Recovery Is More Than Staying Sober

By Aaron Emerson

Keep it simple, stupid.

I’ve heard the saying in meetings countless times. It truly does make sense. How do you stay sober? The answer is simple: you just don’t pick up that first drink or drug.

When you break down sobriety to just that, it IS a SIMPLE concept. But talking about actual recovery and changing one’s life, well, it involves much more than simply abstaining from drugs and alcohol.

Another popular saying around 12 step meetings is this: what does an addict need to change to stay clean? Everything! Recovering from substance abuse is one of the hardest journeys an individual can ever take. Digging down deep to uncover trauma, abuse, pain, misery and all of the things that us addicts use drugs to run from is extremely frightening.

If we never get to the root cause of why we used drugs in the first place, though, lasting recovery is not gonna happen. For me, I’m currently working with a therapist to heal from the PTSD I experience due to a sexual assault when I was younger. It’s something I’ve hidden from and tried to cover up for many years, not even telling my parents until last year. But when I went to rehab earlier this year, they taught me how the trauma I experiened goes hand-in-hand with my addiction. I used drugs to cover up that pain, and until I started talking about it, I wasn’t ever going to live a life of recovery.

It’s a new process for me. I hate talking about the sexual assault. It hurts and brings out rage. But if I want to stop relapsing, I understand now that I have to work through my trauma and feelings. And so it is with many addicts. There have been many studies done that have linked PTSD and substance abuse. Many addicts and alcoholics also deal with mental illnesses, depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues and much more.

Until we start working on dealing with those issues, though, they’re going to keep manifesting in our daily lives. Just simply not using drugs or alcohol isn’t going to make those symptoms go away. And if we aren’t working on them, eventually they’ll catch up to us and be too much to handle.

Another thing I have to do to maintain sobriety is stay connected to other people in recovery. Right now, I currently have a sponsor, a secondary sponsor, and a recovery coach. Each one of those individuals wants me to call and check in with them every single day, and so I do. Sometimes when I’m having a busy day, calling three different people to talk about how I’m doing can be exhausting. But I committed myself to do EVERYTHING possible to stay sober and find recovery this time. I’m not gonna give up!

This is hard fucking work. So yes, keeping it simple and just not picking up that first drink or drug makes sense. Keeping it simple and picking up the damn phone when I’m having a bad day also makes sense. But at the same time, lasting recovery is not so “simple.” It involves shedding many tears, talking about uncomfortable issues, confronting trauma, changing the way we think, and reaching out to people in recovery on a daily basis. Everybody’s path to recovery is different. I’m not saying everyone should be doing the same things I’m doing to stay sober. What I’m trying to get at, though, is how hard this is: how utterly painful it can be to fight these demons.

Find what works for you. Find some people you can trust to help guide you through the process. We can’t do this alone. If you are in active addiction or in the beginning stages of sobriety, please know that all of this is worth it. Yes, the journey to recovery will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but there will come a day when it will all make sense, and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude will hit you. I have some tough days, a lot of times when I just want to crawl in bed and cry. But I also have a lot of times when I’m hanging out with my daughter, watching her play and laugh, and think to myself, “I wouldn’t trade this moment for the world. Thank you God!” Life is good today and I have hope! This is hard, but I am so extremely grateful!

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Day 60

By Aaron Emerson

It’s my 60th day sober and I am feeling great. I went to an AA meeting this morning at a local alano club and got my 2 month coin. I’ve picked up a few 2 month chips over the last several years, but this feels different.

It’s hard to explain, but I feel a much more spiritual sense to my attitude. I’ve really been awakened to the fact that life is so short, and if I don’t find lasting recovery this time, it might not ever happen. Earlier this year I lost one of my best friends to an overdose and my daughter is seven and a half years old. On top of that, I’ve been thinking a lot more about wanting to enjoy time with my parents and the people closest to me.

When you are in active addiction, all you are doing is making people close to you worry and stress, risking your life everyday. Nobody deserves that, and let’s face it, my parents aren’t gonna be around forever. I don’t want to waste any more time, and that attitude is really helping me slow things down and think about what’s truly important in life.

I’m not looking at my recovery as something I HAVE to do anymore, I’m starting to come to a place where I WANT to do it. I want to be sober, I don’t want to have to be high or drunk to enjoy life. Having to be outside of yourself to enjoy things is sad. There are so many fun things to do in this world sober, and those times are what create memories, not going out to a bar acting like an idiot or nodding out throughout the day.

Life is so precious, such a blessing, and we are not on this earth long at all. It’s so important to make the most of each day, enjoying every moment. I want to make a difference in my lifetime. I want to help people, to use my story to make an impact. I’d love to start an organization someday to help youth, a drug prevention or education type thing. Right now I am simply focusing on myself and working on my recovery, but I have been praying for God to lead me in the right direction.

