The War on Addiction

tankBreaking any addiction is hard work. There’s always a period when your body and mind fight back, and you doubt your reasoning for quitting in the first place. I think this is where most people fail. They convince themselves they don’t actually want to quit and go back to the safety of their addiction, listening to the signals their body is telling them, instead of rationally examining the reasons they are quitting in the first place.

The number one thing I see (and what I’ve learned the hard way by failing and relapsing into my addictions in the past) is that people are not prepared for what will happen when you quit any addiction. We have the desire to quit, we know we have to quit, and somehow we find ourselves in the same place we were 2 weeks ago. When we first get the desire to quit, we’re finally ready to let go and change. But we expect that same level of desire to continue through the recovery process, and IT WILL NOT. There are going to come many days when everything inside of you is screaming to go back to your addiction, that it’s not worth the pain, you can’t recover, life sucks without it, or a long list of other excuses. THIS IS NORMAL. It doesn’t mean you want to relapse, you’re a bad person, or your situation is hopeless. It simply means you’re an addict – welcome to the club.

People jump into recovery thinking it won’t be hard because they are ready. It’s never easy. If it was there would be very few people addicted. Most people neglect to realize that when they quit whatever substance or behavior they’re addicted to, they immediately wage war on both their mind and body. If you don’t attach yourself to your spiritual self, your soul, whatever you want to call it – you’re fucked. I hate to say it that way, but it’s the truth.

Those thoughts and feelings that made you feel good and excited to change…well you can kiss them goodbye. They’re about ready to turn on you quicker than you can imagine. The same mind will try to trick you anyway possible to go back to your addiction. Your body is about ready to start reacting to not having its “nutrients”, and it’s going to be pissed off about it. If you’re relying on feelings or good intention to carry you through, you’re done before you even start. You have to quit, knowing what your mind and body are going to do to you. You have to know that it is simply a trick designed to lead you right back to your next fix.

And I honestly think a lot of people are surprised by that. The day or moment comes where only 1-5% of the person still wants to quit, and they’re not prepared for it. If you’re prepared for it, you know it’s coming – it’s just your addiction fighting back. If you’re not, you get ambushed and driven right back to where you started. Your thoughts and feelings are temporary, even when they feel like they’re not. WANTING TO DRINK OR USE DOES NOT MEAN YOU’RE GOING TO! But you do have to know deep down at your core that you’re about to be in a war, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to defeat your addiction.


 

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A.A. Step 2 – The Hope for Recovery

believe in miraclesThere’s no point in addressing a problem if you don’t have a solution.  But before you even dive into the solution, there’s a force that drives you there- hope.  Hope is the fuel to the fire of recovery.  The second you lose hope, the solution doesn’t matter anymore because “it’ll never work for me”, “I don’t deserve another chance”, “I’m too sick to get better”, “…but I’m so much worse off than they are”.  In A.A., we derive our hope from Step 2.  “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” (Alcoholics Anonymous).

A Reason to Believe

The beauty of Step 2 is that it pulls us out of our misery, even if only for a second, and makes us ask the question, “Is recovery possible?”.  Some may argue that it sounds too much like magic, that some Power (God) bringing us back from the brink of insanity simply by the work of his power is unbelievable.  But if you’ve ever sat in the depths of hell, battling mental illness or addiction, you know “magic” is the only thing that is going to fix the broken person living inside of you- you’ve tried every other option.

Belief still leaves room for doubt though.  Some people come to the rooms of A.A. without ever believing in God or have a very negative, distorted view of him.  And the best thing about Step 2 is that’s ok.  It doesn’t mean that everything has to be perfect for this “magic” to work either.  All the process requires is to entertain the idea that there could be a loving God who has the ability “to restore us to sanity”.  That’s it.

At this stage in the game, it really doesn’t matter if you believe it with 100% of your heart or 10%.  Obviously, the more belief you have the better, but it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed if you can’t believe it 100% this very second.  We’ve all gone through various hard times in our lives that cause us to doubt God or question his love.  I would argue even more so for those of us with mental illness or addiction issues.  God meets us where we are on our journey.  We have to be open to the idea of his existence, but we’re not in charge of all the work.

The Power of Faith

There is mystery surrounding faith.  Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20-21). Likewise, when you open up your heart, things that were once impossible become possible.  You will find that once you first allow yourself to believe, even if it’s just a small sliver of your heart, it will begin to grow, and God will begin to work in your life.  A time will come when you realize your whole heart now believes, and you’ll be baffled on how it got there.

