I’m in federal prison camp on a 77-month sentence for a nonviolent drug crime. I was fortunate enough to be out on bail for over a year prior to my self-surrender. In that time, I was able to reconnect with the Twelve-Step Program I attend on the outside when I’m sober. I’ve been struggling with addiction most of my adult life, so I’ve been in and out of the Program since 2001.
AA meets twice weekly here at the camp, and I attend regularly. Let me share my experience at yesterday’s topic meeting. Those of you familiar with this type of AA meeting will recognize the format: A topic is introduced and then other members share their experience with it. The topic that day was “pride,” based on a reading from As Bill Sees It. The essence of the reading was that pride keeps us from actually being successful in the program or, put another way, humility is the foundation for a successful recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol. My story is all about pride.
In the 1990s, I lived in New York City. I was in my twenties, and I had recently discovered crystal meth, clubbing and the party lifestyle. My party weekends would begin at noon on Thursday, when I’d leave work to buy drugs. I’d start partying at my dealer’s apartment and would then go back to work high. The weekend would last through Monday, and it was always a complete blur. I wouldn’t sleep at all, nor would I eat.
Mondays were the worst. By the time Monday rolled around, I was completely used up mentally, physically and emotionally. I was a shell of a human being, barely able to function. I did this every other weekend – and sometimes every weekend – over and over again. I’d drag myself to work, barely able to function. I’m convinced people must have known what was going on, but no one ever said a thing to me.
The next three or four days would be spent sleeping, then dragging myself to work. I didn’t even eat that much, because I was saving my money to buy drugs. At first I didn’t party every weekend. It would take me about a week to finally start feeling normal again and I couldn’t afford the drugs.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with New York City – lots of people out and about all the time. Young and good-looking, I would eventually “get my swag back.” I didn’t call it swag then, since that word didn’t really exist at the time, but that’s what it was. I remember the feeling well. I was recovered, I felt and looked good again and I thought I was hot stuff. I knew I looked good and I knew you knew I looked good. What I learned is that the moment I started feeling like this – the moment I had my swag back – I’d be using shortly thereafter. Over and over again.
I never want to feel the way I felt during those days in New York. For me, “swag” is synonymous with “pride,” and swag is something I don’t want. The second I start thinking “I’m it,” “I’m hot stuff” or “I’ve got it going on,” is the moment I know I’m doomed to use again. I have learned this through experience. Today, I make a huge effort to remain right-sized. How do I do this?
First, I go to meetings, where I’ve developed a core group of good friends who know me and with whom I’m honest. I count on them to give me feedback and to let me know when I’m acting in a way which is contrary to recovery. When I was using, I never had real friends. There were people I used, and who used me, for drugs, sex and money, but I didn’t have friends. Now I do. It’s probably the greatest thing about being clean and sober.
Secondly, I give back. There is a phrase in recovery, “Service keeps you sober.” Whenever I can, I try to be of service. I make it a point to help people in recovery whenever they ask, and sometimes even when they don’t. I’ve learned that when I’m thinking about someone else, I’m not thinking about myself. This really is the key to my own recovery. This is how I stay humble. I keep my mind off myself and focus on how I can help another struggling addict or alcoholic.
That’s my experience with pride. My advice, campers, is to make your life a “swag-free” zone, make sober friends and help others. My experience has taught me that if you do these things, you’ve got a shot at staying sober and drug-free. Trust me, life is great once you put down the drugs and alcohol.