Finding My Path to Recovery
My ever-evolving recovery journey began January 2013 when I entered a drug and alcohol detox in Greenville S.C.
I was addicted to multiple substances, such as Alcohol, Xanax, Cannabis, and whatever Opioid I could get my hands on. I also had my bouts with Methamphetamine, Cocaine, LSD, and Ecstasy. Other than a short stint on MAT, I had misused substances continuously for well over a decade.
I finally came to a place where I wanted a change.
This was not “rock bottom”; it was more along the lines of a car running out of gas and calling AAA for help. It was not because of one of my thirteen arrests or the overdose I experienced many years before. Nope. It was merely a long ride that had come to an end. I was thirty-four and ready for something different.
And So My Recovery Journey Begins
After spending ten days in detox, I returned to my home town of Seneca, S.C. where I began attending local 12-step meetings.
I credit the members of these groups with saving my life because they gave me the support I needed to construct and sustain long-term recovery.
Engagement in this community was crucial. I had very few coping skills and no support for recovery other than my family. The members of these mutual aid groups truly “loved me until I could love myself”. I gained self-esteem, and developed much needed internal and external coping skills that allow me to process my feelings and cultivate healthy emotional regulation. I began working a 12-step program with a sponsor and committed to this new way of life 110%.
Who Could Ask For More?
I averaged about ten to fourteen meetings a week and had replaced my drive to use substances with a drive to recover.
I was told recovery was a lifelong process, and I would always need to attend meetings and work with a mentor to remain abstinent.
Well, that was fine with me because I was benefiting from doing so, and my life was improving tremendously. For the first time in my life I had a job with benefits, my family interaction was great, I was taking multiple vacations a year, and most importantly I was extremely happy. Very happy!
Who could ask for more?
The Cookie-Cutter Trap
Then, I was told I needed to “give back what was so freely given to me”. This was not a problem. I loved helping others, and I enjoyed going to meetings. Slowly my passion became ideological and dogmatic. I was convinced “my way was the best way’ and others simply did not understand addiction or recovery. Arguments with others started as I tried to convince them to do recovery as I did and admit they were an “addict”.
I had a cookie-cutter mindset that is far from the person-centered approach I currently employ to advocate for individualized paths to recovery.
The Next Chapter
Some five plus years into my recovery on July 1, 2018 a new chapter of my life began.
I took a job as a Peer Support Specialist working for an outpatient facility working primarily with individuals prescribed Suboxone.
Working with this select group of individuals had tremendous impact on me. At this point in my recovery I was open to medication assisted treatment (MAT), but did not consider MAT a “completely abstinent” approach to recovery. However, I soon learned individuals participating in MAT could build social support systems and gain the necessary coping skills to achieve a state of recovery just as I did, but they had the assistance of medication.
For years I subscribed to what others in my recovery program had preached. Because a person on MAT was still using, they could never experience true recovery without what is referred to as “complete and total abstinence”. Yet, after some training, I learned the clinical definition of abstinence.
Abstinence is defined as a compulsive use despite negative consequences.
In other words, taking medication as prescribed does not meet criteria for substance use disorder. I soon began to admire individuals achieving recovery with the help of medication. Moreover, I remembered my personal experience with methadone and how it helped me during those few months.
If I would have had the support necessary to sustain recovery, I may have begun my process of recovery much earlier.
An Unsavory Truth
I realized an unsavory truth. Although those wonderful people had found recovery through MAT, they were not considered abstinent in my 12 step fellowship. I realized how unfairly the recovery community treated those individuals. Then, I noted how I too had previously participated in the same behavior by shaming MAT. I had failed to embrace those individuals with the respect and dignity they deserved.
This newfound realization empowered me in my role to begin telling people publically I was in recovery.
For years I was told I needed to be anonymous because the general public did not understand me or the recovery process in general. However, once I started opening up about my recovery I learned this idea was false. Most people loved hearing about my recovery and appreciated me sharing it with them. I began to build social confidence as I started making new friends outside of my recovery community.
I found it was OK to be the authentic me in the “rooms” and outside of the “rooms”.
Battle of Beliefs
However, an epic battle commenced within me and I struggled with this dilemma for several months. My core beliefs were no longer the same as the recovery program I had previously followed.
