What It's Like to Recover in Relative Freedom

By Seth Ferranti 12/08/14

In prison, drugs and hooch were widely available, but it was all kept out of sight. In the real world, it is much different. I face temptations every day.

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As a drug addict and alcoholic, I know that I just have to take it one day at a time. I never say that I won’t use drugs or drink alcohol; I just say that, “I choose not to indulge today.” One day at a time is how I have to do it. That’s what works for me and it’s the premise for AA/NA, so it obviously works for a lot of people.  But I am dealing with two major transitions in my life: I am in recovery and I have just reentered society after a long incarceration. I am finding that what worked for me in prison in regards to maintaining my sobriety is much harder now that I am in the outside world. Temptations surround me every day.

In prison, drugs and hooch- a prison wine made with fruits- were widely available, but it was all kept out of sight. You could find drugs if you looked for them, but it wasn’t really out in the open. If you didn’t move in the circles with the people who were using, they had their own club so to speak, then you weren’t really subjected to their availability. In the real world, it is much different. I face temptations every day. They are all around me, at every angle and everywhere I turn, making the effort to avoid the obstacles and pitfalls that can lead me back to a life of drugs and crime, significantly more difficult.

And after having completed the Bureau of Prison’s Residential Drug Abuse Program and learning about the ripple effect and how my behavior compounds my decisions and affects the lives of others, I know that any steps I take in the direction of drug or even alcohol use will be detrimental to my recovery. And more importantly, will lead me back to prison, a place, where after 21 years of consecutive incarceration, I have had enough of. Every day, I fight to maintain my recovery, as I struggle with reentry and sobriety, a dual-edged sword that can slice me in two at any wrong turn.

Just last Saturday I almost made a wrong turn and could have crashed and burned. I experienced some very strong cravings and I almost gave in to my base desires. On the way home from the Pasta House, where I work nights, I stopped for gas at a store called Dirt Cheap. They sell alcohol, cigarettes and also gas. If you pay cash, then you get gas for five cents cheaper than the listed price. I have seen my wife and her sister go out of their way to get gas there so I stopped to try to save money on gas and found myself in a potential relapse situation. It was a Saturday night about 9 pm. I had gotten cut early from the restaurant and as I waited in line to get gas, alcohol surrounded me. I found out unfortunately that it was calling out my name.

I was a big beer and Stoli’s Vodka drinker way back when. I considered myself a beer connoisseur and drank only fine European beers like Samuel Smiths Pale Ale, which cost $50 a case back in the early 90s.  Even though I hadn’t touched any drugs or alcohol since 2002, the urge to use overwhelmed me. I was intoxicated with the thought of drinking a beer. It is a battle I fight within myself every minute. As the craving took over and consumed my senses a little devil in my head told me, “Just get one beer. You’re cool. Get one beer, go home and drink it, you are cool. No problem. You won't get caught. You can get away with it. It’s just a beer. You deserve it. Unwind a little. You have been working hard and doing the right thing. It won’t hurt.”

But the truth of the matter is that I am still in the halfway house, only 90 days or so removed from prison. And even though I am on home confinement now, I am still under the halfway house rules and technically still a ward of the Bureau of Prisons. As a participant of the Residential Drug Abuse Program, I am not allowed to drink or use drugs. It is a violation of my release and can get me sent back to prison. I attend weekly drug aftercare individual and group sessions as part of my release requirements. It would be haphazard for me to even think of indulging, but I can’t control my thoughts.

Plus the rules and regulations of the halfway house do not allow the use of alcohol or any drugs. I am drug-tested weekly and breathalyzed whenever I go back to the halfway house to pay my subsistence or check in. I am required to go back in twice a week to check in. I call them every two hours and let them know where I am, be it work, drug aftercare sessions, driving to and fro, or going out to Walmart to do some shopping. These are the conditions of my release. I also have a curfew and must be in the house from 9pm to 6 am everyday, unless I am at work. The halfway house also calls 2 to 3 times a night to make sure I am here. It’s all about accountability. I don’t complain about getting woken up in the middle of the night due to the phone calls, it’s better than the alternative.

Along with drug testing and aftercare, which I attend at the Gateway Clinic in Downtown St. Louis, Ireport monthly to my probation officer. It’s all a part of the process of my reintegration into society. Would I like to be completely free and not have to deal with all this? Sure, who wouldn’t? But it is what I am required to do, so I do it. Because the truth of the matter is I need it. Every time I think I don’t have a drug problem or that I am not an addict something happens that reminds me of who and what I am. Not that it is anything bad, just that it is something that is a part of me and that will always be there. I will have to safeguard against this for the rest of my life.

So I stood there watching people and couples stocking up on beer and cigs, ready to go out and get their drink on. They were buying hard liquor, exotic beers and tobacco, preparing to go get fucked up and have their little "Saturday Night Jamboree." I have found that a lot of working people in this area live for the weekends. They work hard all week and then party all weekend—that is just the American pastime. Everybody wants to relax and unwind with some alcohol or a joint, that is just how they do it. But for me those choices could prove detrimental.

There were about four customers in front of me and I watched them all purchase their alcohol and other vices and leave. The whole time the little devil in my head tried to convince me to buy a beer. The pressure and self-talk in my head was incessant and relentless. Every excuse and justification was offered. But I know that the little devil talking wasn’t really a little devil, it was me trying to convince myself to go back to my old ways, but I know where that will end up. 

One thing recovery has granted me is that now there is just one little devil in my head, whereas before that devil was bigger and used to sit on my shoulder guiding me to do the self-destructive things that I did. Now the devil is small and I feel like a big angel sits on my other shoulder giving me good advice—advice that I learned in recovery. I always had this angel on my shoulder and in my head, as well. It has been there since childhood, embedded by my parents and the morals they instilled in me growing up but as I spiraled into unparalleled drug use and self-destruction that little angel’s voice was muted as the devil got bigger and took over. Now I feel the situation has reversed itself. The little devil will always be there but the angel’s voice, which is really just my common sense, prevails. Still, it is a struggle each and every day.

I used to like strong European beer and the Dirt Cheap had several brands that I liked. I even went back to the beer section and took a look, to see what I would drink if I was drinking. The little devil in my head urged me on, cajoling and prodding me to give into my desires to use and to relapse. And even though I wanted to give in and just say fuck it, I didn’t buy anything. I didn’t give in to my temptation. I resisted the urge. I banished the little devil from my mind. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. Just as I have before, and just as I will have to many times in the future if I wish to maintain my sobriety.

I can’t say that I will never drink or use drugs. That is just not feasible, because forever is a mighty long time and tomorrow is never promised. In reality, who knows what tomorrow will bring. But for me, right now, drinking or doing drugs is not an option. It would not only affect my sobriety, but it would affect my freedom. Because I know that for me, drugs and alcohol equate to a lifestyle of self-destructiveness and if I get involved in that lifestyle it won’t be long before I am involved in criminal ventures again. That is the gist of it. I am a drug addict and an alcoholic and a criminal. I have to resist my "baser" impulses every day. It’s a battle just to be normal. It is something that I have been dealing with my whole life. It is the curse of being an addict.

Seth Ferranti has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2012. He most recently wrote about being sober after 21 years in prisonHe also writes for Vice. He has a book out—The Supreme Team.

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