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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Many Faces of Recovery

By Allen Nohre, Terros

What’s it like to stop using alcohol and drugs and live a life of recovery? I have the privilege of interviewing people at various stages of recovery, asking them how they stay clean and sober, and what their recovery life is like. I have come to a conclusion: recovery has common elements, yet each person’s recovery is unique. 

Typically, I interview people who are relatively early in their recovery. They openly describe their struggle with addiction and the havoc it has caused. I am amazed by their willingness to share their story and I admire their courage. After they share their stories, I wonder how they are doing, if their lives are continuing to get better, if they are growing in their recovery, or if their progress has hit a bump in the road.
I followed up on my curiosity by reaching out to a few people I’ve interviewed before. Each person described what their recovery looks like today.

Jacquie: “I Have a Cool Life!”

“I now have everything I used to dream about: a wonderful relationship with JD, my seven year-old son, a cooperative joint-custody arrangement with his father, a great job, a rebuilt relationship with my parents, and wonderful new friends. I have a cool life, not glamorous, but beautiful.”
Jacquie is 33, and after fifteen years of drug use, she is nearly three years into her new life. She is grateful for many things and said, “I even have health insurance, and that makes me feel like a grown-up.” 
Asked what recovery is like now compared with the first few months, she said, “A big part of my recovery at this stage is cleaning up my past by making relationship and financial amends. I am paying all of my past bills even though it takes nearly 40% of my income. And, I’m sober. In fact, I couldn’t be more sober.”
Jacquie said her spiritual program is the center of her life. She begins each day with prayer, attends support group meetings four times a week, stays in touch with close friends who are on a similar spiritual path, and works with newcomers. Jacquie continues to donate recovery literature to clients at Terros Maverick House where her sobriety and recovery got its start in August 2012.
She said she doesn’t have the urge to use or drink. She believes the key is to recognize feelings and behaviors that always come before using like shunning her close friends and avoiding support groups. “Recovery is a lifelong process.”
Jacquie left our Saturday morning interview at Starbucks and headed to her parents’ home where she and her son, JD, will enjoy spending time with family, enjoying her parent’s cooking, and swimming in the pool. Life for the entire family has changed for the better.

Stephan: Reasons to Smile

I met Stephan a year ago when he was enjoying his first year of recovery from using drugs and alcohol. His infectious smile told me he was happy with his new life and his accomplishments. A year later, I visited with him again, and his smile was even bigger. He proceeded to describe the good things that happened in his second year of recovery.

Stephan has experienced dark times. He used and sold drugs, was arrested and served time. He was broke and embarrassed that there were times he asked his mother for money. All of that has changed. He has a full-time job as a cook at a drug treatment program, he and his girlfriend are doing really well, he has paid off fines, is off probation, and with a satisfied smile he said, “I haven’t had to ask my mother for money.”
Stephan said he stays away from drugs because, “I don’t want to lose everything again. If I used, I would go down quickly in drugs and breaking the law. I would lose my job and my true friends in recovery who support me, unlike my former drug using, so-called friends.”
Stephan knows what keeps him in recovery. He said, “The key for me is my recovering friends in support groups and at work who keep me centered on what is most important. My higher power is important to me and in a surprising way my friends are also my higher power.”
For fun, Stephan plays in the Costco Sober Softball League on Sundays and he and his girlfriend have a date night every other Friday. His advice for others as well as himself is: go to meetings that are meaningful for you, have a sponsor, and rely on people who are sober.

Tommy: I’m Becoming Who I Really Am

Tommy has been through a lot in his twenty three years: a childhood of being abused and an adolescence of using and selling heroin, jail, and failing to find recovery after two treatment programs. When I first met Tommy in May 2014, he was living at Terros Maverick House Sober Living, maintaining his sobriety that began nine months earlier.
I met Tommy again, ten months later. He had just returned from work; and, he looked more mature and spoke with greater confidence than a year earlier. After 15 months of living with 27 other men at Sober Living, and having been promoted to Senior Resident, he felt ready to take the next step. He is now living with two friends who are also committed to a life without drugs. Tommy said, “We support each other in our Twelve Step program, but being sober doesn’t mean we don’t have fun. We go to movies, bowling, mini-golf, and have alcohol and drug-free parties with other people our age.” 
I asked him if he worries about using drugs again. He said, “Sometimes I get a little shaky, and that is usually when I am angry about something. But I am able to recognize and manage my feelings. I pray a lot. I don’t get the urge to use and my obsession with drugs is gone. It is a power greater than me that keeps me sober. I call that power God.”
Reflecting on his recovery journey, Tommy said, “During the first year. I was doing what I needed to do to stay away from drugs and I couldn’t have done it without Sober Living. In my second year without drugs, my life started to happen. I became aware of my emotions and I began to feel happy. I call it emotional sobriety. I can feel myself growing up and becoming who I really am. That makes me so happy.”

Robert: Recovery is Freedom

Robert is in his late thirties, stands well over six feet tall, and has the powerful physique of a body builder. However, it is his mental, emotional and spiritual strength, not his physical power that is helping him find recovery from addiction.
When I met Robert in May 2014, he had completed a four-week residential treatment program and was continuing his recovery at Terros Maverick House Sober Living. He said, “The most important thing I got out of treatment was talking about the severe abuse I received as a child, letting myself experience those feelings, and even crying in front of others. I had never done that in my life.” Robert went directly from treatment to Sober Living because, “I knew I had one shot at this.” 
At Sober Living, he had the support and feedback of 27 men, all of whom were learning how to walk the challenging path out of addiction and into recovery. The high point for Robert was a Thanksgiving dinner at Sober Living. That day, his wife told the group that because Robert had changed so much she was moving to a nearby apartment so they could spend more time with each other while Robert continued to work on his recovery at Sober Living.
The next time I met Robert, in March of 2015, he walked over to Sober Living from the nearby apartment where he lives with his wife. He had moved out of Sober Living after 21 months and life is going well for him. He has a full-time job and said, “It’s a great feeling to be able to pay my bills every month for the first time in many years.” He is especially excited about the coming birth of their son, who will be named Ivan. He and his wife plan to move into a house in a year. 
Robert’s recovery began two and one-half years ago. I asked him what recovery is like for him today and he said, “I can summarize it in one word: freedom.”

