Updated: Dec 14, 2019
If someone had told me 24 years ago that I was an addict, and that I would spend another 18 years being the crash test dummy for progressive disease, I would have told the insolent sphincter to pull his/her lip over ones’ head and swallow. If that same individual had told me that I would spend another 2 years after falling out of the proverbial closet of denial, inevitably find it impossible to attain 365 days of living without the use of drugs, I may have asked a few probing questions courtesy of hindsight, before giving them a high-five with a stapler against the forehead…
Looking back, apart from concealing a sad reality with tongue-in-the-cheek humour, I was an annual contributor to the estimated 60% of individuals that relapse within the first twelve months of recovery. Astonishing I know, considering the fact that I went to exorbitant, reputable Rehabilitation Centers, continued therapy intermittently to deal with past abuse, trauma, and bereavement, and actually experienced very little “real” life stress reintegrating post-rehab treatment, if I were, to be honest. My attempts at long-term sobriety were the epitome of Einstein’s definition of insanity – “doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results.”
This was my cycle, until a narrow-minded, “N.A. Nazi” (dogmatic, self-proclaimed omnipotent, prick who gives the Life-Changing Recovery Tool called Narcotics Anonymous, a bad name) posing as a Councilor, diagnosed me as a “serial-relapser”, and what the preambles describe loosely as one of the unfortunates. People who are incapable of being honest with themselves… WTF, I was honest in admitting my problem, did not want to continue putting everything in powder form up my nose, and actually did not want to die anymore. Not only did I find the individual offensive and deliberately hurtful, I now had to process the new information of being hopeless, and that I suffer from a disease of which the ends are always the same – jails, institutions and death. Why on earth would I NOT want to go back to drugs after that therapeutic session with the profit of impending doom????
A century ago, alcoholics and addicts were bedevilled, or certifiably insane, according to medical professionals and society at large. With the inception of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 and Narcotics Anonymous in 1953, addiction was defined as a disease from which there is no known cure. An absolute mind-blowing paradox considering that the only requirement for membership was the desire to stop drinking/using. It did, however, offer hope to individuals like myself, and it is currently estimated that more than 44,000,000 people in the Northern Hemisphere alone, are living clean and sober lives by following the N.A. and A.A. Programme.
Addiction has always been such a hot topic, as it includes the gossip pre-requisite of imminent scandal, it is indiscriminate in age, ethnicity, class and social standing, and lastly, it usually has a tragic ending. If you think about it, it gave birth to the term Counter Culture, which is definitely more sophisticated and politically correct than the old cliché, junkies. Substance Abuse has gotten an obscene amount of publicity over the last couple of decades as the “rock and roll” lifestyle brought about the untimely demise of numerous celebrities, and yet another catchy title was brought to light, in the form of the “27 Club.”
The world at large finally took notice of what has become a global epidemic, we will pardon them for taking so long, as tolerance and patience are spiritual principles practised in recovery, pun intended. Substance Abuse Disorder is classified as a neurological disease in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is a chronic disease like hypertension and diabetes, and according to statistics, the relapse rate on addiction is the lowest. We can dispute relapse figures, mortality rates, and rehab success percentages until the end of time, but this is not the purpose of my little synopsis at all. We can discuss the neurological effects of substance abuse, neurobiological evolution and my personal favourite rant of how altruism led to social/peer pressure in order to rationalize something that is simply not possible as of yet. I will never forget the moment I had to explain addiction to my family, it was such a well-rehearsed clinical definition, and it sounded awesome. Then I had to explain it again as a relapsing disease after my first failed attempt at sobriety, which was infinitely harder, and I am not going to share on the third conversation, as by then, I had lost credibility, and my loved ones had lost hope. One thing I can say with a smile on my face, and the truly beautiful part of my family, was that they blamed the Treatment Center, as I was broken, and they did not fix me. In short, return to sender hehe!!
