1) How long have you been opioid free?
I have been clean and sober from drugs and alcohol for nearly 2 ½ years. After seeking treatment for drugs and alcohol, I also sought out mental health treatment for my depression and anxiety by participating in therapy. Through working with mental health professionals, I have learned to apply tools and strategies to manage life-stressors and the daily challenges that come along with maintaining my sobriety.
2) What helps you stay clean and sober? (i.e. coping strategies, positive people, places and activities, counseling, MAT, psychiatric medications, etc.)
My sobriety, and life in general, now looks quite different from when I was first in recovery. Today, I am able to use healthy coping strategies in order to help me stay clean and sober. The constants in my recovery from then until now are my involvement in a 12-step program as well as allowing people who are positive and supportive into my life. Early on in my recovery, I attended as many meetings as I could in hopes to fill up any idle time. I also participated in Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) as an added support. MAT definitely helped me with abstaining from opioids and helping me manage my cravings. Today, I have taken the time to learn about my disease, as I do believe that substance use disorder is a disease. Integrating 12-step meetings, the support of my family and friends, being a solid provider and active mother for my daughter and practicing self-care have also helped me maintain my sobriety.
3) What have you learned about yourself since getting clean and sober?
Since I have been in recovery, the most important thing I have learned about myself is that I am worthy and capable of loving myself, respecting myself, and setting and achieving goals. I have learned that I am my own biggest critic and not to take myself so seriously. Today, I am able to recognize triggering feelings and possess the strategies to work through them. Feeling overwhelmed and the anxiety those feelings evoke are a dangerous place for me. Learning how to ask for help and being truly okay with accepting the help offered has also played a significant role in my sobriety. I have learned what it feels like to experience true happiness and love in my recovery. It took a lot of patience and time for me to get where I am today. Even though I have been clean and sober for over two years, I continue to work on my recovery every day. There are no vacation days in recovery, but the life I am able to lead without using is well worth it!
4) What advice or message do you have for people who are currently struggling with alcohol or substance abuse issues?
It is not easy to get clean and to stay clean and sober; it is something I have to work on every day. No one wants to hear words of encouragement until they are truly ready to allow those words to change the course of their life. I am not the type of person to sugarcoat things; the truth is, getting clean and sober is hard. It requires courage and sacrifice. It does however, get easier the more you do it! Staying drug free does become less of a struggle and more of a way of living. Even if you have a slip-up, rather than beating yourself up, believe enough in yourself to get back up on the wagon. Learn from a relapse and be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that you are worthy of recovery. Practice humility and remain teachable. I believe nothing worthy in life comes without some amount of feeling uncomfortable, for it is those feelings in which change can occur. It will be worth it.
5) How do you feel about the person you are today compared to the person you were in active addiction?
I feel as though the person I am today is the person I was meant to be before I developed a drug addiction. I have been able to differentiate between the person I was and the person I am today. Free from the grips of substance abuse, I look back and think, I would not have done the horrible things that I did nor would I have made the poor decisions I made in active addiction. Most importantly, I have done a lot of soul searching, continue to work the 12-steps and have learned self-compassion and forgiveness. The Jessica then versus the Jessica now are not the same person. Today with over 2 years clean and sober, I am responsible, reliable, accountable, a present and nurturing mother to my young daughter, honest, and compassionate. I am also currently in school to work with those who are struggling with substance use disorders. I work full-time, pay bills, and I am actively involved in my family. All of which the aforementioned things would not be possible or present in my life today had I continued abusing drugs and alcohol. Above all, today I have learned to give my former self and its lifestyle respect, although it was almost all negative, some good was able to come out of my involvement in drugs and alcohol. My addiction has made me the person I am today and helps me daily to appreciate all that I have in my recovery.
Geri Lynn Utter, PsyD Perspective Piece: Relapse, Mental Health, and the State of the World As I sat down to write this article, I