Surrender and Acceptance: First Steps to Recovery

  February 15, 2018    

Getting Clean and Sober

There are numerous reasons and causes for people to decide to stop using drugs and alcohol. People often imagine there must be a brutal and harsh rock bottom. That there must be a point where everything in an addict/alcoholic, realized that their entire world was falling apart and crumbling around them. It’s easy to imagine that to decide to recover there was an incredibly intense lifechanging event. This is semi-true, but it’s not necessarily the case for everyone working on long-term recovery.

There are only two things necessary for a person to get clean and sober. One is that their desire to get high or drink is outweighed by their desire to stop using drugs. The second is there to be support when that person decides to stop using drugs are alcohol. That’s it two things and that’s how recovery can start. What follows that for anyone with this disease has many variables and factors.

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Personally, there were a few different instances in my time, dramatic and terrifying events where I wanted desperately to get clean and sober.  When I was 19, I was homeless, I was living in the woods, near Philadelphia suburb. I had friends at that point, that may or may not have had an idea about how bad of a drug and alcohol problem, which is that important. What is important is at that point, I had very few people in my life that cared about me. I mixed a lot of drugs I shouldn’t have at a party. Things I was already using, with party drugs, and the result was a series of paranoid delusions.

I don’t know how it happened exactly, but I ended up running through the woods, in the middle of the night. I stumbled off a sort of cliff, fell into the Delaware, nearly drowned. After I pulled myself up out of the water. I realized all the drugs I had on me were ruined or gone. I felt panic and desperation. I emptied my pockets on the beach. I wanted help, I knew I needed help. I was still high, but I was fixated in getting into treatment. I just wanted help. I just wanted the pain to stop.

I eventually found someone. I told him to call an ambulance, to call a hospital, to call anyone. That I was messed up, that I didn’t know, what else to do. The guy told me to go home and sleep it off. I told him I needed help. He pushed me away from him, told me I just needed to go home and go to sleep. I snapped, I just wanted help, and all hope for getting it, or wanting it left me in the moment. I ended up robbing him.

There is a moral to this, when an addict or an alcoholic is asking for help, and they find themselves desperate, but unable to get the help they need it pushes them deeper into their addiction/alcoholism. I know that feeling and it doesn’t excuse my actions, but anyone that has been in the grip of this disease, knows that it erodes our morality, and hurting other people, is something that is always a result of our using.

There were other dramatic events, instances where just for a moment I found the willingness for just a moment to accept that I needed help with my disease, but often those moments were fleeting. There were also times when the help was there, but the willingness was not, such as a few instances where I woke up in the hospital, because I overdosed. I didn’t want the help being offered then. I did want help, the night I was arrested, I wanted the cops to shoot me rather than arrest me, just to put me out of my misery. At that point the only help I thought I could get was in death. The only thing that kept me alive, at that point was the desire to use. Still, none of those events was sufficient. Something was always lacking, either the willingness or the ability to get help.

In the end it was the need to pass a drug test to get out of prison after 8 ½ years, a parole house, and a 12-step meeting that started me on the road to recovery. The willingness was there simply because I had just spent a long period of time in prison, I wanted to learn how to live like a person again. The parole house was less than an ideal setting, in fact it was awful, but it did offer structure. The last thing was people who were willing to help me learn how to live my life without the use of drugs or alcohol.

Not everyone requires dramatic events. Recovery can begin at any point in a person’s life. It truly only requires, those two ingredients, that a person be willing to get off drugs and alcohol, just marginally more than they have the desire to use, and that they have help available when they reach that point. The question then is how much help is needed and to what degree does a person need to be helped? The answer is different for everyone. However, I believe the more help a person has the better their chances of staying in recovery, especially in the beginning.

Goals and Aspirations

Those first days are always the most difficult. Beyond the detox, if one is even necessary, is the feeling that you don’t have everything in your life that you want. There are feelings that immediately arise; that you aren’t adequate, have little to nothing to offer, there is pain, a hint of despair. You wonder how can you even get past the first 30 days much less stay clean and sober for life? The answer most people offer is to stay focused on the day. If that’s too much to think about right then, stay focused on an hour. Just stay clean and sober for an hour and don’t give into your disease.

