Set all of this down my friends and you’ll be able to run up that mountain.
Set all of this down my friends and you’ll be able to run up that mountain.
In some cases, the addiction/alcoholism journey started with binge partying that became habitual and ultimately led to physical and mental addiction and chemical dependence. For many (if not most), the substance abuse was spawned by the need to feed the escape from the reality of pain from deep wounds caused by some past trauma. In any case, we couldn’t wait to ride that magic carpet away from reality every day. Social anxiety disappeared, we went from low self-esteem to superhero, boredom evaporated and life became a giant party, or at least an adventure that was happily tolerable. Right up until that giant balloon of substance abuse exploded and burst our lives and everything in them into flames. The spiral staircase that spun downward into the bottomless hell of addiction all started with the irresistible temptation to escape reality through the artificial euphoria created by drinking, swallowing, smoking or snorting something.
During my life of addiction, I had conditioned myself to always being able to disconnect from life through the use of substances. If I was having a bad day, I could make it better and if I was having a good day I could make it great. There was always that escape hatch for me to crawl through when I didn’t want to deal with life anymore. When the general anxiety became too much or spiked because of something bad life through at me, boredom took hold, or depression got a grip on me, or anytime the road got rough in any way, I could always jump back onto that train that took me away from it all. Eventually and predictably, my substance abuse and chemical dependence elevator that was going up, flew through the top floor and ended with me in a coma and not expected to survive. Then that train I was riding derailed and left everything in tatters.
The concept of substituting a different drug for the drug of choice in my life is something I just cannot wrap my mind around – where I have to justify and rationalize it in my mind by saying that “Well, at least I’m not using my original drug of choice anymore.” Haven’t I still just created a new life of illusion, just on a different path? What happens when life throws a new major hardship onto that new path? Do I seriously think I’m not going to start abusing that new drug? What if that new drug isn’t enough to numb me through this new hardship? I’m still on a road paved by the conditioning of chemical dependence that would eventually circle back to my original drug of choice.
The same thing goes for me attempting to just use reduction and moderation of my drug of choice, rationalizing that under the delusion that if I reduced my overall usage, or set amount limits on a given night and stick to that, I have it all under control. Using the previous example – things might go just fine right up until the point where life puts some major hardship my way, or a compilation of many smaller but significant problems all at the exact same time. Am I naïve enough to think I won’t return to abusing my drug of choice to escape these problems? I’ll be swallowed up into that pit of addiction faster than I can drop a glass. And let’s say I choose the path of moderation, and I feel I have all my addictions conquered and under control now – If I really have them under control and I think I’m no longer dependent on drugs or alcohol, then why do I feel like I can’t live a happy life without them? I have yet to hear any coherent answers to that question.
Whichever of these tempting paths I think I might lead me to happiness and contentment, wouldn’t I still just be returning to that same mentality of substance use, as a solution to my problems, being a staple of my life? Wouldn’t I just be reverting back to that same old conditioning of being able to escape reality by drinking swallowing, smoking or snorting ‘euphoria drugs’? Aren’t I still just keeping myself in the prison of chemical dependence to those types of drugs? Both paths would eventually lead me right back into that dark pit.
Everybody’s recovery path is their own business and none of mine, so I’m not criticizing anybody else’s path at all, because I have no right to do so and it’s not my place. I’m only stating my own case for my own path. I’m totally in favor of short term Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT). This isn’t the 1930’s where they strap you to a bed for 30 days until you “dry out”. I also 100% support long term treatment, under dual diagnosis for mental illnesses, using medications for those illnesses deemed safe by the professional medical community for people with substance abuse history.
Wherever I refer to “chemical dependence” and “euphoria drugs”, I’m specifically talking about all substances, whether legal, illegal or prescription, that are considered by the professional medical community highly addictive and particularly dangerous for people with a substance abuse history, because they create an artificial feeling of sedative euphoria and/or alter reality. For my own personal recovery, because I’ve had substance abuse issues, abstinence from all these types of substances is the only logical path for me.
