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Healing Through Openness

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
7 min read
Healing Through Openness
Photo by JOHN TOWNER / Unsplash

I wrote this post four years ago but didn’t publish it for a variety of reasons. Every word written below remains untouched and unedited all these years later. As I celebrate my fifth anniversary today, I thought it would be a fitting milestone to finally share my initial road to recovery. Sobriety isn’t something I’m ashamed of. In fact, it’s a superpower. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t go on this journey. May this post inspire you to discover the superpowers that are already deep inside of you.

June 5th, 2016

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Exactly one year ago today, I decided to get sober. This was the hardest decision I’ve made in my life. For nearly eighteen years, I relied upon a variety of substances to relieve my anxiety, to take the edge off and to make me feel “normal.” For me, substances were a social lubricant and a mental Novocain. Marijuana was my main vice but I also relied upon alcohol, nicotine and Adderall (prescribed to me by a doctor for ADD).

By the end of high school, my brain was programmed to seek substances. Over the course of the next decade, I became a highly functional, skillful abuser. As an adult, it was easy to hide. Most activities and social interactions revolved around using substances. But eventually, getting high became the first thing I’d think about each morning even when I told myself the night before that I was done.

At first, I was on autopilot. Towards the end, I had become an addict.

My daily dosage was just enough to create a haze but never enough to show a real weakness or interfere with my career or relationships. Again, I was extremely functional. There wasn’t any collateral damage and I didn’t leave any carnage in my wake. There weren’t piles of debt. My career wasn’t in shambles. My wife never threatened to leave me. I had no issues with the law. Quite the opposite. I graduated near the top of my class in college. I built a strong career based on results that I was incredibly proud of. I married an amazing woman with whom I have a solid relationship.

I had created a wonderful life in one of the greatest cities in the world. On the outside, I was happy, healthy, active, and successful. The reality was I was suffering deep down inside. I managed to shelter my problem from everyone but myself. I became an expert at covering up my tracks and keeping my secret buried in my soul. Ultimately, I couldn’t dare to show a chink in my armor.

At this time last year, I was struggling physically and emotionally. Miserable would be an understatement. My immune system couldn’t keep up. I was perpetually sick and sluggish. I had a nagging cough and sinus infection. I couldn’t achieve restful sleep or enter into a dream state. I always had dark circles under my eyes. Worst of all, I developed chronic heartburn and was in constant discomfort anytime I ate or drank. I couldn’t escape the negative emotions that flooded my brain: imposter syndrome, shame, worry, guilt, remorse, and regret. There were many sleepless nights where I’d lay awake in bed for hours and enter into a dark place mentally. I was upset that I had wasted so much time, energy, and money. I was worried that I was harming my body and killing myself. I could feel the addiction inside me progressing and growing stronger. I felt hopeless.

I spent months meditating and trying to come up with a solution. I didn’t want to go into a program. All the online and mobile apps to help those with addiction didn’t appeal to me. I was afraid to approach my wife, family, or friends for help. What would I even say to them? Where would I even start? What would they even think? I was alone and scared. Even though I wasn’t ready to quit, I began to read dozens of articles and books on addiction to understand the disease and impact on society. I even recall reading these books when I was in a daze (read high).

During this time, I also started researching the rehab industry in my day job to understand how this antiquated industry would be disrupted by technology, new treatment modalities, and payment models. Despite my internal struggles, I badly wanted to be the best husband, son, brother, friend, and colleague that I could possibly be. I knew I had so much untapped potential. Then one day, the universe unexpectedly opened a door for me.

As part of my research on the rehab industry, I was introduced to an exceptionally bright and inspirational individual who recently recovered from a battle with opiate addiction. He had been to hell and made it out alive. Thankfully, he got sober after spending three months at one of the top inpatient rehab facilities in the country. He was committed to helping me with my research given the topic was fresh in his mind and he was passionate about the cause. Several days into the project, I began to wonder if he could help me. I could feel the courage and willingness build inside me.

