Harrowing Days

I just spent the past week listening to the audio files for my memoir The Hummingbird Kiss. Whew, that was brutal. It’s been a good four decades since the events described in that book, and I’ve done a remarkable job of erasing most of that era from my consciousness — and from my conscience. I mean, just how long do you have to punish yourself for the stupid mistakes you made in your youth? Yes, my mistakes were serious ones, but since then I’ve tried to live the sort of life that might balance out my karma. I’m no saint, but I can say I’ve come a long way.

As uncomfortable as it was for me to relive those years, writing my memoir healed much of the pain and helped ease the recriminations from my past. In writing the book, I was able to gain some distance on my life, uncover the reasons for the incredibly bad choices I had made, and also trace the cracks that finally let in the light.

Sometimes I wonder how is it that I was saved and so many others have not been. One blessing that drug addicts had in the 1970s is that there was no such thing as Fentanyl. Unintentional overdoses were not nearly as common as they are now. And I imagine that the addiction — though it was powerful — was minor league compared to the addictive power of drugs today.

I do know there was a spiritual element to my healing. I cannot explain it. It’s a mystery. I like the wording from AA: “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” You can attribute that power to God, to a loving community, or to some wiser part of yourself. (The one friend I have left from the bad old days is a devout atheist and he’s doing fine. I believe that’s because his higher power is a strong, loving, supportive community.) Even though I “fell” after I got out, I was able to pick myself up and move forward with my life.

If you’re interested, I wrote about the power of Spirit in healing, in my book Free at Last: Seven Spiritual Tools for Overcoming your Addictions.

There were other factors in my healing. Prison gave me time to grow up. Research shows that the brain “finishes developing and maturing in the mid-to-late 20s. The part of the brain behind the forehead, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last parts to mature. This area is responsible for skills like planning, prioritizing, and making good decisions.” I was 25 when I got out of prison, and it was as if a switch turned on. For the first time, I started making healthy decisions. Not all of my decisions were perfect, but at least I had veered off the self-destructive path that I’d been on.

And I was fortunate in that I had an obsession other than drugs, an obsession I have to this day: Writing. Of course, my story isn’t that unusual. There are a lot of us former addicts out there. Most of us who have changed our lives did so because we found a new obsession — whether in the arts, business, religion, health, or our families.

For those people who have not found their way out yet, I have one piece of advice. Don’t give up.

* We will be releasing a new edition of Hummingbird on Nov. 13, 2023. The audio book will be available in January as long as the creek don’t rise.

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