“First, it’s a Saturday night thing when you feel cool like a gangster or a rockstar- just something to kill the boredom, you know? They call it a chippie, a small habit. It feels so good, you start doing it on Tuesdays…then Thursdays… then it’s got you. Every wise ass punk on the block says it won’t happen to them, but it does.” – Jim, The Basketball Diaries.

First and foremost, this essay is a tell all. As cliché as it is, I am hands down one of those writers that allows every aspect of my life to be used as journalism. I am an open book, without a doubt. With that said, it pains me to admit that my last article for this incredibly informative site only shed light upon one side of my struggles with my mental health. As mentioned in my last article, mental illnesses tend to run amuck hand-in-hand. Along with everything I had mentioned prior in that article, I left out a gaping, grotesque black hole that is known as addiction.

Quickly, to qualify myself as we usually do in the rooms of Recovery: I was the little shit-head punk who loved the dirty lifestyle for the first half decade of my romance with the needle. Walking around, arms out for the world to see my glamorous track marks that I treated like beauty marks of my own. I went from pawning and stealing from Mother Dearest, to quickly realizing that the struggle and the habit always gets harder & larger. Stealing, middle-manning (I was never a good dealer – I always used up my own product) and eventually down a dirtier, cash for flesh kind of road. I believe Johnny of the band No Fucker truly captured the heart of it all when he described as this: “I am Johnny; I am a punk, a whore, a survivor, a junky, a counselor, a friend, and very kind when I’m not driven by self-hate, abuse, or basically a heroin-fueled death sentence. When in crisis mode I am the epitome of Iggy Pop’s words, ‘a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm.’”

Some call it an illness or a mental condition; some won’t even give it the honor of receiving a title as such. A large percentage of people that are fueled by anger (and ignorance, sadly) still insist it is nothing more than a personal choice, which baffles me beyond belief. Before delving into that nonsense any further, I will state one simple fact: addiction has been classified as a chronic disease. No longer simply a behavior problem involving alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex.

NSDUH reports that in 2014, approximately 5 percent of the American adolescent population (12-17) suffered from a substance use disorder; this equates to 1.3 million teens, or 1 in every 12. This alone is heartbreaking, because I too began using intravenously at the ripe, young adolescent age of 14. My early break into addiction was with no doubt caused by being enamored and idolizing the “punk rock, heroin-chic” lifestyle that a guy half a decade older than me introduced me too. I take full responsibility for everything that happened there after, but every story has a beginning.

Whether you started young, or picked up later in life, the odds of our young adults using is constantly on the rise. About one out of every six American young adults (between the ages of 18 and 25) battled a substance use disorder in 2014. This represents the highest percentage out of any age group at 16.3 percent. (NSDUH) Sadly, these numbers have even doubled over the past decade.

Just like nearly all other diseases, cycles of relapse and remission are sadly incredibly common. More often if one does not attempt to ‘treat’ their disease. Addiction is progressive and if not treated, more often than not those cases end in institutionalization, death, or severe mental health damage. I myself have been an addict for a decade at this point, and have tried many different methods of treatment all with trial & error. Now, before I go on any further I will say this: recovery is personalized and different for every individual, for that mere fact alone. We are individuals and just as people recover differently from other diseases, the same case is factual when it comes to addiction.

Speaking from experience and for myself, I’ve tried the marijuana maintenance program, I’ve tried medication on its own, I’ve tried psychology, and random small attempts at meditation (mostly done half-assed, if I’m being honest). At this point in my life, coming back from a destructive & incredibly depressing 5 month long bender, I finally returned to the rooms of a 12-step program. With that comes daily recovery meetings, working through a 12-step program to get to know yourself & find the root of your underlying issues that were masked by the using, and completely abstinence from everything from hard drugs, to alcohol, and even marijuana.

This approach isn’t for everyone, and I fully understand that. We all recover differently. This, however is what is working, and working pretty damn well for me this time around. Now that I’ve laid out the canvas of how it all works and where I’m at, I’d like to bring you all to my second point, and my main driving force for this article, which simply is: How to not lose your self of identity while immersing yourself in something with a deep, strict regimen like a 12-step program.

A little backstory for the sake of this article: I moved back from Orlando, FL to Fort Myers, FL in February of this year. Without getting too side-tracked from the point, Orlando was a place I quickly fell in love with. The punk, queer, and alternative scene up there is definitely alive and still blooming. I’ve never felt so welcomed and so a part of something so quickly. I cherish those moments and the friendships I acquired there dearly, and hold it all close to my heart. Returning back here to my hometown was like stepping into a portal of my past, almost even an alternate dimension because so many of my friends have either moved on with their lives onto new places, or just disbanded from each other, sadly. (Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of awesome digs & events in the SWFL area!) However, with my recent relapse placing a big toll on my mental health, and burning a few sacred bridges along the way, I quickly fell into a hole of no longer knowing who I was or where I even belonged.

