It was 24 years ago today

…and if Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play my tune today, it would be a victory march.

But it could have been a funeral march.

As of July 18, I've been clean and sober for 24 years. It's the anniversary of my sobriety.

Looking back on it, the time has flown by, even though in the early years it was sometimes difficult not to give in to my addictions. If anyone had told me then that I would celebrate 24 years of sobriety from mind-altering substances, I definitely would have thought they were crazy.

The gratitude I feel about my life today is immense. Everything is so different now than it was back then. I think the most amazing change is that I now truly like and respect myself – something that was fleeting, at best, before embarking on my rocky, stumbling and eventually rock-solid path to recovery.

In 1973, when I was in my early 20’s, I suddenly and unexpectedly became very ill, eventually being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease – an extremely painful and debilitating inflammatory bowel illness much like the more well-known colitis. Doctors didn’t have a clue how to treat Crohn’s at that time, so they did what they knew to do: prescribe drugs, lots of them. I was given as much Valium, codeine, and Demerol (the OxyContin of its day) as I requested, and for many years took them all faithfully just like the doctor ordered.

Unfortunately, doctors didn't know much about addiction then either. In fact, the concept of drug addiction never came up in conversation with those doctors when I went in, time and time again, to get my prescriptions refilled. I think because they felt so powerless to help me, with their limited understanding of this disease that was virtually crippling my life, they just wanted to do what they could to get me out of their offices.

At least, that’s how it often felt to me.

So on and on it went, years of prescription drugs as well as the marijuana that I began using on a daily basis, to take away the emotional pain of having an illness that no one wanted to talk about. After all, diarrhea and constipation weren’t appropriate topics of conversation amongst the people I hung out with, that is, when I wasn’t hiding out in my apartment with the drapes closed and the phone unplugged, high as a kite but falling fast.

By the Spring of 1987, I had been ingesting all of these substances for nearly 15 years. I was thoroughly addicted to them, as anyone would be after that much exposure.  I didn’t understand at that time that Valium, codeine, Demerol, and pot are all depressants in the human body, but what I was very aware of was that I was so emotionally depressed that I had become suicidal. I never truly wanted to die, I just knew I couldn’t go on the way I was living.

Even after all these years, I can clearly recall the day I began thinking in earnest about this. I was at work, not feeling well, as was often the case. As I was lying down on a couch in the break room, I realized I had more than enough pills to kill myself. And if I timed it right, no one would find me for several days. I suddenly discovered that I was actually creating a plan for how I could do it….

Sick and addicted though I was, this experience scared me enough to make the choice to reach out for help.  And I am so deeply grateful that there were caring and skillful people there to answer my calls.

For the last 24 years I have been on a spiritual journey of recovery from drugs, alcohol, and several other addictive behaviours I used to hide from the difficult life I had led since childhood. And this journey has yielded the most amazing results, allowing me to now live a life I hadn’t even been able to dream of.

Today I am proud of myself. That wasn’t something I ever felt while in the state of active addiction. I have become a successful therapist in private practice here in Vancouver, helping others to understand and discover the triggering issues lying underneath the symptom of addiction. That's what addiction is in my view – a symptom of deeper issues and pain that needs to be felt and explored, ideally with therapy and/or peer support. I now help other people to understand their self-sabotaging patterns so they can lead the lives they truly want. I am a published author of a successful book that has helped countless people and families navigate the tough waters of addiction. I receive notes and e-mails almost daily from people telling me how much the book helped them get off the roller-coaster chaos of addiction, maintain their own serenity and live their lives.

After years of scrambling for my rent money, I live today in a lovely home in the West End of Vancouver near English Bay. I am blessed to have people in my life who love me, and who I am able to love back – which something I could never have while struggling with addiction.

And as a result of my intentional and holistic self-care, my Crohn’s Disease --supposedly an illness that cannot be cured -- has been in remission with very minimal symptoms for over 15 years.

Who knew any of this could happen?

I ingested my last Valium and smoked my very last joint 24 years ago today. Little did I know how awesome this journey would be. It was the best decision I ever made.

Happy Birthday to me -- Sgt. Pepper, strike up the band!

Candace’s book Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself: The Top 10 Survival Tips for Loving Someone with an Addiction, is available at amazon.com, amazon.ca, barnesandnoble.com, or on her website at www.candaceplattor.com.

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