I had convinced myself that I was chronically self-centered and broken beyond repair.
I felt that I owed my life to the 12 step program, but was torn because I knew that it no longer lined up with my values. I struggled with the belief that I needed meetings or I would either return to using drugs and alcohol or worse, be consumed by what I called “my character defects”.
Work The Program
I needed to continuously “work a program” otherwise I would not be able to function and my recovery journey would end. I would make statements to my girlfriend like “I am addict and that’s why I act this way” or “I am an addict I am always going to be this way”. As a clinical addiction counselor she knew this statement was filled with bondage.
My patient girlfriend saw how my my beliefs limited by ability to experience the fullness of recovery from addiction.
It's not that I would be cured, but she knew I could be set free from the harmful behavior and unhealthy belief system.
I continued to work the 12-step program, but also began to attend All Recovery Meetings because they treated individuals on MAT as equals. While at the All Recovery meetings I began to see many pathways of recovery such as SMART Recovery and Refuge Recovery. These programs also accepted Medication Assisted Recovery as an equal and understood taking medication as prescribed was not using.
I truly enjoyed learning about the many ways people found freedom from addiction.
Eventually, I decided to only attend meetings where my brothers and sisters on MAT were accepted as equals. I stopped attending 12-step meetings, not because I thought they were “bad” or “wrong”, I simply began to feel uncomfortable with the core beliefs of that program.
An Old Friend
This led me to an old friend who had found recovery by attending meetings and using a recovery coach to sustain abstinence. This person was told that they could attend as many meetings as they liked, but the most important part of their journey was to “get on with their life”. They were expected to eventually move on support groups.
The most important part of their recovery journey was to “get on with their life”!
WOW! I found this statement to be mind-blowing. You mean a person could be OK without constant meeting attendance or continuous guidance from a mentor?
A New Approach
It made complete sense because why would a person not want another to be OK with or without meetings. I had found a new outlook on recovery journey. I began to feel a new sense of freedom. The curtain was lifted and I knew recovery would never be the same.
I had become tired of describing myself as an “addict” and this program did not believe in labeling one’s self in such a manner.
I reached out to Chris Griffin a person heavily involved in SMART Recovery in Greenville, South Carolina. He presented a new program whose approach I was highly interested in. Shortly thereafter, I began to apply the new language I learned from attending Peer Support training and started describing myself as a person in long term recovery. As a person who had a past with addiction, this new person-first language allowed me to escape the social stigma I had felt for so long.
I started describing myself as a person in long term recovery.
SMART Recovery Concepts
SMART Recovery also subscribed to the concept that meetings did not have to be lifelong and people could develop tools to function without meetings. I started to feel guilty about having thoughts that I could stop attending meetings and could stop continuously being of service to one specific recovery program. I felt connected to all 23.5 million of us in recovery, not just one individual recovery program.
Actually, I felt connected to the human race for the first time in my life.
Get On With Life
Eventually, I concluded that I had healed enough to stop attending meetings and “get on with my life”. Having recovered from active addiction, I am now working on merely being a good person like the rest of the world.
I realized I was “normal” and not some self-centered freak that was constantly seeking pleasure.
I still attend All Recovery from time to time and I help others struggling with addiction on a regular basis. Not because I must, but because I choose to. Though, I do not knock anyone who chooses life-long meeting attendance or mentorship. I choose what works best for me which means, when I socialize with other recovering people it is in an environment where multiple pathways are supported.
No Right or Wrong
There is no right or wrong way to recover and I encourage others to do to do whatever they feel best suit their life. I do not engage in a specific pathway or work a certain program.
I support all pathways of recovery; one is no better than the other and none are beyond criticism.
I have found a lot of freedom from the concept of self-management recovery. Today, I still have contact with many friends in recovery and many of the members from my old home group. I have finally let go of the guilt and shame of not regularly attending meetings. I will continue my recovery journey and continue to fulfill my potential. I will do what I feel is best for me and feeds my soul.
IT IS OK TO BE OK!
Meet Michael Crouch
Michael is a good friend of SC SHARE. He strives to positively impact the lives' of others through advocacy, education, and recovery support. Thank you Michael for being a guest blogger here at SC SHARE.