I was 5 months clean, and very happy to be out of the drug life. I was able to stop living the life where everything revolved around crystal, and that was a relief for me. The drug life was one I thought I’d never be able to give up. I also had been fighting my case of manufacturing meth since June and was terrified of the consequences of my actions, but found the Twelve Step life very tolerable and looked forward to keeping on the path of recovery. I felt no shame or remorse for the loss of part of my life. I had spent the majority of my time thus far among recovery people and my story wasn’t much different than most others. That is, until my first holiday season.

For the first time clean and sober, meeting my extended family brought a whole host of issues to mind. I think the loss of my 30s was one of the most difficult things I had to come to terms with eventually. I lost a whole decade to speed. I mean, what do most people do in their 30s? Have a stable family, stable employment and stable life. I was 39 and had none of that, and was finally shamed in a way that you can’t be if you spend all times in the rooms of recovery.

My cousins were close to my age and I lost contact with most of them in my downward spiral leading to my arrest. One thing was clear, early on and compared to my cousins, I seemed to have the brightest future financially and career-wise, so when we all got together in the fall of ’99, there were new emotions and truths to embrace.

One cousin was an extremely successful home builder, working with famous people on their huge Los Angeles homes. I think he drove to my aunt’s house in a Lotus. Wow! I was very happy for him, but the unavoidable thought was how much I had lost. Before my decade long debacle with crystal, I was the one who had things together and he was just getting by. But now look at us. I was shamed in a way I could never be among my recovery family.

The other cousin just had his third child, and the father in me awoke to the thought of having a family. What had I missed? And how could a child compare with the fleeting feeling meth gave me? How could I have made such a rotten bargain? Well, I willingly and happily made that bargain over and over again in the 10 years I lost. The feeling of remorse was heartbreaking.

I knew I had the potential to have a stable career with nice cars and homes. I knew I had the desire to have a family. It was as if I got slapped in the face with a life truth and I wasn’t prepared for the feelings of shame, remorse and inadequacy that filled my heart.

After all that, the only thing I could hold up was my 90-day chip and tell everyone what a good telemarketer I was. At that Thanksgiving, I grew to hate the platitude, “Well, at least you’re sober.” I learned then that the love of your family, however well intentioned, can cut you deepest.

Well, now what? The feelings of shame didn’t make me go out. I didn’t get a fantastic job right away to make the money I thought I should be making, and I didn’t find a wife right away to make babies with. The only thing I did was to go back to my recovery family and talk about it in meetings. I found I wasn’t the only one this had happened to, and the rooms of recovery made me stronger bit by bit.

That same Christmas, I served food to the homeless around our Alano Club. As anyone who has gone before me knows, service helps in a huge way. It helped me to remember that I am a broken being trying to rebuild his life, and I don’t need to do it in one giant leap. And also that the rooms of recovery are designed to help us walk in the sunlight of the Spirit and we can feel complete; it just may not happen overnight.

The truth is that each year has gotten easier. I don’t think I’ve ever welcomed the holiday season since, but I don’t dread it anymore. I do have a family now. I’m married to a fantastic woman who is in the program and I have step children and grandchildren whom I adore more than I could have thought possible. I also have a terrific job which allows me to provide for my family — they don’t see me as a recovering addict who started out with nothing.

I found that shame and grief and self-hate can take me out as fast as a hit on the pipe.

I meet addicts as a sponsor and speaker. The one lesson which I’ve tried to communicate is that we are talented people. It takes real talent and dedication to carry on a drug life but once we focus only on recovery, we do amazing things. I find that we turn out to be terrific employees. We are hard working. We show up on time. We have good attitudes. We shouldn’t be surprised by rapid achievement in our careers. We also shouldn’t be surprised by outshining co-workers who haven’t had to go through what we have had to go through.

We can be great at relationships. The Steps teach us a new way to live without drugs and alcohol. They also teach us more loving and compassionate ways to interact with those around us – maybe even better than some of those who’ve never had to travel our path in life.

My truth is I recognized how much I had to work to make my life better. It wasn’t going to happen just because I was sober. It only happens with hard work and service and knowing that if I do everything asked of me, life is going to be just fine.