Jenn: July 22, 1989

People in Long-Term Recovery, Recovering Addicts and Alcoholics

“It’s been a miraculous journey of change, and it’s not because I’m a special person. This program is for the not-special people. It’s for people that nothing else seemed to work. It’s a dramatic, drastic change, but when you’re trying to save a life, nothing short will do.”

I’m Jennifer, and I got clean when I was eighteen years old. I got clean after being introduced to the fellowship after being arrested and getting in trouble. I was forced to kind of go to meetings. I had to go because my counselor told me I had to go.

I remember going to a bunch of meetings where there were a bunch of people talking about alcohol, a bunch of old men. I thought that was cool, whatever. Then one night I read the meeting schedule wrong. I might have been high, could have been drunk. I ended up in a different fellowship meeting. I knew it was different from the get-go, because the people that walked in were like the bikers and the hippies and the heads. They were all laughing and joking and hugging each other, so I thought I messed up and sat in some religious cult meeting.

This really cute guy from the local halfway house sat down next to me and started talking to me right away so I stayed. There was definitely attraction, not promotion. I knew that this place was a little different. They talked about drugs. I thought, “Hey that’s cool.”

My life was a mess, but I didn’t really attribute it to the drugs. It’s really not the drugs—it’s my addiction—but at the time I had to go to the meetings because I got in trouble with drugs. To me, drugs wasn’t the enemy, it was my friend. I liked drugs. I liked getting high more than anything.

The only time I didn’t like drugs was when I got caught with them or I ran out of them. Me and drugs had a relationship, and I liked it a lot. I knew I had a problem. The problem was me. I felt like the meetings were just saying, “If you just stop getting high, and you stop getting drunk, everything’s going to be fine. Everything’s just going to fall into place, and life’s going to be great.”

That wasn’t true for me. My problems started when I was straight. I didn’t like how I felt when I was straight. Things were not okay for me, so that’s why I didn’t think I was a addict, because when I was straight is when I had the most difficulty with life, and how I felt about life and myself. I liked getting high.

My life was unmanageable because I kept getting arrested and stuff, and I couldn’t tell where I was going to end up from day to day when I was using. I come from a family of earth people. There’s no other addicts in my family. I call them earth people. I think I was born an addict. I think I could see, looking back, I can see a lot of addictive behaviors.

I was like the fattest kid in elementary school. I think my first real drug of choice was food. I did a lot of anti-social behaviors. I wouldn’t clean the house, and I wouldn’t take a bath. I liked to chase my older sisters around with steak knives just to see the look on their face. My parents and my family was mortified by me. They’d be like, “What is wrong with you?”

I remember cutting elementary school, and staying home and eating jelly sandwich after jelly sandwich, and hula-hooping naked to Sesame Street, and having a ball. That was fun. I was high. My family looked at me like, “What in the hell is wrong with you?” I remember trying to tell them how I thought and how I felt about things, and they would look at me with that blank look on their face like, “What is wrong with you? We have no idea what you’re even talking about.”

I learned that what I felt and thought was not okay. Just tell people what you think they want to hear, so that you get out of it. My life kind of progressed, me just doing whatever I felt like doing, which a lot of times was anti-social and got me in a lot of trouble and I felt like I couldn’t be like the good kids until I got my first high, which was drinking.

Around the age of eleven, in the cornfield with my cousin, like most people from Cecil County, I remember getting drunk. Not like sipping on pop-pop’s beer, but really partying and getting drunk and smoking pot. I loved it. It was the best. I kind of made a decision then to turn my will and my life over to a power greater than myself, which was that feeling.

I didn’t know I was doing it then, but looking back I can see how that was when it happened. Over time, my choices became about finding ways and means to get more. The square friends got dropped for cool kids, and the band got dropped, field hockey got dropped, and this fat, square, elementary school kid, who really liked science, got an identity of partying. I liked to party, that’s what we called it.

I loved it. No matter how high I got, what drugs I did, it never took away that initial confusion that I had. That behind the happy, hippie mask, there was always a feeling of not understanding what was going on in life and with other people. My disease was progressive like they talk about. When I started out in the cornfield with my cousin, just smoking pot and drinking, I said, “I will never snort anything. I’ll never snort anything, because those coke heads cannot be trusted. They’re going to steal all your shit, and you don’t even hang out with them.”

