Harm Reduction


A place where addiction is not a crime.

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desdemonaspace wrote in harm_reduction

Opiferum had to remind me. I must be getting old.

39 years of sobriety today. Go team me!

I drank in grade school, the end years. My parents had a bar in the basement, and my dad was a buyer for a chain of grocery store, and salesmen were always giving him samples, and gifts that included wine and booze. He and my mother didn't drink much, other than rare parties at home or when they went out, so I was safe in swiping wine or whiskey. I remember a sixth-grade slumber party in my upstairs room (that my mother rarely came up to) and all the sixth-grade girls. I was the only one drinking. All the more for me, eh? My brother cautioned me to get rid of the boozey vomit in the wastebasket so our mother didn't find it.

By age 15 I had a full-blown habit. I emancipated myself at 17 and moved downtown. I was still in high school. (Although I was not one of these high-functioning addicts that can take acid and get A's in art class. I was more the "needs to be taken to the toilet" type.) Of course, it all blew up in my face. There were hospitalizations and one treatment. I am so lucky that I had one treatment. My poor late husband (who died last summer) had 40 treatments, but finally "got it" and died with 22 years of excellent sobriety. His sponsorees called him an AA legend.

The place I went to treatment wasn't AA- or NA-based. In the 1970s "the Synanon model" was popular. It was a behavior-modification treatment model that more resembled boot camp than modern-day treatment facilities. They employed head-shaving, wearing signs around your neck (e.g., "My awareness is low - ask me why") and "verbal haircuts," which is having someone tap you on the shoulder and beckon you into a room where half a dozen people yell their lungs out at you. It was meant to tear down your negative behaviors and build you up in their way. It worked, sort of.

I wish I'd gone to a more normal place, but I did possess the key piece to getting sober: I had a complete and utter willingness to get clean and sober. I would have done anything they asked to get better, up to and including standing on my head in the corner. Fortunately it did not come to that!

The program was supposed to be 2-3 months, but I was there 7 and a half months. The night they "graduated" me, I later learned another graduate and her counselor (with whom she'd been sleeping) were both hungover. I nearly relapsed with the disillusion, but had to tell myself firmly, "I may be straight, I may be square now, but I DO remember how horrible it was, and if others want to cheat and slide and lie to themselves and others, I don't have to." I really, truly, utterly wanted sobriety above all things.

Here's another key piece: I was willing to give it all up - playmates, playground, and playthings. I think a lot of young people relapse over going right back to the same life, particularly the same friends. I don't see how you can stay clean and sober if you're with your old friends. We had a saying in that program, "If you're willing to give it all up, you can have it all back." Now, I don't mean you can have the drugs back. But in my case, the best friend who was not an addict herself (but who was part of the overall scene) I did give up, and she was so hurt. HER, I eventually made up with after several years of sobriety. She was my maid of honor at both my weddings.

(The stupid place I went to treatment did mean by "If you're willing to give it all up, you can have it all back" that you could go back to chemicals. As if!! I remember my therapist telling the group, "I was a junkie. If I didn't work here, I fully believe I could enjoy an occasional beer on a hot day." Even with about six weeks of sobriety, I thought it was a foolish and dangerous statement.)

Well, that was 1974. To bring you up to the present, I did stay clean and sober. I went into treatment a week before my 20th birthday, and am almost 59. How I stayed clean and sober is truly miraculous. I never succumbed to what I call "The Drew Barrymore Syndrome," which is "I went into treatment so young, it must have been youthful highjinks, and surely I can drink now." Uh, NO.

I made a bad first marriage, divorced, and had an extremely happy second marriage. I finally got a career going. I want to add a final key piece: Don't underrate pot's capacity to zap ambition. It took me decades, literally, to finally find myself and earn real money. I know, coming from someone my age with this much sobriety you'd think I got it together much earlier, but no. It did take decades.

I wish you all well.

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Well, I for one am really glad I do have a photographic memory and reminded you of today's date... after all, if I hadn't, this story would never have been shared... and what an amazing story!

So much stuff came up as I read it, but first I want to mention that I was so excited to see you mention Synanon. That's because I've just about finished reading the autobriography of renowned jazz musician, Art Pepper. He went to Synanon after a long history of heroin abuse, but I've yet to get to that chapter so I can't quote the years he was there... but did you hear about him when you were there by any chance??

I also agree about the changes that are required to stay clean... for me, the changes happened without me consciously going about them, or resisting them. I was more than happy to move country to get off gear, I was so desperate to get clean that I did what I had to do to do that, and even though some people out there might consider what I did to be a geographical, well, it worked for me. It might not work for others, but it was what I needed. But I so understand the whole desperation and willingness to go to any lengths to get clean. I would never wish anybody a habit, and I never want one again myself.

Thank you so much for sharing all of this... I know you lost Frank only in the recent past, but I can feel that he is looking down on you... your love emanates just from your words on a screen and it's very touching. Again, I'm really glad I reminded you that it's the 24th, because your story has made my day!!!! <3

Edited at 2013-06-24 04:15 pm (UTC)

The place was called Eden House, and the subset I was in was called the Eden Day Program, which was a misnomer, as we lived there. It was for younger, less heavy drug-using, less recidivist addicts, The full-blown Eden House was 1-2 years, so I was lucky getting out in 7 months. Synanon was in Santa Monica, but the Synanon model was all over. If you Google it, you'll see how cultish it was. I used to say they brainwashed me, but I was willing, that's how bad I wanted sobriety.

Wow! 39 years of sobriety. That's amazing! I'm still in awe when I hear the "over 20's" partly because I have an utmost respect for them and their willpower, and partly because I think about how long it took me to stop drinking. I started around age 15, and quit this year (I'm only at 5 months thus far). So I wasted all that time. I had all the excuses in the world, but what it boiled down to was, I wasn't ready to stop drinking. And if you're not ready to stop, you're not gonna stop. Doesn't matter how much encouragement, reinforcement, treatment, whatever, that you go through.

So anyway, I'm Becky. I will be making my appearance in this group from time to time. Glad to hear from you.

Thank you, Becky. You're so right - willingness is the key. Without it the best treatment place won't do you any good, but with it, a crap place (like the place I went) can work. I only know of one person I ran into besides me who made it, and he shamefacedly whispered in my ear, "Actually, I go to AA now."

Right on!

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Lot's wife! That's a perfect analogy! I'm gonna use that. I'll give you full credit, of course. =)

Both my counselors are now dead. One died in a motorcycle accident, and the other was murdered in a drug deal gone bad. His body was left in the garbage can for his wife to find. Heartless, isn't it.

A third counselor I ran into is alive, but got really fat on the methadone program. I'm so glad to be sober when I think of those three.

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We're the lucky 15 per cent.

I'm so amazed that Frank's sponsorees are all sober. The one that died, died in a ATV accident.

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