On January 1, 1968, Indiana University played in college football’s Rose Bowl. The team they played, the USC Trojans, had a young star tailback by the name of O.J. Simpson. That year, USC defeated my alma mater, and O.J. earned the Rose Bowl Player of The Game title.
Though I was young, I still remember my parents’ excitement as they headed off for the game, and all the festivities surrounding it. Making it to the Rose Bowl was a huge thing for IU. Though something of a college basketball powerhouse through the years, football has never been the school’s strongest suit.
While IU’s chances at fame and glory may have ended at the end of that New Year’s Day game, O.J.’s was just getting started. He went on to have a successful career in the NFL, followed by endorsements, movie roles, and sports broadcasting.
Then it happened. A double homicide. A low-speed chase down an LA freeway in his now infamous white Ford Bronco. A trial. An ill-fitting glove. A nation divided over his guilt or innocence. Finally, an acquittal.
Regardless of the outcome of that trial, life as he knew it was over for O.J. No more accolades. No more jobs acting, or product endorsements. Every achievement from his past was wiped out, as though they never happened.
That promising young player from USC went from super-star to the butt of jokes and the subject of memes.
My point is not to suggest that O.J. deserves our sympathy. Rather, I am reminded of O.J. and his story when I think about my past, and how easily overshadowed it became by drug addiction.
Though I can look back at my life today and see that addiction has always been lurking in the shadows, it didn’t really begin to destroy my life in a public way until a few years ago. I hid it well when my drug of choice was alcohol. Hiding it allowed me to build a strong public image.
I was a faithful husband, good provider, spiritual leader, and successful in my career. My reputation was solid, and I was respected.
When alcohol turned to prescription medicines, and ultimately to methamphetamines, all that changed. That solid reputation turned to dust. It all became public about two years ago. Rumor of my addiction spread quickly among my friends, neighbors, and coworkers, as did all the sordid details of the behaviors that accompanied it.
It seemed that in a heartbeat, that person I had worked a lifetime to become was gone. Suddenly, respect was replaced by disdain. Those were the darkest days of my life. A feeble attempt at suicide was followed by months of desire to end it all. The desire to die became a daily battle, a battle I was ill-equipped to fight.
Thankfully, those dark days did bring hope in my life. It was at that same time, when life seemed so hopeless, that I found the rooms of Narcotics Anonymous. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by recovering addicts who had been where I was and who had found a way out.
They offered me something I thought I would never find again. They offered me compassion.
It took several months for that daily desire for death to pass. I guess it was the love and compassion of others in my life that sustained me through that time. Not only from within the rooms, but also close family members who still believed in me. Most of all, Amanda, who managed to love me through some very dark times.
In time, I finally began to take the program of recovery through NA seriously. Instead of just warming seats in NA meetings, I began working steps, applying what I was learning from them to my life. I began living by spiritual principles. I even began sharing my hope with others.
The compassion others had shown to me had finally taken root in my life. Perhaps the greatest miracle in this process is that I was able to find compassion for myself. I stopped defining myself by the things I had sacrificed to my addiction, and began to see hope for the future.
There are still those events and actions from my active addiction that haunt me. Like all recovering addicts, there is still a price to be paid for my drug abuse. Recovery does not free me from addiction’s consequences.
No, I may not be free of the consequences of my addiction. Even those who love me most may, at times, fear that the changes in my life are only temporary. Shoot, even I fear that at times.
At such times I am learning to show myself compassion, and remember that, just for today, I am not the person I used to be.
The message of Narcotics Anonymous is that an addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live. That new way to live has not come easily for me. Yet with each day that passes, I find that it is increasingly worthy of my efforts.
Have a remarkable day!