Letters from a decade in the future

You’ve been making mistakes and falling flat on your face for 12 years. You make the wrong choice in almost every circumstance and situation. You’ve struggled, suffered, and virtually let everyone in your life down a thousand times. You’re harboring dark feelings and emotions that lean toward the nihilistic; you’re depressed, broken, alone, and ashamed – and it’s the best mindset and place you could have ever found yourself in on this day. The first day of the rest of your life. January 5, 2014.

Rehab. A 47th chance. After you are admitted you’re going to sit quietly in your room – a stark, spartan, liminal space. Your capacity to reflect will be clouded by the last remnants of narcotics in your system but you’ll try anyway. Your experiences up until this point have culminated in your present state and occupancy of this specific moment in space and time. Something about this feels predetermined. Despite your seemingly abject failure in all things, you’ve managed to survive 100% of the obstacles life has thrown at you up until now. If nothing else, you are resilient. That is worth something – it’s important. You are going to learn to transform that resiliency into an ability to not just withstand, but to adapt. You don’t know this at this moment, you won’t learn this right now – it’s a process you’ll internalize over a considerable amount of time but you’re about to take the first steps.

When it comes to knowing things, you know virtually nothing. You’re going to see this as a net negative in this moment – you’re going to feel like an empty shell, a vessel overturned, contents spilled into the gutter, gravity swishing away the last of you down the storm drain. Time, drugs, and mental illness have crushed you into fine particles of dust that you’re sifting through your calloused fingers. In reality, you are a blank slate. A canvas. A sheet of untouched clay. Broken by your diseased choices and misguided attempts at living, primed for sublimation toward something more than you are today. This is worth something – it’s vitally important.

After you fail to fully grasp perspective in this bright new beginning, you’re going to plant your feet firmly on the floor and stand up. It’s just you in the room. You’ll walk out of the room and into the shower where you’ll wash away a week’s worth of dirt and grime and begin this journey in earnest.

While you’re here you’ll go to groups. They’ll talk about healthy coping skills and relapse prevention. They’ll talk about the science behind addiction and what’s currently happening to your brain. There will be one-on-one talk therapy. Your therapist is a former Navy flight captain named Don. He’ll encourage you to seek long-term care. He’ll use CBT in his conversations with you alongside motivational interviewing. He’ll help you clearly look at yourself and all your maladaptive thought patterns. There will be medical attention. There will be non-narcotic pills you’ll take to help you sleep at night. There will be immense, calorie laden meals with dessert three times a day. You’ll put 35 pounds onto your frame within a 30-day time span and you’ll feel grateful to sit down and enjoy something so deeply for what feels like the first time in forever.

All the while you’ll be surrounded by Behavioral Health Technicians (BHTs), the majority of them recovered people espousing encouragement and positivity at you. You’ll admire them deeply. You’ll tell them that when you complete this program you’ll return here and work alongside them. You won’t know this at the time, but this prophecy will unfold as truth. You’ll have no idea that one of these men will become one of the greatest friends you’ll ever have, and you’ll name the son you eventually have after him.

You’ll do 12-step programming and go to a meeting every day. You’ll enjoy listening to the speakers and hearing people just like you talk about the trial by fire they’ve endured, the lowest lows they’ve experienced in addiction, and the upstanding individuals they are today (loving family members, workers, homeowners, reliable people).  None of this – the therapy, the 12-step, will be unfamiliar to you. You’ve walked this path before – heard these same words echo verbatim in other rooms, at other times in the past. Many times. But this time is going to be different.

This time is going to be different because you’re going to make a pact with God in the middle of the night after a week of being there to not just listen to these people’s words, but to listen and ACT. To be open to and take suggestions. You’re going to tell yourself that no matter how many times you’ve heard these things before, no matter how pointless or stupid you may think they are, no matter how much you feel like God has abandoned you, you are going to try. You are going to take to heart their suggestions and implement them to the very best of your ability in everything you do if it’s the last thing you ever do as you walk this side of the Earth. You won’t know this that night in your bed as you plead with yourself to make this happen but it’s going to actually work. People will ask you in the future how your life was changed so dramatically and you’re going to tell them it’s because you took suggestions from people who came before you, people who were succeeding in life and sobriety, and you acted on those suggestions. That’s all there is to it. Most good ideas are simple. This will probably be the most important one in the entirety of your life’s story.

You’re going to make friends. You are going to laugh, true laughs, from the core of your being. You’ll experience camaraderie. You’ll leave this place and embark on the journey of a lifetime, and you won’t even know it or be able to see it or appreciate it for years to come. But you will. Eventually you’ll know. Eventually you’ll have the ability to look at yourself in the mirror and be happy with the person you see. You’ll make spirituality and spiritual practices of growth and improvement the cornerstone of your life. You’ll dig deep through all the layers of bullshit and uncover the good man, friend, and human being that was always there. You’ll learn to denigrate yourself less. You’ll learn to accept yourself, and all your human failings more. You’ll learn to try and be better despite them. You’ll take the good with the bad, the ups with the downs, you’ll traverse peaks and valleys and everything in between and still, you won’t go back. When you sit on a hard backed chair in a rehab meeting hall it’ll be because it’s your turn to share your experience, strength, and hope with someone just like you. Someone new. There will always be people in the world exactly like you and it’s important that you retain a heart of service for them, in everything you do, no matter where you go.

You’ll make a million more mistakes along the way. You’ll learn. You’ll grow. You’ll forget, and return, to the same principles and practices that set you free in the first place. If nothing else, regardless of circumstance, you’ll be authentic. Life won’t always be perfect, but it’ll be amazing.

I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you for taking the steps you’re going to take. For listening. For being open to suggestions, even when you don’t want to be. Even when your malfunctioning brain screams at you to give up, to let go, and to succumb to the darkness of your disease, the incessant craving, and leave. For taking it one moment, hour, and day at a time. For being so broken down by the bitter ends of what life has to offer that you became open to a new way. A new light. A new beginning. For becoming the blank slate that my life’s story has been written on.

Better days are coming,

Sean –  In recovery