In 6 months, I took 6 steps to escape full-time drug dealing and begin a sober life of purpose. Even with court cases looming, I find joy in sobriety.
I never would have imagined that the phrase, “I can handle it,” would wreak such havoc in my life. When mom called, I sent her straight to voicemail. Invites to various family functions filled me with anxiety. They can’t see me like this, I thought. The litany of excuses that I learned to regurgitate leered above my loftiest goals. I was doing nothing, fast. I was going nowhere, slow.
Trapped in my apartment smoking, snorting, and selling crystals, my life had devolved into a fantasy. I’m going to build a supercomputer, I thought listlessly before surfing craigslist for hours seeking sex. “Wanna start a landscaping business?” I asked other half-baked hobags in between puffs of phencyclidine. We dreamed our half-brain dreams until the shadow cats necessitated the burning of sage to keep them away from my living room (because they, among other things, eat your brains).
Inevitably, dad would call. Click.
“Cory, are you going to your sister’s wedding?” Click. I’ll just say that I lost connection.
When friends from the days before party-and-play would send me a message on Facebook, I’d reply with generic nonsense. Anyone in my life who did not regularly rave, smoke weed, get cocked, or push pills became antithetical to my existence. Like everyone’s favorite politician, I kept those outsiders at bay with gross omissions of fact. As far as the sober world was concerned, I was alright — noticeably absent from major events, but all-in-all alright.
As addicts, why do we get off on believing our own bullshit? I wasn’t alright, I was getting worse! My body ached, my skin crawled, my teeth tingled in a way far from normal. I was becoming a walking form of decay, moldy meat. Despite this, I would not ask for help. The day of my arrest, I sat alone in my cellar, saturated in shame. I knew I was a mess, but I had no idea how to fix it. Everyone’s advice smelled sour; either they wanted something from me, or hadn’t a clue about my situation.
My deluded mind convinced me that nobody knew how to help. If I had not been arrested on a breaking and entering charge, my mother’s heart would be broken and I would be interred.
Prison provided me with the opportunity to evaluate the trajectory of my life. But as you probably know, when drug addicts get out of jail, many of them relapse.
Prison didn’t cure me. I wasn’t scared straight. I did, however, begin to take steps in the right direction. Today, with six sober months under my belt, I want to share what worked for me. If you follow these steps, you too may be able to break the cycle.
Step 1: Accept + Ask for Assistance
Overtime, pride made me too strong to stand on my own two feet. I didn’t have a problem and you weren’t going to convince me otherwise. Once I got locked up, I had to be brave enough to realize that my way wasn’t working
It started off small. During my arrest, my glasses broke. Unable to see but a foot in front of me, I had to humbly ask my mother, whom I neglected while actively using, to buy me a new pair and ship them up to Rhode Island from her home in Georgia. She took it upon herself to show up a week later and hand-deliver them to me. For the first time since my maternal grandmother’s death, a funeral I missed because I was high, mom and I could grieve together. On her last day, she asked me to move in with her after my two-month bid. I accepted.
A few weeks later I had court. My aunt showed up, the same tireless woman who pleaded to me to go into rehab just a month before my addiction left me incapable of fending for myself. Capable as ever, she had solicited family members to write letters to the judge presiding over my case, imploring His Honor to hold me without bail. Everyone wanted me in treatment, a request I consistently denied for years. When my public defender approached me, and explained my aunt’s wishes, which centered on my attendance to a three-month residential program, I finally listened.
Step 2: Choose to Keep Cool
During my stay at TPC, eighty guys came and went. Boisterous boys who were quick to demonstrate their dominance were the first to fall through the cracks. Those who made it through the program with integrity kept it simple. They didn’t brag or boast. They knew an important secret that the majority failed to grasp: allowing others to be right relieves the pressure of proving they’re wrong.
It sounds like yesterday’s news, right? You’ve heard “pick and choose your battles.” But, have you ever stopped to process this piece of wisdom? I began to apply it with remarkable results during treatment.
Morons will exist everywhere. Share what you know if others are receptive, and keep it moving should they choose to remain ignorant. Instead of letting anger swell, I end negative conversations politely and return to polishing my future.
Keeping your cool circumvents the ability of outside stimuli from controlling you like a puppet. I had to begin within.
