12-step programs

Like all human beings, I’ve experienced my share of pain and suffered considerably. I was born into a violent, alcoholic home. When the clock struck six, and my father wasn’t home yet, I knew there was going to be hell to pay that night. My earliest childhood memories at the age of 4 and 5 are of my father coming home drunk, creating mind-bending chaos by throwing plates, swearing in the most vulgar manner, slurring, being super-aggressive, beating my mother from time to time and threatening to kill her with the rifle that was in the apartment. I remember being terrified of losing my mother, and terrified of being killed.

My strategy of protecting myself as best as I could was to hold my breath so my father wouldn’t hear me in my bed, and, therefore, wouldn’t realize I was there. I felt like a coward in realizing that I could not help my mother. I felt so bad about not being able to help her. I suffered physical, emotional and psychological abuse from my father. I was traumatized as a child. Three and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Today, I’m 54 years old.

At a young age, I had low self-esteem. I learned to be ashamed of myself. I never felt good enough for myself or anyone else. I had serious behavioral problems in school. I caused chaos in classrooms for my teachers and classmates.

At the age of 11, we moved, and I was not able to adapt properly. I always felt different from others, wasn’t able to fit in, felt unwanted and suffered a tremendous sense of loneliness. To comfort myself, I started using food as a substance, primarily junk food, and food that was sugar-laden, like chocolate and ice cream. I also used other foods like potato chips and candy.

From junk food to hard drugs

I started drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes at the age of 12, and this gave me a feeling like I could let go and try to fit in, so I became really good at consuming alcohol and was well on my way to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for the next 28 years.

At the age of 13, I started smoking marijuana on a daily basis. At the age of 15, I became sexually promiscuous. At the insistence of my first love, I stopped smoking marijuana at the age of 17 but started drinking alcohol on a daily basis. I experimented with cocaine, LSD and hashish later in my teenage years. Thankfully, I was afraid of needles.

I had no regard for myself or others. All of this substance abuse masked the pain I had suffered as a child and was suffering as a teenager, but the substance abuse only made things worse.

As a result of being in so much pain, I tried to commit suicide at the age of 17 by overdosing on a bottle of painkillers. At the age of 19, I slammed my car into a steel barrier at about 100 miles per hour. I was serious about wanting to stop the pain and kill myself. Thankfully, my Higher Power had other plans for me.

30 years of sobriety, one day at a time

I remember attending my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at the age of 19. I was a proud atheist. The members told me that was OK. I was also full of fear, but, after listening to the speaker, I felt truly understood for the first time in my life. For the first time, I felt like I wasn’t alone in trying to deal with my inner demons. I knew that I belonged with these other people who were quite similar to me in that we shared the same addiction. In time, I came to experience that we would share in the same solution. I was afraid to be there, but I’m so grateful I went.

I’m not a religious person. I’m OK with and respect those who are, but I do my utmost to be a spiritual person. Twelve-step programs are spiritual in nature. We are free to choose our Higher Power as we are moved to do so, and this is one of the most freeing experiences I’ve received in 12-step programs. Also, another wonderful, powerful, spiritual principle in 12-step programs is anonymity. We can rest assured that our anonymity is protected in 12-step programs.

Although I would have been suited to attend Al-Anon or Al-Ateen, which are 12-step programs for people who are affected by being associated in any way with a practicing alcoholic; Narcotics Anonymous, which is a 12-step program for people with addiction to drugs; or Nicotine Anonymous, which is a program for people addicted to nicotine, I’m actually a part of Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. Between the ages of 19 and 24, I also attended a rehabilitation center for alcoholics five times.

Some other 12-step programs that exist are Gamblers Anonymous, Love and Sex Addicts Anonymous, Online Gamers Anonymous and Debtors Anonymous, to name a few. If a person is addicted to something, chances are there will be a 12-step program available to help the person be free of their addiction.

As a result of the 12-step programs I’m a part of and receiving treatment at a rehabilitation center, I recently received the gift of 30 years of sobriety, recently received 14 years of being cigarette free, am in my fourth year of abstinence from using food as a substance and have been receiving the gift of maintaining a 136 pound weight release for more than two years now. One day at a time.

Ups and downs lead to happiness and joy

Over the years, as an adult in recovery,  I’ve experienced my share of ups and downs. Some of the highlights have been being in an ongoing process of recovery from substance abuse, experiencing the birth and life of my daughters, establishing fulfilling relationships, experiencing travel and adventure, learning how to live a minimalist lifestyle and helping others. Some of the lowlights have been the loss of my son and a failed marriage. Such is life. I’m continuing to learn how to live life on life’s terms — without abusing substances.

After a considerable amount of work, I’m able to forgive my parents today. I’m able to have compassion for both of them, have understanding of where it is they come from and love them as they are. I’m also able to forgive myself for the numerous mistakes I’ve made in my life and have done my level best to make amends to the people I’ve harmed. A big part of the reason why I’m able to do this is as a result of working the 12 Steps in various recovery programs.

Today, I have a wonderful relationship with my Higher Power, whom I choose to call God. I’m completely free of all substances. I’m happy and joyous beyond words, experience a great deal of peace, am in the best physical health of my life and, the vast majority of days, I feel free of any craving or compulsion of substance and am becoming free from the bondage of self, one day at a time. One day, I looked around the room at a 12-step meeting and saw a couple of members named Joy and Grace. I thought about it and realized my name is Freedom. I’m able to feel all of my feelings without wanting to numb them. These are the best days of my life on a consistent basis. I’ve been given an amazing life!

All credit to the Higher Power

I simply cannot take credit for any of this. I attribute all of these modern miracles I experience on a daily basis to the grace of God. Of course, it’s necessary for me to do the footwork, like go to 12-step meetings, work the 12 Steps on a daily basis, read the literature, pray, meditate, exercise, do self care and help others who suffer from addiction.

I am hopeful this writing will help people recover from these insidious, deadly diseases of addiction through 12-step programs and live lives of health, happiness, peace and freedom on a consistent basis.

Love and peace,

Paul Emile
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico