I didn’t think I’d ever be able to stop. I’d tried for 17 years and failed over and over and over. I could stop now and then, but I couldn’t stay stopped. I went to meetings, got a sponsor, worked Steps – but I kept relapsing because I wasn’t willing to let go. Did I really want to never feel that rush again?
My mom ran away from home when she was 15 to escape her father, a raging and abusive drunk. She had me when she was 17. She was a White, unmarried teen with a Black baby in the early 1970s. She soon learned to not trust people, to work hard, and only rely on herself. She passed this on to me. Today, I know that many of these traits helped me survive my addiction, but others almost killed me.
We moved around a lot–no real friends, no family. When I was 8, I accidentally set fire to a three-story motel we were living in on Miami Beach. We lost just about everything, left with a few bags of clothes, each other, and a voucher from the Red Cross. We settled down eventually and I started to meet people in school and in my neighborhood. That’s when I started noticing feelings of being different, less than, and undesirable. I didn’t know how to socialize. Most years, I was the only Black kid in class and maybe one of a few in the entire school.
My first sister was born when I was 10. I helped raise her because my mother was usually working two jobs, 12-14 hours a day. We lived off food stamps and bought most things, like clothes, furniture and appliances, from the Salvation Army. When I was 15, I got a job and started paying bills.
At 17, I had my first drunk from wine coolers at a party and I loved it! Finally! I’d wanted to drink for years. I continued to drink through college and always drank to get drunk. Vodka was my choice, though I had a love-hate relationship with Tequila and Everclear. I drank the way my friends drank–the way I thought most people in college drank. I didn’t think I had a problem.
The binge drinking continued into my late 20’s. In 2000, I moved to Atlanta and soon fell into the club scene and the substances that came with it: X, K, and some coke at first then, G and later meth. When I was high and out with my friends, I felt the euphoria of dancing, sweating, and the music. But I never got that feeling of being “attractive” or the “life of the party,” others have mentioned. I danced by myself or otherwise stayed with my group. Why would anyone want me?
Within a few years, my using at the club turned into using at the bar, too. When I went out, I couldn’t have fun without drinking or drugging. Even starting out “just drinking” eventually led to looking for drugs. One night I went into a bathroom stall to do a bump and didn’t come out until the club closed. The music stopped. My friends and most everyone else were gone and I staggered home.
Eventually all I wanted to do was get high. No bars, clubs, or friends. It was me looking for meth, and then sex, online. I was angry, lonely, and horny. Meth was my solution. I smoked and snorted it and finally felt that singular warm rush of insane pleasure wash over me. I didn’t care about anything. The marathon bareback sex with randoms. The STDs. Not eating, drinking, or sleeping. Lying and stealing from my friends and family. The dark and crazy thoughts in my head. Risking losing my job, home, and life. I didn’t fucking care.
By 2006, the binging had taken over and I hit my first bottom. Over the next decade, I lost numerous jobs. One day I came to work so strung out that I was carried by two people from my desk, through the office space in front of co-workers, and out of the building. My employer gave me the chance to go to rehab and I gladly took it. After 45 days, I left rehab and went into sober living for four or five months. I left there and moved in with a sober roommate. I was using again within a month. New locations, new relationships, HIV, and my own personal hell couldn’t stop me. I was selling my food stamp card and cleaning the dealer’s house for drugs.
During these years,I went to my first NA meeting. Sometime after that, I went to a CMA meeting and I remember how nerve-wracking it felt to sit in a small circle with five gay men I didn’t know without drugs or sex. They told me to “get in the middle of recovery,” “use those numbers,” and “let us love you until you can love yourself.” No way! I didn’t want to be “a part of.” I’m Black. I’m gay. I have nothing. I don’t belong. I keep fucking up.
My relationship with my family was almost non-existent. Once I left home, I only went back once or twice a year–mostly during Christmas. Often I was fresh off of a binge or counting the days until I could get back to using. My mom was often working two jobs to make ends meet but would still send me $40-50 now and then. I would use that money to get high instead of buying food. Toward the end, I was home visiting my oldest sister when I saw a framed photo of me hung on the wall with other family photos. I was horrified to see how gaunt my face looked, and knowing that was the photo people were seeing of me.
