What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson, U.S. philosopher, journalist and poet

When we’re using, addicts never dare to believe in the possibility of recovery. That’s the power of the chronic disease of addiction. For me, addiction itself was simply stronger than me. End of. And so I felt powerless in its grasp. Feeling “sick and tired” each day, every day, felt like the life I had been handed. It wasn’t my fault (my belief then), though I felt those around me seemed to believe otherwise. All I had left to do was be the alcoholic they knew I was.

But recovery from addiction teaches us many things. The most important message: You can get better.

I felt a simmering anger inside, all the time. I couldn’t express it in words. Like the desire to drink, it was with me constantly. When it surfaced, I hurt people. My family with words, strangers with my fists. Powerless.

One night when the anger came, I had no money so I went to my parents. I begged them, like the good and polite little boy I thought I was. “Good and polite” didn’t last long. As soon as the cash was in my pocket, my verbal abuse started, over what I can’t even remember now. Probably their pleading with me to sort myself out. That seemed to be the only conversation they ever wanted to have with me.

I left them and headed straight for a bar. I’d have a drink on them, and laugh it off. But the anger was still there. Second drink in, I was looking around for the meanest, biggest and ugliest person I could annoy. I found him, got his attention, and blew him a kiss. When he asked me what I thought I was doing (in more colorful terms), I told him he was that pig-ugly, probably no-one had ever done it before, man or woman. It got the reaction I wanted.

Thrown out on the street (I couldn’t have made it there myself, the beating I took), I managed to crawl to a liquor store, then to a secluded alley, to drink and lick my deserved wounds. That’s how I felt then. Angry, aggressive, and deserving of whatever punishment came my way.

Without a last-ditch intervention that got me into rehab, I would still be the mess I used to be. Scared of everything— but with the right chemicals inside of me, afraid of nothing and no-one. I had the bruises and the fractures to show for that defiance. Yes, that intervention saved my life.

I first read the Emerson quote above in the rehab center that was treating me for a combination of conditions: Drug and alcohol addiction, and the co-occurring mental disorder of severe depression. Ralph nailed it. He’s right– what’s in the past and what’s in our future is nothing compared to what is ultimately inside us.

The last six years of sobriety is clear proof to myself that though I can’t beat this disease and I’ll never be cured (there is no cure), I can live my life accepting it, showing it the respect I need to, and staying clean. Recovery, and all that it entails, has taught me 5 amazing life lessons. Five gifts, if you like:

  1. It’s Your Happiness – Yours Alone

True happiness (and remember, this is from a recovering addict who’s also suffered also with severe depression) cannot be paid for, cannot be chased, and cannot be earned. The only chasing I tend to do is after the dog when we’re out running. Contentment and peace come from within (back to good old Ralph again). My anger? It slowly dissipated through months of therapy and treatment.

By accepting ourselves for who we truly are, the good and the bad, our strengths and our weaknesses, we can know happiness. Do that –understand who you really are— and you are a long way down the road to simply waking up with a smile on your face, wondering like a kid at Christmas what the day will bring.

  1. It’s Your Past – Unchangeable & Now Gone

I’ll admit this was a difficult one for me to get to grips with. If you’re an addict, no amount of self-written diaries of your regrets will change one simple truth. You cannot alter what is gone. You can try to understand the mechanics of it all. Change it? You’re not God (and I seriously doubt even God would want to).

Accepting my past was pivotal in my recovery. Resentments, emotions once felt, are toxic for the recovering addict. They are toxic for anyone. Learning to forgive your mistakes was one of the best classes I attended in group therapy at my rehab. In fact, I’m always seated in that class, even today.

  1. It’s Your Time – It’s Here

In a hectic world of digital technology and rapid communication (even the food is fast), everybody is led to believe that instant reward is best, an instant answer is always there, and an instant pill to relieve your instant headache is always available. Forget “time heals.” No longer applicable.

Utter baloney (for want of a ruder word). What healing really takes in this Olympic-speed life is exactly that- time. Time to heal, time to reflect, time to recover, time to live. The scars that are symbolic of our past take years to form, in life as in recovery. I have my fair share, believe me.

  1. It’s You – No-one Else

Walking down the street: Everyone is looking at everyone else. A woman looks at another’s shoes. A man looks at another’s female companion. A kid looks at another’s brand new sparkly bike. We constantly compare and contrast ourselves to other people. Yes, it’s human nature, but, boy, does it get tedious. And, boy, you really don’t need it.

As an addict, this ritual comparison consumed me. Of course, I was totally blasted when I was doing it. Changing that took me years to achieve, but I have, very happily, reached a good point in all of this, and I’m proud of it. I don’t give the proverbial damn about another person’s opinion of me, and I no longer envy the lives of others. Who I am now is what is important to me. No more.

  1. It’s You – So Learn

 I learn every single day, and I’ll probably be learning on my last day. It doesn’t matter if you’re in recovery from the disease of addiction, trying to deal with the mental disorder of depression, or just trying to find a better way to live your life in more general terms, learning is the key. Understand what makes you tick, learn your ins-and-outs in an honest way, and accept that the answers you find are who you are. And live happily with those answers.

Oh, and Don’t Forget to Smile

So, that’s me done. Five amazing life lessons, taught to me beginning the day members of my family said, “Enough is enough. We are watching him die in agony here,” through my hard yet so needed months in rehab, and then my life beyond its door, are what I’m all about now, nothing else.

If you would like to leave a comment below regarding your recovery experiences and what life lessons they provided you, please do so below- they will be gratefully received as much by me as your fellow readers. What did you learn through the process? How did you feel afterwards? What do you still carry with you? Yes, it’s all about the sharing.

One last thing. Smile.

Bio: Hi, I am Andy! I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but raised in Los Angeles, California. I am 8 years clean and I now focus on helping others beat their addiction. My recovery angel? Evergreen Drug Rehab