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12 Step programs freed me from addiction
By Paul Emile

Like all human beings, I’ve experienced my share of pain, and suffered considerably. I was born into a violent, alcoholic home. When the clock struck six, and my father wasn’t home yet, I knew there was going to be hell to pay that night. My earliest childhood memories at the age of four are of my father coming home drunk, creating mind bending chaos by throwing plates, swearing in the most vulgar manner, slurring, being super aggressive, beating my mother from time to time, and threatening to kill her with the shotgun that was in the apartment. I remember being terrified of losing my mother, and terrified of being killed.

My strategy of protecting myself as best as I could was to hold my breath, so my father wouldn’t hear me in my bed, and therefore, wouldn’t realize I was there. I felt like a coward in realizing that I could not help my mother. I felt so bad about not being able to help her. I suffered physical, emotional, and psychological abuse from my father. I was traumatized as a child.

Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Today, I’m fifty-five years old.

At a young age, I had low self-esteem. I learned to be ashamed of myself. I never felt good enough for myself, or anyone else. I had serious behavioral problems in school. I caused chaos in classrooms for my teachers and classmates.

At the age of eleven, we moved, and I was not able to adapt properly. I always felt different from others, wasn’t able to fit in, felt unwanted, and suffered a tremendous sense of loneliness. In order to try and comfort myself, I started using food as a substance, primarily junk food, and food that was sugar laden, like chocolate and ice cream. I also used other foods like potato chips and candy. I started drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes at the age of 12, and this gave me a feeling like I could let go, and try to fit in.

I became really good at consuming alcohol and was well on my way to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for the next twenty eight years. At the age of thirteen, I started smoking marijuana on a daily basis. I experimented with cocaine, L.S.D., and hashish later in my teenage years. Thankfully, I was afraid of needles. At the age of fifteen, I became sexually promiscuous. At the insistence of my first love, I stopped smoking marijuana at the age of seventeen, but started drinking alcohol on a daily basis. All of this substance abuse masked the pain I had suffered as a child, and was suffering as a teenager, and only made things worse.

As a result of being in so much pain, I tried to commit suicide at the age of seventeen by overdosing on a bottle of painkillers. At the age of nineteen, I slammed my car into a steel barrier at approximately one hundred miles per hour (160 kilometers per hour). I was serious about wanting to stop the pain, and kill myself. Thankfully, my Higher Power had other plans for me.

After a considerable amount of work, I’m able to forgive my parents today. I’m able to have compassion for both of them, have understanding of where it is they come from, and love them as they are. I’m also able to forgive myself for the numerous mistakes I’ve made in my life, and have done my level best to make amends to the people I’ve harmed. A big part of the reason why I’m able to do this is as a result of working the 12 Steps in various recovery programs.

Although I would have been suited to attend Al-Anon or Al-Ateen; which is a 12 Step program for people who are affected by being associated in any way with a practicing alcoholic, Narcotics Anonymous; which is a 12 Step program for people with addiction to drugs, or Nicotine Anonymous; which is a program for people addicted to nicotine, the 12 Step programs I’m a part of are Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous.

Some other 12 Step programs that exist are Gamblers Anonymous; Love and Sex Addicts Anonymous; Online Gamers Anonymous; and Debtors Anonymous, to name a few. If a person is addicted to something, chances are, there will be a 12 Step program available to help a person be free of the addiction.

I also attended a rehabilitation center for alcoholics five times between the age of nineteen and twenty-four.

As a result of the 12 Step programs I’m a part of, and receiving treatment at a rehabilitation center, I have received the gift of thirty years of sobriety, received fourteen years of being cigarette free, am in my fifth year of abstinence from using food as a substance, and have been receiving the gift of maintaining a one hundred and thirty six pound weight release for more than two and half years now, one day at a time.

I simply cannot take credit for any of this. I attribute all of these modern miracles I experience on a daily basis to the Grace of God. Of course, it’s necessary for me to do the footwork like go to 12 Step meetings, work the 12 Steps on a daily basis to the best of my ability, read the literature, pray, meditate, and help others who are continuing to suffer from addiction.

I’m not a religious person. I’m okay with, and respect those that are, but I do my utmost to be a spiritual person. 12 Step programs are spiritual in nature. We are free to choose our Higher Power as we are moved to do so, and this is one of the most freeing experiences I’ve received in 12 Step programs.

When I came to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at the age of nineteen, I was a proud atheist. The members told me that was okay. I was afraid to be there, but I’m so grateful I went. I remember attending my first meeting. I was full of fear, but after listening to the speaker, I felt truly understood for the first time in my life. For the first time in my life, I felt like I wasn’t alone in trying to deal with my inner demons. I knew that I belonged with these other people who were quite similar to me in that we shared the same addiction. In time, I came to experience that we would share in the same solution.

As an adult in recovery over the years, I’ve experienced my share of ups and downs. Some of the highlights have been being in an ongoing process of recovery from substance abuse, experiencing the birth and growth of my daughters, establishing fulfilling relationships, experiencing travel and adventure, learning to live a minimalist lifestyle, and helping others.

Some of the low lights have been the loss of my son, and a failed marriage. Such is life. I’m continuing to learn how to live life on life’s terms, without abusing substance.

Today, I have a wonderful relationship with my Higher Power, whom I choose to call God. I’m completely free of all substances. I’m happy and joyous beyond words, experience a great deal of peace, am in the best physical health of my life, and the vast majority of days, I feel free of any craving, or compulsion of substance, and am becoming free from the bondage of self, one day at a time, one moment at a time.

One day, I looked around the room at a 12 Step meeting, and saw a couple of members named Joy and Grace. I thought about it, and realized my name is Freedom. I’m able to feel all of my feelings without wanting to numb them. These are the best days of my life on a consistent basis. I’ve been given an amazing life! After a process of thorough and fearless soul searching, I know who I am today. I can love, and accept myself as I am. I can allow myself to be loved today. I can love others.

I started reaching out for help at the age of nineteen and continue to do so. I cannot do this alone. Over the years, my Higher Power has brought so many wonderful people into my life to help me, and this has made all of the difference in my life, and in my being! By the Grace of God, I’m able to do this for others today.

This writing is an extension of the love and compassion I have for people who are suffering with ongoing addiction. Diseases of addiction are deadly! Addiction and mental health issues are the plagues of these modern times. Being in the abyss, wanting to take one’s life, is common among people who suffer with addiction. I’m hopeful sharing part of my life experience through this writing will give people hope and courage. I’m hoping this article will save lives.

I’m not interested in profit or fame. It’s important to note there are millions of recovering addicts all over the world. I am but one of them. I do not represent 12 Step programs. Also, another wonderful, powerful, spiritual principle in 12 Step programs is anonymity. We can rest assured that our anonymity is protected in 12 Step programs. I am hopeful this writing will help people to receive recovery from these insidious, deadly diseases of addiction through 12 Step programs, and live lives of health, happiness, peace, and freedom on a consistent basis.

Published September 9, 2018

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