When I was in treatment we learned about something called Distress Tolerance. It was actually the first module of work that they gave me, I guess it was easy to tell where to start from my entrance survey or the records that my counselors had sent over. Distress tolerance is basically exactly what it sounds like. It centres around how you cope with the unpleasant things that come up in your life. Supposedly, as it turns out, if you consistently shut yourself off after any and all distress, you never learn how to experience it.
Making a change in my life to address my inability to cope with distress had to start out small. It’s possible that it wasn’t even conscious at first, I was moving forward in small doses. When I stopped using it had to become a conscious decision on my part because I could no longer run to synthetic solutions and I had to find a better way. And actually, in the beginning, the success itself was motivation enough to keep moving forward. But things have a way of getting worse before they get better, too, so I guess it’s no surprise to anyone that, eventually, the “pink cloud” of recovery would fade away and the going would get tough.
Growing into someone new is uncomfortable, but I keep telling myself that it is in discomfort that the magic happens. No one gets better by staying comfortable.
Yesterday life hit me right between the eyes. To be fair I was cranky all day, my mental state kind of volatile. Why? Well, I’m tired and still sick. There’s been a cold in this household and I feel like I haven’t had the extra help I usually do have from day to day. I was, in effect, running on empty. Everything was bugging me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but distress was building inside of me and my mindset started slipping into that negative, self-serving kind of place. I was mad at everyone because life’s not fair.
It all came to a head at this one particular moment. It was close to the end of the day and I was well on my way on my descent into madness. Then my phone went off, seemingly randomly, but when I opened it I was hit with a hell of a trigger and everything began to move really fast for me.
I was hit with a craving the likes of which I have not seen or felt since I was deep down in it. It wasn’t a want, nor even a need, but a feeling of compulsion. I don’t know if anyone without this disease could truly understand what it feels like, but I know other addicts know exactly what I mean. My heart started thumping in my ears. I held my head in my hands. I stood, I sat, I wanted to climb out of my skin. I wanted to disappear completely. I longed for the void. The ceremony of the act. It came flooding back like the five and a half months between us didn’t even exist.
And there I was, staring at my demons again. Hurting and frustrated and pissed off. The scheming began.
The pathways I’m carving out for myself when I engage in new behaviours are just that, new. They still require concentration, steady footing, a little bit of bushwhacking. It is no exaggeration when I say that my mind easily and without any resistance slipped back into the familiar responses faster than I could manage. I was, within seconds, transported into my old self. And I hated it.
Recovery is not the same as not doing a thing. Recovery is the active part, where you work your ass off to create a better life. It means slowing down and questioning our reactions to things. It requires effort to choose a different adventure. In recovery you have to have the self-awareness to not give in or let go of the wheel when you start feeling the urge to hit autopilot. I know, without a doubt, that most of my gut reactions are the wrong way to go. I recovery I hold on really tight to what I’ve been taught and I lay out a plan of ACTION.
I put on my shoes. The tears started to fall. I began to walk.
Walking never makes things worse.
And as I knew I probably would, I was drawn to the water’s edge. I took off my shoes and put my toes in the frigid water. I told myself, “you’re okay” over and over again, out loud. The emotions came in like waves over me, so strong at first I could barely withstand them. Then, slower and less intense. The tears stopped. I reached out to people in my life who love and support me, who understand the feelings that I’m having. I reminded myself that I am never alone, and I reached outside of me to find the peace and serenity I had lost touch with.
The moment passed. At times I was sure it never would, but twenty minutes later I felt myself emerging from the weeds and that’s when I knew that I had made it through and I was going to be okay.
Standing here, on the other side of this, I can see all of the ways I worked to protect myself. I can see how the advice of others and the things I’ve learned on my own came together in a beautiful way to create a safety net for me. I did the right things yesterday and the more often I can do that, the better I will become at doing them. And again, I see the success which is encouraging. But it’s important that I reflect upon the reality here, that I am only ever one bad choice away from throwing everything away. And without those ACTION items, I don’t have a hope in hell.