Addiction Recovery – Beware of Jellyfish

WISE FRIEND III

I used to think that there was two ways of doing anything – my way and the wrong way. When I was a kid, if an adult told me how to put something together, I wanted to ignore them and do it my way – and when it broke, I threw a fit because that stupid thing was junk. Nothing much changed as an adult – when I ignored the assembly instructions, did it my way, and it didn’t work out – well that thing was crap, the company sucked, the store sucked and I wanted my money back. If I fixed something my way and it didn’t fit together, I forced that sonofabitch in there and if it broke, well that piece of shit must’ve needed replacement anyway. Before we had GPS Navigation, I never followed a map to find out how to get there. Screw that. I knew the best way to get there and if I got lost, it was because those roads were all messed up, and the urban planner who designed them was an idiot and should be shot.

FINGER

When it came to my alcoholism and addiction, I wasn’t about to listen when someone told me my using was out of control. They didn’t even know. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know what I’d been through, or go what I was going through, so who were they to tell me how to live?! When my life first started to unravel because of my addiction, and I was forced into treatment, I went through the motions, said what the people who were trying to help me wanted to hear, did what they wanted me to do, just to get me out of my family’s spotlight, so I could get back to my ‘normal’ life. When my ‘normal’ life actually did explode into pieces and I really admitted I had a problem and wanted help, I went into recovery again with a better attitude. Or so I thought.

PINK CLOUD II

After a few months of sobriety, I was feeling great about EVERYTHING! Things had never, ever been better! I was working a program & ‘getting honest’, sobriety had helped me get my life together, the obsession to use had been lifted and life was GREAT! I had some sobriety time under my belt but I was tired of listening to these blowhards that had multiple years of sobriety telling me what to do – I had MY WAY of doing things and I was going to SAVE ALL THE ADDICTS! But after awhile, life threw some new hardships in my path and I was caught off guard because I was high on recovery, not paying attention, and stopped listening to the people with experience. Fortunately, I remembered what these experienced people had told me to do when bad things happened, and avoided relapse. I also remembered how they told me to always be prepared for and be on guard against bad things happening in the future. I went back to doing things their way, not mine.

Imagine being on vacation on a tropical beach, where you’re so caught up in the beauty of the scenery, that you don’t see the signs that say “beware of jellyfish”. The wise locals even tell you to be careful walking on the beaches because of the jellyfish, but you’re so high on the moment that you really don’t listen. You’re so mesmerized by the beauty of the ocean, the palm trees, the sun and the sky that you don’t even look down to see what you’re walking on. So you end up stepping on a jellyfish, sick for the rest of your vacation, become depressed, and end up relapsing. Which all could have been avoided if you would have been paying attention and listened to the experienced people.

We want to enjoy our journey and all the beautiful things around us, but we want to always be sure we’re on the right path, what we’re waking on, and to be prepared to deal with bad encounters that are going to happen at some point, so we’re not caught by surprise, and end up lost and in danger. It’s also always good to have a plan to utilize when we’re faced with these bad encounters. We want to live in the moment and enjoy life, not always worrying about bad things that might happen. But it’s still always best to avoid being so caught up in looking at the scenery that we don’t look down and side step the hazards from life in our path, or see other potential ‘triggers’ that might head our way. Most importantly, for us to listen to the right ,experienced people who have already been where we’re going, and who can tell us the best path to take to avoid the jellyfish of life.

JELLYFISH

All Right Then

CRITICISM IV

I hated it when someone disagreed with something I did or said, and I felt resentful when they criticized me. But I exploded into orbit when someone actually disagreed with and criticized MY OPINION, usually hosing that person down with a golden shower of sarcasm. But if they backed it up with logic, facts, figures and a better argument? Well then I felt compelled to respond by providing that person with my speculation on the past and/or present sexual activities of their mother.

