“I remember sitting in my friend’s driveway saying, ‘I just don’t want to do this anymore. I’ll still do it, but I don’t want to. I don’t even choose to do it anymore. I just do it.’ I couldn’t hide behind any of the crutches I’d used before. I wanted the feeling of being a part of something, or not being a part of something. That was the whole reason I was using, to not feel like myself anymore.”
Much like my friend Lincoln, every recovering addict I’ve ever known has been able to pinpoint the exact moment they realized they were no longer in control of their addiction. It’s an epiphany: suddenly, you realize something major has to change very soon or you might never be able to take back your life.
I recently spoke to a few of my fellow addicts about their big moments of clarity, and they were kind enough to let me share some of their stories.
THEY FELT THEY WERE BEING ALERTED BY A HIGHER POWER
Scott was not only in the throes of his addiction, he was also facing a major health crisis.
“I was getting up every day, puking my guts out, and then drinking,” he said. “I was in constant pain. I had my liver, kidney and pancreas all fail — all from drinking. That happened in January, and I was on dialysis until July. I was dry until New Year’s, and then off I went.
“Then my body broke down. I became diabetic.”
But even with his health failing, Scott wasn’t quite ready to take the next step toward sobriety. He continued drinking — sometimes finishing an entire 18-pack of beer in a single day. That is, until something spiritual happened.
“I’m not religious,” he explained. “I don’t go to church. I’m agnostic. But I believe in a power greater than yourself. I don’t preach God, but I do preach a power greater than yourself.”
And he believes that his higher power was reaching out to him in a unique way.
“I watched a lot of TV while I was drinking, and right around that time, these commercials kept coming on to end addiction,” he shared in an interview with Addiction Campuses, the organization that helped him find the sober path he’s on now. “I mean, I have 500 cable channels.. DVR.. live TV, and no matter what channel I was on or what time of day or night I was watching, that commercial just kept showing up.
“Finally, one morning the commercial came on and something just came over me. And so I called. And that’s when I connected with Jessica at Addiction Campuses. She’s the one who talked to me and eventually to my wife and got me into Addiction Campuses of Mississippi. My wife booked a one way ticket, so there was no temptation to turn around.”
Even now, Scott says his higher power often reaches out in a display of solidarity:
“The funny thing is — just about an hour before this interview, I saw that commercial again. I see it periodically, and I think it’s my Higher Power keeping me in check.”
IT AFFECTED THEM AT WORK
A lot of addicts realize they’ve lost control when their careers suffer a major setback.
“When you’re in your addiction, you're fine going to work messed up. That’s how you live your life, so you don’t mind going to work that way,” Sally admitted.
But sometimes, the impact substance abuse has on your career can be quite the opposite, yet equally eye-opening. Sally’s career, for example, took a positive step forward when she won a major award from her company — but it wasn’t a moment she was proud to own.
“Winning an award knowing that I had won it while I was screwed up felt terrible. I was conscious of my addiction, and I was embarrassed. And that started the spiral.”
It ended up being the experience that helped her realize it was time to reach out for help.
THEY DIDN’T REALIZE THEY WEREN’T IN CONTROL UNTIL THEY ENTERED TREATMENT
For Wendy, it wasn’t a moment of clarity that led to a journey toward sobriety. Instead, enlightenment found her while she was already in treatment.
“When I got there, I was in denial about my drinking problem. I only wanted help for my meth problem,” she said. “But on my sixth day, I relapsed and drank with the girls in my house. And then I realized I had a problem.
“It took me about two weeks to start taking it seriously. I didn’t see treatment as something that I really needed to save my life — I really just wanted an escape from my everyday life.”
And while the pieces of her journey may seem out of order, Wendy says she tries to focus on the big picture.
“I’m not afraid to tell people my whole story, including that I relapsed,” she explained. “That’s probably the best thing that happened to me because it made me realize that I had a drinking problem, too.”
We are all on a unique journey, and although not everyone is an addict, these stories have an important lesson for us all: sometimes we head down an unhealthy — even dangerous — path. We may not see its risks right away or recognize the problems it causes. We may not even realize it’s affecting other parts of our lives until the damage is already done. But whenever the realization comes that we’re in over our heads, the crucial first step is to take action. And there is no shame in that.
After all, we’re only human.
“I’d like to tell people to not be ashamed of who they are and where they are in life,” Lincoln said. “It’s hard to face problems on your own, and there is someone out there who can help you, so don’t be hard on yourself. You aren’t the first one to go through this, and you won’t be the last. There are people out there who care about your well-being, even if you don’t know them yet.”