In 2013, I wrote an article for InRecovery Magazine. I wrote it while I was sitting on my bunk at Perryville Correctional Facility as I was completing a two-and-a-half-year sentence. This was my second time in prison. In total, I have spent about five years in jails and prisons, not to mention the years in and out of emergency rooms, detox centers, rehabilitation facilities and halfway houses.
I was the kind of person who had to learn lessons the hard way . . . the really hard way. These trips to the ER and detox centers were a sort of sobering-up period when I couldn’t take one more day of living on the street.
When in active addiction, I was a menace to myself and others. I became ugly. I would shower, but still smell awful from too much meth. I would put on makeup to cover the scabs from picking at my face. I look older than my years. I was too skinny, too bleached blonde and too sketchy. I was the girl you saw walking on the side of the road, sometimes in the strangest of places where there was nothing for miles – just a weird girl walking.
When I’d had enough of the streets, I would say I was suicidal; I knew how to manipulate the system so I would be taken care of for a while. The sad truth was that some of those suicidal feelings were real. I just didn’t know how to live, so I thought the only logical choice was to die.
I would end up a mess in some detox center – North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada and so on. I would share a room with another addict or two, sitting on beds that had seen too many tears, too much pain. I would stand in med lines hoping for something to ease the reality of my messed-up life.
I had been slamming meth, taking pills or, when I could, snorting heroin. Alcohol was easy. I could drink it before exiting a store, leaving behind a water-filled bottle on the shelf. In detox, nothing changed. I wanted every drug they had to offer. Lithium, Risperdal, Seroquel, Librium? Yes, please!
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (p. 58) says, “We tried to find an easier softer way. But we could not.” Those detox centers were my easier, softer way; and still I failed. So, off to prison I went yet again, and that is where I finally received my spiritual gift.
I was about six months into my sentence when I decided to quit taking meds. I’d had enough. I was tired of standing in med lines knowing those pills were just another hustle. I was a liar. I knew I didn’t need those pills; I wanted those pills. Those pills represented a lifetime of wanting to be anything other than what I was . . . a dirty, miserable addict.
My spiritual experience came as I was shaking in my cell, sobbing and vomiting from soul sickness. I had come to a place of “incomprehensible demoralization.”
In that cell, I met God for the first time. I vividly remember the pain I was in; the most I had ever experienced. I begged, sobbed, vomited and prayed; I had never prayed with such urgency and profound despair. The next day, I felt slightly less desperate, just a bit of relief. It was enough; it was the proof I needed.
I surrendered completely and passionately to a Power greater than myself, and I received an answer. This was the first step of my 1,000-mile journey. Though I could never have imagined this, I have now been sober four years and nine months.
God does not reveal the future to us. If I had known then what I know now, would I have surrendered earlier? Would I have tried as hard? No, I know that I would not have. There is a proverb that says, “It is always darkest before the dawn.” That was true for me.
The first year out of prison was extremely difficult; I was still a very sick person. I had behavioral issues: I threw my defenses up against things I did not want to do, made rash decisions and ran away. I was living very much in self-will, yet I was giving it to God dozens of times each day. I would give it to God, take it back, give it to God, and then take it back again.
Recovery is a slow process that can be just as painful as addiction, with one exception – there is a light of hope that comes with recovery. Active addiction offers only darkness. So with the fear of going back to prison and with God on my side, I kept trudging along. I enrolled in school and earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration and then moved on to graduate school. I eventually took a job working at a recovery center.
Those are all big things; but for me, they are small in comparison to getting my family back. I now have a relationship with all of my children. There was a time when I would go years without hearing their little voices, and now I call them anytime I want – a couple of them even live with me.
I have a great marriage. My husband’s story was as spectacularly tragic as mine; and he is sober, too. I have sober friends and a love for life that often annoys people. My sponsor is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met.
“Bill’s Story,” of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (p. 11), reads, “. . . he had, in effect, been raised from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap heap to a level of life better than the best he had ever known!” Years ago, that phrase had caught my attention; and I had thought, No way. I thought my best years were behind me. Now I know otherwise.
Bill spoke of being “catapulted into the fourth dimension of existence” to a happiness and peace that exists outside of addiction. For me, this statement came true; it is achievable. There is a way out.
My own story makes me cry for both the old Roxanne and the new Roxanne – for very different reasons. There is fulfillment and happiness in sobriety; it is more than merely existing. I am happy today – profoundly and organically happy.
You can be happy, too. Go to meetings, get a sponsor and work the Steps. Give it a try and see what happens. It can’t be any worse than what you are doing. If you are hurting as I was, come see me – we can talk.
Roxanne Clever works at A Sober Way Home in Prescott, Arizona. asoberwayhome.org