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Thirty-Eight Days Later: No More Wallowing in the Acid Bath of Guilt

Thirty-eight days ago I stood here and introduced myself. Since it was my first time in treatment, I was nervous and apprehensive. My vision of drug rehab was one where they got on with the job of seriously punishing you for being an addict, something like a movie where the kindest thing you’re called is “maggot”. I’d met some good guys in the smoke shack, but they were probably just there to soften me up.

OK, so we all know now that’s not the model here. Sunshine Coast Health Centre knows we’ve suffered – we’ve punished ourselves more than anyone else could. I might not have walked in here with the worst self-narrative ever, but it was right down there. If you work the program, there’s plenty of pain and suffering. But it’s the kind that shows you your old negative, self-destructive way of thinking, and makes you explore that void that you’ve been trying to get away from. It’s emotionally exhausting, but to somebody outside looking in it might not look much like work at all. In fact, I didn’t really want to tell my family about everything that goes on here – outings for mini-golf, massages, meditation, the gym, the ozone sweatbox – because that made it sound a bit too much like a resort.

I got some great advice when I got here. “Try everything at least once”. If you’re like me, some of the stuff on offer here sounds kinda like ‘woohoo’ flower child stuff. But you’ve got stuff rattling around in your head, stuff you heard in a small group, at lunch, whatever. You just don’t know what’s going to catalyze that into an ‘aha’. I was hit by a bolt of lightning in one-afternoon session, where a bunch of stuff suddenly gelled. We were talking about whether you could be truly empathetic to someone else if you didn’t have empathy for yourself. Now I’ve done lots of nice things for lots of people even though I knew I was a piece of crap, so that pissed me off. After all, I’ve done all these bad things, hurt lots of people. I can’t be kind to myself, because I have to prove that I take all the bad stuff in my past seriously. Being nice to myself would be kind of a ‘screw you’re to everyone I’ve hurt, wouldn’t it? Then I asked myself, “and how’s that working for you?”

Wallowing in that acid bath of guilt, I turned more and more inward. If I wasn’t physically alone, if I was around people, I wasn’t present. I was too busy hating myself. And by doing that I was pushing my family, the people I’ve hurt the most, farther away. They wanted me to be present, to be a part of their lives, and I was doing the opposite. If I needed to atone, if I needed to make amends, I was going about it in a pretty poor way because I was just making things worse.

That was the moment when I began to let go of the past. It’s there, I can’t change it. The only way I can honour it is to learn lessons from it. I’m not an unworthy person. I’m a person. I’ve done some unworthy things. And some good stuff.

Where am I? Here. What time is it? Now. This moment is all I can control. I can choose, at this moment, to be the person I want to be, to live this moment in a way that’s consistent with my values. That’s the only way I’ll ever begin to mend my relationships.

To me, that revelation makes it possible to move forward. Before I got here the future was nothing, it had no value, and I didn’t care if I got there or not. I’m not saying that it looks like sunshine and unicorns now, but it does look like something I can work with.

To some of the really great guys I’ve met here, thank you for your help and your friendship. It’s been amazing.

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