10 Oct How I Did It: 49 Years of Recovery, Part 1
By Cleveland Bell, Riverside House CEO
When I was battling my addiction and trying to stay off drugs, it was one day at a time. I felt successful if I could do it one hour at a time really, because it had such a hold on me. But 49 years later, life is much different. And so much better.
Earlier this year, I received my 49th medallion for staying clean for all those years. Although my recovery took the form of a more spiritual journey for about 20 of those years, I did become involved with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) along the way. That may seem strange, because my challenge was not with alcohol. I struggled with drugs, but I found that AA was a good resource for me. While it was not as helpful in my personal journey, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) also played a part. As drug use has grown over the years, NA has been hugely helpful to many.
I am still a big proponent of self-help programs like AA and NA. At the end of the day, the recovery journey is an inside job. There are some outside factors that are important, like commitments to others, finding a place to live, how you dress, etc., but the real journey is on the inside. You have to come to grips with who you are. Families Anonymous (FA) can be very helpful for family members as well. It’s a great organization to teach families of those with addictions that there is no silver bullet. Recovery is a process.
Several years ago, my wife and I were having some problems with our daughter. She was and is a lovely, very poised young lady. You can feel her presence when she walks into a room, but she didn’t see these great things about herself and went through a stage in life where she was functioning below her capability. Many times, you can help everybody else’s children but your own, so we went to FA for support and met a couple that was very important to us. While their children had been clean for 15 years, they kept coming to meetings. They were faithful so that they could encourage new families. They encouraged us and helped teach many people that you don’t come to FA for your kids, but for yourself. If you want your kids to be healthy, you have to be healthy too. It won’t happen tomorrow, and it won’t happen automatically, but it can make a huge difference if you get support and do the work for yourself.
In Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery program for anyone struggling with pain or addiction of any kind, we talk a lot about hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Everybody has them, and we try to help people understand what that means. We focus a lot on better communication skills so people can talk and work with each other more effectively. Just plain common sense still works when it comes to a lot of issues.
A great example is one of our great volunteers. When he came to Celebrate Recovery about 10 years ago, he had been clean for 20 years. But he had never worked through the 12 steps. He had put in a lot of hard work in other ways, but he was missing a lot of crucial aspects of recovery. We were able to help him through the steps, and it made a complete difference in his life, especially when it came to communication skills. He realized that order and structure are necessary and important, and while he had his recovery, he didn’t have the tools he needed or the ability to help others. But by working through the steps, he learned those things, and he has now been a group leader with Celebrate Recovery for many years. He’s one of the biggest proponents out there for going through the 12-month program.
Over the years, many of us have seen big changes when it comes to drugs and addiction. The issues of today are much different than the issues from when I was younger and dealing with addiction. One of the big differences is that we didn’t have that much choice with drugs back then. There were no labs where people were developing new things. We were pretty much limited to certain barbiturates, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Those were the horses of the race at that time.
It also wasn’t extremely easy to get any of those. Major cities like New York or Chicago had more drugs available, usually in certain neighborhoods. There were a lot of logistics though. You had to know where to go and how to find them. You had to really want it, because the drug scene was more underground and not as prevalent. Today, it’s almost everywhere and it’s evolved so much that it’s really scary. There are also so many more addictive pain drugs available.
With so many more drugs and the prevalence of them all, how can anyone stay clean? It’s something we get asked when we receive a medallion. People want to know how you’ve done it. For me, there have been so many factors, but I was able to narrow it down to the three most important things that were helpful to me. I think they will be helpful to others as well, and we’ll talk about them in our next few blog posts.