It is true that you have to have some kind of desire to quit drinking or using to recover, but it doesn’t take much.  Miracles do happen inside the walls of A.A., but you must at least entertain the idea of Step 2 in order to see them happen.  When I got sober, I had just turned 21 years old.  Alcohol was already causing chaos in my life, but I still struggled with the desire to drink.  How am I ever going to quit so young? How am I going to have any kind of a social life without drinking?  I had somewhat of a desire to quit, but still had a part of me that wanted to wait until I was in my late 20s or early 30s to do so.  But I knew I may not get that chance at the rate I was deteriorating.  I really just had to push forward regardless of how I felt, but I was still torn about my decision for the first six months or so.  And one day I found that the desire to drink was no where to be found.  It wasn’t anything I had done.  It was simply the effects of taking Step 2.  God’s grace had been working everyday inside of me and now the hope of recovery was much stronger than my desire to drink.

A New Vision 

One of the most powerful aspects of Step 2 works by taking our focus off ourselves.  We usually don’t spend much thought on the idea of recovery until we’ve tried everything under the sun to control our drinking or using.  You’d think that after years (decades for some of us) failing to recover by our own power, pride would no longer exist.  But pride is one of our strongest character defects, as least it is for me.  Step 2 begins to counteract that pride and lets us know that recovery is possible, but not by our power.  We still have to be open and put in the work that recovery requires, but we can’t change our insides- that’s God’s job.  That admission or discovery shrinks our pride down to a manageable level and gives us the ability to recognize that we’re not in control.  Pride is the greatest enemy of recovery and Step 2 begins the process of battling it.

Great News 

More than anything though, Step 2 should be a source of great news and joy.  Step 1 diagnoses the severity of our condition.  Step 2 tell us that our once fatal illness now has a treatment option.  I think few of us really appreciate this.  If you had terminal cancer, lying on your death bed, and the doctor bursts through the door and announces that they just discovered a treatment option, wouldn’t that completely fill you with gratitude and completely change your perspective?  Why is it any different in recovery?  That hope should propel us forward and give us comfort during the “surgery” that needs to be performed on our bodies and minds to release us from the terminal bonds of addiction.


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Step 1 – Embracing Our Powerlessness

fire“1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.” (Alcoholics Anonymous)

When many of us come to the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous, we seem ready and eager to accept it without too much thought.  Of course I’m ready to quit, I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.  Unmanageable…my life is so out of control I don’t even know where to start.  So we accept it and move on without another thought, some of us defeated before we even get started.
When I first got sober in July of 2007 at 20 years old, I had no problems with this step.  It was clear to me that I had a problem, and my life wasn’t going to get any better until I quit drinking.  But I didn’t grasp the step at its core.  I was fine with or at least accepted the fact that I couldn’t drink.  I thought of this alcoholism thing as some external force that I was battling and all I had to do was make sure I didn’t take a drink.  The problem was I didn’t want a new me.  I wanted the old me, just a sober one.

Things started off fine. I had a gut full of motivation to kick this habit and move on with me life.  But soon problems started showing up.  I was living the same life as I was before, hanging around with the same people, and going to the same places.  Before long the motivation wore off and was replaced with self-pity, anger, and loathing.  As you can guess, it wasn’t long before I felt like I deserved a drink and was beaten down once again.

When I got back into recovery in late October of 2007,  I had a new perspective on things.  I didn’t like embracing sobriety anymore than I did the first time, but I respected it.  Once you challenge the same person over and over and get defeated time and time again, you finally accept your enemy’s power.  Admitting that you are powerless, doesn’t mean you have a hard time resisting an urge.  YOU ARE POWERLESS OVER IT.  You will fail time and time again because you are not capable of resisting it.  Until you grasp this concept, it is going to be hard to remain sober.

Powerlessness goes beyond just the temptation of alcohol.  Powerlessness is embracing the fact that you are an alcoholic, addict, etc.  Part of that is admitting that most of the time you can’t trust your own impulses, even if they seem harmless.  I believe that it is necessary for us to leave our old lives behind and completely start over.  That doesn’t mean that your personality or things about you don’t remain, but you must tear down your old self and build it back up again.  If your house was in a bad fire, the builders would completely bulldoze the house and build it from scratch.  Imagine just repairing walls and floors that are burnt and a roof that looks like it could cave in at any moment.  That would be stupid right?  Then why do so many of us not have a problem with trying to rebuild our lives living in the same environments, thinking the same thoughts, and hanging out with the same people that burnt “our house” down to begin with?