My mother showed me how to fight and not give up. I think that’s a big reason I kept coming back to CMA after going out year after year. Another reason I stayed was because of the people I met in the meetings. Every time I came back, they were there. They were big on hugs, too. I got to know them when I led a meeting, stacked the chairs, made coffee, or just said hello. They included me in coffee chats, movies, cook-outs, retreats, and service. I didn’t know it, but they were loving me when I couldn’t love myself. They are my family to this day, and I love each of them so very much.
But I still wasn’t done. In 2016, I was in Durham, shooting up, 45 years old, and asking myself, How much longer? When will it be enough? Stopping won’t get any easier. I had no friends. I didn’t talk to my family. My body hurt as it had for years. I hated looking at myself. I was so hopeless. Please let this end. I just want to die!
I finally put down the pipe in January 2019. I found the local CMA meetings. I didn’t have a burning-bush moment or some great epiphany. I just decided I’d try recovery one more time. This time, though, I would get out of my way and take my hands off of the wheel. I finally started doing things that I’d been scared to do. I asked someone to sponsor me and was overjoyed when he said yes. We met at a local park every Saturday and he took me through all 12 Steps– my first time. I did 90-in-90 and got a home group, the Tuesday night beginner’s meeting.
This meeting was crucial to my first year because being sober did not feel good or normal a lot of the time. I needed a place to be with other people in their first year who were feeling the same things. I could share about my emotions being all over the place or feeling out of control. These people got me. I learned not only to vent, but to ask for help to deal with my problems.
My sponsor is a service nut. One time he suggested I join him and a few people who were taking a meeting to a local treatment center. I was terrified! I was maybe two months clean and thought I had nothing to tell anyone about sobriety. My story was using, relapsing, and using some more. But I went and spoke for five or ten minutes in the circle and it was okay. I was asked to answer calls on the AA hotline and, again, I was terrified. But I did it. I learned to show up and walk through my fears.
I just celebrated four years clean. I go to three or four meetings a week–in-person and online– and have three service commitments. Every morning, I say “Good morning, Father,” right when I get up and text a few people in recovery with funny memes or encouraging words. Each day is a living amends for me. Oh, and I love listening to recordings of CMA speakers online too.
Now, to replace the photo that used to hang on the wall, I have two new family pictures that I cherish. One is a picture of me carrying my niece into the water at the beach. The other is of her sitting on my lap while I show her how to use a camera. It hurts to know I missed out on this connection for so many years, but it’s a reminder of the son, brother, and uncle I want to be. Also, I’ve made amends to my mother and oldest sister, and part of my daily amends is to not pick up.
I’m learning to be okay with my life not always being okay. After four years in recovery my finances are still a mess, I haven’t been able to find a healthy relationship, and I get lonely. But all of this is manageable if I remember I am powerless (Step 1), choose a sane solution (Step 2), and let go of the rest (Step 3). I lean on my sober family a lot, too. What’s funny is that many of my friends in recovery aren’t like me. They’re not Black, gay, male, or even tweakers. But we think the same and we’re there for each other. Turns out that letting people in was a huge missing piece of my recovery.
Last thing I’ll mention is what I do to stay sober: I remember the pain of 17 years, I work my program, and I show others that people of color can and do recover. My recovery family reminds me that I must do the work – no one else can do it for me – and that I have friends to depend on when life gets rough. Thank you, CMA.
We aren’t born knowing how to use and we aren’t born knowing how to deal with our addiction and difficult life issues. He was introduced to the 12 Steps of CMA, and following the clear suggestions from fellows, discovered he could not only live through anything, but thrive and find true comfort in the Steps. He says, “by doing this, I find true joy, walking hand-in-hand with others on the same path.”
At 8 years old, my cousin showed me how to take a little whiskey from each bottle in her dad’s bar to make a drink.
At 13, the boys in my Boy Scouts troop taught me how to get a drunk adult outside a liquor store to buy a bottle for us.
At 20, my roommates taught me how to do a line. It took a little time to learn the tools and the lifestyle.
At 28, my neighbors taught me how to smoke speed. It took a little time to learn those tools.
At 31, I had no idea how to not do these things anymore.
I spent my first week sober detoxing in four jails and two courthouses. From there I spent 90 days in a behavior modification rehab. They taught me to shower daily, shave regularly, do my laundry, and put it away. On day one there, they taught me to make my bed before we ate breakfast.
After breakfast, we did dishes and put them away. After lunch, we swept and mopped the dining room. Before dinner, we set up the tables for 85 residents. After dinner, we cleaned the kitchen mats.
