Excerpt from Leave the Light On

Chapter One: Floating On the Pink Cloud

‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us… give us….’ Blood was dripping over my fingers that clutched tightly around a rosary—the rosary that had been handed down by generations of emotionally unstable women. The rosary I was trying to use to connect to a God whom I never really spoke to until this moment, as I screamed out, ‘Give us… give us….’ Frustration overcame me when I couldn’t remember the words. My grip tightened until I couldn’t distinguish the blood running out of the gaping wounds in my wrists from the blood emerging from slices the crucifix was making. Suddenly the wound, the gaping space of black emptiness in my left wrist, came alive and began to breathe. I realized in horror that the gap wasn’t breathing; it was laughing. It had taken on a lifelike shape. The violent gash I had just created with a pretty, pink razor was erupting like a volcano, laughing and spattering blood everywhere. Then it began chanting, ‘Our Father, Our Father’ in a childlike, mocking tone, as if it were taunting me for my inability to complete the prayer—or the deed.

My body bolted upright in bed as I was violently ripped from the nightmare. Sweat beads slowly traveled down my spine as my eyes attempted to adjust to my surroundings. Immediately my right hand found my left wrist, and my fingers gently traced the soft, raised pink scars that had begun to close the flesh I tore apart only months before in a desperate attempt to take my life. I drew a deep breath into my lungs as I pulled my knees to my chest, hugged my arms around them, and slowly exhaled, thanking God it was only a dream. It was a dream that wakened me all too often, although it was the memory inside the dream that made it worse to deal with. I slowly looked around the room for the clock. I didn’t have my glasses, so everything around me was out of focus. I saw a bright red, fuzzy blur of numbers but couldn’t make them out. I squinted tightly to try and focus my eyes around the numbers, but it was no use. I found my glasses on the table and placed them on my nose. As the lenses dropped down over my tired eyes, they revealed 6:30 am in a bold, red glow. I was still so used to getting up early from being in a structured living environment for the past eighty-odd days that it almost felt normal to be awake at this hour.

Two things hit me simultaneously: I was alive, and I was safe. These two things I must constantly remind myself of, and they still feel slightly surprising, especially when I’m awakening from the nightmares of my past. God, the nightmares had been awful. They are little reruns of the horror show of my addiction, my fear, and my desperation that drove me to the last night I used. These mini-movies danced around in my subconscious, and I would have given anything to cancel the upcoming repeat performance.

I was living in Matthew’s home. Matthew was a guy I met in the rehabilitation program I had been in for twenty-eight days. We weren’t supposed to be dating because the rules of recovery dictate no intimate relationships or major changes for the first year. I was still breaking rules. That much hadn’t changed. I moved in with him and his father in State College, Pennsylvania after leaving the halfway house in Lancaster and lived in the room that was his sister’s until she moved out when she got married. Matthew and I were dating, if that is what you want to label it. I had no idea what we were doing because I had no idea from day to day or moment to moment what I was doing. What I wanted and who I was were total mysteries to me. I was catapulted into this new life and these new surroundings, and I felt as awkward as a newborn fawn trying out its legs for the first time, all wobbly and unsure. At least a fawn has its mother’s safe underbelly to retreat to when it is unsure. I was here virtually alone.

I swung my feet over the bed and stumbled out toward the hallway. I heard the clanging of coffee mugs in the kitchen to my right, and I knew Matthew and his father were most likely getting ready for work. They had jobs, purpose, and something structured to look forward to. Me, I was twenty-two years old and still floating around in this bubble, this ‘pink cloud’ they call early recovery. I had yet to find a job or purpose or anything other than my daily twelve-step meetings and Oprah to keep me sane.

My days had been pretty boring as I adjusted to living outside the daily grind of confinement. I went from having every hour structured with activities that I had to complete or else, to a freedom that didn’t quite fit yet. I felt incredibly vulnerable and naked all the time. Like a snail slowly poking its head out into the world for the first time, I realized the world was way bigger and scarier than the comfort of my shell, and I quickly retreated back. I would normally just crawl back into bed and cover the sheets over my head like the snail; but unlike me, the snail doesn’t have a horror flick waiting inside its shell. Best to avoid sleep. At least while I was awake, I could stop most of the nightmares or quickly disengage them when they flooded my memory like flash photography, quickly blinding me and shifting my balance.

Anyone who tells you early recovery is easy is full of shit. It is the hardest transition and transformation I have ever made in my life. And it never ends. The processing, the talking, the crying, the feeling never stops or I will stop—stop being clean and in recovery, that is. And for me, that would mean to stop living. I was saved somehow from the desire to use and from the survival instinct to run from everything. Now it was my job to maintain the new life that I had been given and to build upon it—to stop running. I felt like that new life was a direct gift from God, and violating that gift by using would be like giving a big ole middle finger to my Higher Power. I was not willing to do that. Even though I was not sure who my Higher Power was, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to piss off him or her just yet.

Recovery is the biggest commitment I have ever made. It is a lifelong changing of behavior and a full shift in thinking. I had to become willing to set aside all I ever thought I knew and open my mind to new ideas and approaches and a completely different way of thinking. It required a deep level of humility and willingness to accept that my ideas and my thinking weren’t the best at times. These are tough things for the ego to deal with and let go of. I was more comfortable being right and being stubborn about how right I was. I liked to argue, and I was creative and quick in my intellectual debates. I could make a case for anything and have it come across sounding accurate. I have the gift of bullshit, like most attorneys and addicts. The beauty and sometimes annoying reality of recovery is that I am not unique in this gift, and, as the old saying goes, ‘you can’t shit a shitter.’ I had to be willing to put that aside and try to be open to accept that I was wrong and then listen to someone else tell me what was right. Well, that was just exhausting. But it was a process and one with a built-in learning curve. It was about progress not perfection. I had a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ to make mistakes and have someone guide me through those mistakes and show me how to do it differently the next time.

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