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Escape plan

May 01 2019
What we lose in the fire we find in the ashes, writes Mat Amp

What we lose in the fire we find in the ashes, writes Mat Amp

There are thousands of platitudes generated by the recovery industry.

  • “I’m not telling you it’s gonna be easy. I’m telling you it’s gonna be worth it.”
  • “The goal isn’t to be sober. The goal is to love yourself so much that you don’t need to drink.”
  • “Change your behaviours and your feelings will follow.”

Despite having roots in the cool religion –  Buddhism, in case you’re wondering  –  this seemingly endless stream of platitudes still manages to come across as meaningless to someone who has truly had to eat shit at the broken edge of our society.

I’m not gonna trot out some tired old wisdom, dressed up as universal truth when, at the end of any day, we’re all very different. We have different stories, different problems and therefore we need different escape plans tailored to our personal experience.

Although my own story heavily features addiction, it’s important that any discussion about recovery takes care not to myopically focus on that one issue. People do that a lot, as if the drugs themselves are the problem. But some people take drugs for fun and have no problem when it comes time to stop. Drugs can exacerbate issues, no doubt, but they are rarely the root of a problem. Understanding this can be a key element when it comes to making your recovery stick. 

Recovery for many people just means reconnecting to society. It might be mental health issues that set people on that road to homelessness and disconnection (see Rob’s story on p10), or it might simply be the result of not being able to pay the rent (see Sarah’s story on p20).

Whatever your story may be, and no matter which path you take to find your way back, recovery offers another chance to start again. You just need to realise that the scars that your carry are bruises rather than tattoos. I mean, I still have bad days but that’s okay, I used to have bad years and I’m pretty sure my history includes a bad decade.

For me, recovery started when I stopped habitually using heroin, but that was just the beginning. I started working with the Pavement magazine which kept me busy. Regular NA meetings stopped me feeling isolated, running got me fit, CBT fixed behavioural issues, yoga got my mind, body and spirit firing together, volunteer work got me a job and my writing …well, here I am writing. Cause and effect. Consequences is no longer a dreaded word for me the way it was when it meant an abscess, another night in police cells, sleeping on the street, another broken relationship and so on.

It seems to me, at least, that there are two big hurdles when it comes to making your way back to mainstream society.

The first one is yourself. You’ve got to believe, on some level at least, that you’re worth it; that you matter enough.

The second thing is probably less straightforward, at least it was for me, and that is convincing yourself that society is worth rejoining.

My advice is not to look at the big picture. It can be overwhelming and there is plenty of stuff out there that isn’t too impressive. Instead take things one step at a time, enjoy the journey rather than the destination and savour the simple things: decent food, new clothes occasionally, washing, running, being creative, learning something new… Gradually things will start to fall into place.

Recovery offers a fresh chance to knit yourself a new coat in whatever colour you choose. Make sure it fits.

My life is far from perfect and I’m still recovering from it all, but I’m so much better than I was a few years ago and right now that’s enough for me.