Getting Clean

Hi there, my name is Karen and I’m a recovering drug addict. I recently joined Writing Class Radio in hopes that having a creative outlet would help me better understand and come to terms with my addiction. For the next 90 days, I’ll be taking over the WCR blog and sharing my journey of recovery. If telling my story brings hope to just one other addict who is still sick and suffering, then opening up about my struggle will have been worth it. To protect the anonymity of those seeking recovery, names of people and places have been changed. While the eleventh tradition of Narcotics Anonymous states that we need to always maintain personal anonymity, I believe this shroud of mystery further perpetuates the stigma behind the disease of addiction. Addicts come in all shapes and sizes, but we share one common thread: we suffer from an incurable disease. Yet each new day we are provided another chance to arrest our active addiction and become useful members of society. This is my journey, my process and my story. The essay below came out of a prompt given to our writing class this week: Write about a time you started over… Enjoy.

The Fifth White Chip

By Karen Collazo

Yesterday, I picked up my fifth white chip. In Narcotics Anonymous, we use a chip system to denote how much clean time one has. The chips symbolize that you are gambling with your life when you pick up drugs. They vary in color, as you accumulate more clean time. The first chip you pick up is the white chip. It signifies surrender to a new way of life. It tells all the addicts in the room that you admit you are powerless over your addiction to drugs; you’ve come to terms with the fact that your life had become unmanageable and are ready to take the first step towards recovery.

After I surrendered for the fifth time, I got a huge bear hug from a fellow NA member that I consider a big brother. He always dons a healthy envy-worthy tan and is usually dressed in cargo shorts, sneakers, and a simple t-shirt. He calls me “kid.” After meetings, my big brother hangs around to “fellowship” with the other addicts. He says this is the key to staying clean. Once he stood with me in the parking lot of a church for hours, until the clock stroke midnight, just to help me stay clean for that one day.

“Kid, you did good today. Keep coming back till you get it,” he says with a big toothy grin.

I’ve relapsed four times since I got out of rehab on March 1st. I had 90 days clean when I relapsed the first time. The day I received my red 90-day chip, I got a round of applause from my NA family. On my way back to my seat, I was greeted with warm hugs and congratulated with excited high fives from the only people who have ever understood me. For everyone in that room, I had accomplished something worth celebrating. But inside, I didn’t feel victorious. As great as it was to reach enough clean time that I graduated from one chip to the next, I had arrived at 90 days with many reservations.

Feeling like a fraud, I went out and picked up. I took one bump of coke and was immediately lifted out of my dark foggy depression. Coke has always had a way of putting me on top of the world. Without it, I’m nobody. The problem is it’s never just one bump. Soon after that first twenty, the high runs out of steam and I quickly fall back into the deep well where I am trapped most days. Because it never ends well, you’d think it’d be easy to stop. But my brain doesn’t remember the bad part. It only focuses on the one good moment and chases that dream until I destroy myself.

I’ve played the tape in my head over and over, recounting how I relapsed this last time. I thought I was doing all the right things; taking as many of the suggestions as I could about how to live clean. But there I was, peeling out of a meeting to jump on the expressway and dialing my dealer on the way. They say that when you have a burning desire to use, you should reach out and share where you’re at with a fellow addict. We’re encouraged to get numbers and actually call people. The therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel. But my addiction has been active for over 25 years, way before I even picked up my first drug. That old habit of isolating, rationalizing and giving in to an overwhelming feeling of worthlessness are deeply embedded in me. I’m scared I won’t be able to overcome this pattern I’ve grown accustomed to. I’m afraid I’ll never learn to love Karen enough to give her a fighting chance. They say it takes 66 days to break an old habit. If I do all the right things and work the program the correct way, I should be able to make this the last white chip I ever pick up.