Thursday, January 12, 2017

Free at Last! (Thank God I’m Free at Last!)

So, I was all prepared to write this week’s post on a particular topic (you’ll have to check in to read it next week) but I was struck with an inspirational thought while on a trip along the I-90 corridor between Buffalo and Albany. I’m in town for the Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS) Board Meeting where I’m a member.

I love these four-hour road trips. The time alone allows me to ponder and I get into almost a meditative state as I drive along listening to albums on my iPod. On this ride, I put on Prince’s seminal 1999 album. Man, what a great lp that is. As each song began I thought to myself, “Man, I love this song!” Anyway, when the song, “Free” came on I took pause. The following lyrics lifted my soul:

"Be glad that U r free
Free 2 change your mind
Free 2 go most anywhere, anytime
Be glad that U r free
There's many a man who's not
Be glad 4 what U had baby, what you've got
Be glad 4 what you've got"

Which brings me to January 15. As most of you are aware, this is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. King’s words, “Free at last!” have always resonated with me in terms of my recovery from addiction. It also happens to be the first day I attended a recovery group. This was in 1988. Now, in full disclosure, I was high at that first meeting. But in the same respect, I heard the message of recovery; the message of hope. Hence, the name of this blog, “The Hope Shot.” I went home that night and got on my knees and prayed to be relieved of my affliction.

The following day I visited a friend and had a crappy mixed drink (I think it was Kool-Aid and vodka, but whatever). I hadn’t heard the part that alcohol too is a drug at my first meeting. But this didn’t stop me from going to a meeting that night at the Salvation Army. There couldn’t have been more than six of us there, but I heard the clear message about addiction, at least in this program, and included abstinence from substances like alcohol as well as drugs.

So, the following day, Sunday, January 17, I went to a meeting at BryLin Hospital, a local inpatient mental health and (at the time) substance abuse facility. It was there that I continued my lifelong journey of self-discovery.

I owe my life to this program. While many people have physically died from the disease of addiction, I am convinced that if I had not made the changes that I did at that pivotal time in my life I would have died mentally, emotionally, and most of all spiritually. Addiction = Death. Recovery = Life.

And while my life has improved many times over I, as I always say, have more work to do. This is why it’s so important that I continue to go deeper and deeper into my consciousness to uncover those things that have kept me entrapped. You see, despite my nearly 29 years of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, I am still prone to addictive behaviors. Addiction is characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. And while, as I just said, I’m much better off than I was when I began my journey in recovery, there is still work to be done. It is so easy to fall into complacency and put my guard down. There was something I used to hear in meetings when I first came around: My addiction is right outside that door doing push-ups. It’s waiting for me to drop my right hand and BOOM, POW!! I’m out for the count.

So, where does this leave me? Well, every day I have a choice. It’s like I’m at a series of perpetual forks in the road. And each choice can lead my closer too or further away from my addiction. Some days are better than others. What I do know, however, is that by being rigorously honest with myself I cannot deny that no matter how long I may have been clean I cannot stop working on my recovery, Over the years I have heard countless examples of people who have stopped doing those very things that kept them stable and they end up relapsing.

One important consideration is that while a relapse may make a person feel like an abject failure, this kind of episode can be the jarring experience that creates an opportunity for a more rigorous application of their program and abstinence can be achieved.

This is just my perspective. Some do not prescribe to the abstinence-based model. But for me, this is what has worked. And you know what? It’s not about the drugs. My addiction is rooted deep in my soul hence, I believe, that it is as much a spiritual condition as a physical one. If it was so easy to just stop using, then recovery would be much more simple. But recovery necessitates going to the dark place inside ourselves and pulling off the curtains. For some, like myself and many others that follow a similar path of recovery, this means talking to a trusted person to gain a healthy perspective of what exactly is going on.

Ironically, while Prince penned such a profound song, he too succumbed to this terrible disease. 

But today I am free. Free to make my own choices. I am able to co-create with the God of my understanding a life that allows for a sense of hard-won serenity. Yes, recovery is work. But it is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever encountered. The rewards are immeasurable. The ability to develop one’s relationship with oneself, others and God is something that cannot be taken for granted.

So, remember, recovery is possible. And NEVER GIVE UP!

Be well!
RIP Prince


  1. Thanks, Karl, for self-disclosure. I hope I can use a portion of your Hope Shot for a presentation on recovery that I am offering at a local church here in Boulder next month.

    1. That would be fine. Thank you for asking.