After one of our work sessions, I finally got the strength to pull him aside and admit that I had been struggling for years. I explained my story to him in detail. I finally admitted that I was tired of living a life that revolved around using substances to feel normal. He didn’t judge me. He understood exactly what I was going through. He immediately offered his help. I finally didn’t feel alone.

Exactly this day one year ago, I met this friend for coffee, we attended an AA meeting in the basement of a church and I started “counting days.” There was no more hiding. I began to embrace who I was rather than continue to run from the truth. Free doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. At that moment, I knew I could recover.

Over the next twelve months, I passionately embraced my sobriety and developed a holistic approach to healing myself. In order to change my brain chemistry and improve my overall health, I focused on practices and activities that would strengthen my spirit, mind, and body. The program I developed and adopted was basically “hacked” together based on numerous books, conversations, and activities that appealed to me.

I should add a caveat at this point. I’m sharing all of this because I want to open the dialogue, help others realize that change is possible, and outline what has worked for me. There was plenty of trial and error. I want to point out that my road to recovery is just that, mine. I’m not saying my path will work for everyone that is struggling; but I hope by my sharing, others are inspired to find solutions that work for them.

Now back to my playbook: I have a daily meditation practice. I rely upon daily affirmations to focus and inspire. I practice yoga or workout at least five mornings a week (this helps with my ADD). I get at least seven hours of sleep each night. I attend a few “meetings” each month. I eat lots of fruits, vegetables (and ice cream). I rely on a strong network of sober friends and mentors. I write about what’s on my mind — diving freely into everything from fears and resentments to inspirations and opportunities. I focus on the things I can control rather than obsess about the things I can’t. I work with a therapist who specializes in addiction and trauma. I even joined the board of a company that is helping opiate addicts recover from heroin and painkillers. Finally, I talk openly about my experience with family, friends, and colleagues.

After months of self-reflection, meditation, dedication, and hard work, I’m now a year into my recovery. While my life isn’t perfect and I still have cravings from time to time, it has improved in so many ways. I’m awake and present. I embrace my imperfections. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I now sleep through the night and experience very vivid dreams. I have stronger relationships with my wife, family, friends, and colleagues. I’m rarely sick or under the weather. I’m radically honest with myself and others. I’ve become incredibly grateful and thankful. I’m working towards being less self-centered and more focused on helping others. Most importantly, I discovered that only true happiness and fulfillment come from within. I’m alive and present. I’m finally living the life I always hoped I would.

As I’ve gotten sober, I’ve realized that I’m not alone. Addiction is an epidemic in our society. 10% of the adult population is directly affected and the fallout touches just about everyone. The numbers are staggering — more than 20M Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs. These figures don’t even include those addicted to nicotine, gambling, sex, shopping, and the internet. They likely don’t include people like me who are highly functional but hiding. Remember, these are our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends, and co-workers. More people now die from addiction-related causes than just about any other mortality including car crashes and guns. This is is a public health crisis. Despite all of this, we’re told to stay quiet and remain anonymous. But it’s my new belief that without a voice we are deprived of the opportunity to heal and support each other. If we hide, how can we grow together and embrace who we really are?

Life is hard, messy, and unpredictable. Each of us or people that we love are struggling with something whether it’s an addiction, depression, anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, and / or imposter syndrome. Instead of grandstanding on social media (of which I’m guilty of myself), why not embrace our imperfections? Why not start an internal or external dialogue about what’s really going on in our lives. The impact would be massive. Here’s a big secret: when you speak openly about your challenges it gives others the strength to do the same. I realize it’s frightening but the rewards are boundless. We can start to relate to one another. We can support each other. We can heal each other. That to me is way more powerful and beautiful than pretending everything is perfect.

I’ll close with this….

I thought living a sober life would be impossible. I came up with every excuse for myself. But after nearly two decades of struggling and fighting, I finally surrendered, confronted my demons, opened up, and healed myself.


Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.


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