The battle for sobriety

April 9, 2015

20150329_070338I found this on the ground next to my car in the Safeway parking lot one Sunday night when M. and I were doing a little grocery shopping. It’s someone’s bronze, 15-year sobriety chip that must have fallen out of their pocket that day.  I felt badly and wondered if they miss the weight of it in their pocket, the reminder of what they have achieved.  After all, 15 years is a long time and a big accomplishment.

Recovery is a world with which I have little experience, and what I do have (through someone with whom I was involved) is probably not representative. But it’s something I think about and finding the chip was a catalyst for a conversation M and I had about addiction, a condition neither of us have to contend with.

Addiction is one of those things that people who aren’t addicts mistakenly believe is a “life choice.”  That addicts can stop any time they want. That addicts do drugs to have fun.

But one good look at an addict usually belies that. Do they look like they’re having fun?

No, it’s not a lifestyle choice.

It’s hard to understand how anyone can think that addiction is a life choice–not if they know anything about the detritus addicts leave in their wake. Broken relationships. Screwed-up kids. Good jobs gone.  Health.

Would anyone really choose those broken pieces?

Of course not.

Many of us don’t understand addiction, not in any real way, because the things that addicts do are also things that the rest of us do to as recreation.  Cocktail hour. A few tokes on a doobie.  If we can stop, why can’t they?

Well, they can’t.

And it almost doesn’t matter why–they just can’t.

Is it a disease, is it not a disease–to those of us on the sidelines, it’s irrelevant.  What’s relevant is the support we can give to those who want to be clean and sober.

During our conversation on the ride home, M and I expressed our respect for the strength those in recovery must muster every day to fight their addiction.  We’ve both grown in our understanding of the way this disease, this conditions works and we’ve grown in understanding of the hard battle addicts face.

One of the best things about our relationship is the broad-ranging discussions we have and how both together and individually we have learned to seek understanding rather than to judge. And how we’ve grown together in compassion.

As we age, we are given the opportunity to grow, if we choose it.  Growing in understanding is a benefit of aging. I’ll take the superficial effects–crow’s feet and grey hair–those mean nothing–if I can also have the ability to take a deeper view of the challenges others face.

This chip now sits on my desk where it reminds me every day that there are people all around us fighting battles not visible to others.


Serenity prayer




37 comments on “The battle for sobriety
  1. Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says:

    My brother has struggled with addiction. He has made some really poor choices in life and it;s effected everyone else in his life.

  2. michelle says:

    Thank you. Thank you so much for writing this. My oldest child, my son, is a heroin addict. He was clean for 3 years and recently had a relapse. He was arrested and nearly lost a fantastic job. I just found out YESTERDAY that he didn’t have to go to jail. I can tell you from up close and personal experience that my son never had ‘fun’ using heroin. He’s sorry every single day. He doesn’t want to be a junkie and this relapse hit him hard.

    It was quick and brutal, but he is taking all the right measures. Again. I can only hope that this time…please…this time, let it be the last.

    • Let us pray for his strength. It is such a hard battle. He’s in my prayers and so are you.

    • Jenna says:

      Oh bless your family. I am not ashamed to say I was a heroin addict. I didn’t use with needles… I sniffed it… so in some ways I understand what many people go through. I used from age 16-25. Nearly a decade.

      My family had no idea. We were a normal family… I was a straight A student and continued to be throughout my addiction. I even earned a master’s degree in psychology while I was an addict. Funny enough I specialized in school in addition and grief therapy. Around the time I graduated (3 days before to be exact) I woke up and said “no more” how can I help others if I cannot help myself.

      I quit cold turkey and it was painful but I think that pain was needed. It showed me how strong I was and why I could never go back. I didn’t have a religious experience Or a near death experience. I just decided I needed to do it for myself.

      I’m 32 now and have never looked back. I don’t miss it… I never consider even taking an opiate based pain pill unless absolutely necessary (for instance after I had my csection) but I take it just long enough then walk away without a thought. Avoiding them when I need them would be treating myself as an addict and I am no longer that. Heroin or opiates have no pull on me.

      It is possible to be “normal” after heroin addiction. I pray ur son finds the strength within him to just walk away. To no longer be an addict.

