Having recently celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving (I’m Canadian), I was once again reminded that I am one of the most grateful recovering addicts walking the planet today.
But it hasn’t always been this way…
The Beginning of My Recovery Journey
My own addiction recovery started more than 28 years ago. In 1973, I suddenly became violently ill while on a cross-country trip. I had never been sick like that before and had no idea what was going on with me.
A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and after 15 years of chronic illness, prescription drug abuse and daily pot use, I became so depressed that I was starting to have thoughts of suicide.
My life was a mess, to put it mildly.
What I know today is that most people who are suicidal do not really want to die. Rather, they don’t want to continue living the way they have been and often don’t see any other way out. That’s what was true for me back then – and after many years of being alone with my pain, I finally decided to reach out for help.
The first phone call I made was to the Vancouver Crisis Line. A wonderfully compassionate volunteer referred me to SAFER, a suicide prevention counseling center. From there, I made the decision to voluntarily sign myself into the hospital, where I could begin to get the help I needed. While there, I met a couple of other patients who were also trying to become clean from their own drug addictions and I started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings with them.
And that was the true beginning of my addiction recovery.
It wasn’t pretty. I was in very bad shape in every possible way: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. There was a lot of work I needed to do on myself. Thankfully, I wasn’t aware at that time of all the personal recovery work I was in for, or I may not have continued.
How glad I am today that I kept going on that path! All the effort has been so worthwhile, and some of it was even fun. I gradually learned that all I had to do was take it one day at a time, and I have now accumulated over 28 years of those one-day-at-a-time days. I am still a work in progress. I believe I will always be, just like everybody else.
Different Choices Today Than Yesterday
I worked as a teacher and counselor before starting my recovery from addiction, but I found I needed to take some time off to focus solely on myself for a while. When I had the required three years clean and sober that an addict needs to be able to work in the counseling field in Canada, I became an addictions counselor in the Downtown Eastside area of Vancouver, known as the ‘lowest-income postal code’ in Canada with the highest population, per capita, of addicts, alcoholics, and homeless people in the country.
I stayed there for 16 years, working with amazingly courageous clients and their families. During that time, I also had a small private practice, and several years ago, I made the shift into full-time private practice.
Every time I sit with addicts of any kind and listen to their stories, I am honored by the trust they place in me. I am also reminded again of my own story. I remember that it isn’t all that wonderful “out there,” or they wouldn’t be in here talking with me, wanting to change the unhealthy ways they’ve developed for being in the world. Each time they share the truth of their painful experiences with me, I remember why I choose – every day — to be an addict in active recovery, rather than an addict in active addiction.
Today I work predominantly with the loved ones of people who are struggling with addiction, because there is still very little help for them out there. I teach friends and family members that when they enable the addicts they love, they are in fact not supporting them in any kind of healthy way. We look at how they are often addicted to the addict’s addiction, riding the same emotional roller coaster as their addict is, and how important it is for them to stop doing this and get on with their own lives.
My Gratitude For You and Other Addicts
Many thanks to all of you who are wanting and willing to do your own inner work. You inspire me to continue doing my own. I am awed by the ways that you courageously face great hardships and continuously fight for your own integrity and self-respect. I know that some days are harder than others, but I also know that most of my days were a lot more difficult when I was in my addiction. The pay-offs for being clean and sober far surpass those of being high. The price tag of sobriety is far less steep as well.
I’ve often been told that what separates me from other addiction therapists is my own personal experience with addiction. In addition to my professional credentials and my many years of work experience, I have been there and I can understand what you are going through at all the various levels of your recovery process. I have also been the loved one of other addicts, so I understand that part of the journey too. I do not judge you or tell you what I think you should do, because I fully recognize and respect that you are completely at choice in your life at every moment, as we all are.
I so very much enjoy working with people who want to change the way they are living, whether the problems stem from substance abuse, an eating disorder, problematic relationships, money troubles, or any other behavior they are using to avoid feeling those very painful feelings deep inside.
These behaviors can also include enabling a loved one or trying to control what we simply have no power over, such as other people in our lives. What I know today is that the life I used to live, 28 years ago, was far more painful than anything I have gone through after making that freeing choice to no longer sabotage myself. To paraphrase the wonderfully true saying, “my worst day clean has been far better than my best day using.”
For any of you who are currently thinking about making the choice to become healthier, either as an addict yourself or as the loved one of someone with an addiction, I really want to encourage you to join me on this amazing, self-respectful path.The journey of self-discovery you are about to embark upon, or continue to be on, will be the most awesome trip you will ever take!
Candace Plattor, MA, RCC, is an Addictions Therapist in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She manages a private practice where she helps guide addicts and their loved ones through the process of addiction recovery. A former addict herself for over 15 years, Plattor’s experience helps her to relate to her clients. Candace is also the author of the award-winning book Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself: The Top 10 Survival Tips for Loving Someone with an Addiction. To learn more about Candace and her story, visit CandacePlattor.com.