The first time I was offered a line, I did it. I loved it, and the line in the sand moved over to trips. Never do trips. Psychedelics are crazy. If you do seven of them, you’re considered legally insane in the state of Delaware. You’re going to have flipper babies. I had my soap box. I would never do that. First time it was offered to me for free, I did it and I loved it.

I felt like, “Hey man, you’ve got to have an educated opinion. You can’t just be like saying it’s bad. You’ve got to try it at least.” I loved it, and the line went on. I never do needles. I hate needles. Oh my gosh, even at the doctor, right? Never do dirty needles either. “That is bad,” that’s what I would say. If you’re doing that, you are messed up.

The first time it was offered to me, I stuck my arm out, and said, “You hit me.” It was a dirty needle. That’s progression. It was progressing despite me. I had all these lines in the sand at the end of the day. Then the next morning I’d wake up and look at myself in the mirror, and just be full of self-hate. Like, “What a piece of shit.” There’s nothing worse than a hypocrite, and I was a hypocrite.

I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I’d say, “Well, tonight’s going to be a different night. I’ll never do that again.” It would go over, and over, and over like that. I had lines in the sand all over in my life. Like I’ll never steal for it. I’ll never drink and drive. That was a huge one. I’ll never do that. You should be fucking castrated you do that shit. Then I wake up behind the wheel. The next morning, I look at myself like, “You are one piece of shit. Tonight will be different. I’m only going to smoke pot. I’m going to hang out with the good girls. I’m not going to do that.”

Then it would just change. I would change my mind. That’s why I didn’t think I was powerless though, because I would change my own mind. I thought powerlessness meant that you couldn’t control it. I felt like I was making choices. Nobody was forcing me to use. I just changed my mind, but that is powerlessness when you change your own mind despite yourself.

Anyway, I’m going to meetings at this time, and I’d go to meetings high, and I’d go to meetings drunk, and nobody ever pointed me out and shooed me away. They’d say, “Keep coming back.” I didn’t think they could tell I was high, but I bet you they did. They could tell. I still didn’t think it was for me. I was way young, and people would say, “Gosh at your age, I was still having fun,” and, “I’ve been alive longer that you’ve been using.” I’d be like, “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t belong here. My problem is deeper than this.” They were wrong.

I feel like I had more misery in my pinkie than most of those people felt in their lifetime. I had a hard time identifying in the meetings. I did get four months clean at one point, just by going to meetings, and hanging out with the clean guys, and doing all the fun stuff. I’d go to a meeting every night, I stayed clean for four months. I never worked the steps. I couldn’t get with that. I didn’t want some chick as my sponsor. I didn’t like girls, and back then the dudes wouldn’t sponsor you.

I remember I had to go to treatment at one point. It was during that four months, and that’s when I learned about a sponsor. They told me it had to be a girl. I was really bummed out. When I got out of rehab, and I was going to meetings, and was trying to find people, a girl, that I could kind of relate to. There was only three in the area that I knew, that had over a year clean at that time. They were all old, and in their thirties.

Two of them, the normal looking ones, that had like families and stuff, I asked them and they shot me down because they had too many sponsees, and the only one left was this bad-ass biker chick. She had tattoos and a hairy old man that looked like the guy from ZZ Top. They would ride up on the meetings on their motorcycle. When they came in and spoke, we all listened, because we were scared.

She was the only one left. I went up to her after the meeting. I was like, “Hey, will you be my sponsor?” She was like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Cool.” I never called her or nothing, because I was too scared, but I would see her at the meetings, and I could claim her as my own like, “Look how bad-ass I am. I got a bad-ass sponsor, and look at my man. He’s in the program.” You’d see me at the meetings and I’m reading the literature, and I’m sharing and talking the talk.

I got four months clean just by going through the motions, but nothing inside of me changed. I still really wanted to get high. I didn’t like myself, and I didn’t like my life, so I got high again, and “nevers” and “not yets” started coming true pretty fast. I’d been out there quite a while, and one night I was in my room, and I’d been in my room a lot at the end. I’d use a lot by myself. I would get drunk and high by myself and then cry. I hated that room.

I remember there was a bed, a dresser with a mirror, and black and white TV, and I would get drunk and high with the Thundercats and the Three Stooges because we didn’t have cable. I would sit there and draw morbid stuff, and write sad-ass poetry, and get wasted and cry, looking at myself in the mirror.

