One saying that has really stuck with me through my recovery is something I was told in rehab and in numerous 12-Step meetings. It is: “The one thing you have to change is everything.” It is a pretty bold statement, but I have found it to be true.
My addiction was very, very extreme for the last few years. When I tried to get clean, every little thing was a trigger. If you aren’t familiar, a trigger is something used in the addiction/recovery field that defines any situation, person, feeling, or place that triggers a craving to want to use drugs. I remember in my first couple weeks of sobriety, I was getting out of the shower one day and getting dressed when I sprayed some cologne on my shirt. Guess what? The smell of that cologne flipped some type of switch in my brain and I realized that I used to wear that cologne when I used to go out with my friends to party and I associated that cologne with getting high. Next thing I knew I was thinking about dope. Isn’t that crazy? A sniff of cologne can trigger a reaction in your brain that associates it with using dope.
A trigger can be anything. Like I said, my first month or two of sobriety was filled with triggers and cravings. It seemed like every little thing was a frickin’ trigger! Now, from an outsider’s perspective, a regular person would probably not realize the power something as small as a bottle of cologne can have on the addicted brain. But it is proven that addiction is a disease of the brain and that is why it is so important to get treated if you suffer from an addiction. It is so crucial to learn about these types of things and learn how to deal with them.
“The one thing you have to change is everything.” I had to give up a lot in order to get clean and actually stay clean. One of the hardest things for me to change, though, was to stop hanging around the people I used and bought drugs with. I was in and out of rehab seemingly every other month in my active addiction and this phrase was repeated over and over: “you have to give up those friends you got high with or you will not stay clean!” I was in denial about that for a long time. I would rationalize around it and tell myself, “Well, they don’t understand. I can’t just stop hanging out with my best friends! We have been through so much together and have such a strong bond and you are telling me I have to just drop them like they don’t exist?”
I never listened to that suggestion. Every time I got out of rehab or jail I would instantly go back to hanging out with the same ol’ people. I don’t know what it was; I just couldn’t stay away from my using friends. I refused to believe that they were a part of my addiction. I would rationalize and say, “None of my friends have anything to do with my decision to use drugs. They never forced me to stick a needle in my arm.” The truth is, though, it is nearly impossible to stay clean when you are an addict constantly in communication and association with other people using drugs. That was one reservation of mine that I held on to for a long, long time. A reservation is something that you don’t want to give up or stop doing that is holding you back from recovery.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not hang out with my using friends and stay sober. It just didn’t happen. There came a time in my life, though, after numerous overdoses, robberies, guns to my head, high speed car crashes, and near death experiences when I was willing to do WHATEVER was necessary to get sober. I finally decided I wanted to live and that God had some type of plan for my life. I surrendered. I wanted to change, so I changed the one thing that needed to be changed: everything. That included the group of people I associated myself with.
I finally gained the strength to tell my using friends that I was getting clean and that I couldn’t talk to them anymore. I changed my phone number, deleted my old Facebook page and stopped hanging around places where I knew my friends would be. After nine months of sobriety, I have come to the realization that I am a lot better off without the people I got high with. In fact, they were not what I would call a “friend” today. Looking back, very few of the people I got high with actually cared about me. I have talked to a couple people that I got high with in the last couple of months to invite them to a 12-step meeting and they didn’t want anything to do with me. The drug world is a world where you are only worth something if you have something for somebody else. If you don’t have money or drugs then you are no good. It doesn’t matter what any of them people think of me anymore in my life, I am a lot better off now without them. I have my family, an amazing girlfriend, a recovery support system and a church family, and I am more than cool with that.
Looking at this situation from a sober mind today, I ask the question, “Is it possible for anybody to get clean while still hanging out with people they got high with?” In my opinion, the answer is no. I know that I can’t do it; I tried enough, and I don’t know anybody who has some good recovery that still associates with people who abuse drugs. The saying, “the one thing you need to change is everything” holds true in my life. I did change everything. I tried countless times to get sober on my own terms with my reservations and I never sustained any clean time more than one day. Recovery from drug addiction is more than just simply not using drugs. Recovery is a lifestyle change; a personality change; an attitude change, and looking back at the person I was in my active addiction-that is alright with me. Change is what I needed. Change is what I accomplished. Change is who I am. A changed man that has changed one thing: everything.
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