The biggest hurdle to overcome for many addicts, myself included, wishing to start the journey of recovery is denial. After 30 years or so of excessive drinking, and latterly some dire consequences, I still believed at some point I would be able to “enjoy a glass of wine or two with dinner” in other words be cured, if only it were that simple.
Addiction is a disease, and an extremely clever one at that, it even convinces the addict they do not have it – “I can handle it”, “it’s not that bad”, “I’m in control”, to the dismay of those left dealing with the mess left by an individual seemingly hell bent on destroying themselves.
I can assure you addiction is a bastard, it does not discriminate, it reaches deep into your soul and, at some level, takes over your every waking thought. I remember only too clearly denying I had a drink problem when the evidence was overwhelming to the contrary. I’m talking hidden empty bottles, blatant lies, forgotten texts and conversations, etc. I minimised the issue, “I’m not that bad”, “I’ll stop tomorrow”, “I swear on your life I won’t do it again”. The nature of the disease is such that at the time you believe, with all your heart, that you will stop tomorrow, only you don’t. You keep telling yourself all these lies, and at some point you are no longer believed or trusted by those around you that love you and care about you. I for one, will never stoop that low again.
It gets worse, if it hasn’t gone already, your ability to connect with mainstream life will degrade, and become extremely difficult. Your behavior will change, the consequences of your addiction will become more serious, your personality will change, your moral compass will fail you, your self-esteem goes, and your self-care is non-existent, you will come to believe you are unlovable and are paralysed, unable to ask for help.
Trust Me, This Is A Lonely Place
This was not my game plan, when I was young and full of youthful hope and enthusiasm for life, days were carefree and fear was a minor player in my life I did not see myself at aged 50 in a residential treatment program for alcoholism, but I was.
In early recovery I was always looking for things to blame my alcoholism on, I felt the need to justify why I was what I was, who I was. Something must have happened to make me like this. I’ll give you an example, early on in my treatment I was told it was likely that I suffered from Anhedonia – an inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities. This was fantastic, I was over the moon with this information, it explained a lot, why I would refuse to go for coffee with friends, why I would turn down invites to the cinema. Most importantly, it was diagnosable, it had a name that sounded a bit “out there” and implied a clear justification for my behavior, something else to blame. In reality, and I’ll try and keep it simple, my pleasure receptors had been over stimulated by my alcohol intake and seriously raised the bar of the point at which I could feel pleasure.
For sure, we all have pivotal moments throughout our lives, traumas of some sort, perhaps mental health problems, or just a sequence of unlucky events, but not everyone reaches for relief in a bottle, or a drug, or adopts a behaviour as a coping mechanism.
It Took Me Some Time To Realise That Having A Reason
To Drink Was Why I Drank.
Taking Your Power Back
Once you have been seduced by addiction it is not an easy lover to part with. It introduces you to extreme levels of shame, guilt, anger, fear, intense hopelessness and hurt and tells you it is the only source of relief, your best friend and the only one who can help ease the suffering.
At Gladstones we give people the tools to lead a life without mood altering substances, to rejoin and reconnect with mainstream society, to take your power back. Be under no illusion, it’s not easy and there are certainly no guarantees, once free of your physical addictions, the emotional part of ourselves still needs nurturing and developing, allowing us to have a choice to use or not.
Addicts are generally not very good at dealing with emotions and feelings, we just don’t like them, we numb them out by choice and in doing so miss out on something that is real, and quite human. Personally I couldn’t handle the whole spectrum of feelings and emotions, good and bad. I disliked compliments just as much as I did being sad, I was a people pleaser at significant cost to my own needs, I perceived healthy disagreement as confrontation. In avoiding emotional responses I missed out on the entire range of feelings – blushing when complimented, being genuinely thankful, showing gratitude and empathising with others. Even the simplest of things like making eye contact when engaging with someone was impossible for me.
At Gladstones one of our primary goals is to get clients to acknowledge their feelings, no matter how uncomfortable, or how insignificant they seem. This is done to help client to get used to them, to recognise them for what they are and accept that they alone will not harm us but the way we currently react to them most certainly will.
I worked for over 30 years in Sales and Marketing and I was the self-important geezer in the flash car, gesticulating, tailgating, flashing lights, leaning on the horn….. Nowadays if someone cuts me up I just think what a bad day they must be having and wish them well, how stressed they must be.
Today as a recovering alcoholic my life, by choice, is far less complicated, I sleep well, I pursue interests and hobbies that I enjoyed back before my “Anhedonia” set in!! My days are longer again, they have structure and purpose, and if I’m struggling I can ask for help without shame.
I’m not saying it is easy, far from it, recovery is a full time job but with time and the ability to manage our thoughts, feelings and behaviours we can reconnect and lead a life well lived.
I will leave you with a little challenge – equally relevant in today’s society regardless if you are an addict or not:
The next time you walk down the street in the morning, make eye contact with someone walking towards you, smile and just say good morning. I defy anybody not to feel good about a returned smile and greeting, those that don’t smile back are already having a bad day – bless them!