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"Five Years" by Robert Wilson

On April 7, I celebrated 5 years clean. It was one of those quite milestones; I didn't feel like shouting it out because thinking about it made the whole concept of recovery seem fragile. Talking about it reminds me that it wasn’t me, but the work of my Higher Power. It was something I surrendered to and a series of good choices. I didn’t pick up a five year chip; I don’t have much faith in good luck charms. Really, my five year anniversary of sobriety was just another day.

In 12 step meetings, when you claim your chip someone will usually ask, “How'd you do it?” I don't know how I've lasted this long. So many people I look up to didn't make it. Almost every day I run into someone who is walking the walk. It reassures me that the world is filled with people who are trying to do the right thing. I'll never ask for more than that.

Chance encounters are not so random. The people I spend time with can be found in places like meetings, at school between classes, or museums and sober events. Maybe one reason I lasted this long is the time I spent in places like that. I got a surprise from an old friend I haven't seen in a while as he rode by on a new motorcycle. He didn't completely stop but stuck out his hand, a motorcycle high-five is no joke.

I'm grateful for whatever it was that made me hold on. Sometimes I wonder how much life can hit me with. But life has always been full of problems and disappointments. I was just good at numbing the pain that I'm dealing with now.  I numbed myself to the good things in life as well.  I avoided challenges and now I look for them. I understand that it isn’t important to feel good all the time. 

The fear of pain is worse than the pain itself. That's the kind of thinking that gets me through visits to the dentist, hard days at work and tough exams. Though I'm still struggling with things I thought I'd master by now—like asking for help when I need it—I'm doing those things. Often, recovery feels like accidental. I feel like it's dangerous to think about it too much. I read a scientific study on Abstinence Violation Effect*, which can turn a slip into a relapse, so I try to focus on my new life—which has nothing to do with using. But addiction is always there, and I'm committed to helping others suffering from it.

I still have bad days, but they don't feel authentic. I don't assume I'm doomed anymore when things don't go my way. Most of all, I have started being very careful what I say to myself. I have a little faith in myself and hope for the future. It's easy to manage if I can stop feeling sorry for myself. The trick is to catch myself doing it. That shift from salty to grateful turns my entire perspective around. It's impossible to feel bitter and grateful at the same time.

*MARLATT, ALAN; CARNEY, MOLLY; OHLENROTH, PATRICIA. "Abstinence Violation Effect (AVE)." Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol, and Addictive Behavior. 2001. 4 Jun. 2016 <>.


Robert Wilson is a short story author, novelist and award-winning poet from Albuquerque. His publication credits include contributions to the book, “Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” published by the Harvard Educational Review, and As/Us literary journal’s Decolonial Love issue. He is the author of the “Black Light District” series of postmodern crime novels. Having received his high school diploma while incarcerated in 2013, he is dedicated to bringing writing workshops into correctional facilities, volunteering for UNM Writers in the Community, JustWrite, and the Gordon Bernell Charter School.

You can visit him at:

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