Conquering life’s problems with a clear unaltered head creates quality character, which strengthens my hope and self-esteem. To be able to look life in the eye and say, “give me your best shot”. As opposed to turning tail and running back to the pretend sanctuary of substance use at the first sign of trouble. No – if I flirt with disaster long enough, I’ll eventually return to that bottomless hell of addiction. Thanks, but no thanks. I love my life and I love life, free from the chains of substance abuse and out of that prison of chemical dependence.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 72,000 people died last year from drug overdose and another estimated 88,000 deaths from alcohol consumption. That’s 160,000 people EVERY YEAR, way more than the largest football stadium could hold – that’s over 400 people EVERY DAY, or over 18 people EVERY HOUR and that number is growing. In fact by the time you’ve finished reading this post another person already died.
Changing the method and manner that addiction/alcoholism is being treated seems to gain little traction and the treatment industry just continues to follow an old textbook, dogmatic paradigm, that obviously is falling way short. Then the inane, senseless debate rages on as to whether it’s a disease or not. Plus the view of the general public seems to be, unless it affects them personally, they couldn’t care less – those weak-willed fools chose their poison so let them rot and die from it. Even within the recovery community of those who have personally gone through addiction or alcoholism, it seems once people have a couple years of sobriety under their belts, empathy and desire to help other people recover seems to wear off and replaced by a general “to each his own” apathy. But that’s because it often seems like there is only so much you can do and what else is to be expected when it feels like the world has cast us all aside and shunned as outcasts who just wanted to take the easy way and escape reality.
Only people who have personally gone through the despair of addiction or alcoholism and the hell of withdrawing understand the courage, resolve and strength it took to recover from it. Change can be sparked by rejecting the stigma that forces us to cloak ourselves in the shadows of anonymity. Where else in history has that happened – where a group of people had a stigma stamped on their foreheads, forcing them to congregate with other people who were given that same stigma? Let that one sink in. It’s easy for those labels to stick to us like toxic barnacles, because we’re usually already trying to set down the guilt and shame baggage of our past. Plus, in a world where privacy is paramount, we often feel compelled to either slink around in secrecy or avoid the recovery world altogether, and just be accepted back into the herd. But if we all start to break free from the stigma and boldly wear our recovery courage as a badge of honor, as a collective, loud voice, more people may take notice, start to listen and real change has a chance to happen in the treatment industry and recovery world.
Over 400 people every single day – 18 people every hour – no longer with us, who will never get a chance to experience life, love or friendship. Then there’s all of the people who loved them and will never get to see them again on this earth. If I’m going to ever feel seriously guilty again about anything in this life, it would be if I sat on my hands and did nothing. We all know the despair of addiction, the hell of withdrawal and how horribly difficult it was to obtain sobriety. We can give help and hope to anybody who is struggling with addiction and we can encourage everybody in recovery by boldly showing that addiction and alcoholism is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact recovering from it is a major accomplishment to be extremely proud of. We can be just as courageous in ending the stigma as we were in becoming sober in the first place. Because we can all be extremely grateful that we’re still here and that we didn’t end up a statistic on a CDC chart.
Almost everybody knows someone who meets this definition of Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD). But many of us have past abuse, neglect and humiliation at the hands of someone with an NPD that left us with deep wounds. We then had to become our own cheerleaders, and developed a self-absorption to fill in what was missing or damaged and to counter feelings of unworthiness. Some of us also created a constant need for approval from others to prop up and maintain a fragile sense of self-worth, fractured by our past. We developed our own “necessary narcissism” as a coping mechanism. It also created a war within, because that necessary narcissism was in constant conflict with our natural tendency of empathy towards others.
For many of us, that road of self-absorption led to alcohol or drugs as an escape from this turmoil – to numb the pain and silence that internal voice that told us we’re not good enough. If we were fortunate enough to get on the road to recovery, we were required to engage in significant self-focus and again returned to that necessary narcissism to fix what was wrong. Then once we made repairs, we were feeling good about ourselves for the first time in our lives. It was an intoxicating feeling in and of itself, and it became a need, often dependent on a steady validation by others to keep this newfound self-esteem going, which then kept us in the prison of what other people think of us and stuck in the tar pit trap of that necessary narcissism.
