Updated: Apr 19
18 years ago my life took a course correction. A spark illuminated in the tormented depths of the Underworld which had become my existence. It was as if some cosmic train Switchman pulled the lever on the tracks, thereby altering the direction my path was going in. Or like the 1998 movie, Sliding Doors starring Gweneth Paltrow- alternating between two storylines of the paths her life could take, largely determined by whether or not she drops an earring causing a young girl to get in her way and then a missed train connection. Sometimes our lives are determined by that one decision, one movement, or one step.
I should probably say a bit about what the”Underworld” means to me. In depth psychology, the Underworld is often recognized as a metaphor for psyche and depth. It’s a descent into our unconscious, the shadow bits of ourselves we are not aware of. James Hillman, the pioneer of archetypal psychology, says” we are not only dragged down into the Underworld but part of us always lives there.”
So much has changed since then- I could write volumes on the past 18 years and even more volumes on the 16 years I spent in an active addicted state of being. Fuck, even since late 2019 could be its own book, pandemic aside. But here is a glimpse into what transpired as I first started to "come to."
A Dark Angel Searching for Light
In us is also a dark angel (Hekate was also called angelos), a consciousness (and she was called phosphorous) that shines in the dark and that witnesses such events because it already is aware of them a priori... From this vantage point we may observe our own catastrophes with a dark wisdom that expects little else. - James Hillman
(Trigger Warning: drug addiction/use)
"As I struggled to open my eyes, my lids so heavy as if they had weights attached to them, I reached my hand for the bottle of pills that had been my trusty companion these last few days. I didn't want to be awake. I didn't want to die because that would be too much work. I simply wanted to sleep the days away in a haze of beautiful benzodiazepine bliss. But alas, my 'friends' were all gone. I had nowhere left to go, nowhere left to turn; the road was dark and dismal with no end in sight, no light ahead. I made my way to my therapy appointment and the kind and gentle man that had been my guide for nearly two years took one look at me that day and was afraid for my life. He directed me to a woman, an addiction counselor, who gave me two options; either go to treatment or go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I chose the latter and the fog began to lift. There is not much I recall in the midst of the misty haze of those first few days but I remember a sense of inner pulling or gentle pushing guiding me on." - Musings from memories of March 17, 2004.
It was just a few days after St. Patrick’s Day weekend 2004, I walked into my therapist’s office- dazed & confused would be an understatement. My ‘using’ at the time wasn’t even at its worst, which really isn’t saying much since my morality meter had been defunct for… who knows how long.
To put it simply, shit was fucked up. Maybe not as fucked up as fucked up can get but fucked up nonetheless, if that makes sense.
I had always been honest with my therapist about my drug use. Shit… I went in one time after a night of ‘partying,’ coming down off Ecstasy and I remember him saying how calm I seemed, even after telling him I was still high. It’s so wild which memories stick like superglue and which ones fell through the cracks of my psyche. Like I said… I could write volumes.
In this particular moment, on this particular day after recounting my ‘weekend activities,’ which included:
Drinking myself into oblivion (a regular occurence)
A visit to my usual bar
Resulting in the realization I had recently slept with at least five people there, but there were probably more, who all knew each other (and I was convinced they didn’t tell each other).
Followed by more drinking and drugs to ‘forget’
Meeting a recently married couple at a hotel bar, taking a taxi (yes, a VERY expensive taxi… VERY pre-Uber/Lyft) back to spend a night with strangers I just met so we could drink and do more drugs.
Then, taking the ‘party’ a few days further by myself with my trusty bottle of Benzos, which I almost emptied by the time I made it to my therapy appointment just a couple days later. I can remember just not wanting to be awake anymore. So, I’d wake up, take a couple pills, fall back to sleep… lather, rinse, repeat. I don’t recall how long this went on but I know the bottle was rather full at the start of it all.
When I finally looked up to see my therapist’s face, I was struck by the fear I saw in his eyes. I didn’t think anything I could say would shock him… I was wrong. He said he was in fear for my life (at the time I still didn’t fully understand why) but he went on to say he felt like he was beyond capable of helping me anymore.
He referred me to a drug & alcohol counselor with the hopes she could have a better understanding on how to help. What followed was a series of events that resulted in my going to my first 12-Step meeting.
In that first meeting, I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty but at the same time felt like I was better than ‘these’ people. Then something strange happened, I felt a hand on my shoulder, filling my body with this sensation, a sort of comfort and warmth, and a voice that said, “I’ve done all that I can do, the rest is up to you.” Followed by a wave of peacefulness and a familiar recognition in the voice and touch, which I can only describe as a feeling of home. I turned around and there was no one there. Whose voice was it? Why did it feel so familiar? It came to me as a whisper on a soft breeze carries… my mom, who had died almost six years before.