I had to learn to sit with myself without negative thoughts eating away at my ability to relax. To unearth my own inner calm, I forgave myself for the most outrageous wrongs I committed under the influence. I wrote to my most recent lover, apologizing for being a physically abusive boyfriend. I called my little sister and expressed my guilt for missing her wedding. The more I let go of negative feelings inside me, the cooler I became.
Your strength comes from the complexity of your character, not its coarseness.
Step 3: Make Your Own Commandments
Sobriety enables you to be the master of you. The parameters you set for yourself inject joy into making choices.
My friend William Winfield taught me this invaluable piece of advice. Just like religions dictate the difference between right and wrong, you need a code of ethics that resonate with you. As a Christian, the Bible inspired William to make a list of ten personal commandments that he refuses to violate — no matter what. When I thought of my goals in this light, as objectives for my character with a power tantamount to the most read book in the world, suddenly I saw the validity of my own power.
If religions scare you, screw ’em. Choose rules that work for you.
To make my list of personal commandments, I borrowed mottos from people I admire, mimicked the creed of heroes from my favorite video games, and wrote down the first thing that came to mind. To make sense of everything, I placed two sheets of paper down on my desk, one with lines, one pure white. While brainstorming, I recorded every relevant thought on lined paper. Sometimes, the first imperative that I thought would work for me turned out to be an ethic that I valued little. So, I struck it out. I transferred the remaining thoughts to the other piece of white paper. I began to follow my commandments the very next day.
Step 4: Commit to Being Sober
You are bound to encounter people, places, and things that bring to mind the glory days getting wasted. I regularly talk to people from my past. Some of them have chosen to get clean, others still squander their potential. No matter what they say to me, I remain resolute.
There will be times when conversations steer toward trigger words. You will invariably see torches, needles, ashtrays, or porn that remind you of soaring on your substance of choice. Never question your choice to live a sober life.
Be your own broken record. Repeat to yourself time and again your desires for a new life. If you experience burning desires frequently, share them — let them out. Write them down or get to a meeting. The less you hide, the easier your life of sobriety will be.
Step 5: Exercise Even If You Don’t Eat Right
I used to be a sex symbol, but now, you can call me jumbo. In jail, I scarfed all the bread I could at chow. My cellie warned me against it, but my goal was to sleep through the majority of my bid. I vied for opportunities to sit near fellas whom were known to be picky eaters just so I could have double or triple portions. Sleeping in a food coma helped my malnourished body heal. Eventually, the excess energy exploded along my hips.
I could care less. I still run, walk, and do pushups. My body is far from being what it used to be, but I am confident that I will reach a new peak physique. For every minute I invest in exercise, I erase one hour of inebriation.
Maintaining your sobriety is a source of pride that makes any of your insecurities seem insignificant.
As I progress in my recovery, I look forward to salvaging my ideal body gradually. For now, movement in a positive direction is good enough for me.
Step 6: Have Sober Hobbies
Fill your time with activities that bring you satisfaction. I chose to pursue my passion for programming and writing. The are plenty of education hubs online that are affordable and interesting. Do what you’ve always dreamed of doing — forget doubt and obligation.
You owe nobody an explanation for how you want to spend your life. You do, however, owe yourself an evaluation of what you enjoy. I stopped shutting down flights of fancy that I once considered beneath me, or un-hip, or too hip. If an activity appeals to me, I do it, as long as it doesn’t violate the rights of others or threatens my sobriety.
Now that I’m clean, I’ve replaced a lot of my hurtful habits with healthy addictions. I write as much as possible. I compulsive pursue new skills. And since my mind is no longer warped by an obnoxious amount of foreign chemicals, I am able to balance these new obsessions with functions necessary for survival…like showering.
One of my favorite pastimes is the accumulation of naysayers. Those who hate on me end up inspiring me to grow. So, I make every effort to do what makes me happy.
I geek out.
I get weird.
My freak flag proudly flies.
You might not like reading poetry, but I do. You might think that yoga is wack, but it helps me attack my demons. The more me I become, the less “they” can affect me.
Being sober for six months may not seem like a lot to most people, but in this instance, most people don’t matter. I may be fat. Perhaps I’m lewd. I certainly could use another shower. But alas, I am my own master, and that’s the only thing that matters.