When I finally hit my rock bottom and returned to my program, things began shifting in the smallest bits. Days turned into weeks, which turned into months, and along the way I began to rekindle a fire within myself to not only return to the person I was prior to the relapse, but to keep expanding and finding new nooks and crannies of myself to dust off and learn about. Now the recovery rooms in Fort Myers are a double-edged sword (and I’m only speaking from MY experience of the groups & rooms here in Gulf Coast); is that, unfortunately there isn’t a very wide array of personalities and individualism. Even as I type these words I feel guilt for those who will read this and assume I’m speaking of them personally. However my experiences are my own, and I wouldn’t be the writer I aspire to be if I didn’t speak my full truth.

Being queer, being an individual with my own set of ideas, who aspires to be an activist, I’ve reached out too many and haven’t found too many that even understand the mindset I’m trying to share with them. Once again, that is okay. Everyone’s path is different. For anyone whose reading this that can relate, even in the smallest manner, here are some steps and some suggestions from my own personal experience that made things a little easier for me (even if it was just the smallest, teeniest bit, everything counted for me). All of these steps were a little like free-falling, trying without any facts or evidence behind them – all in the hopes of maintaining the person I knew I was, and trying to grow even further while blending recovery into my sense of self and not forgetting who I am along the way.

  • Take a vacation from social media (I choose ALL social media, but whatever is comfortable to you). My first month back in recovery, I needed isolation to remember who I was and what I was striving for. It’s hard for most of us to admit, but we’re all seeking validation in one way or another when it comes to our internet presence. Whether it be likes, compliments on our pictures, or debating over politics. We strive to be heard, to be seen, to be noticed. All of that just across as a static noise that distressed the message I was trying to get myself to hear – that of finding myself, and saving myself.
  • Find creative outlets IMMEDIATELY: These will save you from boredom, from lingering thoughts, and from loneliness. Even if you make a list of creative endeavors you’d like to try, that’s a phenomenal start. I’ve only crossed one or two off of mine so far (because hey, some outlets require money and who has a bunch of that lying around?) but just knowing that I have fun goals set keeps me stoked and also remind me of who I am, something that I desperately needed to cling on to when I was first getting clean again.
  • READ FUCKING BOOKS: I can’t express my newfound love for reading again. Books are the ultimate escape. You get to enter some many different worlds and dimensions, become somebody new for a couple days, daydream about a life that you could incorporate details of into your real life. So many positives come from reading, and sometimes I get so into a reading that I dream about it; and to me that just gave books another exciting aspect.
  • Take walks by yourself, but only in areas you’re comfortable with, bring headphones, and bring a water bottle (or fidget spinner!) to keep your hands occupied. I know after detoxing, I felt aloof in my own body and it was quite the adjustment. I liked keeping my hands occupied because I didn’t feel so “off” or “goofy” but the walks always helped tremendously. I’d go to parks and read, or have coffee and chain smoke, or even have quite little picnics by myself. Occasionally I’d get caught up in a rainstorm, but there’s something beautiful to that and I’d appreciate it for what it was.
  • Practice breathing exercises, and envision who you are and go a step further and try thinking of what you’d like to incorporate into your being next. Avoid speaking to anyone that will cause you stress or discomfort, than can always come later so don’t even let it worry you. Lastly, PLEASE understand that ‘NO’ is a complete sentence and to use it as such whenever needed.
  • Lastly, listen to music as much as possible, if not constantly. Music is such a healing medium, and so many of our favorite rockers have struggled with addiction problems and overcame them. And fuck the stigma that musicians lose their ‘magic touch’ when they sober up and kick the drugs. A personal favorite of mine, Zac Carper (lead vocals/guitar/total heart*throb of FIDLAR) has been clean off a plethora of drugs that he had been mainlining for years. I believe he’s got almost two years of complete abstinence and recovery at this point, and most of the songs from his band FIDLAR’S second album TOO were all written & recorded in sobriety. And I can honestly say the energy, the punk vibes and the emotions I get from that album far exceed their first release (in my opinion)! Our favorite Witchy Woman Miss. Stevie Nicks got clean in 1986, went back out on a different drug of choice, and came back to us in 1998 and never left. I don’t even think their needs to be much said on the matter, because Nicks music speaks for herself, but clearly getting clean didn’t even touch the power she wields with her voice, tunes, and enchanting story-telling.

Healing is a long road and it’s not linear. In the rooms, they have a saying that programs like these are ‘Selfish Programs’ and that used to bother me, but I finally get it. It’s selfish in the aspect that you must put yourself first if you want your recovery to come first. If you want to continue to blossom into the magnificent being that you fucking know you are capable of being, and probably already are. I’ve come to look at my recovery and my sense of identity as something as simple (or maybe complex to some?) as this. The Yin & the Yang of myself, my being. My addiction in retrospect and my recovery as the Yin (passive, restraining force) and my beliefs and sense of self as my Yang (the active, positive force). To me, that breaks it down simple enough for me to understand that they both exist inside of me; both helping to shape the person that I already was, and the person I will continue to grow into.

So dear friends, strangers, addicts, normies and everyone in-between, I leave you with this: Grow in the best way that suits you, and always remember to put yourself and your recovery first. Whether it be recovery from substances, your mental health, or your physical ailments. Always find the time to do things that make you smile, and always use creative outlets like music and art to help you establish a firm sense of who you are and why you’re doing this. Because we all know from our dear friend Bowie, Ziggy played that damn guitar.