by Shannon Ellis

Some people have a complete ability to hold down a job, pay bills, and have quasi-normal relationships with their family and friends. This is not the case for me. The simplest acts of life take great effort and daily maintenance for me. This is because of something that sets me apart from some people: I am a drug addict.

I have been clean for just over two years. I attend twelve step meetings on a regular basis. Looking back to before the beginning, to the days when drug usage was quite an everyday occurrence, I can recall things that I've done that, today, I can neither understand nor wish to remember. But I must remember, because if my experience helps just one person like me, then it makes that experience irrefutably precious.

Someone who is not a drug addict probably won't understand the meaning of that. But if you've ever spent the night in jail, if you've ever risked your life going into an appalling neighborhood to buy drugs, if you've ever hurt your family nearly beyond repair, if you've ever thought about suicide as the easiest solution to your problemsóthen we have walked similar paths. I've done things for drugs that I wouldn't do clean if I got paid to. I've experienced pain to horrible degrees, and I've put others in pain as well. I've used and abused people, I've manipulated situations and looked pitiful or tried to control everything around meóand my life was falling down the tubes and I couldn't look myself in the mirror.

In desperation I sought refuge in a group of people who were bigger than me in number and their attraction lie in the message of hope that they gave to me with no solicitation on my behalf. I didn't know what to expect when I walked in the doors of my first meeting. But by the time I left that first meeting I knew what I wanted: to live.

Something so simple, isn't it? It brings a smile to my face just thinking back. I had no idea what it meant to live without the use of drugs of any kind. Before I got clean, I moved around eleven times in one year. So needless to say, not many options were left and, understandably, not many people wanted to give me any more help. When I got clean, I was fortunate to have the shelter of my father's roof. I didn't know that different people have different lifestyles, and my father's lifestyle meant that I had to be in at eleven o'clock. For a spiteful nineteen-year-old girl (and I do mean girlóit took awhile before I really grew up) eleven o'clock was a punishment in my mind, but I had no other choice.

Luckily for me, in every situation where I had no other choice, the one choice that I was left with was the one that benefited me the most, though I never would think so at the time. I've come to understand that I don't always know what's best for me. I had several falling-out's with my father because he didn't know how to handle me and I was tired of being handled. I just thought that I knew everything. So off I went.

I sailed through life, ending up in several mishaps here and there, but nothing like the trouble I got in when I was high, so I decided to stick it out. The simple joys in life were so new to me; I can remember the first times that I truly felt all of my sadness and all of my grief and all of my joy. When I was getting high all the time, it was these feelings that would terrify me, and so in anguish I sought relief by trying to escape them any way I knew how. I always had feelings but I only felt them to a certain degree and then once I hit a certain point I would shut down and go no further. Once I got clean, they were all there, waiting to be felt, all at the same time. The first few months of being clean are the hardest for everyone because of this. The physical withdraws are first, then the emotional nakedness occurs, and it is truly difficult. But I got through that too.

Having a job and learning how to be a productive member of society was a job in and of itself. I had to learn how to show up to work on time, be accountable for the work I was doing, and so on and so forth. My first job was at a drugstore processing film. I learned to go to work every day. This was new to me because I was hardly the employee of the month at any job I had. I would usually call in sick, quit on the spot or get fired. So actually showing up and doing work and doing it right, well, that was like winning a marathon race in my own personal olympics. I was learning how to grow up for the first time in my life, and it felt wonderful.

In meetings, I learned how to give of myself. I learned how to work in this little community that somehow pulls together to help even just one person. I've learned that giving of myself is both an honor and a responsibility. I am responsible to carry this message of hope with me wherever I go no matter whatÖ because that's my way of giving back what was so freely given to me.

Relationships with other people have never been easy. I'm a selfish person by nature and I sometimes forget that the world does not revolve around me. It may sound outrageous, but prior to recovery, I had never really considered someone else's feelings. I took and took and took and never gave anything in return. So naturally, that self-centeredness eventually made people laugh in my face. Being clean, I learned what it meant to have a real friendship and be accountable for doing what I say I'm going to do. If I say I'll be there at six o'clock, I'd better be there at six o'clock. If I told you that I wouldn't tell anyone your secrets, I'd better not tell anyone your secrets. It's a matter of integrity. I have learned a few basic rules: you don't fool around with people's feelings, be honest, be open-minded and be willing to do whatever it takes to get what you want.

I didn't learn all of these things that I've mentioned here simply because I heard someone else talking about themóthough I wish it were that easy. I learned these things by people being blunt with me and not sugar-coating anything. I used people and I hurt people, and all the while I was still only thinking about myself: how I felt, what I thought, and on and on. I had to really bite my lip and listen to people and think, "Maybe it's not really all about me?" What a concept!

We have a saying that goes around the meetings: "Don't quit five minutes before the miracle happens." I later found out that it meant, just don't quit since you never know when that'll be. Miracles happen all the time -- I know because I am one. I have been able to do things that I have only dreamed of doing. Today, I am the person I have always wanted to be but only because now I'm able to understand that I have to put forth effort to be this person. I know I can never use drugs again and be this happy or this together. I think about going back to the drinking and drugs but then I think, why would I want to give this up? Life is difficult. But this is a fact I can deal with now. I have a whole new lease on life. I have a lot of laughter and love and friendship and people who care about me and people I care about too. I have something to say to people. I have respect for others and for myself. I have a home, a car, (all paid for on time every month) I even have a dog that I can take care of! I am so grateful to be living this life. There is no shame involved for me. I am totally, 100% clean and serene!!!


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