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt 7:24)  Regardless of whether he is your higher power or not, I think you can grasp the power of his words.  Recovery and your old life are masters.  You can’t serve both of them at the same time.  You may be able to for a period of months or even years, but at some point one has to go.  Anyone who’s tried to live both knows the frustration and anger that it causes.  I’m not going to put myself in that situation because I know there’s a good chance I’m going to choose the wrong master.  Part of being alcoholic is knowing we don’t have the ability to chose and that is ok.  You don’t have to like it, but putting yourself in the same places to make the same bad choices time and time again is insane.

Step 1 is not just an admission that you have a problem with something in your life.  A problem is something that can be fixed like a hole in the wall or a door that sticks.  Powerlessness means that the whole house needs to come down because it’s not safe to salvage.  Step 1 is an invitation to rebuild that house and until you stop trying to pick through the ashes of your past, it’s only a matter of time before your house collapses in on you.


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Thinking About and Helping Others

My moods are like anyone else’s.  They come and go, sometimes without any real reason.  The past few days I’ve had a hard time accepting all that addiction and mental illness has taken from me.  Essentially all of my 20s have been spent battling addiction or anxiety.   I have a tenancy to catastrophize my situation by thinking I’m so much worse off than anyone else or that everyone else is so much happier than I am.  I tell myself, “If only I had this…if only I could change that.” But the reality is that happiness begins inside of you and is not dependent on outside circumstances.

The recent, tragic loss of Robin Williams only goes to show us that even many celebrities who “have it all” are still lonely and unhappy.  No matter how many times I tried telling myself to snap out of it and stop thinking negatively, nothing ever worked until today.  I was reading through Alcoholics Anonymous  and read a passage that I’ve probably read a hundred times, but for some reason it struck me today.  “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.”   That was the secret I needed.  I get the most anxious, the most agitated, and the most unhappy about my life when I stop thinking of others and only focus on me.  When I get obsessed with how I’m feeling, what my wants are, and what I deserve out of life, I can only go downhill from there.  It is nearly impossible to be grateful when you are only thinking about yourself.  As long as I depend on my myself for my satisfaction and happiness, I will constantly be left unfulfilled.  If I depend on material things or even people for my happiness, at any time my happiness can be taken away.  It is only when I depend on the consistent source of love from God that I can feel comfortable in my own skin and can reach out to others and help improve their lives.  This, the Big Book says, is our ultimate purpose and the only way that we will remain sober.

How much of my energy is focused on myself? 

How often am I thinking of others and helping them to meet their needs?

Reflecting On The Journey

With all positive change comes great adversity.  All too often, adversity stops us short of ever seeing the positive change that only happens by pushing through difficult times.  Even when positive changes are transforming our lives, we are so focused on the discomfort that we are unable to see them.  We reluctantly look forward, overwhelmed with how much farther we still have to go and never glance behind us and see just how far we’ve come.  

In the present moment, it is impossible to reflect on the person we were in the past with any sense of accuracy.  We think we haven’t changed, all the work we’re putting in isn’t making a difference, or we wonder if things have actually gotten worse.  The people around us typically notice the changes in our character before we do.  Part of our problem is the assumption that change is supposed to be easy.  Change is always going to be difficult.  We love what feels familiar and comfortable; change means inviting the unfamiliar into your daily life.  If you’re comfortable during change, you’re probably not making much progress. 

It’s important to not dwell on the past, but sometimes it’s necessary in order to realize that you’re a different person than you were a week, month, or year ago.  When your journey gets tough, try not to focus on how many more miles you’ve got to go, but how many miles you’re come.  And you’ll discover that miracles are unfolding all around you.  

Sobriety – The Promise Of A New Dawn

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When I first got sober, I had many misconceptions about what sobriety meant.  I told myself that once I got sober I would be happy, life would get easier, my problems would get better, etc.  In a nutshell, I thought that when I quit drinking I would be a completely different person and could start over.  Boy was I wrong.  Some of the things I hoped for did come true, but sobriety isn’t about escaping who you are.  Drunk or not, you’ve still got the same character defects.  They may not be exacerbated quite as much, but they’re still there.

In a way, life without drinking can actually be worse than life with drinking.  Let’s face it.  Being fucked up and feeling shitty sure feels better than being sober and feeling shitty.  But before you start thinking that I’m saying there’s no point in getting sober, let me tell you about the gift that sobriety holds- hope.  Yes, simple hope.  For me, that is the major difference between the two lives.  At any point when I was drinking, I would go to sleep knowing that tomorrow was going to be worse than today.  There was no doubt about it.  I would constantly keep trying to run from my troubles as they kept piling up deeper and deeper around me.  The best I knew I was ever going to feel was the moment before I went to sleep at night because it was guaranteed that waking up tomorrow was going to suck.  

