Addiction is responsible for the deaths of millions of Americans. The number of drug-and-alcohol-related deaths continues to rise every year. It’s a disease that may go into remission, but certainly won’t ever be “cured” – Each day a struggle, each memory tinged ever-so-slightly with guilt, each thought a conflict.
But the future can still be bright; tomorrow can still be a better day than yesterday or today. There is still sweet life to be lived. Here, St. Paul boy Christopher Sparacino describes his continued path to recovery after an alcohol-fueled car crash nearly took his life.
The Art of Recovery
By Christopher “Lucky” Sparacino
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (like any criticism that I suck as a writer, because I know it, let’s move on), the courage to change the things I can (learn how to write well) and the wisdom to know the difference…
The Serenity Prayer is something that is spoken in almost every Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other anonymous 12-step recovery programs, and for good reason. It is such a simple lesson, and addicts like simple; we just choose to complicate the shit out of everything along the way. Learn how to accept what life throws at you, learn to take charge of life when you can, and learn when NOT to interfere. Pretty simple right?
Now, if only we can live by it
Because as an addict, and speaking from my personal experience, anytime I tried to do things my way, or manipulate things to work in my favor when it was so painfully obvious that wasn’t in the cards, shit got fucked (as they say). So let’s back up and see where it all began and where it all went wrong…
No, we’re not actually going to do that, because teacher said this only has to be a 500 word essay. Besides, that story is too long. What I can say is that I am the product of an alcoholic family, so I was doomed from the start.
That’s not necessarily true.
Did I mention addicts tend to lie?
There’s always a chance that children of parents who are addicts can turn out perfectly “normal” (whatever exactly that means). That was, however, not the case with me. From a young age I was exposed to alcohol and the devastating effects it has on a family unit. I even once promised myself that “I’ll never touch a drink in my life.” Soon, that promise was changed to “Well, I’ll NEVER become my father.” Ironically, I’ll attend the same in-patient treatment program 9 years after he did. There were also other addiction issues in my family. I lost a cousin to a drug overdose and the sweetest woman on the planet, my godmother, to addiction as well.
Pain killers and alcohol don’t mix – Well. They do. They mix quite well. But in a very dangerous way.
Rather quickly after I began experimenting with drug and alcohol use, I developed bad habits that would have far reaching consequences I still deal with today. To shorten up the story, I dabbled in all sorts of drugs and substances but ended up settling on alcohol, a semi-cheap, readily available, and completely legal substance. Towards the end of my addiction I was drinking a 1.75 of Windsor Canadian whiskey a day and nearly a dozen beers throughout. It makes me sick to think about it now – and it made me sick when I actually was drinking like that back then. That’s more than 3 gallons a week in whiskey alone. Gross.
I want to say that my addiction took everything from me, but in truth, I gave it away.
I tossed out multiple job opportunities, school, friends, possessions. I damn near pawned my blood when I was desperate enough. I thew away an 8-year relationship – with a woman who actually loved me – because I couldn’t quit drinking. I mean, she really did love me, and I’m scared I’ll never find that again. Or if I do, can I keep it? Will it be the same? Speculation is pointless and I’m not going to pretend I’m good at fortune telling or I’d be playing the lotto right now. Eventually I abandoned all of my ambitions. I used to play the piano daily, and I mean I would play the shit out of that thing. But deep into my active addiction, I would see that piano staring back at me like some sort of monster in the corner with all it’s teeth bared.
Then, in a last ditch effort to give everything I have to my addiction, I tried to give it my life.
I went driving at 4 in the morning, after drinking more than 3x the legal limit, on an unlit, curvy road that runs along the river, with not a house in sight for miles. The perfect place to be a shithead and almost kill yourself or someone else. After losing control at 60mph I rolled my sturdy ’96 Ford Explorer 6 or 7 times and slid more than 250 feet on the driver’s side, dragging my arm with it.
Multiple lacerations down to the bone on both of my arms, left hand and all 5 fingers. Thousands of stitches and glass for days. The air bag didn’t even go off – piece of shit. But praise be to leather, or I wouldn’t be typing with both hands right now.
Needless to say, I was lucky.
When I went into in-patient, there were a couple of other Christophers in the unit, so they gave me the nickname Lucky (better than Smiley, poor guy.) So now I’m Lucky. But not because I survived the accident without a single broken bone, or that I can walk and talk, that I have all ten fingers and both arms and legs, or that I’m not permanently disfigured, dead or brain-damaged. I’m lucky because I got another chance to live. Boy did I take it, too. With a short 90 some days sober, I feel like I’ve lived more in that time then I did in the 6 or so years of being constantly fucked up. That’s what it was too, being constantly fucked up. See the thing about addiction, it uses literally any and every excuse on the planet to get you to use:
Bad day at work? Drink.
Good day at work? Drink.
Broke up? Man, you need a drink.
Who cares that drinking led to the break up, you need it now more than ever! Drink on the holidays, drink off the holidays. Drink because it’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Shit Monday, better drink because Mondays sure suck don’t they? Plus, Tuesday is trivia night, so you’ll have to drink then. Sure feel hungover. I better drink before work so I even myself out. Boy work sure is hard today. I’ll sneak a few drinks when no one is looking, I’ll do better at work now. This is helping. Long day after work. Better drink to unwind. Payday! Drink! Uh-oh, the girlfriend is coming home soon. She doesn’t like it when I drink. How can I drink and spend time with her? Oh good, she’s not coming home tonight, now I can drink all by myself and no one will judge me! Friends are hanging out, better be at a bar so I can drink. Not at a bar? Well I better drink before we hang out then. Better yet I’ll just stay home and drink, it’s easier that way.
