I wrote the letter below to my IOP group the night before my graduation. I never read it to them. At the end of my “ceremony” I handed each of them the three most common colors of beach glass and hope they all know how important they are to me and have been to my recovery. I continue to attend IOP as a ‘graduate’. I am lucky the program allows me to continue to learn and bond with the friends I made there. I graduated 113 days after my last use date. For a long time the numbers 11 & 3 have great meaning to me and I don’t believe in coincidences…
I have been collecting beach glass from Lake Michigan since I could walk. Now more than ever it has carried me through dark times on this new path. It is not lost on me that most beach glass started off as some sort of different colored booze bottles. These bottles were once perfectly whole but at some point broke and the remains began to wash up along the shoreline. The tiny pieces likely shattered a few times in different storms sometimes leaving only small slivers behind. The colors of the slivers will shine when the light hits them just right. I’ve watched thousands of waves bring pieces in, some stay on the sand only a few seconds and still wet when I pick them up. Others pieces further up the beach are scattered about in dry areas where the waves haven’t reached for who knows how long. Larger pieces likely broke only once, some hit the shore weeks after breaking, their edges still sharp. I will throw the sharp ones back when I’m having a good beach glass day (at least a baggie full). I figure they aren’t quite ready and someone else will find those pieces when they are. The new glass tends to be transparent. I can see through it like stained glass windows that lay broken in the sand. Other pieces washed up may have broke years or decades before and hundreds of tides have sucked those pieces back out before finally bringing them back and reaching the shoreline for good. The old pieces resemble stone, coating it with the grainy silt from the lake; I can only tell it is glass by holding it up to the sky and seeing the sun shine through. I pick up every piece I see, not just the smooth “perfect” ones but every shape, in every condition, all colors and sizes. I love every piece that I am lucky to find and wonder if any are parts from the same bottle.
We are taught addiction does not discriminate and we are not unique. Nearly five months after starting this group, that concept is slowly sinking in. Every one of us has our reasons why we came through the door. Some were forced by the law, others by our therapist, maybe some of our families gave us the ultimatum to get help or get out and a few simply knew they couldn’t do it anymore on their own…the rest of us hopefully caught up to the fact that we can not do it on our own either.
We are addicts, we love to share our war stories. We think we got this far on our own and obviously no one can or will get the crap we have seen or been through. A few things are certain with addiction-other people born with our brutal allergy do get it, and know it way too well. There is no way we got this far in recovery on our own, however the self-destructive behavior that led us here was most likely a solo act. So no, we aren’t totally unique there is a part of our journey that might be but in the end we are all here for the same reason. Some of us have walked in and out of these doors more than once. Even after each failed attempt leaving us feeling dull and defeated we walked back through the door for another try. Somewhere if you look just right there is still some light shining through what appears to be a stone. Others in this group are as many years old as my addiction is. We have sharp edges and will take time to soften, our transparency hasn’t faded, maybe we aren’t quite ready but don’t want to be thrown back. Some will stay, others might get sucked back out and some sadly are lost for good. A few are lucky to not drown after fighting the currents waiting for the tide to bring them back when they’re ready and it’s time. Some of us only have broke once but it hurt enough to seek help. Others, like myself have hit rock bottom more times than I like to count, my rock bottom was hit so many times it shattered me to pieces. I could literally feel my soul being punctured by the tiny slivers of broken down glass. My lungs were fillings with water while I was sinking in the waves of debris polluting my spirit for years. The tides were washing my entire existence in and out before finally being washed in and picked up, I pray this time for good.
On any given day during all four seasons I will find at least one piece of brown, clear and green beach glass. Some days I find more rare colors like teal, dark blues, red, yellow, pinks and purple. The days I find the those colors are slim. Those rare color glass days I used to compare to my good days; so few and far between mostly buried by the common, unexciting and sometimes very depressing brown, clear and green days I had daily. I still have my brown, clear and green days, however sobriety is proving that my colorful days aren’t as rare as it is finding the glass that matches those unique colors.
Friends and family tell me that I am addicted to beach glassing. They do however agree with me that it’s healthier than my other addictions. I put a spin on my beach glassing when I first started out on my recovery journey. I considered the glass my ‘chips’ before I actually earned what seemed impossible-30, 60 and 90 day chips. My daily beach glass coins were personal milestones because for the first time in 20+ years I was collecting beach glass without the company of a beer in one hand and my one hitter in the other. That duo was second nature to me for more years than not of my life. Now my free hands hold my bag in one hand while the other fills it with more glass than I ever could find when using. Finding this broken, imperfect glass was like finding myself. It was my therapy and continues to be. It was giving me hope that I could make it one more day without using. I started to enjoy the deep thoughts swirling in my brain during all my hours of combing the shore. The thoughts were my own and not nearly as dark as they once were when influenced by booze and drugs. To some point this glass even became a stepping-stone, helping me discover my higher power. I’ll be honest I am still searching for what “higher power” means to me but I am certain it is coming together.
I have spent entire days, up to 7-8 hours straight hunting for glass. During those long hours I retraced my steps up and down the beach numerous times. Each step I repeated on the same day brought new pieces of glass that weren’t there even 10 minutes earlier. Maybe this is why the seasoned vets who have years of sobriety have repeated the 12 steps multiple times. They find something new each time a step is taken and retaken. Much like recovery we notice new things around us. Maybe it was always there, maybe not, either way it wasn’t visible until our clouds disappeared. My neck has never been more stiff from spending hours searching the beach. I welcome the pain from looking down because of “beach glass neck” any day over what I only used to know as “deep depression/self-pity neck”.
I used to imagine my parents passing out my collection of glass during my wake or funeral. I was hopeless and had zero faith in myself or anything. In a million years and even just a few months ago I could never imagine I would be handing out beach glass at graduation to the friends I made in our wacky misfit group of coconuts.
I am scared shitless. I find it unbelievable that some in here have confidence in me that I will be able to take what I have learned 6 hours a week for nearly 5 months in this room and cross that over outside of these walls by working the steps.
I don’t want to disappoint anyone, I much rather hurt myself than hurt others. Letting those down closest to me is something I dread because I have done it so many times before. I am learning to care about my own safety, physical and mental health and not be paranoid about what others expect…a wise man has told all of us it’s life or death. Either it be quick or painfully slow one way or the other it will take over and take us forever. This a very true, bold and mindful statement reminding us it’s literally one second, one minute, one hour and one day at a time. I know the stats of being sucked back out and if it happens to me and I’m lucky enough to resurface my life will once again resemble small slivers glass I’ve worked so hard to overcome. My edges will be sharp with the realization of being thrown back to square one and start this healing process from the beginning. One thing is certain, starting again will be even more difficult to over come than my first few attempts of washing away the silt that was blocking my light.
I hope I never get cocky and if I do I hope someone is there to kick my ass back to reality; I hope we all continue to learn from each other and never judge each other on what brought us in and what keeps us here and for how long. I hope we always remember we are not unique, which is comforting and makes me strangely happy. The last 5 months really would’ve sucked if I was unique and couldn’t relate to anyone in here and remain sober on top of that, uft.
So for you, my non-unique, bat-shit crazy friends, I give to you a part of my collection I found this past weekend in the three most common, non-unique colors of glass the waves washed in…brown, clear and green. Let it remind us all whatever addiction wave we rode in on it doesn’t mean squat. It does not matter how fancy the bottle is, every piece glass that made the bottles started from grains of sand. Yes the pages of the our chapters might be different, but we all share the same story binding us forever.