*Editor’s note: Warning: strong language ahead!
There are a lot of things we learn about life when we spend the majority of our formative years as a drug addict—many hard lessons, in fact.
But while we gain this wisdom—which is extremely valuable—we miss out on many of life’s simple lessons. Things that most people naturally learn while living a normal life. And that’s just it.
I didn’t live a normal life completely on my own until I was 32. I had to learn a lot of things on the fly. Things that I should have figured out how to do a decade ago. This will probably seem like the most common of knowledge to many, but I assure you that there is a learning curve. I know for a fact that a lot of other people in recovery will understand.
Here are seven challenges we might face on our journey toward sobriety:
1. Grocery shopping—like a real person—is hard.
The first time I really tried to go grocery shopping in any kind of adult way, I must have looked like an idiot. Aimlessly meandering through the aisles, like a lost soul caught in some kind of food market purgatory. After grabbing things at random and throwing them into my angrily squeaking shopping cart, I made my way to the register. The cashier was not impressed.
“Sir, you can’t survive off of red bull, cigarettes, and salami, you know that, right?”
Yeah, I found out that’s not really sustainable. I had to learn how to eat actual food and real meals again, rather than just grabbing whatever I could to feel full.
Since I don’t know how to cook, I really had no idea what to buy. It’s not like you can really plan out your meals when you are homeless. Not to mention having to cut out the incredible amount of junk food I was consuming, so I wouldn’t die. Learning how to cook has been quite an experience. Let’s just say that I’m not going to invite anyone over for dinner anytime soon.
Even so, I have been making conscious decisions about my eating habits, and as a result, have been feeling and looking much better.
2. Throwing away your mail doesn’t make the problems go away.
Never underestimate the power of denial. When I was using, and I would get any mail that I perceived to be a problem in any way—I threw it away. I wouldn’t even open or read any of it.
In my warped mind, getting rid of the physical object solved the problem. Again, we all know that’s not true at all, but when we are down, overwhelmed by the bills and bad news, we might still do it.
While I was ignoring the problems, they only grew worse and worse until I finally couldn’t ignore them anymore. Actually, taking the time to go through and organize my mail is something that I had never done before. Now I know that taking care of things right when you are supposed to makes things easier—what a shocking revelation.
3. Credit does actually matter.
My first conversation with my future landlord in regards to me renting from him went something like this:
“Do you have a job down here yet?”
“How is your credit?”
“It’s pretty fucking bad.”
“Do you have any proof of income for the past year?”
“No, I do not.”
“I’m kind of afraid to ask, but what about a criminal record?”
“Sure do. Let me tell you about it.”
“Jake, I like you, but you aren’t really giving me much to work with here.”
“No kidding, man.”
I must have looked like a fucking loser. That is thanks to my past attitudes toward my credit and finances. It’s easy not to care about that kind of stuff when we have nothing to lose. Even though I was doing well, on paper, it looked like anything but that.
I found out that we actually need to have some kind of paper trail for our life to get anywhere. It is going to take quite some time to repair all of the damage. I know it’s going to be a huge pain in the ass. But this is what I have to do, thanks to my past actions—and I am getting better.
4. Budgets make you realize how bad you are with money.
Making a budget is advice that has been given to me my entire life—I just never bothered. Although, I did have a mental priority list of how I spent my money. The order never deviated, and some days I never made it past number one. I went something like this:
Not exactly forward financial thinking. The first time I actually made a legit budget for myself was about two months ago. Before that, it was obsessively checking my bank account to make sure whatever transactions I needed to do would actually clear. That was the extent of my financial planning, even in early recovery. It’s all I had ever known.
Budgeting has quickly become something that I put a good amount of time into. Not only has it helped me to not constantly be on the edge—in regards to my finances—but it also helped me to realize how much money I was wasting on stupid things. I had to learn that seeking out deals instead of just paying for convenience saves you a ton of money. Making my mom proud with that little skill.
5. Everything is a process, and it all costs money.
Let me start by saying I moved five times in the past year. All but one of those times—and the many times before—I managed to do one thing really well: holding onto my important documents, such as my social security card.
This last time, when I was actually on my path to recovery, I lost my social security card and birth certificate. Fuck me, right?
Obviously, I needed to replace them—and, oh boy, that was quite a challenging process. I had to order checks, which I’d never done before because drug dealers don’t take checks. Then I had to go to Staples to print a bunch of shit, because I never had a computer and, therefore no printer; then I had to get it notarized and mail it back.
This took weeks. Once I got those documents, I was finally able to get my Pennsylvania license and health insurance. Every single step in that long, drawn out process took a long time and cost me far too much money, but that is the price I had to pay for being careless with the important stuff.
After having gone through all of the run around to get them back, I have an appreciation for that little piece of living a normal life. I tend to learn the best when I am forced to learn the hard way.
6. Good hygiene makes people like you more.
When I was using, I did not give one single fuck about personal hygiene. I must have stunk, but I never noticed. I’m not sure if I just got used to my own funk or if the large amount of cocaine plastered to the walls of my sinuses blocked the oppressive smells.
Either way, I’m sure that I was unpleasant to be around. No wonder I didn’t have many friends during my worst periods. Not only was I high—and really bad company just from that—but I looked and smelled like a vagabond that just crawled out from under a highway overpass. I didn’t care.
That all changed once I went to rehab. It’s not like I didn’t know how to take care of myself or that I hadn’t in the past. But I had to relearn how to put personal hygiene as a priority. That probably sounds ridiculous. And to be fair, it is.
It’s such a simple part of living a good life that I had cut out in favor of chasing the next high—not anymore. I go out of my way to maintain all of the positive hygienic rituals I have established at this point. I like to think I smell pretty good these days. So that’s something.
7. I finally feel like I have something to lose.
One of the silver linings of having to rebuild my life from nothing is that I had the freedom to rebuild it exactly how I wanted it to be.
In the past, when I had to do the same thing, there have been multiple instances of me restarting from literal zero—I didn’t have the courage or the know-how to do that. I just kinda went along with what seemed like was a good idea, or what other people told me I should do—not this time. This time I created this life, which I lead just for myself. And I love my life these days.
Along with loving how my life is going is the feeling that I finally have something to lose. And since I have things to lose, I work hard to make sure that does not happen.
This is the lesson learned that encompasses all of the others in my little spiel. I work hard on all of the other points I outlined here, among many others. I work my ass off during the week to be sure that everything that needs to be paid actually gets paid. I try my best to take care of myself and my support network. And I am continually learning how to improve myself.
For when I improve myself, I am also improving my quality of life. Living my life in the best way I know how has opened doors to untold worlds of happiness for me. For that, I am very thankful.
And for the record, I do balance my checkbook these days.