than seeing the light. The doctor is asking calm, focused questions, to ascertain whether I am a danger to myself. At times I am calm in my answers. At times I am crying, angry at him, then at my brothers. Quit asking the same questions! I know your game! Quit treating me like an idiot!
An hour has passed. The room is getting brighter. The love and calm of my brothers soothes me. Quiets me, softens my edges. It’s always been there, but I wasn’t present enough to sense it. I was thinking only of myself: My next high. My next drink. Without the drugs, what am I going to see in the mirror each morning? The thought terrifies me. My brothers calm me, and I begin to focus on my love for my family. Arms are around me. Holding me. I begin to feel the love penetrating my shell. They are not the enemy. Should I go to rehab? What about twelve-step? I’m still on the defensive, but at least for the moment I can listen.
Sitting in that room during my first of two trips to a psychiatric facility seems so long ago. I was not ready for recovery. I didn’t want it. I would not go into long term recovery for cocaine and alcohol until April 8th 2007 but that was one of the pivotal moments in at least bringing my family into the picture and subconsciously opening me up the possibility or sobriety. It would take another trip back to the same facility to finally bring me to the point of taking those first steps which for me were twelve step and private psychiatric therapy and anti-depressant medication. All equally important in my recovery. In moving through long term recovery, I have learned many lessons.
I have learned that recovery does not mean absence of grief and pain. It means dealing with them on their own terms without running away from my feelings.
I’ve learned that recovery is multifaceted. I had to deal with where I was which meant getting sober but just as importantly, I had to deal with how I got there. For me this meant allowing myself to be vulnerable and tear back all the layers of my life to childhood. To tell a little boy that he was loved and it is ok to love himself.
I have learned that neither addiction nor my other mental health issues are anything to be ashamed of as I believed they were for so many years.
I have learned that it is important to share my journey with others so they know that recovery is possible even if there are relapses. It’s about resilience. It’s about picking myself up and stepping forward again.
I have learned that I am enough. So are you.
Brian Cuban is an attorney, author and recovery advocate. His second book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption is already an Amazon #1 Best Seller in pre-order.