Living Without Denial

By Thérèse McHale 04/11/14

While addicted, I slipped into an uncut, deluded sense of reality that kept me sick for a long time.


The most important thing I have learned since coming into sobriety is that the events of my past do not have to determine my future. As of today I have slightly over 3 years sober, and have a life that is the complete opposite than anything I had ever truly known. 

Before coming into recovery, I was a heroin addict and spent many years living the exact same day over and over again. I may have been surrounded by a series of diverse characters, or spent time strategically navigating my way through an unfamiliar city, but underneath my ever-changing surface nothing ever changed. My imbalanced erratic inconsistent moods became constant. I cycled through the same sick obsessive thought—how I would attain my next hit, and this was the only thing propelling me through time and space.  

I began using drugs as an adolescent and through my teenage years my addiction progressed; as a result of this I slipped inadvertently into an uncut, deluded sense of reality. I was in a state of mind in which denial had concocted such closed theories and strong misperceptions of my reality that all my behaviors resonated from these fictitious beliefs. And these beliefs about the world around me kept me sick and suffering and getting high for a long time. I tried to stop using drugs on a multitude of occasions, yet these deep seated resentments stemming from a false sense of worldly beliefs would eventually send me spiraling into a relapse, each ending worse than the one before. 

As a result of my addiction I ended up getting arrested a few times and eventually I went to jail. This of course was fuel for my inaccurate self-appraisal and further justified my toxic view on life. Lying around the cell I was literally trapped while going through withdrawal: vomiting, sweating, crying, half-crazed with barely any human contact besides the pile of romance novels cluttering the corner of my cell. I became so desperate for any type of human connection that I tried to read them, yet as a lesbian they weren’t anything I was interested in, and may have possibly added to my dope sickness. 

After a few days in jail I met with my public defender who reluctantly began reviewing my case. While sitting across from her, the tired desk between us stained yellow with age, I experienced my first moment of clarity. I would never get sober if I stayed in jail; I had to go to a treatment facility. I told this to my public defender and she agreed. After that day I had become a candidate for Treatment Court and was sent to a 28 day rehab, followed by a women’s halfway house. 

Living in a halfway house seemed surreal. I was enveloped within a counterculture I don’t think I could have ever been prepared for. Naturally as an addict I am defiant, so getting used to a list of rules and customs took a very long time. The community living was challenging and full of treacherous pitfalls, many of which, by the grace of god, I avoided unscathed. Although living in a halfway house was not the best situation, it did open up the door to a 12-step program which has helped me in ways I never thought imaginable. 

I left the halfway house after 9 months and began dating another woman who is also in recovery. I also got a sponsor and started to dig out all that deep seated resentment that was keeping me sick. Once I started working with my sponsor things began to change for the better and I could see past my close minded view and move forward with my life. The most important part of this process was when I did my fourth and fifth step. I tried to write out my entire fourth step at one time which I do not suggest; after writing so much about my character defects I literally felt like I was going through a mild withdrawal, a borderline insanity. Thinking about it now, I realize it was a much needed lesson in moderation, a concept I obviously struggle with. Once I did finish the fourth step I went over it with my sponsor and the fifth step became a huge turning point in my recovery. This was when I realized I had been acting primarily on self-centered fear, that I lacked sufficient trust in my higher power and as a result of these beliefs my ability to see the truth in any situation was clouded, leaving me isolated without any real human connection in my life. As a result of this great step five epiphany, I felt like the haze I was living in had finally lifted, and I felt that I was no longer being crushed under the weight of the world. I finally understood what it meant to be sober. 

A crucial part of my recovery has been taking the opportunity to give back to other people. When I was submerged within my active addiction I would pride myself on how well I could manipulate others for personal gain. In order to move past this I now take time out of my day to try and help others without conditions. Recently on my journey through recovery I was asked to join the New York chapter of a national organization known as Young People in Recovery. This organization is run by volunteers working hard to spread the message of recovery to young addicts, and to help them find treatment, education, and housing. YPR also takes part in advocating for better policy related to those suffering from substance abuse. After serving on the Committee of YPR I was asked recently to appear at a press conference at the New York State Capitol with Senators Kemp Hannon and Phil Boyle, and Assemblymen Steven Cymbrowitz to share my experience of how hard it was to get into treatment. The conference was mainly held in order to pass a bill through legislation that will make it easier to get into treatment for low level drug offenders that end up incarcerated. Knowing that the public views drug addiction as a behavior problem rather than a public health problem, I decided to share with them the struggles I went through so that maybe this policy can someday change.  

Denial is something I can no longer live with. I used to deny my truth each day while I was submerged within my active addiction. I denied all things that my spirit needed; stunted growth and repression ran riot which was a part of why my reality was something I couldn’t bear to live with. I do my best today to see the truth in all, and recently have been allowing myself creative expression, something I often denied myself while actively using. I am still learning what my soul needs, but by doing the things I don’t want I am learning the things that I do. 

Thérèse McHale is a writer from Troy, New York and the Policy Lead of the New York Chapter of Young People in Recovery—YPR

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