  3. Jackie says:

    There is some advice that if oft-repeated in recovery: “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” Those chips are significant. I have to wonder, though, if that chip didn’t just wind up exactly where it was supposed to. As it would seem that you learned something from it, I would say that it had.

    Thank you for recognizing the long road that recovery is. This addict is grateful.

  4. My husband has 26 of those coins (24) years so it is possible.
    He spends many hours every week trying to help others in their struggle for sobriety.
    Recently we have lost several very young people to heroin overdoses.
    There is so much more to recovery than giving up alcohol and drugs. There must be a maintenance plan. (counseling/helping others) without that they are pretty much doomed to fail.
    Whoever lost that coin is probably a bit sad. They are highly valued.

  5. ryder ziebarth says:

    Alcoholism is in part, considered a disease because it is malignant. People eventually die from it, either by heart problems ( alcohol’s biggest killer) and liver and kidney problems; or they die by accident-falling, drinking, etc. It is often inherited genetically or habitually. Addiction to any substance is a tough battle–cigarettes, gambling, sex, food, narcotics and takes more than will power to overcome. It takes commitment, recognition, and belief that a power greater than yourself can help, one day at a time.

  6. Carol, what a gracious and humane outlook you have. I appreciate most that you and your husband seek understanding, a way to connect rather than only observe.

    Somewhere recently, I read: you have no idea what private battles one is facing. Be kind.

    Exactly what your post reflects. Thank you.

    • I feel that we have both grown in this over time and part of it is exposure, through mass media and constant discussion. It’s quite wonderful, the way we talk about everything in depth and how it helps us learn new ways of looking at things..

  7. On certain days, my sugar addiction is pretty strong. Although I can tame it by intention, it helps me understand the brave struggles people all over the world go through on a daily basis. My hats are off to all of them.

  8. I have a step daughter who is addicted to heroine and we have been unable to find her for the last 6 years. She walked away from her life and her daughter because her addiction was so strong. I know she is alive because about 6 months ago I found out that she was in jail in Cincinnati Ohio so I hurriedly wrote her a letter begging her to let us help her get into a rehab and finally get her the help that she needs. She was released the day the letter arrived and she never saw it. Needless to say my husband and I were so broken hearted to have search for so long and to have missed her by just hours. We are still looking but have seen nothing further so far. It’s so hard wondering and worrying every single day.

  9. Beautifully written and so true – my first marriage could not tolerate the alcohol abuse of my then very young husband – from a wealthy family all of whom were addicted to alcohol – I joined Al-Anon at that time for years and counseling and became accustomed to a more Spiritual Journey – I so understand the struggles of family and friends.

  10. As I read through the comments after reading your post I am struck by the humanity in our community, and how we can openly discuss addiction. I am in awe of anyone who has a coin such as the one you found, and I pray that whoever lost it can have it replaced and has not slipped because of losing it. I’m sure it helped them somehow to get through a day.

    I love that you began this conversation, Carol. We never know the road we all have travelled. Beginning this conversation is not only important but necessary.

  11. Jennifer says:

    My 32 year old son just passed the one year mark at AA about 6 months ago. We didn’t have any idea of the demons he was fighting until he shared 6 months into his sobriety.
    It’s a battle that many lose. I’m very proud of him and also worried. From what I’ve read in the AA book, the battle never ends.
    My older brother was a drug addict for many years which tore our family apart. Luckily he has been straight for decades, but bears the scar of having Hep C from his IV drug use.
    Whew…I feel like I just left the therapists office! Great topic!

  12. Diane says:

    I’ve had several family members who struggle with addictions. It is so painful to watch. Every single day is a triumph. All we can give them is our strength and our support. And pray it is enough . . .
    Loved this, Carol!

  13. K. Lee Banks says:

    It is interesting how often God places things in our path that we “just happen” to come across, for no particular reason – or so we think!

    My hubby overcame something like a 25+ year smoking habit last May –almost a year now without nicotine. I’m so proud of him!

  14. You remind me of the proverb: the glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old. It is so true that the addict doesn’t look like they are having a good time. What a blessing that the Lord put that coin in your path to stir your conversation and to bless even more people with this message.

