For seven years, almost to the day, I was a daily rider on the struggle bus. I came to believe that struggling might just be all I was meant to do. I kept digging and digging until the sunshine disappeared and all I could see was dirt and darkness. I deeply yearned for meaning and found none. My every thought was clouded by the obsession to escape, and yet, my attempts to escape just solidified my place in prison. It’s hard, if not impossible to explain the pull of addiction to one who has never experienced it and I often tell those people that not knowing is a blessing. I’m grateful for those who can dabble, or in some cases never use at all, for this emotional hell is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
How can you explain the pull of addiction to someone who has never cried all the way to the hookup? How do you explain telling yourself every day that tomorrow will be different, only to wake up and do it all over again? In part spending your day running from the pain, but eventually really only actively running from yourself. It’s something you can only know through lived experience, and it’s a blessing to not understand.
In the end, it is as impossible to explain as the pain of loving someone in spite of their disease; outsiders will simply never “understand” get it. And in many ways, I’d never want them to.
Scientifically there is no debate on the matter, substance abuse is a mental health crisis, period. For many people, the aforementioned who have no perspective or lived experience, there is often a belief that addiction is a choice. I know what they mean. I know what they’re saying. I know what it looks like to someone on the outside when the addict goes back to the source of the problem over and over again despite the very obvious detriment it is causing. Perhaps it is the only way to reconcile this bizarre behaviour for those in the observation room.
One of my personal struggles existed in the form of something called Euphoric Recall. We spoke about this phenomenon at length in treatment because, like many memories, our recollection of our drug use is clouded and unreliable. I could very easily convince myself that, rather than being the source of many problems, drugs were going to somehow become the solution. At the very least, if they weren’t going to solve them they would at least take my mind off the issues and keep it on the chase. So much of my time was spent on the getting, having and using drugs.
Until something changed.
I distinctly remember my perspective shift, though it seemed to happen in three parts. The first part was delivered to me in the form of a seriousl health scare. I remember thinking that, even if I wasn’t dying it might serve me well to live as though I was. I questioned myself on what I would be doing differently if I was given only a few months to live and then I asked myself what was stopping me from living that way right now.
The second part came to me in numbers, something that has caused me massive amounts of anxiety in my life up until now. I remembered hearing that all of the cells in your body will have regenerated over the course of seven years. Knowing that I had been stuck in a loop for neary exactly that amount of time, I realized that no part of my physical self had experienced the trauma I was emotionally dragging behind me. In that moment, suddenly, I felt a sort of freedom. I guess, in a way, that thought allowed me to let go of all of the hurt I was holding on to.
Addiction is, in its own way, traumatic. Coming out the other side certainly doesn’t leave you unscathed. I mean, throughout the last sixty days I have become reacquainted with the person I used to be, or rather, the person I had buried inside. I have rediscovered my beliefs and, more importantly, my passions and values. I’m also thawing, which means that I have to experience what it is to feel very big feelings without an instant, chemicl escape. I have had moments of joy, but also moments of intense sorrow. I have had to face some of the things I did while I was sick, and some of those things are hurtful, embarrassing and hard to swallow. It poses a challenge on a regular basis to walk the line between being accountable to the people I hurt, myself included, and to forgive myself so that I can move forward. Sometimes it’s so intense I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to stop the tears.
And yet, the tears do dry. My mind finds a way out of the maze of torment and we march on. Every time, showing me that i am strong enough to win the battle. Every day, showing me that there is more to life than hardship and there is more to me than failure.
Recovery seem like a choice. And in some ways, once we have arrived and settled into it, it becomes one. I choose, today, not to take the first step back onto that lonely path of despair and isolation because I know that once I do, I lose that ability to choose for myself. I could be out for hours, weeks, months or days. But looking back, i don’t believe there was a single choice I could have made that would have delievered me to a place of readiness before I made it there on my own. I think things unfolded exactly as they had to, that everything was always in its right place, I just didn’t have the strength I needed yet to get through the pain unassisted.
But I never stopped trying. And then one day it just occurred to me as if by magic, that one day all of this would just be hardship that I went through and ultmately triumphed over. Suddenly I was no longer destined to be no one and achieve nothing. One day I woke up and there I was.
Thank Creator, too, because I missed me.