CRITICISM MOM SLUT

As children, when we were publicly criticized by a parent, teacher or other adult, we felt humiliated, defeated and shunned from the herd. We wanted to either lash out, or escape to a place where we were safe and free. So a neural pathway, or ‘mind road’ was paved as a negative response to criticism. As adults, we are our own worst critic. We’re usually engulfed in a fog of self-criticism, and when other people criticize us, our minds automatically jump onto that old mind road from childhood and we get that familiar feeling of hurt, humiliation, resentment or anger. So we either defensively respond in fight mode or we want to run and escape in flight mode.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

When someone disagrees with us or criticizes us, we can consider the criticism, learn and grow from it, or leave it alone if we determine it’s just a differing opinion from ours, particularly opinions on politics, religious views or addiction recovery. We can consider that every person is a singular blend of inherited genes, inherent personality traits, childhood experiences and adulthood encounters that are unique to them. We can accept that this gives them very specific values, points of view and things that are important to them and different from what’s important to us.

CRITICISM II

But when we get into recovery, we’re faced with owning our mistakes that have blown up in our face and exploded our lives into pieces. This part of recovery is difficult because we’ve already spent the last few years putting ourselves down, criticizing ourselves for our mistakes and our addiction, or blaming others for it. It’s important to separate the events that were catalysts for our addiction into two categories – (1) those events where we were truly a victim and (2) those events where we could have made better choices. More important is to sidestep the mind road that compels us to negatively respond to criticism, whether it be from someone else, or from ourselves, and/or to run and escape with our drug of choice. Progress is impossible if we’re stuck on the road where we defensively respond to criticism, put ourselves down in defeat for our mistakes, or run. But the growth begins when we actually start to change and approve of ourselves.

CRITICISM

Whatever we do in life, there is probably always going to be someone who wants to disagree with it and/or criticize it. The only way to avoid criticism is to never do anything, say anything or be anything. Criticism is often just someone else’s opinion that we don’t agree with. A true sign of inner peace is simply allowing people to disagree with us, even criticize our opinion, not react to it, and let it float by like scenery on a train. In the end, freedom isn’t being able to do whatever we want – freedom is the absence of ego, resentments and guilt. If people disagree with us, which they are certain to do, it just means that we’re in action, noticed and relevant.

CRITICSM IX

Us Black Sheep

BLACK SHEEP IV

We desperately struggled for self-esteem as kids. It seemed nobody listened to us or took us seriously. We felt like we were considered a disappointment because we didn’t live up to someone else’s expectations, with their constant negative comparison of us to others. Some of us were the “runt of the litter” and brushed aside in favor of siblings who seemed to do everything right, while we seemed to do everything wrong. We often reacted by acting out, in desperation of someone paying attention to us, even if it was negative attention. We started to become the “black sheep” of the family.

BLACK SHEEP V

The low self-esteem we had as children, coupled with a black sheep stigma, became a recipe for disaster as adults. Many of us ended up in relationships with people who continued to keep us down, because that’s what we were accustomed to as children. Our feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and failure grew, picking up baggage of shame heaped on us by others and by life, which started to over-inflate a balloon of sadness and isolation. We found relief with alcohol or drugs, which we were drawn to like sad moths to a black light. Inevitably our substance abuse blossomed into full blown addiction, which just seemed to fulfill the destiny we felt that we were given as children. The crushing weight of addiction got added to the black sheep stigma stamp from childhood and soul-sucking people and events of our adult lives. When our self-esteem sunk to some low critical mass of isolation and despair, we collapsed, crushed under an oppressive blanket of failure and fault. And the balloon of our life exploded.

Death of Pilatre de Rozier, 15 June 1785.

Euphoria from alcohol/drugs is magical instantaneous relief, and the creation of addiction to it goes from 0 to 100 mph overnight. But becoming non-addicted often feels like a slow, physically and mentally excruciating and draining exercise. It takes courage, resolve and strength to overcome it, much greater than normal people possess. A fuel of propulsion for recovery and self-esteem comes from the realization of how strong and courageous we are as recovering alcoholics and addicts. Retracing our steps back into childhood gives knowledge and understanding of what happened, and why we became what we became. All of this provides the necessary armor and ammunition to win the great battles between what we know and what we might feel. Every battle we win gives us increasing strength of character, which strengthens hope and creates or recreates the self-esteem we lost, or never had.

