When I was 5 years old, I changed my name to Susan Cinderella and invented a world where a cat was my mother and all the other grown-ups were animals, too. I loved climbing trees, wearing my brother’s too-big Levis overalls and running in soybean fields without shoes. I sniffed the roadside buttercups. I wanted to find a garter snake to wrap around my fingers and call Henry. I wanted to live in a tree house forever and never have to go home again.
Most kids loved Saturdays, but not me. Saturdays, the preacher came. He was a kind man with placid features who always wore a suit, in and out of church, and he took me every time to Baskin-Robbins for orange sherbet, which I loved. But afterward, we had to spend time in the dark part of the park – in his van. I didn’t like what happened in his van. My mother knew about the preacher and she knew about other men who came later, but she never protected me. No one had protected her.
‘Clean’ Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Recovery
When I was 15, I left my mother’s house. I wanted to forget about Susan Cinderella, soybean fields and dark parts of parks, so I opened my throat and swallowed amber liquids and clear ones. When the flavors didn’t take, I turned to pipes and puffed. Pills were never bitter; I chewed and crushed those. There were other powders that I inhaled like buttercups. Eventually, I forgot all the things I hadn’t wanted to remember and many of the things I did. I forgot how to move forward and stayed stuck in the present under cravings so big I thought I’d never get out from underneath them. I was 20 and pregnant before I had the motivation I needed to get clean, and I was over 30 before it dawned on me that “clean” wasn’t necessarily recovery. My addiction had taken other turns – restricted eating, shopping, sex and even something I called love.
With all my compulsions, I was reaching for an analgesic, a way out of feeling pain. But pain is inexorable; it will be felt. You can choose to feel your suffering now, or you will be forced to feel it later. In the meantime, as long as you’re using, you’re not growing. And growing means becoming stronger so that dealing with hard times gets easier. Life, by its very nature, involves suffering; it gets ugly sometimes for all of us. Recovery in its truest sense involves accepting this truth with a kind of grace. I’d spent years either hiding from my past or reveling in it – playing the world’s most pathetic victim. It was exhausting.
Feeling the Gifts of Recovery
Recovering addicts, those who care more about authenticity and serenity than they do about how many days you have clean, are my favorite kind. They are some of the wisest people I know. I wouldn’t change my story – I wouldn’t subtract one moment of my suffering – not to be counted among them. At least I hope I am counted among them. I now choose to feel my pain as it comes. And I choose to feel my laughter. I feel equipped to handle even fear. These are some of the gifts of recovery.
I write my stories as a practice in healing and it’s been my most effective therapy. Many successful recovering addicts frequently tell their stories in group meetings with the same aim. September 2014 is National Recovery Month, when people are encouraged to “speak up about mental and substance use disorders and the reality of recovery.” Find a way to share your story this month. You may be healing yourself just a little bit more, and helping others in the process.