November 17, 2012  
16th Street and Glendale. Phoenix, Arizona  

I’m barely scraping by. I’ve left the halfway house again in my brazen denial of reality – my utter consumption with staying intoxicated fish-hooking me into another miserable situation. I’m in a McDonald’s bathroom stall shooting heroin. I’m missing veins and leaking blood on the floor, skin deep seams of my circulatory system hardened with thick scar tissue from the self-inflicted abuse. I’m wondering why I continue to do this to myself – why I’ve virtually decimated everything in my life to be in this bathroom right now. I’m trying to recall the circumstances that brought me here and I’m failing.  

I’m wondering what people think of me. I’m wondering if they see my outward appearance and feel a tangible sense of disgust. I wonder if they see me as less than an actual person – another scourge on the street sucking away space mindlessly, listlessly. I’m sweating. Profusely. I’ve got the injection right and am so high I feel like I can’t move from the spot I’m standing in. Somehow, I’m now in front of the mirror, picking my face. I get stuck there staring at myself thinking I can fix the way my destroyed visage is presenting itself to the world. An employee walks in. “Hey man, I’m sorry, but you, like, can’t do that in here.” I nod. Some part of me is grateful he hasn’t called the police. Maybe he has. I don’t know. I walk out of the bathroom quickly with my eyes glued to the floor as I head to the exit. I’m extremely high but it doesn’t matter much these days. I’m still feeling an intense, gut-wrenching level of shame and I don’t want to look anybody in the eye.  

I step outside. I don’t have anywhere to go, nowhere to be, no one expecting me. I have nothing. I start scouring the ground and nearby ashtrays for a cigarette. I find a half smoked nub of a butt in the gutter and run my lighter flame over the filter thinking the heat will burn away the previous owners’ germs. I stand on the curb and light up. I exhale a heavy plume of blue smoke and watch it drift lightly on the breeze. It’s stale. Tastes like dirt and sadness. The cacophony that is typically my mind is silent for about 30 seconds. I breathe. Doesn’t last any longer than that – my mind spools up and my chest starts feeling heavy again. I need money. I need heroin. I need to make that 30 seconds last longer next time, by any means necessary. I’m high but it doesn’t matter. I know this’ll wear off and the crushing misery, the all-encompassing pain will return once more just like it does every time. I’m high but it doesn’t matter.  

February 23, 2023  
19th Avenue and Bethany. Phoenix, Arizona 

I open my eyes and turn over in my bed. I can smell coffee brewing in the kitchen. The kitchen of the house my wife and I own. I hear my 4-month-old son lightly snoring in his crib, in weightless, peaceful sleep. I get up and look in on him and smile. He’s beautiful. He looks like my wife and daughter; he looks like me.  

I greet my wife and hug her. I set about my business. I jump on a virtual meeting with my coworkers and parse through our current admission schedule. I have the wherewithal to maintain this, to work, to contribute positively to an organization and be compensated fairly for it. It feels effortless. It feels fun. We laugh and make jokes in between our review and smile. I feel happy. I feel grateful to be on a team and to work in a field that positively influences the lives of individuals who are struggling. People who are virtually identical to me.  

I wrap up my meeting, spend a few minutes sitting quietly and head to the shower. The warm water feels comfortable. I turn the knob all the way to cold and brace myself for the frigid blast to hit me (I like to do something “hard”, every day, even if it’s small). The freezing water lights up my brain with endorphins and neurotransmitters: tiny couriers carrying with them calm feelings of refreshing alertness. I’m used to this at this point. As I stand there freezing, I recite these words in my head, just like I do, every single day: 

God, grant me the serenity 

To accept the things I cannot change,  

The courage to change the things I can.  

And the wisdom to know the difference.  

I get out, glance in the mirror and don’t hate what I see. I notice a small scar, barely visible on my nose, from days passed. It doesn’t matter and it doesn’t bother me. I sit quietly on my bed asking for guidance and direction in this day, that I might have presence for my family and the people around me and that His will, not mine, be done. I know I’m going to fail at this, but it doesn’t matter; I do it anyway. As time passes and I make the effort I seem to fail less. I dress for the day and set to work.  

I work hard. I’m responsive to my supervisors. I’m reliable. I’m valuable to my company, community and society, and I enjoy a tangible sense of satisfaction in my work. I’m nowhere near perfect – I still experience frustration and stress, but I resolutely love my job. I am consistently thankful to be employed and to do the work that I do. 

I have thoughts while I work. They aren’t all bad. I feel it on my heart to reach out to certain individuals so I do. I tell people I love them. I encourage people. I tell people about what my life used to be like in an effort to inspire them. I tell them how things came to be the way they are now and how they can do it too.

I finish the workday. I try and help my wife keep the house clean but I’m not always the best at it. I make it a point to try harder next time and let it go. My daughter’s home from school. She goes to her swim lesson with my father whom I have an actual relationship with, whom I speak with regularly (mom too). I have a regular sense of satisfaction knowing our family is whole. I enjoy spending time with them, and they enjoy spending time with me. I’m allowed to be at their house. They invite me places. I have a key to their house.  

My wife, son and I walk with my dad and daughter out to the playground in our community. Green trees line the streets. Old trees. We enjoy their shade and feel grateful to have a lovely place to be. My daughter rides her bike without training wheels now. She is proud of herself, and we encourage her and tell her how proud we are of her. She joyfully laughs as she zips through obstacles my dad’s set up for her near the playground, wind whipping her golden blonde hair as she weaves. I greet my neighbor with a smile. We talk about movies and make plans to get our families together on the weekend. Talking to people doesn’t feel difficult. Making friends doesn’t feel difficult. I love people. I love hearing what they have to say and encouraging them, conversing with them. I love knowing the things they like and knowing their struggles. I think about ways I can help them, and comment on their best qualities as much as I can.  

I hold my son up close to me in the fading light of the day. I smell his head and I’m reminded of the U2 lyrics: “Freedom has a scent; like the top of a newborn baby’s head.” I think about that song and smile to myself. It’s kind of a goofy lyric, but it makes sense. We watch my daughter ride and have fun. My son smiles too.  

I look over at my wife and think about how lucky I am to have such a wonderful, beautiful and caring partner to experience this all with. I think about how effortless life in this moment feels. My mind feels quiet. Life feels easier than it was for a long time. It might not always last, but it doesn’t matter – I’m here for it fully when it feels this way and I was never able to before.

Painful thoughts come and go (all that stuff still happens). Anxiety, fear, stress, loss, depression, worry. It doesn’t matter the way it once did. I work on my spiritual, physical and mental health to the best of my ability and it gets better. I don’t put chemicals in my body. I don’t have dirty needles in my pocket. I haven’t had them in there for a long time. I try to think about other people more than I think about myself and be helpful even though I’m imperfect and fail but it gets better. 

I get home, help everybody get settled down, eat a healthy meal, and sit at my computer. I try to convey my authentic self, warts and all, in an effort to give people something helpful. To give people hope. I feel like it does. I feel like it matters.  

Sean – In recovery

You can read, comment and ask questions for Sean to address in his blog on the PAL website, home page – www.Palgroup.org