ENDURANCE

Every single person who goes into recovery from substance abuse, gains and maintains sobriety, is truly deserving of self-respect and high self-esteem. To carry a heavy weight from childhood, through the storms of adulthood, swim with it across an ocean of despair from addiction, and stand up on the other side is a miraculous achievement, worthy of high praise and self-love. As far as being the black sheep – consider that every single person out there is a black sheep who went astray – the ones who appear white are those who are good at pretending to appear white, and are content with their life of illusion.

BLACK SHEEP VIII

But as black sheep in recovery, we are the real deal, admitting our mistakes and working to correct them. We have genuine sympathetic and empathetic hearts that truly care about other people. So when we show our true shades of white, it’s authentic and something that’s unique to all of us “black sheep”.

ALCOHOLICS BECOME BETTER II

I Am My Friend

ACCUSED

“You are such an ugly pig – you’re fat, you disgust me and nobody wants you” – how many people would stay with a spouse or partner who said that to them from sunrise to sunset? How about a best friend who said to you, when you’re feeling down, “Nobody likes you and everybody talks shit about you behind your back” – would you keep that friend? What about a boss who always said to you, from the time you started in the morning until you went home, “You are an idiot – you never do anything right!” – would that motivate you to do better? Maybe some of us actually have people like this in our lives. But unless someone is a glutton for punishment, not many people would want to be around anyone who constantly puts them down, humiliates and insults them in every way like this. Yet that’s how many people, particularly those in recovery, tend to treat themselves. It’s always this constant, judgmental voice, always accusing and forever criticizing. We would NEVER treat someone we loved the way we treat ourselves. We would NEVER be that insulting or demanding.

FULL METAL JACKET

When I first got into recovery, my self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect were at zero. I was carrying around 100 pounds of shame on one shoulder, 100 pounds of guilt on the other and another 100 pounds of blame on my back. I would engage in humiliating self-deprecation immediately followed by self-pity and despair. I started in recovery with learning to treat myself in a positive and uplifting way with any situation in life that arose. To encourage myself the way a loving parent would talk to a child who is sad. To counsel and support myself the way I would a best friend who is feeling down and struggling. Doing all this with reactions to my thoughts that were positive and interactive instead of just feeling sorry for myself. This really worked. It started to change my attitude towards myself, and life in general, and rapidly created positive growth.

Beautiful teenager girl worried and a boy comforting her

There is enough pressure and demands put on us by other people, we don’t need to turn around and kick our own ass, especially when we’re down. Life can be enough of a bitch as it is, we don’t need to be a bitch to ourselves. We DO NOT deserve that. It’s easy to learn to be a comfort and a friend to ourselves, because that friend is always going to be with us. We need to be our own best friend – we DO deserve that!

YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND

Future Forward

FUTURE

We had dreams, hopes and visions of our future, what we were going to be, and how the novel or our life would be written. Somewhere we got entangled in the past, our efforts in the present became devoted to untying that knot, and suddenly our vision of the future blurred. The novel of our life seemed to get stuck on the same page.

Let’s say we were in the east and knew that the answer to all our dreams were thousands of miles to the west, but the only way to get there was to walk. It seemed unfair that some people got to drive or fly into their future on an easy ride, but our lot in life was to walk. Somewhere along the line, we ended up in a long tunnel that stretched for miles. We kept trudging along for years. After awhile we looked back, but felt like we were as far away from the end of the tunnel as we were from the beginning. We ended up walking in circles in the middle of the tunnel, making the same mistakes over and over, and screaming with despair.

TUNNEL III

Finally, with help, we decided to turn around and press on, sometimes even crawling. Eventually we made it out of the tunnel, but as we looked towards our destination, we saw it was still a long ways off. The journey out of the tunnel left us feeling exhausted. We still wanted to get to our western destination, but now 10 years had gotten behind us. We continued walking, but we encountered distractions of life as we went along. When we allowed those things to affect us negatively, we found that we would either be walking backward, walking sideways, or walking perpendicular away from our path. In all cases, we ended up spending all this time and energy just to get back to the point where we were when we encountered those distractions and let them negatively affect us in the first place. We found that it was important to always keep pressing on and moving forward at all times, even when distractions came up. After awhile, we looked back and saw that we had walked for thousands of miles, realized just how far we had come, and how many distractions we had fought through to get where we were at.