  15. Upon reading this, I thought of two instances in my life, and how they show the difference between addiction and stupidity. I remember my first few puffs on a cigarette. I was hooked immediately. I wanted more. I loved doing it. I couldn’t even describe what it was. I may have already been primed for tobacco addiction through second hand smoke from my father’s incessant smoking. The last time I overindulged in alcohol, I had taken migraine medication, as well as the two medications I take everyday… I tripped and hurt myself rather badly, that was just plain old stupidity. Normal conditioning happened. Now I think about what is in my body already and opt for a soda if potentiation is possible. Normal conditioning is short circuited for addictions. Addicts cannot learn from experience. Maybe people who do not understand just haven’t encountered an addictive substance. Does it take personal experience to really understand this? Your post would seem to say, “No.”

  16. With as many health issues (and pain pills) that I have had, I’m lucky I don’t have the addiction gene. I cannot imagine the horror of that struggle. I like that you remind yourself by keeping the chip.

  17. Liz Mays says:

    The chemical changes in the brain definitely can’t be turned off whenever they want. That must be part of the reason it’s such a huge moment for everyone involved when they finally break through. Fighting against your own brain chemistry is a fierce challenge.

  18. Heather says:

    You know, while I agree with the compassion in this post, I do not agree about it not being a personal choice. You have a choice if you want to grab those keys and get behind the wheel and drive while drunk. My sister in law made that choice. It was a bad choice when she hit a stroller crossing the street on her way to Walgreens for more booze. She chose to get behind the wheel. Do you have compassion for her? Sure. But she can’t blame the booze, she is to blame for what happened to that child because she made the choice to do what she did. So I feel people no matter the addiction need to be held accountable for their actions. Without that accountability, than the addict can simply blame the booze for what happened. That’s my only argument with your post, it seems you are mistakenly empowering the substance of addiction instead of the “person” here. If you empower the person to change the behavior and continually tell that person “they” and “they” alone have the power to change themselves, they will. Please don’t give power to the addiction. Thankfully my sister in law has been sober since that accident. But my heart will forever feel compassion for the family of that baby she hit with her car and I think it was just enough of a reality check for her to realize that her choices in life do impact others.

    • I think the big issue with addiction is that it overrides choice because of its very nature. Addiction does have power and that is why recovery and sobriety are so important. My heart goes out to the family of that baby and it also goes out to your sister in law.

  19. Debi says:

    I have walked this walk with a family member. It is such a hard thing to see when something like this tears a family apart. So hard to understand. Thanks for sharing with us at the Thursday Favorite Things Blog Hop!

  20. Lux Ganzon says:

    This is really beautiful. I think more than anything, addicts or recovering addicts need our love and acceptance more than anything. I’m sure it’s a struggle that they don’t really enjoy too but finds it hard to let go of. No judgement.

  21. Britney says:

    I think it’s important to remember that addiction comes in many forms. If you are saying someone should be able to choose whether to drink or not and then you have trouble with gorging, that’s just as much an addiction. Thanks for this great reminder!

  22. Ruth Curran says:

    Addictive personality disorder is very real and is oh so powerful. It takes so many forms and is not something you wake up one day and decide you have. Great piece with incredible insights. The depth of your empathy is staggering my friend!

  23. I didn’t know about these coins. Addition is quite scary, and getting out of it needs a lot of courage. But, it is totally doable. These coins are such a good way to keep up the good work. I’m glad to learn about this in your post today.

  24. David Newton says:


    As usual you are spot on!

    I can assure you the owner of that coin has noticed it’s not where it’s supposed to be. I stopped carrying mine in a pocket after it fell out one time too many. It’s in my wallet and a new one takes its place every year on my anniversary. It is an important reminder of the gift of sobriety, one that must be earned on a daily basis.

    Thanks for talking about this Carol!!

  25. Addiction is hard for everyone to deal with. It requires a lot of motivation and will power from the person who is addicted to give up his addiction and it requires patience and understanding from those around him. And we all need reminders that we can all get addicted to anything at any time

  26. Haralee says:

    The problem with addiction is no one really knows they will become an addict. Foe example, giving up smoking. I have never met a smoker that isn’t trying to give it up. Some can and some can’t but you don’t know which group you are in when you started the habit. I feel bad for the person who lost their coin.

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