Healing isn't linear

Hayley Mathews
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Healing isn’t linear. That statement could not have been more true for me, and my recovery journey. I began using at a very young age, experimenting with all sorts of substances as I seeked validation from others. That seeking of validation spiraled out of control, until I had developed a cocaine addiction that was beginning to taint my bright future. My use was so bad that my freshman year of high school, I spent the first semester in a treatment center for adolescents. Substance use was something that I had learned as a coping skill, and that behavior haunted me for a majority of my young life.
As I continued through high school, I continued to party, drink, and smoke marijuana. I had convinced myself that those things were okay, until I could rationalize anything. At the age of 18, I reconnected with an ex-boyfriend who was using heroin heavily. I tried to rescue him from his addiction in all of the wrong ways, until I could rationalize using too. I decided, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” My life fell out of control quickly after that very first hit off that dirty piece of foil.
I continued to use every day, until I had lost everything. Evicted from my apartment, crashed car, fired from work, burnt bridges. The two of us did anything to get the next fix, and ended up sleeping on streets, in shelters, and with random people as a result. I had lost myself completely to heroin. I went in and out of methadone clinics, counselors, coaches, treatment centers, meetings, detoxes for a few years before I managed to achieve the sobriety that I have today. That is how I know that healing is not linear.
As I continued down the road of recovery, I would fall. I would manage to get 3 days here, 7 days there, go to treatment and get 60 days, relapse and get 3 days. I learned something new about myself every time. More than anything, I learned about resilience. No matter how many times I fell, how hard or what the consequences were I got up and tried again. I see that in so many people in recovery, we are resilient and strong beings.
After being kicked out of my sober living, I had began using more intensely and alone. I had began to shoot up into whatever body part I could, living in fear and isolation and surrounded by disease. I was in trouble with the law, homeless, and broken. I went to treatment one more time, for lack of a better option. I went in without expectations, and this time surrendered myself to just going through the motions. I was honest with myself, and was patient. I was feeling better.
As I went through the program, this one for a third time, I realized how much I loved helping people. I felt that I had something to offer people, and they enjoyed listening to what I had to say. I began to validate for myself, instead of seeking it from outside things or people. My life turned around dramatically, and I am forever grateful.
People ask me all the time, “How did you do it? What did it for you?”. It’s always a difficult question to answer, because my path was not linear. Reflecting on my sobriety now, nearly five years clean, I can clearly see what it is. Being in service of others, and being a source of hope is what has kept me clean. The more people that I continue to help, on their own nonlinear path to recovery, the more connected I am. It is so important to give back to others, and it has truly been what keeps me in recovery. I feel indebted to the world of recovery, to be a model that it can be done.

It has been my experience that when we give back to other people, we begin to lift all of the guilt and shame that often is married to addiction. When we give back to the world, the world gives back to us. As I continue on my road to recovery, I remind myself of my favorite quote from Martin Luther King, Jr, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”