I have written before about what it was like at the end of my active addiction and throughout the months when I first stopped using. I suffered from a condition called anhedonia which basically means that I was unable to feel much of anything at all. It can come with post-acute withdrawal syndrome and it’s kind of up in the air as to how long those symptoms can last. I began to feel things slowly, mostly without any fanfare at all, but once in a while the sun would hit my shoulders just right or I would share a fleeting moment of human connection and it would be profound enough to stop me in my tracks for just a second. I didn’t realize it then, but this was the beginning of a change in me. This was one of the first stages of thawing out.
When I approached my nine-month milestone a lot of people told me to expect some turmoil. I am thawing in a new and different way now. The first year is full of transitions and uncertainty and, from what I understand, a lot of learning to live all over again if you ever did indeed know how to in the first place. You’re not supposed to make big decisions in the first year and most old-timers will tell you that for the first five years, you’re just a spiritual infant.
The turmoil did come. Those who came before me were not wrong, but in the nine months I had been clean I had developed some skills that I could put to work and which ultimately kept me safe.
One of the skills I’ve been working on is my capacity for examining the things that exist behind my reactions. It comes easier to me when I experience sadness than it does when I am angry- I think anger is something I’m going to have to dedicate a bit more time to. Instead of reacting immediately and impulsively, I am learning to process and consider things. It’s absolutely a work in progress, and it certainly doesn’t come naturally at all, but I have been told that sooner or later it will. These things take time and patience.
I have also been told that my impatience is working against me in some ways when it comes to recovery. It’s not just that I really really want everything to be perfect, an unattainable goal to be sure, it’s that I’m beating myself up for my mistakes, even still.
I just celebrated ten months without using the substance that had me completely powerless. Ten months, as with all milestones, is a good opportunity for me to reflect on the time that has passed so far, the changes that I have made in my life, and the lessons that I have learned.
A few weeks ago, I was dropping my son off at his morning therapy session. I pulled into a parking spot beside a white convertible mustang. Some 80’s model, I would guess. The dude driving the car took one look at me and moved his vehicle to the back corner of the parking lot. He gave me a weird feeling and I kept my eye on him.
After I dropped Spencer off I noticed a huge, super-jacked Maple Ridge pickup truck roll in. I watched mustang guy buy, prepare, and use cocaine in his car. Then I watched him drive away.
I was flooded with something. It was emotion, this much I knew, but I could not identify which emotions. I knew one thing, though, I wasn’t tempted to use. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
I believe it was only a few days later when I was speaking to someone and I found myself divulging my truth at the time. “To be honest,” I said, “I really don’t know how I feel about addicts in active addiction.”
I know that a lot of people who walk this road end up going into some kind of recovery work after they get some time under them. I know that, as someone who was on a path to a social work degree, I was heading down a path that could easily involve working with addicts. I felt a bit guilty for admitting that, even though I had been one, I wasn’t really comfortable around people living that life anymore. Wasn’t that turning my back on people? I decided to be gentle with myself around this. It didn’t mean that these feelings were forever, so I accepted where I was at that day.
And then something happened.
Coming away from that experience left me feeling differently. It isn’t that I’m uncomfortable with people in active addiction per se. It’s more that I’m uncomfortable with the unpredictability of my own responses to stimuli. It’s that I see things in those people that I dislike in myself. Again, this highlights a way in which my impatience is working against me. It takes nothing at all for me to slip into a spiral of negative self-talk.
That old chestnut.
Ten months ago I didn’t know that my negative self-talk was a separate entity from my stream of consciousness. I really didn’t know they were not the same. Today I am in a place where I can differentiate the two things, which represents major progress for me. It doesn’t mean that I’m able to do anything much about it, but it is a step in the right direction.
And when I’m near people in active addiction I feel powerless by proxy. It launches me back into that place where I was like a skipping record. Every day swearing that I would never do it again, every day getting up and repeating the same disordered behaviour.
Coming out of addiction is a lot like untangling a really bad knot. Even though I am now in a place where I am comfortable not using, I still have plenty of those disordered behaviours to sort through. My disease doesn’t just stop because I’m not using, in fact, it tries to mask itself and bleed into other things. I can overdo just about anything, and if I’m not careful I will absolutely jump back into dopamine-seeking by any means necessary.
If there’s one thing that I try to remember these days, it’s that acceptance is literally the answer to every single moment of unrest I experience. I have struggled with acceptance for so long, and I imagine that struggle will likely be lifelong. It’s important for me to remind myself that accepting things doesn’t mean that we like them, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t move forward and grow. Acceptance is just the best way I have found to regard the hard things as temporary.
And everything truly is.