A Note: This article discusses addiction, drinking, drug use, and my very own deeply personal, non-professional take on it. I encourage any and all who read this to take it with a grain of salt, and as another person’s perspective on their own experience.
A year and some months ago I gave up alcohol. After 15 years of getting loaded, causing black outs, crippling shame, and a general self-loathing, I’d had enough. There was no grand-finale-rock-bottom moment where I saw the light and knew it was the end. Honestly, my rock bottom wasn’t really a rock bottom at all — not the ones I heard about where you lose everything and end up in the streets. You could say I was a high-functioning mess . I hit my own version of rock bottom many times, but I would always float back up from it. My addiction to drugs and alcohol didn’t spiral downward and downward, it bobbed up and down more like a wave.
This rising and falling motion is what kept my addiction afloat for so long. It also didn’t help I was constantly comparing my use to other people’s. Sure, I felt like shit all of the time, but so did everyone else I hung out with. And sure, I’d say and do harmful things I regretted, even to people I loved, but I’d apologize in the morning and we’d find a way to laugh about it by nightfall. I laughed and laughed and laughed about what a tragic mess I was, until honestly, one day(s) it stopped being funny. Once the laughter fell silent I was able to actually hear myself, how much I was hurting, how this was not a joke — this was my life, my one precious meaningless life that I so desperately wanted to be mine again. I got real with myself, which created space for some big, honest, life-altering questions.
Did I believe my life was a joke?
Did I want to make light of the fact I hated myself?
Did I truly think living an entire lifetime this way (substance abusing) was going to be any less uncomfortable than changing it? The answers didn’t come overnight, but now they had room to surface — and thus began my journey towards recovery.
The thing about recovery is it looks different on everyone. Different situations are going to shake us out of our addictions just as different situations got us into them. We often look to others, a totally natural thing we evolved to do, as a way to gage or compare ourselves; to see if we’re doing it “right”. This happened in my addiction and it happened in my recovery, and it still happens until this day, and in my opinion, it isn’t all too helpful. Recovery is a deeply personal project, and if no one has told you that yet, let me be the first. Recovery, I’ve found, is really the reclamation of trusting one’s self. And this doesn’t mean we don’t need a lot of support and inspiration from other’s who’ve already found their way out the bowels of addiction, we do. What I mean is, what they did isn’t what you have to do, unless of course you apply it and it works for you.
Addiction nor recovery is a one size fits all scenario. What works for some will not work for others and vice versa. This is deeply personal work, and I encourage this to be kept in mind at all times. “This is deeply personal work, and I am figuring it out as I go.” Recovery is not linear. Just like the waves of our addictions we will have waves in our recovery, and this is natural. All of life is but a wave. It’s okay to fall off, and it’s detrimental to get back up no matter how many times it happens. There are varying extremes of people who need help, and yes our lives are at risk, and our lives are always at risk from the mere fact that we are alive and fated to die. Shaming and fearing ourselves into recovery isn’t the way in, love and forgiveness are the language we will want to apply.
I found a mantra that’s been guiding me through most of my recovery: Dedicated Curiosity. Curiosity saved my life. Curiosity opened me back up to myself, and I don’t think I’d be where I am without it. In order to quit just about anything (or change a habit), one must come to the realization that remaining the same is no longer an option. As I said before, there was no monumental moment that forced me into giving up alcohol, rather many smaller moments compacted with time and began to weigh too much on me. I began to wonder what life without booze could look like. It felt terrible at first, but I stayed curious. I stayed open. Even when I closed, even when I drank again or used again, I came back to curiosity.
It’s fascinating (and heartbreaking) the torture we endure to avoid what we think we can’t handle — often times we may not even know that we are avoiding something, or what it is. I’ve found addiction is a symptom (not a cause) of what’s gone unnoticed for far too long. Recovery will gives us the space to sort through all of this, and yes it will take time. Quitting drinking took everything I had in me to quit, and it also wasn’t as hard as I thought. Quitting isn’t just about quitting a substance after all, it’s about giving up who you think you are.
I’m proud to say I no longer identify as an addict today. It doesn’t make sense for me to because I no longer abuse substances. Today I identify as a force of nature, in all my fallible human glory, who believes that anything is possible. And I believe this for you, too.