- Mental Health
Submitted by: Abby Foster
My name is Neil H. I currently live in Brooklyn New York. I got sober on October 28th, 2010. This October makes seven years. There were a lot of variables at play, but ultimately my need for recovery began after a lot of loneliness, self-deprecation, and shame.
I’d be sitting alone night after night and my friends weren’t answering the phone anymore. Every time I did talk to my parents I got “what happened to my baby boy” tears that brought tons of shame.
To paint a picture, it was just another night and I’d been trying this thing called “control” for quite some time. It became pretty self-evident that that control was not an option. I had made a thousand and three resolutions on nights prior to no avail, but after sitting alone again with no options, I convinced myself that I was going to check myself into a treatment center. And sure enough, within the next 48 hours that’s what I did.
I had no clue what I was getting involved in. I had no idea what was going to happen. I had no idea about any kind of 12-Step recovery, drug addiction, or alcoholism. I just knew that there was an obvious problem that I could not stop and I was going to need an army of support to get well…and I didn’t know what “well” was either. I didn’t know that would mean stopping forever. I had no idea.
I was 19, and I thought that maybe an education would bring some kind of intrinsic motivation to be healthy. Perhaps I thought that if I surrounded myself with the right people, I would somehow figure it out. I had no idea that I would still be abstinent from substances almost seven years later. I know that was the furthest thing from my mind. But nonetheless, I was introduced to something that was completely foreign and because of desperation, trial and error, understanding and insight, I made a very small decision to keep my ears open.
Is this the right decision, is it not the right decision? Not to say that I do not still have these questions, but I would say that I’ve walked through that fear more often than not since I became sober. I’ve stayed abstinent through the fear and I couldn’t run away from that feeling. I no longer let fear dictate my life. It’s not that those thoughts and feelings doesn’t pop up anymore. It’s that they are no longer paralyzing.
I saw a friend go to treatment and that was like a wakeup call for me- if that friend needed help, then I definitely needed help. I saw him go to treatment and return, only to use again. So, once I saw that, I knew that leaving for treatment meant I would not return to using. I knew that I was going to ask them specifically to send me somewhere far from home after treatment.
Another huge turning point for me occurred when I was a little over a year sober. I was in a relationship with a young woman who was also in recovery, in early recovery. She died of an overdose while she was living with me. That was a very big wakeup call. It told me that this is real, that people suffer from this thing, and that people are dying– people like me.
I went to a sober house with 11 residents. Four of them passed away within the first year to 16 months. So much death. It’s sad because as I talk about this stuff, it’s just kind of like a story, a narrative that I’ve supplied. I’ve become just so numb to it, which is awful because these are that will shake me forever. As sad as it is, and awful as it is, those kinds of things wake me up to the fact of how fortunate I am.
As long as I’ve kept that in mind, things have worked out. Maybe in the way that I wanted it to happen, or maybe not, but nonetheless ultimately, I’ve been OK.
If I’m not acting “as-if”, negative, subtle thoughts creep in and I start playing the control game and trying to micromanage every circumstance of my life. When I forget that principle, my life becomes contingent on a coin toss. Either I’m happy because I got what I wanted, or I’m not happy because I didn’t get what I wanted. I have a faith today that if I do what I need to do, no matter what happens, I’ll be OK.
I dropped out of college after my first semester because of addiction. Roughly two years into my recovery, I went back to school. I’m really proud of my ability to follow through with school and achieve a degree. I got an associate’s degree from a local community college outside of Baltimore. I used that degree to transfer into NYU, and get a scholarship.
That move literally uprooted my entire life and my recovery community– everything that I had in Baltimore for so many years that was so comfortable. I left all of it to pursue something completely unknown and landed in the middle of Manhattan with no real experience, no real contacts, and no real local friends. I’m proud that for the past few years I’ve been walking through that on a day-to-day because it’s not been easy. But walking through it, sometimes begrudgingly, but nonetheless walking through it acting “as-if”. I’m really proud of the fact that I’m at NYU. I’m really proud of the fact that I pay my own rent that I am completely self-supporting.
Most of all, I’m really proud of my two younger sisters and our relationship. It was completely deteriorated (to say the least) before I got sober. Because of my sobriety, I was able to start taking actions to mend those relationships and be the big brother that I needed to be, should be, and want to be.
I’d say one of the proudest moments I have had is when my sister (who is gay) came out. I was one of the first people that she came to for advice on how to navigate it, who to talk to, and how to help our parents understand. Nothing against our parents, but they just grew up in a different culture with a different kind of belief system. But she came to me, her big brother, who literally used to steal from her. She told me she knows we argue, but we also laugh.
To those who are still struggling, I would say you’re not alone. I thought I was surrounded by people who didn’t understand, who would never understand, who didn’t get it. I thought no one could understand the uniqueness of my particular situation. But I would tell anybody: You are not alone. Your addiction wants to keep you isolated. It is up to you, but you can join us and never be on your own again.