Perhaps the most important thing I’m doing right now is participating in therapy at PAR Rehab. My therapist is amazing and she’s walking me through the process of healing from PTSD. It’s something I have rarely talked about, but one of the reasons I kept relapsing was because I wasn’t dealing with it. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s worth it.

The bottom line, though, is that I am where I am. I can’t change anything that’s in the past, all I can do is make the most of where I am right now. And I love where I am right now. I don’t know if I would take anything back because everything that’s happened to me has molded me into the person I am today. Today I am okay with myself. I’m in recovery and have a future. God is working in my life!

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Day 51

By Aaron Emerson

I’m starting to settle in after my stint in jail/rehab. I’ve developed a routine and am comfortable. Morning is my favorite time of the day; a mixture of being grateful to be alive and sober and enjoying the natural high I get from prayer, coffee and devotion.

I’ve been to a meeting everyday since I’ve been out and I plan to keep that commitment for at least the foreseeable future. Some of the meetings are solid, others are average and then there have been one or two that I don’t get much out of other than safety and companionship.

My family is proud of me. My parents and I have been getting along great. My daughter is more of a motivation than she has ever been. I’ve taken her to the park and I probably act like a kid around her more than most fathers. I see myself more in her each day and that makes me proud and scared at the same time.

The only complaint I have is lonelieness. I’m 27 and I’m single and though I want that to change, I need to work on myself more. The midwestern summer days are hot and beautiful and I wish I had someone to share them with when my daughter is not here.

I had a counseling session with my therapist. She knows me more than I know myself and she’s digging deep to pull out things I’ve never talked about. Trauma, pain, sadness, anger, rage. They are buried deep. I am starting to talk about it though and it feels good but also scary.

I haven’t had any thoughts of using or drinking and that makes me happy. I love the feelings heroin and cocaine give me but I hate the consequences that come with putting them in my bloodstream. Those consequences and the pain and misery of addiction are fresh in my mind.

I’m sober. I’m glad I’m sober. I am proud of myself.  Other people are proud of me too. Life is good today. I have hope.

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Back To Business

By Aaron Emerson

So, where to start? It’s been quite a while since I have written anything on my recovery blog. I have still been writing – mainly in my journal – but unfortunately I haven’t taken the time to post any of my writings on here.

The main reason for that – actually, the only reason – is that I have not had access to a computer or the internet. Jails and inpatient treatment centers don’t usually cater to people looking to log on to a laptop to tell their story.

Enough with the sarcasm. This is serious, after all. Recovery is life or death. Looking back on my behavior that seems inexcusable in my current sober mindset, well, sometimes I have to throw in a little humor to keep me sane. I don’t know. I guess I am just a little ashamed that I relapsed again.

Thankfully, this relapse didn’t take over my life or take me down a road of theft and using everyday. It got cut off right when it started, thanks to me violating my probation. Just a few days after I relapsed, I was put in the Ingham County Jail, where I stayed for three weeks until a bed opened up at Sacred Heart Rehab. I then completed treatment there yesterday after 21 days. All in all, I was gone for roughly 40 days or so.

I am so happy to be back home with my daughter. In treatment, I felt a lot of feelings I have never felt before. I dealt with some trauma that I’ve never truly handled in a healthy way and I came to terms with the fact that I’m a single man for the first time in several years. Lastly, I sat in my room each night awakened to the fact that my addiction has a significant impact on my daughter.

It’s not that I have never realized that a seven year old girl is going to be hurt when her daddy is suddenly behind bars. But I took a cold, hard look at where my life has taken me, and neither me or Melody are getting any younger. While I was gone, I turned 27. I’m not a fucking kid anymore and my daughter is growing up quickly. Beating myself up for relapsing was not good for me, so I did kind of switch my thinking pattern to more of a motivational thought process when it came to my feelings of feeling like an inadequte father.

The bottom line is that I have to get this shit right. I’m looking at this new chapter of recovery like it’s my last chance. First of all, I don’t want my daughter to grow up with a father in active addiction, and second, the thought of dying from this disease has really hit me harder since I buried one of my best friends this year.

So, here I am, back out and in early recovery again. I have 42 days sober and, one day at a time, I am working on myself and my recovery with everything I have. I’m not gonna get into what led to my relapse because at this point there is no fucking excuse. A therapist at Sacred Heart in one of his lectures told us “there are no relapses anymore, you either use or you don’t. You have all the tools to stay sober, so going back out is a decision, not a lapse anymore.” That kind of hit home. Nobody is gonna feel sorry for me anymore and I am not gonna feel sorry for myself. The fact of the matter is I’m pissed at myself for using again, but in a healthy, motivational way to get my shit together.

I am very, very grateful to be alive and sober today. I’ve been through so much at this point in my life that it is almost impossible to not feel gratitude to simply be breathing today. My family came over last night to celebrate my birthday a few days late and it was great being with them. I have an amazing support system and a beautiful daughter. Life is good and I’m going to start appreciating everything God has blessed me with much more than I ever have. This is it, I have to get this. And today, I’m sober. Thank God.

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