If you’d have walked in on me, I would have said I wasn’t. I didn’t know why I was crying. If I would be talking to myself in the mirror, it would have been something like, “Fuck you. I hate you. Fuck this.” Being mad at God, that he wouldn’t take it away. He wouldn’t kill me. I was too afraid to kill myself, and I was too afraid to live. I couldn’t leave that room because I didn’t know what would happen to me. It just got worse and worse every time I went out there, man, so I just stayed in my room.

When I would come out, my family would look at me with that same blank look on their face. “What is wrong with you? What the fuck is wrong with you?” I had no answer for that. I really didn’t. I’d look at them, and I’d think to myself, “It must be you. It must be your fault. You must have raised me wrong or something.”

Anyway, it was one of those nights. I was in my room all crying. I was drunk probably. There was a Basic Text there from when I had been in the meetings once before. I had read that thing 100 times in rehab, and the meetings. I feel like, for the first time ever, I read the black part—the words. I think every time before, I was trying to figure out how I was going to get saved or something.

It couldn’t be just as simple as the words. It had to be some magical, mystical power, like church, where it comes and grabs you if you’re in the right position at the right time. This time I read the words, and I read the “Who is an addict” chapter. It was like I was standing in front of the mirror without any of my defenses, or my excuses.

I saw the piece of shit that was there, and what was there was written down in that chapter. All the things that I didn’t tell anybody about how I felt, and the way my life had become on a daily basis was written down in that chapter.

I read step one, and in there it talks about the results of the disease of addiction. It’s not DUIs or prostitution, or shooting up or Yukon Jack versus wine coolers. The results of the disease of addiction is isolation, degradation, loss of control, distrust of others, embarrassment, guilt, shame. That’s how you know you’re an addict is by feeling those things when you’re straight.

Earth people don’t feel those things, not like that. Earth people don’t live that way. Those things were all that I felt when I wasn’t high. This was saying that, “If you feel this way, chances are you may be an addict. Take heart that we have found a way out. That you can learn to separate yourself from the pain that many of us have felt all our lives, and learn to live a new way.” It freaked me out, kind of scared me. At the end of that chapter, it says, “This can be frightening, but it is the foundation on which we build our new lives. [It} is the admission that I’m an addict.”

They even knew when I was scared. I was like, “Well fuck, I can either use until I die or whatever else happens. Get arrested, or I can try this one last stitch thing, and really go back and do it their way, not my way.” I went back to the meetings, and I listened. It was like I could hear differently. I could hear the people who had seen death too, and didn’t want to get high. Those were the winners, and they were running the meeting and cleaning up and sharing about it.

One of those people was that bad-ass biker chick. When she shared, I could hear past her tattoos and her hairy old man to what she was saying. What she was saying was talking about her pain when she came in, and how she had—sounds just like my pain—and that she had found a woman to work the steps with her, and now she felt happy.

I asked her to be my sponsor again, and she said, “Yes.” This time I called her. That shit does not feel right. It was hard to call, and if you wait until the program feels right or normal, you will wait too long. It never feels right or normal. What feels right and normal is to make decisions to lead me to using time and time again.

I had hitchhiked, I have taken drugs I didn’t know what they were. I have done all kinds of stuff. I have slept with ugly men on the inside, but to pick up that phone and call that chick was the hardest thing I’d ever done.

It comes down to saying, “Man, you’ve got to just do this one last time. You cannot say it doesn’t work if you don’t do it exactly the way they say it.” I called her and she said, “Come meet me at the coffee shop.” I was scared. I didn’t know what this chick would want from me. Is she going to be some kind of parole officer? Is she going to be some kind of religious guru, making me call her every day? I can’t even call my mom every day, but I was like, “We’ll just see what happens.”

I met her at the coffee shop, and she gave me this spiral notebook with seventeen questions on step one. She said, “Answer these to the best of your ability. Use your Basic Text and the meetings to help you and the people in the rooms. You’ve got about thirty days to do it. Don’t get high. Go to meetings, and don’t call me every day because you’re sick and I don’t want to be talking to you like that.” I was like, “Cool.”

She said, “If you do call me, I’m going to say, ‘Who else did you call, and what did they say? Because I want to make sure that you’re building a support network outside of me.’” She said, “Jennifer, we’re going to build your recovery on a four-legged table. Each leg is going to be strong. Equally strong is the goal. One leg is sponsor. One leg is step work. One leg is fellowship, and one leg is God, so that if one flips out, you’ll still be standing on those three legs until the other one comes back. Like a sponsor. If you have your table just built on a sponsor, and they get high or sleep with your man, you’re screwed. Your fellowship leg, your step leg, and your God leg will hold you up until you get a new one.”

