Playing the tape through

When my friend Jeff retold the details of his oxycodone addiction in last weekâÄôs column, I sensed that he was shielding me from the worst of it. IâÄôm not sure what I was imagining âÄî maybe a scene out of the movie âÄúRequiem for a DreamâÄù or the like âÄî but in any case, some things are better left unsaid. As Jeff moved on to his recovery process, his descriptions fell further into obscurity and it suddenly became obvious that in the world of addiction, recovery is never a finite term. I am an insatiable idealist, and as Jeff glossed over his history of an unsuccessful outpatient program, three 30-day inpatient stays, a halfway house and, finally, five different sober houses, I waited patiently for the punch line. âÄúIâÄôm fully recovered now,âÄù heâÄôd say, and then a rainbow would streak across the sky followed by a golden unicorn âÄî it didnâÄôt happen. âÄúItâÄôs challenging,âÄù Jeff said, referring to his sober life. âÄúI canâÄôt go out and party like a normal college student. I go to the movies or hang out with my sober friends instead âĦ but IâÄôve relapsed more than IâÄôd like to admit.âÄù JeffâÄôs relapses show that his addiction is a lifelong struggle. In a 2004 study done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 42.1 percent of those admitted for substance abuse treatment, ages 20-39, successfully completed their treatment programs. In general, most treatment centers also serve a high number of repeat patients. For those who make it out and stay out, JeffâÄôs story of a tenuous coexistence with society is not uncommon. âÄúIn rehab, when you have a craving to use, they tell you to âÄòplay the tape through,âÄô âÄú Jeff explained. âÄúThat means you play the tape of what your life was like when you were on drugs: how miserable you were, the consequences you suffered and the people you hurt.âÄù As a writer, I understood the power of a good metaphor, but Jeff continued morosely: âÄúThe problem with that is your brain has a natural self-defense mechanism to only remember the good times and not the bad times. If I was constantly thinking about the bad times, I would be morbidly depressed, but I can only seem to remember how good it felt [to use drugs].âÄù âÄúThe other problem is anything qualifies for an excuse to use,âÄù Jeff said. âÄúIf youâÄôre sad, you use [drugs] to make yourself feel good. If something great happens, you use in order to celebrate. Anything goes.âÄù I sighed, thoroughly depressed. Metaphorically, Cinderella was just permanently disfigured in a tragic kitchen accident; my chances for getting a happy ending out of this story were increasingly grim. I debated crossing the street and buying a lottery card for Jeff at the gas station, hoping that maybe, just maybe âÄî but no. This wasnâÄôt a time for my silly superstitions in serendipity. âÄúThe joke goes that sober is actually an acronym for âÄòson of b—-h, everythingâÄôs real,âÄô âÄú Jeff said. âÄúI canâÄôt run away from my emotions anymore. I have to deal with them, but IâÄôm not an awful person. I know I have a lot to offer.âÄù And then Jeff delivered my much-awaited salvation speech. âÄúUltimately, I want to do something to help others,âÄù he said. âÄúWhy else are there so many people around us? It has to mean something.âÄù I smiled. JeffâÄôs journey will likely continue to be much harder and colder than the rest of ours, but I cannot think of a better ending than his simple yet compassionate epiphany. Ashley Dresser welcomes comments at [email protected]