The life I led as an addict was not easy, nor was it enjoyable. Were there good times? Sure, but the bad outweighed them, and by a lot. I need to remember that, and to remember how much it really hurt there at the end, or I’m likely to get back on that merry-go-round, and I’m not sure I’d survive another ride.
I used to look at addicts and think about how simple their lives must be with little else to worry about but drugs, as if junkies didn’t have a care in the world. I’d see them sleeping on benches and in parks, on trains and in gutters, and I’d think about how lucky they were to not have to work, or be anywhere, or be beholden to anyone — like they were just camping or something.
Even as a desperate, somewhat-functional alcoholic years later, I still held the belief that there was something sort of romantic about addiction, something almost cinematic about it. I was glorifying it, and I’d continue to do so even when it had brought me low. I needed it to mean something, I needed it to be okay.
It’s a hard life, and one I’m lucky to have escaped. I didn’t even have to deal with the full junkie experience, having had the luck and capability to lie and spend my way out of the problem for so long. Switching to alcohol and pills was less likely to get me arrested, but it wasn’t any less damaging to my mind or body.
Eventually, predictably, everything came crashing down around me. And yet, somehow, I still manage to have moments where I think I might be happier as an addict or a drunk. I guess it was simpler, in a way, like a wild animal’s life is simpler, or a hostage’s.
Freaking Out is My Natural State
I’m a fairly negative person if I’m not taking care to avoid it. I have a bad habit of finding things to complain about, even when there’s nothing readily available. I’ll keep digging until there’s something, real or imagined, that will ruin my day. I’m not sure why I feel the need to have a problem, but I do.
Perhaps I’m just used to it? Having spent the last few decades abusing drugs and alcohol, I’m no stranger to dangerous or difficult situations, and having an issue to solve does give you a sense of purpose, something to fix.
Maybe I feel that I deserve it? Despite all of the things I’ve lost in my life to addiction — jobs, homes, friends, family — I do still feel that I haven’t yet paid enough to cover my karmic debt. I’ve made amends, and a lot of them, but if I’m being honest there are still a couple of people left on that list that I just haven’t had the courage to face.
Or maybe, probably, the issue is (like many things in recovery) an issue of perspective. It’s an amazing gift to be given another chance at life, but the more distance I’ve put between myself and the struggles I went through as an addict, the more of it I seem to forget.
I suppose “forget” isn’t entirely accurate. I remember how hard early recovery was quite well, but I don’t feel the sting anymore like I used to.
Even today sometimes I still think that, with a little luck, things might have ended differently. That’s a dangerous thought to have, and if I stop to ponder it objectively, also entirely incorrect. I have tried, many times, to manage my addictions. I have failed every time, and the next would be no different.
Acceptance is a Virtue
It took years of work in recovery before I was willing to accept that I’d completely, totally lost control of my addictions and that my life had become, as a result of my best thinking, one hell of a mess.
I accept that now, even if I don’t like it. I had to lead myself away from the kind of magical thinking that told me that wanting something badly enough would make it happen. I was playing God, and I’d get angry when the universe didn’t play along with me.
It’s raining, even if I did have plans to go to the dog park. I don’t like that it’s raining, but I can’t do anything about it. I cannot control myself when it comes to drugs and alcohol, and I can’t do anything about that either.
Regardless of what is happening around me I will always have the prerogative, and the responsibility, of choosing what happens within me. I am the creator of my own reality.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pg. 88)
It also took me a very long time to realize that I am not, now, the person I was. I’ve put thousands of meetings between this version of me and that one, and countless hours of consuming everything I could to learn about myself and my disease. The person I am now would not be so naïve as to think that maybe I could get away with it. I’m not special, as much as that hurt to learn too.
I still have a long way to go, and I’ll never complete this program, despite my fondness for awards, degrees, and certificates. That isn’t what we’re trying to do here, there are no guarantees of permanent and lasting recovery. We’re in the “today” business.
I’m glad recovery offers me a new way to look at my life, and another chance to live it. I was just about ready to throw in the towel on the old one. All of the addictions I’d picked up to ostensibly “help” with my depression and anxiety were just making things worse, and I wasn’t sure a palatable substitute for that murky, muddy existence was possible. But here we are today.
I don’t wake up dope-sick or hungover anymore, so even if I’m not greeting the sun with a smile, at least my days start out as neutral. I don’t have addiction gnawing away at my every moment, I don’t have to worry about getting more, needing more, affording more. No longer do I worry about what I said or did last night, and I don’t have to wonder where those dents came from, or why that lamp’s broken, or how I spent all of that money.
As someone who very much struggles to manage their neuroses, cutting down on the number of things to worry about on a day-to-day basis can really change your life. Keeping my focus on the positive things I’ve gained in recovery, the stuff that makes the life I’ve started to rebuild worth living, gives me the necessary perspective to appreciate it.
Appreciate probably isn’t a strong enough word. Cherish, maybe.
It was clear that I had to stop using or I’d die, but I figured that would just leave me in some sort of limbo, caught between despair and what I used to think were a lot of empty promises and platitudes. I didn’t think there was a solution to that problem, and in a weird way, I liked it that way. It gave me a justification for my errors.
I’m so happy I was wrong. There is a solution to that problem. This program really does work, and its “design for living” is worth pursuing. We just have to work it.