It’s the same thing with the fellowship. Sometimes it feels like the fellowship, they’re all assholes. They’re all talking about me, or trying to sleep with my man, or getting in my business, so my fellowship leg is out. If my sponsor, and my step and my God legs are strong, I’d be okay until I get a new perspective. I checked myself to this day with those four legs. How many legs is my recovery on?

If you’re only on two legs, you’re in trouble. If you’re on one leg, you better be getting to doing something because it’s only a matter of time. My sponsor said we were going to do that. I took the step home, and then I had written on these steps at rehab. I had studied them in meetings. I read them 100 times, but when I answered the questions from her, something inside of me changed. The only thing I can relate this to is that there is a power greater than us that’s in this program. This is a program given by God and His mercy of answering people’s prayers. When you do it exactly like they tell you to do it, you’re going to get exactly what they say we’re going to get. You can’t say it doesn’t unless you honestly tried it.

I’m writing on this question, these questions, and talking about the first step. I had read the first step as being, “Admit we’re powerless over drugs. Admit we’re powerless over alcohol. Admit we’re powerless over narcotics.” That’s all I read, but that’s not what it says.

It says, “We admitted we were powerless over the disease of addiction.” That’s something totally different. I had never read it that way, even though that’s what it says. There’s three aspects of the disease of addiction. In order to say, “I’m an addict” I had to admit my powerlessness over these three aspects: it’s physical, mental, and spiritual.

The physical aspect of the disease of addiction is once I pick up that first one, I can’t stop until I’m obliterated. There’s no social using for me 95% of the time. I will always change my own mind. I’ll say I’m only smoking pot, I’m only going to drink, and by the end of the night, I’ve changed my mind enough that I’m selling everything I have for another hit. The next day I say, “It’ll be different.”

Now five percent of the time I could control it because I knew people were watching and I was trying to prove something, but me, by myself and my own choices, I’m powerless over the physical aspect, that one is too many, and 1,000 never enough.

The second aspect of the disease of addiction, is the mental aspect. It’s the decision that I made to use despite all negative known consequences. I’ll know that I will lose my job, my man, my home and my freedom, and I’ll still make the decision to use anyway. I’ll tell myself things like, “I won’t get caught, I’ll figure it out, I’ll get my neighbor’s pee or go to GNC and get some medicine, pass the piss test, I’ll figure it out, or just fuck it.

Normal people don’t make those kinds of decisions. A normal person who’s on parole or probation facing time when they come up with a dirty urine, is not going to get drunk or high because it’s like they weigh it out. Am I going to get drunk or high, or go to jail and be with a bunch of chicks for a long time, or I’m going to be free and stay straight?

An addict, man, we weigh it out, and then be like, “Fuck it. I’ll get high and figure it out.” It’s not sensible, which is why I can’t be around people, places, and things because I’ll change my mind despite myself. That’s the mental aspect of the disease of addiction.

The third aspect is the spiritual aspect. It’s my total self-centeredness—not to be confused with selfishness. It stumbled me for a while, like, “I’m not self-centered. I’d fucking share my drugs. What? I’d give the shirt off my back to people that I love. I’m not self-centered.”

Selfishness can be a symptom of self-centeredness, but not necessarily. Self-centeredness is the state of my head. I’m consumed with thoughts about myself. I can’t stop it. It’s reliving past experiences over and over as if they just happened.

Feeling it with the same intensity, whether it happened yesterday, ten weeks ago, or ten years ago, I’ll relive it, and rethink it, and re-feel it. Self-centeredness is projecting the future. Analyzing, theorizing, being prepared for any kind of switch in the road. Thinking all that shit out. Consuming my head with it. It’s like self-centered addicts think that we know what other people are thinking about us.

Like, have you ever said, “I think that she thinks that I think …?” Then make decisions on that bullshit, and what I think that you’re thinking that I’m thinking about you. That’s nuts. That is craziness. That is self-centeredness. It’s not something that I choose. It’s like I’m in the center. I don’t have a higher power or a God in the center of my world. It all comes down to me, and it’s all on my shoulders, and I’ve got to be safe, and I’ve got to make sure everything is okay and work it out, but it never goes well.