BEEN THRU ALOT

We became proud of ourselves and got energy to keep moving on. We also realized that we kept getting stronger each time we moved forward through these distractions. As we got stronger, we were able to walk faster, eventually run, and our destination was getting closer and closer. But we also came to understand that there was tremendous enjoyment in the journey itself. We could still keep moving towards our goal, but we could enjoy and embrace the people, places and things we used to call distractions as we kept pressing on, because the events of our lives were only distractions if we allowed them to affect us negatively. If we embraced them with a positive attitude of gratitude, these weren’t distractions, but fuel for the journey and a source of enjoyment in the journey itself. Wherever we were in life, we were needed by someone then and there.

LIFE II

The more we satisfied those needs, the closer we got to where we wanted to be. Because in the end, happiness didn’t just lie in reaching the goal, but also in the journey itself. It never matters at all how old we are or at what point in life we’re at. We can still achieve what we originally set out to do, if our hopes and dreams were realistic. It’s never to late to chase them. The future we wanted is still there waiting for us and getting closer if we’re walking the straight line and embracing life as we go.

 

 

The War Within

WAR WITHIN PIC III

When we were kids, we just wanted to be liked. We just wanted to be accepted. We needed to be included in the group. We felt the need for approval from others and developed a fear of being embarrassed and shunned from the herd. We had the desire to be noticed, but we still wanted to sit in the back of the room because we were afraid of being in the spotlight. We felt the need to be relevant, but we didn’t want to be called on, out of fear of humiliation. Some of us may have originally been made to feel inferior by a narcissistic parent or siblings, cruel teachers or classmates, or some other trauma. We still wanted to be accepted, but because of this trauma, we wanted to push everyone away so we couldn’t be harmed any more. The social anxiety caused by this was very real and was often paralyzing. Equally real was our scars and the toxic stew of internal battles inside our heads that went along with it.

WAR WITHIN PIC

These childhood struggles and social anxiety stayed with us in adulthood. “Cognitive Dissonance” is an internal conflict of beliefs of ideas. Or it can be called the ‘war within’. All of this struggling and chaos in our heads creates it’s own anxiety and adds to whatever other burden of anxiety we may have been saddled with. The greatest prison we put ourselves in is the fear of what other people think of us because we have that innate need to be accepted. The greatest battles we often face are between what we know and what we feel – between what is perceived and what is real. If we feel inferior from childhood or adulthood trauma, we start to believe we are inferior, and then we start to believe that other people think of us as inferior. That makes us want to push everyone away and isolate, but yet we still want to feel accepted and approved of. So we end up in constant conflict with ourselves. We get stuck in the indecision of fight or flight. Then when we feel we’re fighting a losing battle within our minds and elsewhere, we give in to despair and become self-destructive.

WAR WITHIN PIC II

As a child, I was the only one I knew who didn’t have my real parents, since I was abandoned at birth and eventually adopted by a foster family. They had their own mountains of mental illnesses and split their time between physically and mentally abusing me or being dismissive. I didn’t see other kids treated by their parents the way I was, so I already felt different and inferior. I was always at war with myself, because I wanted to be approved of, but I was in constant fear of being further humiliated and/or abandoned. I found I could escape these conflicts and that reality through imagination (reverie) of being somewhere else, someone else or both. These conflicts in my head continued on into adulthood, so did that desire to escape. Once alcohol and drugs entered my life, I had a perfect vehicle for my mind to escape these conflicts and their anxiety. Eventually my self-destructive substance abuse completely destroyed my life. I asked for, and accepted help to obtain and maintain sobriety. However, the war within continued.

