[acb-hsp] From Strung Out to Sober
paltschul at centurytel.net
Fri Mar 30 15:04:30 EDT 2012
>From Strung Out to Sober: When Does the Misery of Getting Clean
Nic Sheff, The Fix March 25, 2012
Since the publication of my first book, Tweak, four years ago,
I've been travelling around the country speaking to different
groups and organizations about addiction and recovery. I've
spoken at high schools and colleges and at fundraisers for big
name rehabs like Hazelden and the Caron Foundation. Usually
these events consist of about a 45-minute share of my basic
story, followed by 15 minutes of question and answers. And, for
the most part, the talks I give are all fairly similar and the
questions people ask are pretty similar, too-although of course,
the specific details tend to be different.
A few weeks ago, however, I was speaking at an event on a
Native American reservation just a few miles outside of Saginaw,
Michigan when an older man from the community stood up and asked
me a question that made me have to re-think my entire
He was shouting and I could see that he was angry. Not with
me, exactly, but with addiction in general. He spoke about
watching his kids and then his grandkids struggle with this
disease. And then he went on to say that he listens to people
like me speaking about how bad things were and how the drugs
destroyed our lives but then suddenly we seem to jump to talking
about how we're sober now and how we are all happy and
everything. What he wanted to know was: how did we get from
being strung out and miserable to being happy and sober? How did
we get from A to B?
I wasn't totally sure how to answer.
I know that for some, getting from A to B in is a fairly
straightforward process-which isn't to say that it's easy.
Though perhaps it's easier to explain. They use drugs and
destroy their lives, then they go to AA, where they get a
sponsor, take commitments, work the steps and go on to live lives
that are happy, joyous, and free.
But that wasn't the way it worked for me.
I'm envious of people who got recovery like that. I remember
back when I was first getting clean, I was in a Sober Living
house and going to meetings with these kids my age, and a lot of
them are still sober today. They followed that path and it
worked for them.
I was the one that continued to fuck up over and over and over
I went to AA just like they did and did everything that was
suggested, but then I still went out and relapsed. Maybe I just
didn't do it right. I don't know. And there's no easy
explanation for what finally worked for me. Every time I thought
I found the answer, I'd end up relapsing again.
At one point, I went to this new agey treatment center in the
desert and spent a lot of time talking about childhood trauma and
releasing the memories from my body and stuff like that. I did
EMDR and Somatic Experiencing and got into blaming my parents. I
did meditation and got in touch with my feelings and then I
thought, "Okay, awesome, Ibve fixed myself now."
But then I went out and started drinking so much that I was
soon waking up in the morning and downing mini-bottles of
flavored vodka 'cause they were only 79 cents on sale from the
local liquor store.
After that, I pretty much decided I was done with rehabs and AA
but would try outpatient and just good old-fashioned therapy and
But here's where I did something different: in the past, I'd
always gone to whatever psychiatrist was recommended to me. I
decided that this time, I would try to find one that I could
relate to and respect. It took some time and I met with four
different doctors, but I finally did find someone who was young
and super knowledgeable about addiction. She got me on different
meds and I started seeing her once a week.
That was also the first time I'd ever tried outpatient, and the
program I'd enrolled in here in LA seemed like it had really
started working for me. When I'd been in inpatient rehabs
before, I'd get close to the other clients when we were in there
together, but as soon as we got back out in the real world, we'd
discover how little we actually had in common. But that didn't
happen with outpatient, probably because we incorporated what we
were doing together into our daily lives, rather than make it our
entire lives. And as a result, the friends I made there are
still some of my best friends today-nearly five years later.
So that's it then, right? Outpatient and psychiatry, the magic
combination? Is that what I should tell that old man on the
Actually, no. Because I relapsed again.
My ex-girlfriend had a bottle of Vicodin left over from the
time she broke her arm, and I thought one couldn't hurt me.
Three bottles later, I had a pocket full of cash and was heading
downtown to go cop heroin when I suddenly, and inexplicably, had
some sort of moment of clarity-or however you want to describe
it. Basically, I just saw how I was about to throw everything
away that I'd worked so hard to get. I saw how my life was going
to spiral completely out of control again and I was going to lose
everything and destroy myself and I thought, "No, no, I don't
want to do this again. I don't want to go back to the bottom
And so I didn't. I went home and called my doctor, got on
Suboxone and just basically locked myself inside for a week. And
that was it. That was my last relapse. I've been sober ever
since. Over four years at this point.
So what's been the difference? What's gotten me from point A to
point B? How do I answer that old man's question?
The only thing I can figure is that I guess it must have all
kind of worked. That is, I don't think it was any one treatment
that got me sober. But each one gave me a little more by
teaching me more about myself and my disease and recovery. None
of it was a waste. I kept falling but eventually I started to
learn how to not fall so far down, and how to pick myself up a
little sooner. It was a lot of trial and error. I had to find
out what fit for me and what didn't.
Because there is no one answer for anyone. We are all
different. What worked for me may not work for you, and vice
versa. So I guess I just had to be open to tryingband then
Of course, a lot of it is luck, too. I have plenty of friends
who fell down and never could pick themselves up again because
they overdosed and died. So to simply say it doesn't matter how
many times you fall because you can always get back up isn't
exactly true. People die from this disease. It happens all the
But what I want to tell that old man in Michigan and what I
want to tell anyone who hears my story in the future is that
really, getting from point A to point B is, like I said, all
about trying. Trying. That's it. I had to try. And I had to
be open. And, yes, I had to have faith. Not in God, but just
faith that it could and would eventually work. And it has. For
Nic Sheff is a columnist for The Fix and the author of two
memoirs about his struggles with addiction, the New York
Times-bestselling Tweak and We All Fall Down. He lives in Los
Angeles with his wife, two hound dogs, and a cat and has
previously written about selling himself for sex and his father.
David Sheff's book Boy among many other topics.
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