This point in time was critical for me. The parole house offered structure, but the world was new, and I had no experience with living clean and sober. Most days I was just holding on. I would sit down every morning, map out my day. Everyday, I figured out what needed to be done, what meetings I would go to, school, and work. I did that the first couple of months. I had to, because every day was a struggle.

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However, something I heard from someone with decades abstinent from drugs and alcohol, was setting goals, and the value of setting short term and long term-goals. It was something that I did in those first days. I was focused on the day to day decision of not using, but I was also focused on goals. Short term goals getting a job, getting my paperwork done for the parole house (paperwork needed to be filed to leave the house), raising my hand in meetings, raising my hand once in every class at college, getting a sponsor, getting a service commitment at a meeting. My first long term goals were getting my associates degree and getting into Rutgers.

I set these goals based on suggestions and things I had learned about recidivism. I knew that people, who had years clean and sober, suggested and had done certain things, so I set goals to do those things in the fellowship I belonged to. I set my long-term goals based on the notion that education would help me fight my disease and stay out of prison.

Many people I have met, who are successful, and have long-term recovery, had similar methods. They focus on the here and now, but have plans of action, and goals for the future. It helps them find success in their recovery, and continuously move forward with their lives.


Faking it until you make it

A great many people that suffer from this disease, only have that incredibly slim balance of 51% of wanting to stay clean and sober, as opposed to 49 % having a desire to get high. At that point there will be a reservation. A belief that at some point you’ll get to a point where you are able to figure out a way to go back to getting high and do so successfully.

This is one of those instances where the best suggestion I have heard is to simply pretend that you want to stay clean. Or tell yourself, okay may be later I’ll figure out how to get high, and not destroy my life. But just for today, I’m going to work this program. And if you are fortunate enough to be in a long-term treatment facility, then you can tell yourself well just until I get out of here.

When I got clean in prison, I told myself, well just until I get out of here, I’ll just not use for this one month, so I can pass the drug test to get out. When I got to the parole house, I told myself I just won’t get high until I leave here. I’d been faking it, for seven months by the time I left the parole house. By that time, I wasn’t really faking it at all.

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The longer you have off drugs and alcohol the easier it becomes; however, you need more than living in a moment telling yourself well I’ll just wait until next week, I’ll just wait until next month.

I had a therapist that helped me deal with all the secondary problems, I had a program, I also had developed a network of people in my life that cared about me and my recovery. Faking it for seven months helped a great deal. I am not entirely sure when I stopped faking it, but I will say years later, I am still in recovery. I have heard and know enough other people that did this. It helps, even if it seems semi-absurd, it helps, just enough.

People, places, things, and everything in between

Avoiding the people, the places, and the things in you had in your life that contributed to your drug and alcohol use, is a major suggestion. This is the hard and difficult one for most people to deal with. It’s tough to think that all the friends you ever had need to be avoided. It’s even more difficult if you have a family member in active addiction or your home is the place you got high in the most often. What about the things? It may be something as simple as a rolled up dollar bill.

Some of the people, the places, and the things are unavoidable. Obviously, your not going to avoid money, if you ever used that to get high with. People may include family members. Places, may include your home, or for me it was the Trenton transit center, a block away from where I copped at, but also a necessary stop on my way to my college classes. It was also my brother, still in active addiction, but also one of the few people, who wrote me while I was in prison.

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For everyone, there are things that seem impossible to avoid. Sometimes, they are and sometimes, you simply need to be creative. For instance, I knew someone that owned a business, they got high in their business, so they put recovery posters and slogans up throughout their business. They converted it to be an expression of their desire to change. For me I just called someone in recovery every time I had to be at the transit center. Family is a little tougher.

The only suggestion I can make with family, is to make certain people are aware of your situation. To get someone to go with you to family functions, or if none can attend, to have people you can call. You may not even have to call, because simply knowing you have a lifeline is helpful in numerous ways.


