Learning to Adult in Recovery

By Amy Dresner 04/02/20

Credit scores don't seem super important when your kid/friend/wife can’t keep a needle out of her arm or a knife away from her wrists.

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Woman sits on floor of kitchen, smoking a cigarette.
With aging and ill parents and no partner, the reality of my lack of life skills is more evident than ever. Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

I’m 50 years old and 7 years sober and I’m still terrible and completely freaked out by adulting. This is not something I’m proud of. I make jokes about it like “I’m a Jew” or “I’m a woman” to explain away my ignorance of electronics and mechanics. (I recently killed my computer’s battery by keeping it plugged in 24/7 and didn’t have my oil changed for 2 years.) But, let’s be honest, that’s racist and sexist and absolute bullshit. Truth is, I spent half my life battling drug addiction and mental illness and was pretty much absent for that learning curve that included taxes, car maintenance, building your credit, budgeting, and relationship skills. So basically at 50 I’m learning stuff that I should have learned at 25. 

I’ve also been coddled, apart from the drug addiction and mental illness. I went from my father handling everything to my ex-husband handling everything. When that marriage tanked and I ended up in treatment and sober living for the umpteenth time, my best friend stepped in and started handling everything. I’m still on her phone plan and my car is still in her name because when I got divorced and relapsed, I had the worst credit on the planet. Having good credit wasn’t something I had ever worried about and not something that anyone had ever taught me. To be blunt, people were concerned with keeping me alive because I had been trying to kill myself for years with drugs and suicide attempts. Credit scores don't seem super important when your kid/friend/wife can’t keep a needle out of her arm or a knife away from her wrists.

But with aging and ill parents and no partner, the reality of my lack of life skills is more evident than ever. Per usual, I try to make it funny as I beg my friend to help me with my taxes, saying “Hey I have other skills like making a soda bottle into a crack bong or hitting a rolling vein.” However, at seven years sober and hitting middle age, is that really an excuse anymore? Here’s the truth: Your car doesn’t care. The IRS doesn’t care. Nobody really cares why you can’t do basic life shit. At my age, it’s just kind of pathetic.

I’ll be honest, part of it is fear. It’s unfamiliar. Thanks to the classic addict mentality, I’m afraid of responsibility. The unknown is scary. I don’t want to learn this stuff. I’m lazy. I want to be taken care of. Still. It’s gross, I know.

I’ve been fired from every job I’ve ever had except for an editing one I held for six years that I recently quit to pursue a bunch of freelance stuff. The only reason that job was remotely viable was because I got to work from home in my holey sweatpants and my boss loved my irreverent, inappropriate attitude. Nobody else would have put up with it. 

Despite a book and speaking gigs and my podcast whoredom, I’m still not fully self-supporting. And sure, I’ve managed to stay afloat but some of that is my weird ability to manipulate people into taking care of me, mostly men. It used to be based on my brokenness or them wanting to fuck me. Now it’s that I’m seen as the Golden Goose, the next new whatever. It’s not ideal but considering it was my survival technique for 20 plus years, I have to cut myself a little slack.

I dress like a 22-year-old stoner skater girl in ripped up vintage t-shirts and cords and weird suede booties. That’s fine and attracts many men in their 30’s who are fooled by my faux weird youthfulness, but it’s not so good when I’m booked to speak at a conference or a fundraiser. That’s when terror steps in. I’ve managed to cobble together a vintage style that seems to fly but you’ll find me dead before you’ll see me in a blazer. 

I can’t really cook either. I never learned mostly because I couldn’t be less interested. Again, I make some corny joke that the only thing I can cook is dope. But again, how long into sobriety or middle age is that really funny or appropriate?

I will give myself some props. I have health insurance because I have to--thanks to my epilepsy. And even my cat has health insurance. I am my mom’s social security payee and handle all her bills but that’s solely because it was forced upon me as her only child when she developed dementia. So yeah, I can man up--or woman up, I should say--when it’s necessary.

We’ve all heard the saying that when you get sober you’re the mental age of when you started using. I’m not sure if I agree with that; I see stunted growth in myself and also in others that started to use later in life.

Drugs and alcohol hinder the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, reasoning, and critical thinking. If those parts are shut down by addiction, well obviously you aren’t going to acquire the skills to navigate life. We learn by making mistakes, but addicts tend to make the same mistakes over and over again, slow to learn or gain any new perspective.

Just to check my science, I asked Dr. Howard Wetsman. “Well, that is the current party line, but I think whether we’re using or not, having low dopamine self-centers us so we are prone to making those impulsive self-centered mistakes again and again. As dopamine is necessary for long term potentiation (memory), we may not actually learn as well or as permanently as others. I don’t know if there’s enough evidence to say either way, but we all have to just do the best we can day to day.”

Thankfully, I’m not too proud to ask for help, and luckily, people in the program and friends are happy to offer it.

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Amy Dresner is a recovering drug addict and all around fuck up. She’s been regularly writing for The Fix since 2012. When she isn't humorously chronicling her epic ups and downs for us, she's freelancing for Refinery 29, Alternet, After Party Chat, Salon, The Frisky, Cosmo Latina, Unbound Box, Addiction.com and Psychology Today. Her first book, My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean was published in September 2017 by Hachette Books. Follow her on Twitter @amydresner.