I still do not have the words in my vocabulary to comprehensively describe the true nature, and all-consuming power, of the monster that is an addiction, to an individual that does not have an addictive personality. This is by no means a plight of empathy for the afflicted, it is simply stating that addiction is not a choice, but sobriety is. (Don’t believe me, google it generation Y)
My sincerest apologies for digressing, so thanks to Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams and currently Russell Brand, addiction and recovery have poster children. We were off to a late start, but I believe that a lot of ground has been made in terms of a heightened sense of awareness, treatment options and availability of treatment for all. With a guestimate of one out of ten human beings struggling with some form of dependency, there is still a lot to be done.
And now, finally, after a convoluted round-about, I need to get back to my rant about the serial-relapsing label I received, in a less than magnanimous state of mind. We have established that A.A. and N.A. philosophies/suggestions do work. Much like religion, we need to accept those religious leaders are mere mortals, who are fallible, and there is no reason to become an atheist when a priest makes a boo-boo. (No need to elaborate) The same is applicable for my encounter with someone, who has his own views and approach to recovery. Some of my best friends have been working a Twelve Step program for decades, and they are not only clean & sober, but they are also genuinely happy human beings, most days.
In addition to N.A. / A.A., brilliant minds in the field of medicine, psychiatry, psychology and addiction are working towards diminishing the collateral damage of substance abuse. Dynamic Treatment Centers offer holistic, individualized treatment programs, which promotes treating the individual as a whole, taking into consideration mental, and social factors, not only the symptoms of the disease. (Beware of copy and paste Rehab Facilities, make sure they are accredited and that your loved one receives the treatment advertised)
I never make the same mistake twice, I tend to do it 4-5 times, just to be certain. My personal opinion is that not enough emphasis is on after-care recovery plans. Choosing the right rehab for primary care is paramount, but a topic for another day. We leave the safe environment of a treatment facility invigorated, inspired, hopeful and most importantly with 30 – 90 days of abstinence from mind-altering substances. Behaviour modification is a process, but we are equipped with coping mechanisms and a skillset that should keep us clean. We do our best to follow our 5 pillars, but if you are anything like me, I was not prepared for social anxiety and the bouts of inexplicable depression I experienced. The depression was partially my brain-reward system begging for a burst of dopamine, but thanks to neuroplasticity, it dissipates in due course. I did, however, fall victim to mind-altering experiences, as opposed to substances, which is a subtle way of defining cross-addiction. My last stop was coming full-circle, another relapse on my drug of choice, and sitting in Mr You are Screwed office.
Initially, my motivation for the change was simplistic, I wanted to prove everyone wrong, and I was tired of hospital food hehe. The light-bulb moment was the slogan – “take what you need and leave the rest.” Dogma in the Twelve Step Approach is a matter of perception – “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change”- Wayne Dyer. Merely practising the suggested spiritual principles, makes me a better person on a daily basis. Yes, I may not like everyone’s point of view or even the individual, but statistically, I may dislike one out of every seven people I meet. Yet another revelation, because I can be a major people-pleaser.
Some days are still a 24-hour struggle, but I simply need to remind myself how far I have come, and how much I stand to lose, should I go down the “rabbit-hole”
Believe it, or not, clean living can be fun, and remember where I was the night before, is such an added benefit. I have hobbies, surf every chance I get, and I have friends, the kind of human beings that I aspire to be.
Meetings are not consumed by thoughts of I would rather be chewing glass, and I change them up as often as possible, depending on where I am.
Spiritual principles of service, love, honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, kindness, compassion, gratitude and humility have become the antidote to my addict-mind.
I am not alone and need to remember that when I feel completely disconnected. My support system consists of a sponsor, friends, family and the homeless guy at the local Spar.
Mindfulness and awareness of knowing what I am feeling, while I am feeling it, and why I am feeling it. Most importantly, I do not have to act on how I am feeling anymore.
My happiness is merely when my thoughts, feelings and behaviour are in harmony.
Maintenance therapy when I intermittently get stuck in that dark place, and can’t get out by myself I ASK FOR HELP
Lastly, and probably the most valuable lesson I have learnt, is the ability to laugh at myself. It makes me vulnerable, which makes me authentic, able to accept both the good and the bad.
Nothing in this life is permanent, everything is subject to change, I am being, I am living, not simply existing – FOREVER BECOMING – I have a choice.