The Value of others

The help received from other people in recovery is one of the greatest resources no matter where you’re at in your recovery.  These are the people that you need to reach out to when your struggling, and it’s always good to have a range of people in your life who are in recovery. In early recovery, it’s easy to gravitate to and talk primarily to people that are also in early recovery. This may not be conducive to long term recovery. Start talking to people that have years clean, or even just six more months than you clean, as long as you believe they’re working a program of recovery. Reach out to people as often as possible, because honestly there are no greater supports than the people that you can call at three o’clock in the morning to talk to when you feel the desire to use drugs or alcohol.

The people in recovery, working and living programs, are invaluable assets to your lives. It can seem daunting to have to call on people to help you, get through just an hour, or a few minutes of turmoil. The thing to remember is that they will also be helped by picking up the phone. When people in recovery help each other, it helps them in their own recovery.I have been on both sides of the phone, needing help, and doing my absolute best to help another person stay clean. I have been helped and my recovery was strengthened by both asking for help and being of service to others. I am grateful that in those first days I was able to meet people in recovery and to develop friendships with them.

The difficulty most people have in early recovery, is that it is hard to reach out to other people. The disease isolates individuals, and makes them unsure of who they can trust, or if there is anyone they can trust. Reaching out is especially difficult. However, reaching out to others is something that must be done for recovery to become possible. It’s one of the hurdles that everyone must face, when they are an addict or alcoholic, and trying to recover from this disease.People with this disease that are fortunate enough to get into long term treatment facilities are the most fortunate, in early recovery. The best sort of treatment is where a person just getting clean and sober has both clinicians and people that are working programs of recovery available to them.

Not everyone gets that level of care though or is able to. I didn’t get near the level of help or care I wanted. Of the people in the parole house with me, I do not know of anyone that is currently in recovery. I was fortunate, I had a therapist, I met people in recovery, and I did have goals early on. This isn’t a criticism on anyone, I am simply stating, I had just enough help, and just enough willingness to survive the first months. I was fortunate enough to realize how valuable other people in recovery would be to me, early on.


Getting through the worst

There are numerous issues that will affect an individual in early recovery. There are issues related to mental health problems, that make staying clean and sober difficult. There’s the pink cloud, when happiness can become dangerous. There’s also the unmanageability that comes from the need to fill in the space that drugs tool in our lives. These are all issues that require help from others. From other people in recovery and professional help.

These are things that most people see as being typical problems in early recovery, however, for every person those issues are different, they affect them in numerous ways. The thing, that helps, and helped me often, was hearing other people talking about the things they were going through, had been through, and seeing them get through them clean and sober.

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That is something to keep in mind, the hardest thing in the beginning is just finding the willingness and getting the help, you need when you find the willingness. If you can get those two things, then it’s the beginning. Getting through the firsts six months to a year afterword, is the most difficult part. However, it can be done. People survive those first few months through numerous difficulties, losing loved ones, being hit by cars, and numerous other things that they never imagined they would be able to survive, clean and sober.

Personally, before I owned a car, I biked to and from work, to class, to meetings, and everywhere else I needed to go. I got hit by a car while I was biking to work. When I was in the hospital I told the nurses and doctor, I had an issue with drugs and alcohol, and that I couldn’t have narcotics. I had another person in recovery show up there, I had my sponsor on the phone. I made it through that and the weeks it took to heal, without drugs. I’ve survived through more emotional detrimental things sense then. However, the car accident was early in recovery.

Oddly it did not feel as hard as it might have, simply because I heard other people had gone through similar things. That’s something to keep in mind. If other people have survived through personal tragedy and injury so can you, however all of them had help, that guided their willingness to stay clean and sober. There is nothing wrong with seeking help, no matter where you are in your recovery.

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Michael Satterfield

Michael is currently the Clinical Outreach Coordinator for Soba College Recovery. From the ages of 14-21 was frequently homeless and in drug treatment programs. Michael struggled with Substance Use Disorder. To support his drug habit he burglarized houses and committed robberies. He was arrested at the age of 21 for armed robbery and was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. Upon release, Michael became an active member of the recovery community. Michael graduated from Rutgers in May of 2017 with highest honors. Michael's brother died after buying heroin laced with Fentanyl and overdosing.