I’d like to say it was all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns after that… it wasn’t. Unknowingly, I went through a pretty awful benzo withdrawal that weekend. I didn’t know stopping taking them was dangerous until I talked to my drug counselor on Monday, search engines weren’t what they are today. I set to telling my family about my addiction. Yeah, that didn’t go over too well.
My journey began long before that day, but my path began to illuminate on that Spring Equinox, 3/20/04. I'm not saying there hasn't been darkness still, because there has been. Or that that light has always been off in the distance, it hasn't. What has continued to grow is a deepened appreciation for those shadows and the gifts they can bring.
Over the next several years:
I immersed myself in 12-Step communities & culture- meetings, conventions, service work, being involved in different levels within the 12-Step structure… All of which I attribute to giving me a solid foundation and blueprint on how to live my life abstinent from drugs & alcohol.
I fell in love a couple times, or so I thought.
I fell in love, for real this time… got married & moved across the country.
Faced death & grief too many times to count.
Witnessed births & weddings and overflowing joy.
Went to grad school and got my master’s degree.
Left my PhD program with conscious intention.
Was diagnosed with two chronic illnesses, followed by more to come.
Started my own business, which continues to evolve.
Traveled to Bali, essentially on my own.
Sat on the precipice of divorce a few times, the last of which in 2019 was the closest to the edge we had ever been, pretty much having only one foot barely left on the ground at that point.
And then the pandemic…
Somewhere around 12ish years of sobriety/recovery, something shifted in me. The best, most succinct way I can describe it is I just didn’t feel connected, didn’t feel like I was getting what my soul needed anymore. You could call it many things, and it was called many things by many people, but that’s what it was for me. I stopped going to meetings and being involved in the 12-Step community. Instead, I continued to seek my spirituality and fulfillment in other ways- deep soul searching through yoga, meditation, studying other religions & traditions, astrology, therapy, and various workshops and groups to name a few. I surrounded myself with people who really knew me, including my past addictions, and who wanted to live a healthy, purposeful life. Whether or not they drank or partook in substances didn’t matter to me- that was their truth and I had mine.
In 12-Step circles you hear many things about what happens when you stop going to meetings:
‘Dry drunk’ is a term used for a person who is abstinent and not going to meetings.
“Once an addict, always an addict,” a phrase which pretty much speaks for itself.
Or “If you don’t go to meetings, eventually you will always ‘pick up’ [use drugs]. It may not be today, tomorrow, a week, a year or ten years but you will. And your addiction will have been doing push-ups the entire time”- meaning, if you have a drink or use a drug, you’ll be right back in your addiction, stronger than when you stopped.
So much fear, shame, and guilt that it is really hard to convey. I came to realize they called it a ‘program’ for a reason.
The thing is, for a time I needed that structure, some ‘steps’ to follow on how to live and not get high. But for me, it stopped being useful. There wasn’t room for imagining beyond this structure. It was “Get clean, or die!” Period. Full stop.
Now, I’m not saying this is true for everyone. Nor am I suggesting that, if you’re reading this you should stop going to meetings. I am simply sharing my journey and what I feel is a NECESSARY conversation of a universal paradigm shift, a sea change that can happen and is happening in the addiction/recovery/sobriety arena. In the hopes that if someone is reading this and feels alone in their journey, as I did, they can find space to get support outside the confines of the traditional model.
During those three years after leaving ‘the rooms’ of NA/AA, I began to wonder if I could have a drink now and then. This was a mostly internal process and dialogue, though I was having conversations with a few select people around my feelings about this.
What happened next has led me deeper into my soul, allowing my Dark Angel to find comfort in the Underworld... TO BE CONTINUED...here
Below are some links to resources if you or someone you know needs help-
- SAMHSA: Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration- https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline IG: @samhsagov
- IGNTD: https://www.igntd.com IG: @igntd.me
American Addiction Centers: https://recovery.org
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): https://nida.nih.gov
Alcoholics Anonymous: https://www.aa.org
Smart Recovery: https://www.smartrecovery.org
Narcotics Anonymous: https://www.na.org
Cocaine Anonymous: https://ca.org
Marijuana Anonymous: https://marijuana-anonymous.org
Refuge Recovery: https://www.refugerecovery.org IG: @refugerecovery
NAMI/ National Alliance of Mental Illness: https://nami.org/Home
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
* Contact your local and/or state departments of public health for information on needle exchange, methadone centers, and state-funded detox/treatment centers.
* All major pharmacies chains now carry NARCAN/Naloxone and can be purchased in all 50 states directly from a pharmacist. DID YOU KNOW- “Every state has access laws or alternate arrangements in place that allow persons to obtain naloxone from a pharmacist WITHOUT an individualized, in-person prescription. State laws vary for eligibility and dispensing authorization.* www.narcan.com