In my first Twelve Step meeting, I felt weird and awkward with all the chanting and group prayer. The Secretary shared about talking with her sponsor, and after the meeting I asked her what she meant by that. She explained a sponsor was someone who had worked the Twelve Steps through the Big Book or the Basic Text, had cleared their wreckage, and found their truth. They could guide you on your path to staying sober.
So I got a sponsor, and when I got out of rehab, we started working together. My first assignment was to read the Big Book. Every day I read. I would send him messages about how I related to what I just read, and how awesome it was that they wrote a book about me!
I was court-ordered to four meetings a week, and by seven months sober I was hitting 21 meetings a week. I made sure to include an open discussion, a Big Book study, a men’s stag, and a speaker meeting. Some were podium-sharing, some were round robin, and at some we just circled up the chairs and discussed where we were at and what we were dealing with that day. I hit all three CMA meetings, the CA book study and speaker meetings, and random AA and NA meetings. But my favorite was the Monday night 8:15 CMA meeting that we called “The Circus” because it was big and loud and full of wild animals and clowns. I loved this meeting because afterwards a bunch of us went to dinner and had a book study. Old-timers bought a basket of fries for newcomers with no money. We shared our experiences about what we had read. We laughed, cried, and made what we read personal.
The group at my first CMA meeting suggested I get a phone list and call everyone on it. So I did. Before the next meeting, I had called every number on a double-sided, double-column page. After that, I knew who would answer, or call back, or ignore the messages. This was useful when I would freak out about something and needed someone to talk to or go get coffee with.
That first couple of years, we hit a lot of meetings together and learned how to live life sober together. We played on playgrounds, went out to eat (and learned how to not leave giant messes when we were done), celebrated birthdays with dinners or pool parties or trips to ice cream shops. We went to movies and on road trips to visit people in our group that moved away.
Getting commitments at meetings taught me to show up early to set up and stay late to clean up. I learned that the best meetings were the ones before and after the meetings. When I started showing up early to work and stayed my whole shift, I found out bosses love that shit.
In rehab, people I admired had a morning and evening ritual: they’d read from some inspirational book or another, pray and then sit quietly for a while. The only prayer I knew was the Serenity Prayer from the in-house meetings, so I started with that. Just pray and then practice breathing deeply for a minute or two (sitting still longer than that was soooooo difficult!). Since then, I have learned to read portions of the Big Book, the Twelve & Twelve, CMA pamphlets, Crystal Clear: Stories of Hope, and Voices of the Fellowship on the CMA website.
In rehab, counselors advised journaling as a means to vent and figure out our emotions, which we were not used to feeling, having numbed ourselves for years.
Working the First Step I discovered what makes me an addict: I have an obsession of the mind, a compulsion of the body, and sick emotions generated by my sick spirit. In the Second Step, I discovered the solution to my problem: finding and connecting to a Power greater than myself. In Step Three I made a decision to do the rest of the work (Steps Four through Nine) to clear away the wreckage of my past (balance the scales), which clears a pathway to that Power which will keep me sober.
Step Ten was a daily practice of Four through Nine. I looked at my behavior for that day to see where I had been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking. Basically, was I being a jerk or trying to get something that wasn’t mine to take?
Step Eleven was a deeper practice of prayer and meditation. I searched online for prayers relating to issues I was going through, and would practice using them and then sit quietly to “listen” for guidance. I also talked to old timers about different ways to meditate. I found out that in addition to sitting quietly and breathing, there are guided meditations. There are apps, or pages online, as well as meditation meetings. And there is such a thing as active meditation! This is where you do a repetitive action (like food preparation, walking, running) while letting your mind cycle through whatever it wants to, usually ending with a clearer ability to focus on what’s in front of you.
Step Twelve brings it all together and teaches others how to do it; I carry the message to other addicts that The Twelve Steps work. This step also includes many ways to be of service, which for me includes sponsoring other addicts, having a meeting commitment like doing chips or being secretary, and having group commitments like treasurer or General Service Representative. Those commitments led me to being of service to my district and area, and eventually to the General Service Conference, which was especially fun for me. It involved lots of other people trying to figure out how we can help others help others.
Each new thing I do requires me to get out of my comfort zone and walk through my fear of messing things up. By doing this, I find true joy, walking hand-in-hand with others on the same path.