I found myself withdrawing from heroin, unemployed, divorced, and laying restlessly in a twin-size bed in the small room I shared with a stranger. This men’s structured-sober-living house wasn’t the lifestyle I was accustomed to living or where I imagined I would be at 28 years old. Unable to sleep, I rolled over and reached for one of the few personal items I had brought to this men’s sober house, a book of translated writings by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius titled Meditations.
One year prior, my wife had asked me to move out of our home. I struggled with my addiction to drugs and alcohol throughout our entire six-year relationship, and by the time she finally asked me to leave I was almost bedridden – not even slightly resembling a healthy man or present husband. She gently framed her request as a temporary break, but I knew that the divorce papers would soon follow.
After leaving with little more than a bag of clothing, I continued to slip further into the grips of my addiction and closer to death. I had moved into my mother’s spare bedroom, a two-hour drive from where I had called home, and isolated myself from reality. My world quickly shrunk down to only include that small bedroom and a phone number for a local, and somewhat reliable, heroin dealer.
For weeks on end, the only time I left that bedroom was to buy drugs. Simply being conscious was excruciating, so I injected myself with enough heroin to merely exist in a state of numbness and indifference to anything outside of my tiny world. At times, I was also indifferent to my seemingly inevitable death, and I came close that outcome more than once. I endured a serious car accident while intoxicated and multiple overdoses, but those things were never enough to stop me.
My path over the following year wouldn’t always be this lonely and sad, but it was rough, and eventually ended again with me in this same state of mind and poor physical condition. Thankfully, with the help of intervention from some people in my life, I found my way into that structured men’s sober house where I would finally start to recover.
What stands in the way becomes the way
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes about one philosophy that stands out to me the most:
“Our actions may be impeded… but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.”
He then concludes with words that would change the course of my life:
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Most people struggling with substance use disorder see their addiction as an obstacle standing in their way, seemingly impossible to overcome. I saw it as something that prevented me from being the person I wanted to be, doing the things I wanted to do and not allowing me to experience health and happiness. For years, I did what many people do when faced with a significant obstacle — nothing. I knew that I wanted to recover, but I was held down by my fears and frustrations. These feelings brought me to a place of isolation, shame, and denial. When I stopped fighting against my addiction, and instead embraced my substance use disorder, I started to see and experience the hidden benefits. This process was simple but not easy.
Allowing the obstacle to defeat itself
Through the writings of stoic philosophers and my experience, I’ve learned that all obstacles have hidden benefits that we can unlock by taking a different approach to them. Instead of being paralyzed, we can lean into our obstacles, accept them completely, and then take appropriate action. In Ryan Holiday’s book, titled “The Obstacle Is The Way,” he expands on this philosophy by Marcus Aurelius. In one section, Ryan says: “Instead of fighting obstacles, find a means of making them defeat themselves.”
After absorbing this philosophy, I decided to take action around it, embracing my addiction instead of doing nothing and avoiding the obstacle in front of me. I wanted to know how I could take my struggles with addiction, that I had forever been ashamed of, and use it against itself and live the life I desired. I decided to not only practice rigorous honesty with myself and those around me, but to open up publicly about my struggle with substance use. I took action, finding ways I could get involved, and I said yes when asked to be featured on a local news story about addiction. This decision opened me up to several more opportunities to get involved with the recovery movement and to continue sharing my story.
Today, I openly share my experience in hopes that I can help someone else. Embracing the weight of my addiction and facing my disease has allowed me to find serenity, turning the most difficult times in my life into the greatest gifts. Today I have fully accepted my addiction and I’m grateful for the experiences and lessons. Recently, I joined the Board of Directors for a non-profit residential treatment program, started working as a Recovery Coach for several police departments, and partnered with a newspaper to launch a recovery themed blog. These are things I could never have previously imagined and that would not be possible without practicing the philosophy found in writing by Marcus Aurelius, and later digested and passed on by Ryan Holiday.
This month marks one year from when I had the words “The Obstacle Is The Way” tattooed on my left arm. It serves as an important personal reminder that all obstacles have hidden lessons and gifts waiting to be discovered. Ryan Holiday said it best:
“What’s on the other side? I’ll tell you. You. You are on the other side of those struggles. A you you realize you only knew a little bit about. You learn you’re capable of more than you know.”
The person I am today would not exist without the obstacles I’ve had to endure – and for that, I’m grateful to have experienced them.
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