The results of being self-centered, you can see it in the way a person lives. Isolation, degradation, loss of control, distrust of others, embarrassment, guilt, shame, and remorse, and that’s clean. That’s addiction. When I read and wrote all that stuff, and I knew that was me, that’s me without the drugs. That’s me any given day. That’s been me for a long, long time, and that’s why I want to die.

Here it’s saying, “There’s a way out.” I can surrender to this program and learn to live a new way, not by [a] fucking magical wand over my life, or getting hit by some mysterious lighting rod, I can work these steps and learn a new way to live. It’s spiritual, not religious. The solution is spiritual in nature. Spirituality is the opposite of self-centeredness. Spirituality just means that practice in spiritual principals in my life.

Like love and courage, honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, integrity, faith. When we’re practicing them in our lives, we are being spiritual. You can be spiritual and not be religious. I know you know someone who’s religious, and ain’t a fucking thing spiritual about them. You can be both. I knew the literal meaning of these spiritual words, but I didn’t know how to apply them to my thinking, and I certainly didn’t know how to work them in my life without faking it.

It didn’t come naturally to me. It’s like I was born with them or something. The steps teach us how to understand them and apply them, and to the extent that I apply them into my life is how you can measure whether I’m spiritual or not. What I found out is that spiritual living is better than any drug I’ve ever been on, including mushrooms. I swear it’s true. It lasts longer and it still blows my mind.

It’s been twenty-seven years since I first did that first step, and I made a decision to surrender, just for today, not forever. Certainly not for twenty-seven years. My will and my life, you know, I surrendered to the program, and take direction and learn to live a new way of life.

It’s been a miraculous journey of change, and it’s not because I’m a special person. This program is for the not-special people. It’s for people that nothing else seemed to work. It’s a dramatic, drastic change, but when you’re trying to save a life, nothing short will do.

I look at it as it saved my life. It’s because of that that I’m so grateful that I will do things like this or anything else that may help someone along the path of finding this new way of life that’s free to anybody. Recovery is about taking some suggestions from other people, and in the beginning, it’s about really trying to put my life into the fellowship, not trying to figure out when I’m going to have time to do the fellowship.

It’s like if you only used on Tuesdays, then by all means, only go to meetings on Tuesdays. But if you used every day, you should be in a meeting every day for ninety days at least to get a whole new set of people, places, and things in your life. Families need to understand that there’s a process going on there. There’s a reason that we must embed ourselves into a new way of life at the beginning.

It’s such a drastic thing, but it’s got a big payoff. That sponsor, when I got to the fifth step, I chose to use that sponsor to share it with. What was really cool was that I realized that this woman was the first unconditionally, loving relationship that I ever had. I didn’t see it coming. By her putting herself out, of what I considered a friend. What I knew about friends and girls was that they either wanted my drugs or my man, and they couldn’t be trusted, just like me.

She put herself in this category of sponsor, and I didn’t know what the fuck that was. Then by the time we got to the fifth step, I realized that through working these steps with her, that we had built a relationship on honesty, trust, and respect. These are the real principals of friendship.

When I got to that point and realized that she had kind of snuck that in on me, how awesome it was to identify that love and be able to give it now to other girls that I sponsor. It’s like she freed up a whole half of the population for me to give and receive love to. The recovery journey has been a lot about those little awakenings that has set my spirit free. Free from true addiction which lies between my ears. It’s not what I’m drinking, smoking, fucking, eating, or spending. It’s how I’m thinking and feeling about my life.

Today my life is incredibly changed. I have a wonderful man that I’m in a monogamous relationship with. He’s like a beautiful person, and I have four awesome kids, one with special needs. I live free, just for today. I have lived all my twenties and all my thirties clean, and I had a fucking great time, man, totally straight. I have jumped from airplanes, seen thousands of concerts… all right, hundreds. I have loved a lot of beautiful men. I have done some amazing things, and traveled around the country, and been to meetings everywhere.

Now, I’m in my forties. I’m learning how to be old. That is fucking awesome. I didn’t think I’d live this long. I’m not just living, like I’m fucking living, from the heart. It’s from the inside out, and it’s because of this program, and being able to teach me spiritual principals on how to base my reactions and actions on principles, not the self-centered, self-destructive drive that I knew for so long.

Photographs taken outside of Jenn’s RV at Bar Harbor RV Park and Campground in Abingdon, Maryland.

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