I Shall Regret the Past
People in recovery sometimes say they’re grateful to be addicts. Good for them. But if I could go back and erase my addled past, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
My poor little sister.
She's still just in high school, and she's already been through the addiction mill: my father (who is also her father) and I have both written books on the subject, we both go on national speaking tours talking about addiction, and she actually lived through my addiction herself. Then she was recently assigned a book about a crack addict to read for one of her classes.
Not only that but the crack addict (now a former crack addict) came to her high school and spoke and she’s supposed to write an essay about the book and his talk and her impressions.
Before writing the essay, she called me to talk it over. She said she was impressed with the book, but unimpressed with the author’s answer to a question one of the students asked him.
Do you regret being an addict, and all the things you did and went through when you were smoking crack?
How could I possibly tell my little sister, who had to watch me getting arrested literally right in front of her when she was five years old, that I was grateful for my addiction—that I regretted nothing?
His answer was simple: he regretted nothing. He was grateful, in fact, for all that he had been through. Addiction made him the man that he is today. He wouldn’t take back anything.
This upset my sister and she wanted to know what I thought. Was she wrong to think that this was not only an irresponsible answer, but also a callous and arrogant one? And do I regret what I’ve been through and what I’ve done? Would I take it all back if I could?
Certainly this author’s answer that he was grateful for his addiction is not a unique statement. I’ve heard many, if not most, AA members sharing similar sentiments in meetings all across the country.
But I strongly disagree.
After all, how could I possibly tell my little sister, who witnessed the hell our parents’ went through, who had to watch me getting arrested literally right in front of her when she was five years old, that I was grateful for my addiction—that I regretted nothing? How could I possibly tell her that the pain and suffering I caused her and my family was all worth it in order for me to become the man that I am today?
That would be way too fucked up.
And the truth is, I do regret my past.
I did terrible things—stealing, breaking in to people’s houses, lashing out at my family and loved ones, costing my parents tens of thousands of dollars in treatment costs. Not to mention all the damage I did to myself—the ramifications of which I’m still dealing with in my life now.
Emotionally, I am fragile and unstable. I’m on all sorts of medication: 1200 milligrams of Lithium, 90 milligrams of Prozac and 200 milligrams of Lamictal a day. I have to go to psychotherapy twice a month and remain cautious and protective of myself.
At home, with my wife, cat, and two dogs, I am safe and happy. And I have been getting better and better at being around people and socializing, but I am still awkward and have a hard time stepping outside of the little world I’ve created.
Of course, I do love my wife and family and am very grateful for my life. And none of this is to say that there is no hope. There is a lot of joy and love in my life. Writing, hiking with my dogs, going to movies with the few friends I have, spending time with my family, speaking at high schools and colleges, reading, art, music—these things all bring me a tremendous amount of happiness, peace, and contentment.
But I am not grateful for my addiction.
My addiction sucks.
And I missed out on so much of life.
Now that I am married and want to have a family of my own, I worry about passing this disease down to our children. I also worry about supporting my family (writing certainly isn’t the easiest way to make a living). More than anything I wish I’d stayed in school, worked my way through college and learned a trade I could practice that would be consistent and offer me and my family security.
I wish I had taken advantage of the opportunities that were given to me.
I wish I’d never put my family through all that pain and suffering.
I wish my sister hadn’t lived her whole life with the shadow of my addiction looming over her.
Because it is ever present. As much as I try to escape it, it is there with me always. And I regret it thoroughly.
That is contrary to what the Big Book says. I do regret the past and I do wish to shut the door on it.
Of course shutting the door on my past is not a possibility.
But I sure as hell wouldn’t tell a group of high school kids that I’m grateful for my addiction. I would tell them the truth—that if I had the chance to be a “normal” person, I would take it in a second. As I said, addiction sucks. And I’m one of the lucky ones (as is the author of that book).
Nic Sheff is a columnist for The Fix and the author of two memoirs about his struggles with addiction, the New York Times-bestselling Tweak, and We All Fall Down. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two hound dogs, and a cat and has previously written about selling himself for sex and his father David Sheff's book Beautiful Boy, among many other topics.