For those that suffer from addiction and behavioral disorders, the concept of recovery can be hard to visualise. What does it look like to be free? How can someone make that decision to seek help when they are in the grips of addiction? What will happen once they have taken that first step?
Obviously, this will look completely different for each person that goes through recovery. In his own words, Mark shares the details of his ongoing recovery.
Four years ago, for the fourth time that year, I was in an acute Mental Health Ward as I was deemed to be a risk to myself. I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. I could not cope with my hurt, pain, and hopelessness. With no way out, no light at the end of the tunnel, I had thrown away everything good that had ever happened to me. It made perfect sense at the time, a world without Mark would undoubtedly be a better place.
My alcoholism had by now defined me. It guided every aspect of my life. It was the only solution to anything and I hated it. But I needed it and it led me into the darkness – all alone just me and it.
Four years ago, I also made the decision to fight back. I don’t know where it came from but it was something I knew I had to do.
Journey to recovery and freedom
I can’t really remember how it all happened but on February 15th 2014 I entered into treatment here at Gladstones Clinic and surrendered. Surrendered is exactly how it was: I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
For me that first day in treatment was a revelation. The relief that swept over me was like a great big hug. I was not alone anymore; there were others like me and I could actually talk about how I felt, or at least start thinking about how I felt. The shame, guilt and self-pity were still there but I was able to question them safely, without prejudice and make some sort of sense of it all.
Treatment is hard, by far the hardest thing I have done in my life. Maintaining my sobriety is no walk in the park. There is no generic way to describe what rehab is like. We all have preconceived ideas of what it looks like and the people there. Forget these. It is a place where discrimination does not exist – a complete leveler. The commonality is found in the addiction and behaviours. It is a place to look for the similarities not the differences amongst your peers.
Learning to like, and eventually love myself was especially difficult. I perceived myself as such a bad person that I had to be un-loveable. I still discounted compliments, shunned help, took even constructive criticism hard and ran away from things I did not want to hear or do.
A strange thing happened to me fairly early on in my recovery. I was invited to a school re-union, not my first but certainly my first sober one. These people I had hung out with 35-40 years ago were telling me stories about how they admired and looked up to me. I was floored. I had no idea. Surely, they had mistaken me for someone else?
Since that day, this has happened to me on multiple occasions – from old work colleagues, friends old and new, and many people I interact with now. I struggled to reconcile myself as that good person but began to let the goodness in me become recognisable. The foundations were being laid for me to start liking myself.
A ‘new’ man
Four years on and there is a new Mark, not in the sense of bright and shiny and unused, but one who can live life on life’s terms, learn from experiences, be open to being challenged and experience a life which is frankly beautiful. Life as it should be. Most importantly I now have a choice whether or not to drink again and, for today, I choose not to.
Of-course, I have regrets and “if only” moments. This can lead to distorted thinking. I have to be very vigilant against the addict in me who pops up on my shoulder every now and then and says: “Go on, have a drink. Remember the good times. Just the one, it’s cool. You deserve it”.
Or the real clincher: “I can make you feel better”. For those fighting addiction, either actively or in recovery, this will be familiar territory. For those who love and care for addicts it is an unfathomable thought process – why on earth would someone choose to self-destruct and in such a tortuous way?
I look forward to the New Year now. It is a time for reflection and gratitude for what I have as opposed to what I don’t have. Despite the daily doom and gloom spouted day and night, there is a life out there for those who choose to embrace it, addict or not.
The transformation from black and white world to a colour one for me has been a blessing. Look around you, there is beauty everywhere. To connect with other people emotionally is something I had not experienced since childhood and is truly wonderful. To discover that lyrics in songs have meaning and often tell a story is a revelation.
Some of my old irrational self-belief systems still follow me around and pop-up from time to time. I have a drawer full of clothes collected over the last few years that don’t fit me. They’re brand new with the labels still attached. I just couldn’t face the ordeal or conflict when returning them. Inside I know that there would be no conflict and ‘normal’ people do this all the time. I have on occasion been known to eat a meal in a restaurant that is nearly stone cold and, when asked by the server if everything was OK, smiled through gritted teeth and managed to say: “fantastic, thank you”. Inevitably, I end up making matters worse by spending the next few hours beating myself up for not doing or saying something at the time.
Writing this now it seems like madness, but I am changing. I want to change, I want to challenge myself. So, I’m off to empty my drawer and donate those clothes to charity. They will no longer taunt me and I will not repeat the exercise. Food cold in the future – I’m on it!
And you know what? When you make these little changes, the bigger challenges in life become much easier. The mountain to climb becomes a speed bump in life, a pause to gather thoughts. Slow down and rationalise. You’ll find yourself sleeping better, laughing more, feeling less anxious and be more content with yourself. These are all positive things that my addiction does not like.
Now, four years after I was deemed to be a risk to myself, I no longer feel this way. I am happy, I look forward rather than backwards, and I quite like actually being me. However, as you can see, my use of the word “quite” means I’ve just hit another speed bump for negotiation.
If you need help and want to find out how we can help you please contact Gladstones Clinic to speak to medically trained health care professionals about starting your recovery from addiction.