But once we’ve traveled far enough down the road of recovery, we unhitch ourselves from what once was a necessary narcissism. Now we’re just content with the work in progress we are. We disconnect from that need for approval and validation. We compare ourselves only to who we were in the past, and not to others. We can just be ourselves without thinking we are better that anyone else. We hook ourselves up to a new train that heads down the tracks of pure empathy towards others, with contentment and deep appreciation for what we have in the moment, including ourselves.
Most people, in general, have attitudes that fit into the category of “pessimist”, “optimist” or “realist”. Some might consider themselves “idealists” or “opportunists”, but as a whole almost all fall into one of the other three categories and display the attributes of one or more of these three in their lives, sometimes all three. In reality, there may be some merit to all three of these, but none are right (or wrong), just in and of themselves.
Here are very generalized, extreme, metaphorical examples of how pessimists, optimists and realists might view a blind date:
“I just know they’re going to be a dumpster fire or they’re going to hate me. If by some bizarre fluke we both like each other and get married, it’s going to end in divorce and, as usual, my heart will get broken, so why bother going on this date in the first place?” In this example, they would find it difficult to envision love or being loved because they are always living the worst possible future in advance before it even happens. The pessimist prefers to swim in the murky pond of assuming the worst because that way they’re either going to be right or pleasantly surprised. But is it wrong for anyone to prepare themselves for the possibility of bad things so they’re not taken by surprise if they happen?
“It’s going to be love at first sight. We’re going to get married, have 2.5 children, live in a farm house in the country, surrounded by flowers with a white picket fence, and a dog, maybe a cat and a horse too, where nothing bad will ever happen, and we’ll live happily together ever after” In this example they would jump into love head first, but if it went south, they may be unable to cope with it, and crumble like a cracker, because they never took into consideration the possibility that things wouldn’t workout in the Hallmark Channel manner they thought it would. They would be completely unprepared for anything bad happening. But what’s wrong with making positive assumptions and having a bright outlook on the future?
“There’s at best a 50/50 chance we’ll find each other mutually attractive. If we do develop a relationship and get married, there’s less than a 50 percent statistical probability of that marriage surviving. Therefore I should proceed with very guarded optimism in this statistically unlikely and illogical pursuit of love.” In this example, they are so wrapped up in the actual consideration of the exact likelihood of success that they can’t really enjoy the present. Plus they can end up with such a surgical precision approach to everything where things like love can become just a surface feeling without much depth. But doesn’t it make perfect sense to look at things with a realistic view of the possible outcome before pursuing it?
In all three of these examples, everything is being played way forward with little consideration for the reality of the present. By themselves, each of these miss the mark, because only an extreme future is considered, under specific all-or-nothing anticipation, while the present, with all it may have to offer, is overlooked. But if positive elements of each of these are cherry picked and combined, they can provide a healthy view.
“Preparedist” is a word I made up but it accurately describes my approach to life. I blend positive elements from pessimism, optimism and realism with a healthy set of ideals while I look for new opportunities for growth, even in the face of difficulties. I’m a Preparedist. I’m married, so my ‘blind date’ days are luckily in the rear view mirror. Instead I’ll use my cat as an example, for lack of a better one.
His name is B.B. – he’s 8 years old with probably no more than another 8 years at best. When I got him as a kitten, his entire body fit in the palm of my hand. Today he’s a 14 pound bruiser who kicks my ass when I rough house with him (and I have the scars to prove it). He is my pal and was my only friend, at my lowest point of despair, when I was abandoned by everyone who knew me, because of addiction. Now I could lament the fact that he’ll only be around for maybe another 8 years. Or I could just pretend like he’ll live forever. I could also precisely determine exactly how long he is likely to be around and always count the days. But instead, I just have a deep appreciation for him being with me today, and I think how fortunate and grateful I am that I may still have another 8 years with him, especially vis a vis how it would be without him. I also have plans to maybe get another kitten (or two) when he is no longer with me, which will give me new opportunities to form a brand new love for brand new friends. I have a plan of action in the event of bad things, I’m anticipating only good things in the future, and I’m fully enjoying a happy present, deeply rooted in reality. A Preparedist.
