When you write the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen. Gurbaksh Chahai
Stories – we’ve all got ‘em. We’ve all heard the saying, “Everyone’s got at least one book in ‘em.” Some of us have actually written that book . . . or even several books. Addicts are some of the most gifted people – we are as creative in our recoveries as we were in our addictions.
Let me tell you my story . . .
I grew up in a creative home. My dad was a child prodigy pianist, a writer, a lawyer and an entrepreneur. My mother was an artist and acted in community theater. I have fond memories of listening to my dad play the piano and of going to art fairs with my mom.
My dad developed severe alcoholism, and my parents divorced when I was eleven. It’s common for children to think they are responsible for their parents’ problems and breakups . . . and I was no exception. I also believed that my dad became alcoholic because he gave up his music career to become an attorney. I later came to understand that many people follow their bliss, passions and talents and – even when successful – still become addicts. In fact, I have learned this firsthand.
As a teen, I had many interests, passions and talents. I excelled at sports, loved music, wrote songs and played the piano and guitar. During high school, I majored in art and won awards. For awhile sports, music and art helped me channel my emotions and energies, built my self-esteem and kept me goal-oriented. If I had any trouble, it was deciding which interest to pursue; but as fate would have it, addiction decided this for me. I got hooked – not on alcohol or drugs (which I’d tried) – but on shoplifting. For ten years, shoplifting was my drug of choice.
After two arrests and thoughts of suicide, I hit bottom in March of 1990 – in the middle of law school. I came clean with my folks, asked for help and entered therapy a week later. During my year of counseling, I began to make sense of how I’d turned to shoplifting and why it was so difficult to stop. It was my cry for help, my escape, my lift, my stress-release valve, my acting out of anger and my way to make life fair. I had taken on the role of the man of the house at age eleven. I was symbolically stealing back what I felt had been taken from me – my childhood, my innocence, my family.
I looked back on my ten-year secret life as lost years – lost time, relationships, direction and higher purpose. I had made up my mind that life was unfair and I was a victim. I blamed my dad for all my problems. My life was one big story of woe.
But today, I am grateful. Therapy and recovery helped me. I learned I had choices about how to live; I was the author of my own future. I wasn’t responsible for my addiction, but I am responsible for my recovery. I didn’t need to have a grand plan for my life; I just needed to do my best each day, to do the next right thing. Little by little, my life began to improve.
In April 1992 I was a practicing attorney, but knew I didn’t want to do that forever. I took a risk and enrolled in a personal growth weekend called The Forum. This led me to found the support group Cleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous (CASA) later that year. Starting CASA led me to a therapist and mentor who inspired me to go back to school to earn a master’s degree in social work.
While in school, I began writing my first book and started a website devoted to shoplifting addiction and recovery. I also developed an interest in addiction therapy. When I graduated in 1997, I found a job working at a chemical dependency clinic. I began receiving media interviews as a result of my website, which pushed me to finally publish my book Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls in 2003. This led to being a guest expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show a year later, and then I launched a counseling practice.
Along my recovery path, I also met my wife, bought a home and created a circle of friends who are now my family of choice. Over the past ten years, with the help of my Higher Power and many others, I’ve published three additional books, developed a successful counseling practice, traveled the country speaking at conferences and, most importantly, had the opportunity to help many people.
Don’t get me wrong – recovery is no guarantee that life will only give you cherries. I’ve had a number of difficult challenges along the way and the usual ups and downs. Being in recovery has allowed me to discover new creativity and use it toward useful goals. My life now has purpose and meaning.
In my wildest imagination, I could not have envisioned writing my story; yet, that’s exactly what I did. I not only authored my own story, but also authored my own life – and continue to do so each day. Life and I are co-authors. Life presents me with material and I now choose how to respond. This would not have been possible without my addiction . . . and without my recovery. I’m grateful for both..