Further Stages of Recovery

After touching base with Jacquie, Stephan, Tommy, and Robert, I was also curious about what recovery is like for those who have been in recovery for many years. So, I talked to people with 8, 25, and 28 years of living without drugs and/or alcohol.

Suzanne: It’s About Service to Others

Suzanne is certain that the key to her eight-year recovery is helping others who are at various stages in their struggle with addiction. “I have the opportunity to be a positive impact by participating in support groups - especially Celebrate Recovery, volunteering at my church, and sponsoring women. My life is very good because of my service to others, which is also service to God.” 
Suzanne, 45, is the mother of her fifteen year-old daughter whom she says is an amazing girl. “We do a lot of things together like talking and going to the movies. We even get pedicures together. When I talk about serving others, of course I also mean my relationship with my daughter.” Suzanne’s job as a behavioral health referral specialist is also an opportunity to serve others.
After 18 years of drug and alcohol abuse, sobriety and recovery is serious business for Suzanne. “I no longer have urges and triggers that tempt me to use, yet there is no guarantee I’ll not use again. I know that if I do, that will be it — the end of me.” Suzanne said she struggled with a major crisis when she was two and one-half years clean. Her friends from Celebrate Recovery, her sponsor, and her faith in God helped her through that crisis.
“I want to continue to grow and develop as a person, as well as stay clean and sober. I’ve also learned more about myself by attending growth and development trainings at work. They help me be open and honest with others. It’s all a part of recovery, and I’m never going to be done in recovery. It’s a good life!”
Suzanne’s advice for people in the early stages of recovery is the same advice she gives herself: go to meetings, get a sponsor, work the Twelve Steps, be accountable, be of service, and be open to possibilities.

Glenn: Finding the Right Connections

 “Recovery is now a normal part of my life. In fact, I rarely think about it.” Those are the words of a man who 28 years ago had a serious drug and alcohol problem. March 1988 was the beginning of Glenn’s recovery. “Today I have no desire to use drugs or alcohol and I don’t have triggers or urges tempting me to do so.”
But Glenn hasn’t forgotten his struggle in the early years of his sobriety and recovery. “When I got into outpatient treatment, I was homeless and in bad shape. My first four years of recovery were a mess. I wasn’t using, but I was poking the snake with a stick. It was critical for me in the first ten years to follow the guidelines of the recovery program by going to meetings and having a sponsor. I also needed to do things I enjoyed. I was a biker and I found other bikers who were clean and sober.”
Today Glenn has purpose and meaning. His marriage and his 17-year old son enrich his life. It is also important to him that his 89 year-old mother lives with them. Glenn is a licensed professional counselor and manager of behavioral health treatment programs. 
Glenn found a spiritual connection by participating in Native American sweat lodge ceremonies. “An Apache friend helped me connect with the Spirit, and the sweat lodge ceremony gives me the opportunity to share with others.” 
For Glenn, recovery is “using your skills and knowledge to your advantage, learning your character defects by interacting with others, and moving forward.” His words of wisdom to those in the early stages of recovery is: work the steps, go to meetings, get a sponsor, and especially pay attention to who you are and what you are doing.

Barbara: Still a Miracle

A year ago, Barbara Brown, publisher of Together AZ, shared her 24- year journey of recovery with her readers (“Nothing Short of a Miracle” June 2014). She wrote, “I got sober in 1990 from alcohol and drugs, and by the grace of God I was given the opportunity to start my life again. It is nothing short of a miracle!”

A year later, I met Barbara at a Starbucks and asked her about her 25th year of recovery. She said, “I never thought I could stay sober one day at a time and accomplish sobriety. I didn’t think people did this because, at the time, I didn’t know anyone who did. Now I know there are thousands of others like me who are living examples that not using alcohol or drugs, one day at a time, can accumulate to 25 or more years of great living.”

“Today, it feels so natural. Sobriety and recovery are a part of who I am and the most important thing in my life. Without it I have nothing. Fortunately, I still have a healthy fear of alcohol and drugs because I could lose everything in an instant if I went back to my old life.”
I asked her if going to three or four meetings a week gets boring after 25 years. She said, “Sometimes I think that, but I take it as a signal that I need to go to a meeting. My late husband Bill, said there is never a bad meeting if you go there to learn. So I walk in, take my chair and remind myself that I am there to stay sober, not to be entertained.” 

What does recovery look like in year 25? “For me, it is living a life of integrity and honesty, and doing the best I can every day to be of service to others.” Barbara is of service to more than her friends. She helps people she doesn’t even know with the publication of Together AZ. 
When I asked Barbara what she will do on June 17, 2015, her 25th anniversary, she said, “The most important thing I will do on that day is wake up sober and go get my 25-year chip. What can be better than that?”

Allen Nohre is a writer for Terros. Terros helps people manage addiction and mental illness, provides primary medical care, restores families, serves veterans with PTS, and promotes healthy communities. For information and assistance call 602-685-6000 or visit www.terros.org.