We don’t ever want to be overly prepared or prophets of doom about things we have no control over. Nor do we want to be cloud heads floating along, oblivious and unprepared for the possibility of anything bad ever happening. Full attention should always be given to the present and enjoying the moment, in gratitude for where we are and what we have right now, totally engaged in reality. When we’re prepared for and have a plan to deal with the worst, but always positively anticipating and hoping for the best, while fully enjoying and appreciating the present, and on the lookout for new possibilities, we are living life to the fullest and best, all while protecting our well being, as Preparedists.
The AODA groups I speak to are overflowing right now. The relapse assassin seems to be working overtime, picking off recovering alcoholics and addicts, who were overwhelmed by temptation or trauma, shame or blame, guilt or jilt. My doorway was certainly not passed over by the dark angel of relapse during my past recovery. I found that I needed persistent vigilance on my part – I needed ongoing, meaningful mental exercise, so I didn’t became complacent, plump, slow and easy prey for the relapse wolf. I regularly utilize the features of rewind, pause and fast forward in my recovery and allow the three relapse ghosts of past, present and future to walk me through the “carol” of my recovery.
THE GHOST OF RELAPSE PAST
One of the first monsters to conquer in recovery is to stop forever living in the past or reliving the past. It’s counterproductive and self-destructive to be constantly agonizing over past mistakes, failures, bad choices, etc. Those were all just part of our life story that shaped us into becoming who we are today and they don’t really need reliving. However, when it comes to general recovery and especially temptation to use, it can be beneficial use the ‘rewind feature’, and remember back to how we became alcoholics and/or drug addicts in the first place – when physical/mental addiction and the overwhelming desire to escape reality buried our desire to live in it. We can also remember holding that crushing weight of despair as we sunk to our rock bottom. If we had sobriety and caved in to that last relapse, we can remember how we felt ashamed, frustrated and disappointed with ourselves. But all these journeys backward are of good use only if we glimpse at the past and never stare at it because where we are going is way more important than where we’ve been.
THE GHOST OF RELAPSE PRESENT
When faced with a current temptation to use, we can use the ‘pause feature’ to have an “attitude of gratitude” and be grateful for exactly where we are and how we feel today vis a vis swimming in that sea of shame, guilt, frustration and despair of yesterday’s addiction. We can think about how we do matter and are needed by the people in our lives where we are right now, not where we could be or should be if we would have done this or didn’t do that.
We can consider that whatever bad things might be currently happening in our lives, they don’t compare to that rock bottom of our past. We can use the past to give us appreciation for the present, to appreciate ourselves for how much we have been through, and are still standing.
THE GHOST OF RELAPSE YET TO COME
Working recovery isn’t all about just constantly thinking about how to avoid using or perpetually thinking about how to suppress the desire to use, because both just keep the mind revolving around using and are different eggs from the same chicken. It also isn’t about just working recovery while we give the rest of life our partial attention. But when faced with a “trigger”, we can use the ‘fast forward feature’ and play a relapse forward, because we all know from experience exactly how that would play out – we know that if we relapse, it is absolutely guaranteed to make whatever problems there may be today 10 times worse tomorrow. As long as we’re still alive, it’s always possible to dig a deeper rock bottom than the last one, which is what a relapse would likely do.
BLESS US ADDICTS EVERYONE
Our sense of identity, self-worth and self-esteem is not tethered by some umbilical chord to our alcoholism/drug addiction or our recovery from it. We are recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction, but that’s not what defines us and that’s not all we are.
We deserve and are entitled to the same self-respect that everybody else out there has. The past is what made our present, and what we do with our present is what determines our future. But we want to avoid wallowing in the pit of the past or living the future in anticipation before it even happens, which is just disappointment under construction. A healthy connection to the past while keeping ourselves always in the present moment, gives a sense of balance and overall well being going forward into our bright futures, filled with kindness and compassion and it keeps empathy pulling our train through the world of recovery.