Addiction Recovery – there is a great deal of confusion, stigma, shame and discrimination surrounding addiction, addiction treatment and addiction recovery. Yet those who have the disease of addiction (whether to illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol) and are in recovery live healthy, productive, engaged lives — the same kinds of lives as people who do not have this disease. But all the words and definitions and explanations in the world are not as powerful as the people themselves. To that end, we are grateful to the people in recovery who have decided to share their experiences so that we all may put a Face to Addiction Recovery.
Addiction Recovery – It’s real, it happens to real people, and it happens all the time. It is my great pleasure to introduce Christopher Harrison, Ph.D, today’s Face of Recovery.
How did your addiction start?
I’m the youngest of seven children all of whom struggle with, or are in recovery from, addiction. It all started for me in 7th grade at a party that my brothers had at my Mom and Dad’s house while they were away. I ran around sipping everyone’s drinks to see what the craze was all about. That first night of drinking ended badly but was just the start of a long and difficult journey to sobriety. I started drinking heavily and regularly by 9th grade and proceeded to experiment with a variety of drugs for the next several years. Despite all of the substances I used, alcohol always remained my ‘favorite’. I knew by my junior year of high school that I had a drinking problem and was certain that I was an alcoholic by the time I started college. I continued to gather evidence to support that conclusion throughout college and for a few years following graduation. Knowing I was an alcoholic and doing something about it were very different processes.
What was the turning point for you?
I met the love of my life while in college and we moved in together shortly after graduating. Kate saw things in me that I was unable to see in myself. Her support and guidance prevented my alcoholism from progressing beyond the serious stage to which it had already developed by the time I got sober. The final decision to stop drinking followed an evening when I drove home in a black-out. I arrived several hours later than I said I would and Kate was terrified. I awoke on my couch the next morning and Kate was gone. My drinking had been getting in the way of our relationship for years but she had never left because of it. When I woke up and she was gone, I knew that moment that I would not drink again. I had attempted to stop drinking on and off for a few years but never felt the conviction to stop like I did that morning. I didn’t know if she would return to the relationship or not, but I decided that day that I would no longer allow alcohol to dictate my life and hurt those whom I love most. Kate came home three days after leaving and we slowly started putting our relationship back together. The stark reality of nearly losing the love of my life to alcohol was exactly the shock I needed.
What was your initial treatment?
I didn’t have any formal treatment or attend AA meetings during my journey into sobriety. Two of my older sisters were members of the 12-Step community, and I had developed, a now discarded, irrational dislike for the program from what I was exposed to through them. My path to sobriety was built through the love of tremendous friendships, a strong commitment to journal writing and self-exploration, and the discovery of Buddhism and meditation. I had always been a deeply spiritual person but a strong commitment to meditation really helped me to turn the corner.
Do you do anything differently, today?
The biggest difference between the first several years of my sobriety and now is the professional work that I do. Through many serendipitous experiences, I wound up getting a job at a drug and alcohol rehab after telling myself that I would never work in the addiction treatment field. Exposure to the treatment community helped me to realize that my life’s mission and purpose is to help those whose lives have been impacted by addiction. Early experiences with my family made me quite reluctant to engage with formal treatment entities but, fortunately, something propelled me to get out of my own way.
What is your life like, now?
My life is better than I could have imagined while I was drinking heavily. I wake up each day beside the most incredible woman I’ve ever met and spend my days working with people on things that matter deeply to them. Sobriety allows me to enjoy the wondrous moments that life has to offer with clarity and, more often than not, ease. I’m an avid runner and baseball fan and have fallen deeply in love with my yellow Lab named Biscuit. Sobriety allows me to focus on liberation from suffering, which I hold as the most important task of life.
Do you have anything you’d like to share with someone currently struggling with a substance abuse problem or an addiction? How about anything you’d like to share with their family or friends?
My advice to someone currently struggling with substance use is to evaluate the pros and cons of continued use with an open mind. Take advantage of a sober moment and take a look at how current use is helping to reduce suffering and how it is causing additional suffering. I also encourage conversation with a caring person who has no agenda but to listen and provide feedback when asked. Stay away from overly judgmental people. Engage in the simple practice of non-judgmental self-monitoring and remember that each moment provides the opportunity for a new beginning.
My advice for family members and friends of those suffering through addiction is to take great care of themselves. It’s important to master the art of compassionate detachment and to not base one’s happiness on the happiness of another. Addiction is supercharged by the chaos it creates, so starve it of that energy. Observe personal limits, become comfortable with discomfort and remember that saying no can be more helpful than a thousand yeses. I also advise close contact with others who have had similar experiences. Accessing professional counseling services can also be profoundly helpful.
What is the best part about your recovery?
The best part of my recovery is the constant reminder it provides to live in the moment. Addiction lead me to mindfulness practice and mindfulness practice has taught me that life can be lived with ease, joy and contentment. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Thank you, Christopher, so very much for sharing your story, and CONGRATULATIONS on 12 years RECOVERY
To learn more about Christopher and his private psychotherapy practice in Redwood City, CA, in which he specializes in the treatment of addiction, working with individuals and families and helping help to ease the pain that addiction creates, visit his website at www.drchristopherharrison.com.