In sobriety, it’s quite the opposite.  The one thing I love about being sober is that no matter what happens, life will be better once you wake up as long as you don’t drink.  I can have the worst day of my life, but still have hope that tomorrow I will have the opportunity to try again and that things won’t look so bleak.  Sobriety may not promise happiness right away or immunity to life’s pain, but it does offer the promise of a new dawn.  And that’s more than drinking ever gave me.

Just For Today

Sometimes recovery is one day at a time.

Sometimes it’s one hour at a time.

And sometimes, in the darkest depths of addiction, it’s one minute at a time.

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Most people have heard the phrase “one day at at a time” before, but few actually incorporate it into their daily lives, shrugging it off as just positive pep-talk.  But they are much more than that; they are the life-force as we push through the bleakness of our daily struggle.

I have never had a problem summoning the desire to quit any addiction I’ve ever had.  I am fine quitting for a day, week, or even a month, but at some point the struggle becomes too much for me to bear.  I lose hope and fall right back into the vicious cycle of addiction and self-loathing.

Think back to any moment when you’ve fallen after committing yourself to something, whether that be quitting an addiction, losing weight, or working out.  More often than not, it isn’t a lack of desire that causes failure, but lack of hope.  The minute I quit believing in a cause and feel that failure is inevitable, I quit.  I see the pain that I am feeling in a moment as something that will extend infinitely into the future and am fully convinced that three weeks from now I will still be feeling the same way.  With no hope of things getting better in the long-term, I would rather quit now and save myself three weeks of pain.

What “one day at a time” gives us is a reminder to be committed just for today.  It keeps hope alive by giving us a manageable goal, instead of one that’s too big for us to grasp.  Most people can handle short-term pain; it’s long-term pain that gets us thinking negatively and destroys our desire for recovery.  One step at time, one day at a time, we will wake astonished that we’ve climbed a mountain that we never would have attempted if we’d been aware of its height at the beginning of our journey.

Commit yourself to not giving in to temptation just for today.  Sleep.  Wake.  Repeat.

What Harry Potter Can Teach Us About Addiction

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For the past three weeks, my mind and I have been at each other’s throats, and I’m quite sure I’m going to have to fucking kill it before it’s all said and done…Three weeks ago I quit my love affair with nicotine, and it’s been one hell of a ride.  Not only do you feel like shit physically, but there’s a constant battle raging in your head trying to keep (or regain) control of your mind.  The one thing that I have learned over battling multiple addictions is that before you quit any substance, you have to recognize that your mind is not “you”.  During the process of withdrawal, there is a definitive break between the spiritual “you” and the physical / mental “you”.  It’s a hard and lofty concept to understand.  Most people don’t which is one of the reasons they can’t break through their addiction.  I believe it’s vital to recovery and ultimately success in general.

Whether you are religious or not, there is no denying that if you don’t have a concept of a “God” or some type of higher realm of being, that the odds are stacked against you even higher than other addicts.  That doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible; it just makes things much more difficult.  It doesn’t really matter what you believe in, as long as it’s something other than yourself.  Anyone that has ever gone through the withdrawal process knows that it rips you to pieces.  It stretches you in more directions than you should mentally be able to stretch.  What’s left of you is only a fragment of the person you were before you quit whatever you were addicted to.  In a way it feels that you are actually wrestling with a demon for possession of your mind, shifting back and forth from good to evil multiple times a day, trying to not let it steal your soul.  Scary shit, right?  Well yeah, but there’s no other way to describe it.  Every time I see the ending of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it makes me think of addiction.  Harry has been wrestling with his past all throughout the movie, afraid that because he has a connection to Lord Voldemort, he will become evil just like him.  After Voldemort realizes he is going to be unable to defeat Dumbledore, he goes after Harry’s mind.  Harry is suddenly battling for control over his mind, trying to keep evil from overtaking him.  Ultimately, love wins out, and Harry is able to not listen to the voices of hate in his head.  This is a perfect portrayal of addiction.

In order for Harry to defeat and remove Voldemort from his mind, he does not reach into his mind.  He reaches into his heart and spirit.  He disconnects himself from the physical and retreats into the spiritual realm where he can’t be controlled.  I believe this is the best way to handle addiction.  Many people are not aware of what is about to take place when they stop a substance they are addicted to.  You are about to be beaten into submission and forced on your knees.  You can try to battle addiction head-to-head, but don’t expect to come out sober.  If you can do it, more power to you.  But I know I (and most people) can’t. I have to have something more than human nature to defeat human nature.  Harry doesn’t try to overpower Voldemort.  He knows there is no way he can.  Volemort is just too powerful for him.  Instead, he fights him with something that he doesn’t have and that is a soul.  Addiction is a powerful beast, but just like Voldemort, it doesn’t have a soul.