The conflict of wanting to isolate or run, but still be accepted, kept going until I sought therapy. I learned to understand what was driving the battles. I gained an understanding of myself, the childhood trauma that originally created these internal conflicts, and how that trauma drove so many of the bad decisions later in life. I learned how to change my mind by resolving these internal conflicts, one at a time, so my mind was in sync with itself instead of at war. I also gained an appreciation of myself for battling through these horrible wars in my head and still functioning in life. Most importantly, I actually learned to like myself, developed an admiration for my resolve and an approval of myself, which was the key. I then used that same knowledge to gain understanding of other people and realized most were also struggling with similar things, being driven by their inherited genes, personality traits they were born with and whatever the events of their childhoods created. Even the born beautiful people struggle with these issues. Everybody and their situations are different, so comparing myself to other people as a means of self-approval was wasting my time and energy. So with the understanding and realization that other people struggled with being liked and accepted as well, I no longer felt my survival depended on the validation of others, since they were just trying to survive as well.

NO IDEA WHATS GOING ON

One small step of understanding at a time, we can resolve these internal conflicts, learn to approve of ourselves, escape from that prison of other people’s opinion of us, and the need for their validation. If we approve of ourselves, we don’t need to obtain the approval of other people any more, nor do we need to escape. We can create a peace within our mind, instead of a war.

LOVE YOURSELF

Leaving The Island Of Addiction

CASTAWAY IMAGE II

In the movie “Castaway”, the main character is the sole survivor of a plane crash and ends up stranded on a deserted island, where he is the only other living thing on the island. He ends up creating a friend out of a volleyball that he names “Wilson”. It takes him over a year, but he finally figures out a way to construct a raft and use the wind and the tide to get him off the island. But as he’s leaving the island, he looks back on the horrible place he’d been stranded on. Rather than joy about leaving, he’s filled with intense sadness. He was going away from the place he had called home for such a long time and he was sad and distraught to leave that life behind. He could have easily given in to his sadness and returned to his island home. But his desire to get the life back, that he had before the plane crash, was greater than his desire to stay in the place he had become attached to. He also ends up losing Wilson, his fake friend, which was devastating to him. Once he was rescued and given his life back, he found that his past life and all the people had changed. But regardless of that, he learned he now had joy in the simple things in his life, like just being able to drive, and having appreciation for the small things he used to take for granted, like just having an ample supply of drinkable water.

When I first attempted sobriety, I was afraid to leave that life and completely close the door to the alcohol and drugs that I called ‘friend’. Somewhere in my mind, I always wanted to keep the escape hatch open for returning to using, so that I wasn’t saying goodbye forever. I kept looking back, which made it impossible for me to completely give it up, so I always ended up relapsing and returning to alcohol and drugs. Once I did finally decide to really say goodbye to my deserted island of alcohol and drugs, sail into sobriety and leave that life behind, I was filled with sadness and emptiness. My alcoholism and addiction had isolated myself from everyone, alcohol/drugs had become my pretend friend, and using had become my home. So there I was, saying goodbye to my drug/alcohol friend, leaving the using that made me feel safe, losing my alcohol/drug support system, and giving up my escape route. It felt like I was losing everything, even though I really had nothing left. I could have given in and returned to my ‘home’ , but the desire to get my life back, that I had before alcoholism and addiction, became greater than the desire to remain on my island of using. I think that was ultimately one of the main catalysts for my recovery. That, and I could no longer stand being stranded and alone on that miserable deserted island hell of alcoholism and addiction. So I was finally willing to put pride aside, ask for and accept rescue. Most importantly, to accept the help that was offered, not just on my terms, in my way and how I felt it should be, but in the way and on the terms of the people who were offering me rescue.

ASKING FOR HELP

Once I reached out for help, allowed myself to be rescued, got sober, and got my life back, I felt that the people in my life had changed. In reality, the people were all still the same, but my outlook on life, and how I viewed everybody in my life, had changed. I found that I now had a deep appreciation for the small things in the present moment, especially vis a vis my life on the deserted island of addiction and alcoholism that I had left behind. There was no longer regret about leaving that life, no agonizing over what I had done in the past, and no worrying about the future. I was just happy for all the things I had in life, not what I wished I would have or could have had, but what I actually did have right now. I now appreciated all the people in my life, happy to just be alive, in the here and now. I set down all the weight of shame, blame, resentments and guilt I had been carrying around, and started walking. I was delighted to be on the solid land of sobriety, with the return of all the possibilities and freedoms I had lost, but which I now had back again.

FREEDOM