…Better drink to remember that thing, better drink to forget. Better drink because I’m sad, better drink because I’m happy. Better drink because I’m depressed. Better drink. Drink. Drink. Drink…
It’s all I could do. I burned so many bridges in the name of alcohol that my own body has scars to remember it by. I got fat like a woman in her 3rd trimester. Face like a chipmunk. Ever seen a skinny guy with stretch mark scars? It’s weird. I passed out and broke my nose, twice. Broke my occipital bone, scars on my face from catching my fall with my face from being so drunk. I got depressed. I got suicidal. Every other word out of my mouth was “fuck” or a lie. I lied to my girlfriend so much that I don’t even know that I’d consider we had an 8 year relationship. More like 4 years with Dr. Jekyll, and 4 with Mr. Hyde. Constantly having to ask friends what happened the night before.
“Oh, the usual.”
Which means I just made half an ass out of myself and disappeared into the night.
I spent money like I invented it. I got into more fights than Muhammed Ali. I’d spend days on cocaine or Adderall, to maintain this sort of quasi drunk/sober state. Then take painkillers to comedown to a state where I could just be drunk and not on edge.
Then I stole.
I stole from my girlfriend, I stole from my parents. I stole from my work. I stole time and energy. I was a master manipulator to feed my shitty addictive personality. If I spend a fraction of the time I spent obtaining, using or thinking about alcohol and drugs on something productive, I’d be the best in the universe at whatever that is. I was a mess.
When the accident happened, it was the best thing I could have ever hoped for. Sure, I got some scars, and I still occasionally pull glass out of my arm (27 pieces to date), but one day of sobriety is worth more than 100 days drunk. I lost all the weight and then some (still got those stretch mark scars, though. F#ck.). And more importantly, I regained my ambitions. My left hand isn’t as fast as it used to be, but I sure give the piano a good work out these days. I almost think I’m much better than I ever was before. And what’s more amazing is I’m finding out things about myself I never knew before: I can draw! I love drawing. I started drawing as a way to relax when I was in the “mood unit” (aka the crazy ward). That’s where they put you… well, put me, after I drive like a drunken, irresponsible, selfish, suicidal maniac.
But man. It worked.
There I could relax and get lost in my art and I found out I have a great ability to draw my fixation on skulls. Not sure why, but I love skulls, skeletons and all that creepy shit. So I draw those all the time. I also found out I love poetry and I’m working on getting my rap career off the ground.
Not really. But it’s fun, I found, to imagine what would happen if I stuck to rappin’. I like the sound of a yacht I’d own or the mansion and my sick fashion.
Seriously though. I’ll stop.
But not before I drop this bomb piece about my latest discovery of a thing called recovery, its a press release of what it means to me to be clean and free and for real now I will actually stop.
Recovery is a blessing
I wish I had done it years ago. There’s something so amazing about recovery. This feeling you get when you crawl out of that dark place in life and find that there still is a life worth living. I guess the words for that are hope, or faith. I’ve met so many amazing people in recovery and I continue to do so daily. I’ve also learned so much about gratitude and what it means to be thankful for what you do have. Living life, and appreciating things around you, is amazing. It sounds so cliche, but when I was drunk all the time, do you think I ever gave a shit about sunsets or nature or the stars etc.? No. Never. Those things start to slowly come back into your life. Your senses awaken and you have the opportunity to appreciate how beautiful life can be sometimes.
Also, how good food can be when it’s not at 4 in the morning at some diner when you’re just gonna throw it up the next day.
Now, of course, recovery isn’t all glitter and unicorns that shit money and piss happiness. There are good days and bad days just like it has been since your mother was born thousands of years ago. It’s how we deal with life in the here and now, that ultimately determines the success of our recovery. Be mindful. Figure out what your High Power is, whether it’s God, or music (that’s mine!), Samuel L. Jackson saying “Muthafucka,” or whatever – As long as it’s something that’s greater than you and beyond you that you can find solace in. Find that, then take responsibility for your recovery and start doing. It’s a program of action, so do the next right thing.
Nurture yourself spiritually and continue to do the next right thing.
Don’t dwell in the past, and don’t set unrealistic expectations for the future. Take one day at time. Lastly, and trust me on this, do not, DO NOT, get into a relationship or rekindle an old relationship while still early in your recovery. That almost messed me up again, and I’m not about to give up my recovery over a failed relationship. And neither should you.
When it comes to starting new relationships early in recovery and especially with a person who is in early recovery, a wise man once told me: “Lucky, the odds are good, but the goods are odd.” No truer words have been spoken to me since. I have to learn to love myself before I can love someone else. Cliche, I know, but it’s the way it is.
Recovery has connected me to a profound sense of solidarity with other recovering addicts, and people in general. I work an NA (Narcotics Anonymous) program and some of the people I’ve met and listened to there are truly amazing. Such brotherhood and sisterhood that I am so grateful for. People who share a bond and who understand that you are not alone. I highly recommend that any addict seeking recovery check out Narcotics Anonymous. I know for a fact that the Saint Paul community is a large and accepting one. They’ll teach you how to avoid jail, institution, and death (Oh my!) and have fun doing it. If you or someone you know is an addict and wants to be clean and sober, there is hope. I almost settled on the permanent solution for temporary problems more than once, and am so happy I didn’t.
We can recover. It works if you work for it, sucks if you don’t. Believe that. I do. And with that, I’ll close with this:
“Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” — Mr. Ice Cube
Words, drawings, and photos by Christopher Sparacino.