All too often, we start off with good intentions.  I’m going to kick this habit, lose weight, advance my career, etc. but somewhere we lose our way and go right back to where we were.  I believe a lot of this is caused by being attached to our mind.  We believe that our mind is “us”, that the thoughts going through our heads are actually what we feel and believe.  Most of the time that is true, but when we face adversity or hardships, sometimes it isn’t.  At some point, the mind attaches itself to the body.  You start off wanting nothing more than to be free from addiction.  Withdrawal kicks in and you are able to hold out for a certain amount of time.  Suddenly, something changes inside you.  It’s too hard.  Why the hell am I doing this anyways?  This is just making me even more miserable than before. At least when I was using I was happy.  I can’t, stop trying to believe you can. Yes, your mind turns against you.  At this point, most people listen to those thoughts and assume that is how they actually feel.  Their mind is “them”, so they listen to it.  Then, they spend their days wondering why they can’t get sober.  This is where the spiritual comes in.  Recognize that the mind can only take you so far.  At some point it is going to turn into your enemy and fight against you.  At that point, you need a reservoir of power that the mind can’t touch to keep you moving forward.

This has been an extremely hard concept for me to understand, and I still have had to keep reminding myself it everyday the last few weeks when I’ve wanted nicotine bad. It also kept me drunk for a long time.  I continued to tell myself that if my mind wasn’t on board, than I couldn’t be.  If you are waiting for your mind to comply with “you” all the time, you’re going to die waiting.  It’s a scary thing to accept, but ultimately you are not in complete control of your mind all the time.  You can’t think yourself out of addiction, you must act.  Your frame of mind is very important, but let’s face it…you’re going to have some fucked up days.  You can try to stay positive as much as possible, but the addict mind is never consistent.  Sometimes 95% of you wants sobriety; sometimes it drops below 5%.  I don’t care how dedicated you are, if you have an addict mind, there are going to be days when you wake up pissed off and thinking “fuck the world”.  In that moment, if you believe that your mind is “you”, it’s not going to take much convincing to give up.

Am I An Addict?

Chances are, if you have to ask whether you have an addiction problem, you probably do.  The majority of “normal” people don’t sit around analyzing and questioning their behaviors, trying to figure out whether their problem is outside of what’s considered “normal”.  As addicts, we begin justifying these insane behaviors to trick ourselves into believing that we still have our shit under control.

  • Well yeah I got pretty fucked up Friday night, but wasn’t planning on drinking on Saturday until I found out about that party that only happens like once a year.  
  • Sure, I ate the whole box of donuts on the counter, but there’s nothing else to eat in the house. What am I suppose to do? Starve? That doesn’t mean I have an eating problem.  
  • I had a really bad week otherwise I wouldn’t have done that. It was a one time thing. 

The reality is non-addicts don’t even think about these things at all.  The reason we do is because there is some level of guilt within our being that is trying to let us know that something isn’t right.  It is the beginning of recovery, but far from being the end of it.  It is only of importance to us when we are ready to honestly look at our life and stop making bullshit excuses for our behaviors.  The only thing that happens when you find out whether you are an addict or not is that you get a name to the problem.  That’s it.  So don’t expect some radical change to occur once you find out “what you are”.  In order for there to be a solution, there has to be a problem.  In that respect, you step onto the road of recovery once you find out that you are an addict.  But if you would have asked me at 17 if I was an alcoholic, I probably would have told you yes and may even have been proud of it.  I would brag about how I could drink you under the table and say everyone else my age is doing it too, so get off my back.  See I may have known what I was, but I wasn’t ready to acknowledge it down to my core.  I hadn’t yet looked at myself in the mirror and been disgusted at who I’d become.  It’s in moments like that, that there is no doubt..we are what we are.  There is no second guessing when your life is a twisted mess and every piece of it bears the marks of addiction. 

Until we stop blaming our situation, our circumstances, and our past, what we are really doesn’t matter.  I am not trying to say that the blame is totally on our shoulders.  There’s a whole lot to addiction that is beyond our control. But what is under our control is the decision to change.  People seem to put a lot of weight into finding out if they have a problem, but very little into the solution.  Typically if they are still not ready to change, it doesn’t matter.  We get this notion that by finding out that we’re addicts the problem is just going to go away.  I guess it gives us an explanation for our behavior, but that’s about it.  It’s like someone finding out that the big piece of metal sitting in their driveway is called a “car”, but not having the keys or any gas.  You may find out you’re an addict, but unless you’re ready to go get the keys and fill up the tank, you’re going to be still sitting in your own shit, standing still.