Beginning Recovery

Watercolors and marker, 5/20. Day 1 of recovery.

Recovery begins the moment the cycle of addiction is broken. Every addict that wants help knows that every time they drink or drug, it’s the last time. A thousand beers later, they are still on their last beer. The mind knows all the tricks—all the strings to pull—to get another fix. The cycle needs to be broken abruptly. There is no other way.

The analogy I use to describe the mental struggle of addiction is tug-o-war. Your desire to get help is pulling from one end of the rope; the cravings, from the other end. You pull with all your might but the rope remains stationary. Eventually, depression, guilt, shame, helplessness or something similar causes your strength to dip momentarily. That is when the cravings gain an advantage, making progress. By the time your strength is restored, your end of the rope is shorter. Even if you’re stronger than the cravings, gaining ground little by little, the cravings are more persistent in their efforts and continue to make up for lost ground every time your mind slips. It’s not that you aren’t able to overcome the addiction. You just need to stop participating. You need to let go of the rope.

I would like to share an outline of the steps I took in letting go of addiction and beginning recovery.


If you haven’t already, stop using all intoxicating substances right now. All of them. You may still be drunk or high. That’s fine. But there is no “one last time.” You’ve likely already had countless “last times.” It should be obvious, but drinking and using drugs does not comply with recovery. You are choosing abstinence by choosing recovery.


Contact someone you trust, love and respect. This should not be a person that’s also suffering from addiction or someone you drink/use with. This needs to be a person that wants the best for you. By contacting someone, you are doing two things:

  1. You are setting your intentions. You’ve likely thought about getting help before. By telling someone, you are setting your intention to follow through this time.
  2. You are generating accountability. You are accountable for your own recovery. But we know how good the mind is at tricking us into using again. We know our minds are not reliable in their current state. No one should attempt to tackle recovery on their own. This is why it’s important to reach out to someone that has your best interests in mind. You are to hold yourself accountable and let them know you are asking for their support.

If they are available, ask to meet with this person. It can feel very lonely to take these first steps.


This is where a lot of people struggle but it’s a necessity and you should begin immediately. Forgive yourself. Forgiveness does not dismiss responsibility for any harm you may have caused yourself or others. You have to accept responsibility for what has already been done. By forgiving, you are simply refusing to let the past suffering create new suffering. For me and many others, forgiving ourselves is a daily practice; sometimes many times per day.


This can mean a lot of different things. There is no one-size-fits-all model to recovery. You may have to try a few things. Be open to anything.

This is where I was most confused. Do I need to talk to a counselor? A therapist? (is there a difference?) Do I go to rehab? Do I go to my primary care physician? Do I start by going to an AA/NA meeting? Do I need medication?

I decided to make an appointment with my primary care physician and ask for depression medication to start. I wasn’t sure if I was actually depressed or if I was just coming down from a 5 month cocaine binge that destroyed my life, meaning what I was feeling was perfectly normal for such a situation. What I did know was I never hesitated to take a single drug in the previous 17 years. Why start being skeptical with depression meds when I am feeling depressed? I figured I could stop taking them if I felt like I didn’t need them, but in the short term, it would be nice to have something to regulate my serotonin in the wake of an intense drug binge.

I was transparent about everything, telling him I had been abusing all sorts of substances for many years, most recently cocaine, and wanted help. He prescribed a low dose of depression medication and pointed me to a mental health/addiction counselor.

I spoke with the addiction counselor a few times very briefly. The most helpful information I got from him was a list of outside resources. One particular option stood out to me—Refuge Recovery, a Buddhist path to recovering from addiction. I had never heard of it but I knew I connected with Buddhism from my intermittent readings over the previous 5 years. I got lucky in finding an option that works for me right away.

One thing I want to emphasize when it comes to seeking help is to understand that addiction is not a drug or alcohol problem. Substance abuse is the symptom of an underlying issue. Abstaining from using intoxicating substances is necessary for recovering but you will have to dig deeper to successfully recover. What led to such self-destructive behavior in the first place? People use drugs for two reasons: avoiding unpleasant aspects of life or seeking to enhance life. If you’re seeking help, the answer is clear. You aren’t enhancing your life. You’re avoiding something. You’ll need to find out what it is.

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Hello, Mara is an ongoing project seeking continual improvement. If there are any resources you would like to see added to, please e-mail directly at

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