By Jack Agatston
Addiction takes hold of a person's brain in a way that is hard to comprehend. Breaking free from the grips of addiction can require a lot of work. It took me numerous attempts at sobriety before I was finally able to find lasting sobriety. Friends and family watched as I went in and out of treatment centers and back out onto the streets killing myself slowly. It wasn’t a lack of resources that was preventing me from getting sober. On the contrary, I've been to a number of top treatment centers in the nation for young people. That’s the tricky thing about sobriety. You can put an addict in the best rehab center that money can buy but if they are unwilling to receive the message given to them there, sobriety will be next to impossible.
I started using at a relatively young age. I was 13 years old and thought smoking marijuana seemed like it would be fun. At the time it was. In fact, it was my favorite thing to do for many years to come. My use did not stop there though and as time went by I would experiment with everything put in my face. Eventually this led to me developing a severe addiction to benzodiazepines, opiates, and crack/cocaine. Xanax and heroin were my go to substances of choice and I used them as much as I could afford to. Of course for my family this was incredibly troubling. They were not aware of the full details of my use but they knew I had a problem and they would not sit idly by as I killed myself. When I was 16 they sent me off on a string of treatment centers. I went from a mental and behavioral health hospital to a wilderness program and finally ended up at a therapeutic boarding school. It was during this stretch of treatment that I was taught things like the addiction disease model and learned about the 12 steps. I had no desire to remain sober afterwards and upon my return home, I resumed my using.
This would become the theme of the next 6 years of my life. I’d use to the point where my life would become completely unmanageable, agree to get help, things would start to get better because of the time I spent sober, then I would go out and use again. It is a very vicious cycle to be caught in and can be devastating to a person and their loved ones. People that do not suffer from addiction can’t understand why a person would ever go back to using a drug that was very clearly destroying their life, and friends would start to distance themselves from me. I can hardly blame them, as being around me was a complete liability.
Eventually things became very high stakes. I was using deadly drugs in a time where you never knew exactly what you were getting. Every bag of dope could have been a lethal dose of fentanyl that was the final straw. I lost many friends to the disease and became so sick of what my life had become. Still, the insanity of addiction had a firm grip on me and any time I got a couple weeks of sobriety I would hear the familiar voice telling me things would be different. That I’d be able to use responsibly, that I could just use marijuana or drink alcohol and stay off the hard stuff, and everytime I tried to I would go back to the way I was before. I tried every form of regulation but it became very evident that moderation was never going to be in the cards for me. I hit a point awhile back where I knew that I was never going to be able to control my use, but was so apathetic that I didn’t care to quit anyway. It was a dark time for me.
Luckily enough I found myself in a detox center yet again. While there I met with a man from an outpatient treatment center that claimed to take a holistic approach towards recovery. I decided to give it a shot and it would mark the beginning of my sobriety. Earlier I said a person who has all of the resources in the world but no desire to get sober will not be able to find results. Which truthfully is only halfway true. I didn’t have a strong desire to get sober at all, and at times I found myself planning my next use. But the difference is I was willing to take some advice. I was willing to do some of the work required of me to find sobriety. I figured that I had always worked so hard to get high again that maybe if I put some of that energy in getting sober I would find some results. The thing is, I was scared to enjoy sobriety. If I enjoyed sobriety than that would mean no more drugs for me. It was a very unhealthy form of mental gymnastics.
The first few months were incredibly difficult for me. But through all of the hard times I let the professionals at the treatment center and my friends who knew what I was going through know where I was mentally. I also began to make some friends in Heroin Anonymous and worked the 12 steps. This made things a lot easier on me because I had a network of people that were willing to help out when I was not doing well. I began to rediscover some old hobbies I had as well. I was beginning to enjoy life sober and not worry about when the next time I would get high would be.
As more time passed I became more satisfied with the life I was beginning to make for myself. I could hold a job, make friends, and work a program of recovery. Things that I hadn’t been able to do for so long. Now I am lucky enough to have a job working in the recovery industry.
Getting to see things on the other side is very eye opening for me. I am grateful I have the opportunity to help those who are fresh in sobriety and are uncertain if they will be able to stay sober. I don’t forget what it was like waking up every morning in pain scrambling to find a way to get high for some relief. I know that way of life is always out there for me which is why I continue to work the 12 steps, and take care of my mental health. Now I wake up in the morning looking forward to what I am able to do.
Jack Agatston is a long time resident of Atlanta, GA. He has a passion for addiction recovery and is dedicated to sharing his message of hope with others through his writing.