It’s been my policy with the Recovery Rocks interviews to not interview anyone with less than a year of sobriety. This is because I want people to feel safe and secure in their recovery before they publically share their story.
However, this week I want to make an exception. This is because I think we need to hear more about relapse.
Devin Fox is a person in long-term recovery, and founding member of YPR – Young People in Recovery. A native of New Jersey, Devin obtained both a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Social Work from Rutgers University, while living in the Rutgers Recovery House on campus in New Brunswick, NJ. Devin was featured in the 2013 documentary film, The Anonymous People, which aims to encourage 12-Step members to stand up and speak out about addiction and recovery.
Devin Fox very publicly talked about his sobriety and became a well-known advocate for recovery, then he relapsed.
How is this possible? How can one of the ‘stars’ of the recovery movement relapse? Does this mean that recovery doesn’t work? No. It just means that just like and disease sufferer, Devin just stopped doing what he needed to do to stay sober. If a diabetes sufferer stops looking after themselves they end up in hospital with the help and support they need to get back on track. If an addict relapses they often end up in jail with people angry and critical of their behavior. Unfortunately Devin especially experienced this from the recovery community.
Just as The Anonymous People
challenged entrenched and mistaken views on anonymity I think we also need to challenge how we view and treat relapse.
This is Devin’s story:
1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
My rock bottom was waking up after a black out in a holding cell in Bensalem, PA. Not knowing what had happened or why I was handcuffed to a bench I inquired. To my horror I slowly pieced together what had happened from some very angry and upset Bensalem policemen. During my blackout I had managed to walk into a woman’s house at 7am and then carry out a conversation with her 3-year-old daughter. The only glimmer of recollection I have of that morning is a feeling of complete and utter shame, guilt and horror. Some small part of my brain understood for a split second that I had been the cause of such tremendous chaos in someone else’s life. I could do nothing but cry when I found out and it still fills me with despair and a very healthy fear to this day. After finding this out I was again ready to make the admission to myself that I am absolutely and completely powerless over drugs and alcohol and that my life becomes unmanageable the second they are introduced into my body. It was hard for me to believe that drugs and alcohol could bring me so far from the upstanding morals and values that my parents brought me up with. There is just no other answer. This is something that I must manage and keep arrested for the rest of my life, one day at a time.
2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
My first 30 days of recovery were angry, miserable and completely devoid of hope. After my admission that I was powerless over my addiction to drugs and alcohol and that my life was utter chaos without a recovery program my disease quickly took back over. I believe this was to hide from the massive amounts of shame and guilt associated with walking into that poor family’s home and the attention my relapse got from the Philadelphia Inquirer. I was so mad at myself for relapsing and I was so angry at myself for not knowing how to ask for help sooner or in a different way. I felt like my personal life had slipped away and that my professional life was quickly following. I felt lost and alone and under constant pressure to make something out of nothing.
Even after over four years in continuous abstinence I didn’t know how to set and maintain boundaries in my life. I also didn’t know how to ask for help in any more ways than I already was. Sometimes I look back on my life before relapsing and question if I had asked for help 10 thousand different ways if it would have ever been heard… or would our movement have thrown up their hands and announced their powerlessness over my addiction and life like I often feel we do to countless others. Would we quickly step aside and pass on the burdens and responsibilities to those “more suitable”? Would we brush aside a very public arrest and attempt to sweep it under the carpet by redoing interviews with the newest staff, taking down videos from YouTube/Vimeo, finding other young people in recovery to prop up as tokens until we waste them away with responsibility they have no idea how to handle, but think they do?
Would the great keepers of the addiction recovery movement reach down and lend a hand to a fallen comrade or turn a blind eye? As I have witnessed, some have, some have not.
Needless to say, the first 30 days of my recovery were quite difficult with all of this in my head. The shame, guilt, hopelessness, anger and frustration I felt often clouded my ability to stop and take the advocate hat off and recognize that I had never stopped needing recovery even with over 4 years of abstinence and a program in my life. It took 30 days of inpatient treatment to even allow myself to unravel from the twisted belief that I believed you deserved 12 steps and a life beyond your wildest dreams, but I did not. You see, this is why I was able to maintain a life and profession in the recovery industry even while in active addiction. You were worthy of recovery. I was not.
Thankfully I cracked open just after 30 days and allowed the smallest glimmer of hope to split me open to the possibility that I am very much worthy of a life beyond my wildest dreams and that my life can and will become everything it is meant to be if I put the necessary work into it. You see? God rushed in. God didn’t move. I did. Somewhere along the road I had put Devin before my Higher Power and even before my recovery program. One day at a Time I work to keep this in the order it ought to be – God. Recovery. Devin.
3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
The best things? The best thing that has happened is a relationship with a God of my own understanding and the realization that my relapse doesn’t make me an unintelligent and incapable human being. Another best thing is that I today allow myself the opportunity to understand that when I am actively working on myself I am an asset to others and therefore society at large.
I’ve also had the privilege of listening to speakers talk about “If we say we are living just for today or one day at a time then long-term recovery is just that – 24 hours.”
4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
It sounds so cliché, but definitely:
“Stop. Pray. Go to a meeting. Ask for Help. Pray some more. Give yourself a break. Don’t stop until the miracle happens.”
5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
I’ve learned that the dreams I shoved away and ran from are still alive and strong. I learned that I can dream as many dreams as I want and even achieve many of them, not just one or two. I’ve learned that it is not shameful to be a gay man. I’ve learned that my sexuality is divine. I’ve learned that I am worthy of being happy, joyous and free. I’ve learned that I am worthy of a healthy relationship with another man, future children and maybe even a white picket fence.
6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
I had the opportunity to attend a recovery convention in South Florida this past week for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered community. I learned that I am not alone… it sometimes feels lonely in “mainstream” recovery fellowships that are not specifically geared towards the LGBT community. Growing up gay in a straight world brings a whole host of unique issues that many within the gay community face. Having the chance to spend 4 days with 1,000 other gay people in recovery helped keep me focused on my life and my recovery by showing me that others who are just like me get better and stay better every day, one day at a time.
7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
Don’t stop until the miracle happens. Let Go and Let God. Time takes time. Learn to listen and listen to learn.
8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Recovery rocks because it has not once, but twice, taken a broken, beaten, self-defeating gay man and shown him that hope is possible and that God has something greater in store for him.
You can follow Devin on Twitter here.