He lay naked on the living room floor of our one bedroom Studio City apartment with a sheet covering his pearl white body. I sat on one side and held his hand while my sister stroked his forehead. At last he was at peace. I, on the other hand, was a complete basket case. I was bargaining with God not believing what was happening. This was the day Paul left this world. It was also the day I came back to recovery.

It was late afternoon in April and I was home. I didn’t go to work that day because I was fired the week before. My husband Paul was asleep in bed and I was doing whatever I could to keep busy and ignore my thoughts and emotions. I was going through a dark period in my life. Paul was extremely sick, I was hopelessly addicted to methamphetamine, and things that offered stability in my life were slipping away. All I could do was stay high, stay busy and ignore the realities I was facing. The darkest moment of this afternoon was quickly approaching. It was the day Paul died.

Paul and I had a special bond that was challenged in the early years of our relationship due to my addiction to meth. I originally found the rooms of CMA, and got clean. I managed to stay clean for just over eight years. In that time, we lived a fairytale romance. We married and moved to a house in the suburbs—domestic bliss. These were some of the happiest moments of my life. Nothing could get between us and everything appeared perfect.

I relapsed in March after 8 blissful years. I wouldn’t see another sober day until the day Paul died. I tried many times to stop but was continually dragged into the darkness of my disease. I was aware Paul was extremely sick and his condition was not improving. I relied on crystal to cope with my heartbreaking reality. At least this is what I used to tell myself to justify the return to active addiction. And then he died. So now what do I do?

Survival is all I had after losing the most important person in my life. The day Paul died, I was struck sober. I never returned to methamphetamine. I wasn’t certain about sobriety. I reached out to my sober family and started my journey one more time. I received an outpouring of love and affection from friends and family. I returned to therapy and started attending CMA meetings. That little voice in my head told me I couldn’t grieve without the help of the people that meant so much to me.

In my first year, I decided it was time to do the Steps again. My sponsor, Bill C., met with me on a weekly basis and we started the process all over. I had to get honest and surrender—a step one action. When I’m in my addiction, I have a tendency to develop an interesting relationship with the truth. During that year of using I slowly lost my soul and self-respect.

When it came time to do my inventory, Step Four, I was ready. It takes unyielding courage to look at resentments and examine character defects. I felt betrayed by so many people and institutions, I was beyond ready to put it down on paper. I was, for the first time in years, able to see how pride and anger were my greatest of character defects. I had no idea.

The first time I worked the Steps, I didn’t pay attention to spiritual principles, and the idea of perseverance (spiritual principle behind step 10) was not on my radar. I learned that, had I practiced spiritual principles, I might have stopped the insanity a year earlier. That said: I had to go through my journey to get to where I’m at today. Relapse is a part of that.

Paul’s death changed the course of my life. I learned I’m a compassionate man who cares what happens to others. When he died, I lost my husband and my job. I had to face my peers and tell them I only had a few days clean and sober—that sucked. My shame was overwhelming. The negative voices ridiculed my sobriety and made me second guess anything else positive in my life. I learned to look at life through a different lens.

When I think of those first few months of recovery, I visualize a phoenix rising from the flames. As Paul left this earth, I headed in the same desolate direction. I wasn’t deliberately trying to hurt myself but a reality check dictated otherwise. When Paul died, a piece of me went with him. I didn’t realize I could recover from that loss. I discovered that grief required its own recovery. Not only did I recover, but it was as if God gave me a second lease on life. I had a new awakening.

When I was sober the first time, Paul would continually remind me that if I were to use again, he’d have to leave me. In early recovery I felt guilty for his death, because, in a way, he did leave. I know now that his death and my getting sober are not necessarily synonymous. I had a strong foundation back in the day, and if I carried on using as I was, I most likely would’ve found my way back to recovery. The courts, illness, guilt; any one of those factors could’ve done it. I have a tendency not to fare well over extended periods of time when I’m using crystal.

The Twelfth Step says we will have a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps. I learned what that means. Once I stopped waiting for the clouds to part; I recognized the freedom that comes from doing a moral inventory and sharing it. Awareness of my character defects and the ability to change my behavior, making amends for my wrongs, and a daily spiritual practice—all this was required for my spiritual awakening.

The problem isn’t grief, it’s not allowing myself a chance to grieve. The problem isn’t anger, it’s not recognizing and allowing myself to feel and understand this emotion. The problem isn’t intimacy, it’s not allowing myself the opportunity to get close and share my life with others. Recovery has afforded me the chance to enhance and experience all these feelings.

I have not returned to the use of meth or any other drugs to cope with my feelings. I truly live my life on life’s terms. I’ve come to realize that if I’m content and happy, this is enough for me. I remember glimpses of my life with Paul while I was using. I traded paradise for a parking lot.

My life has taken on many changes since getting clean. I went back to school for drug and alcohol counseling and changed careers. I discovered I need love in my life as I have an abundance of love to share. That said, I met a beautiful man and remarried. I get to be an uncle today with nieces and a nephew who respect me. I joined a fitness team and started eating healthier foods.

Most importantly, I discovered me. I have new goals and dreams, and I remain teachable. I am 50 years old and grateful for my life today. It took a lot of work to get here, and there is a long highway ahead. As long as I’m willing to grow, I will live a life free from my demons. I am truly a phoenix rising from the flames. Paul is in my heart and I know the life I have today is the life he wants for me—eternally.