If you’re anything like me — a person in recovery from a substance use disorder (aka addiction to alcohol and/or drugs) – you’ve had direct and likely protracted experience with the pain, loneliness, and despair that comes with the territory of having a chemical dependency.
To help clarify any question you may have about the nature of having a substance use disorder/the disease of addiction, I’d like to briefly describe in general terms—yet based upon my own personal nightmare and recovery from it—what I’ve come to know about the subject.
My hope is you’ll be better able to identify with “what it’s like” to be addicted to a substance, if you’re not yet sufficiently clear, and thereby more able to consider the value of choosing to get into recovery… or taking action steps to strengthen and deepen the recovery you currently have.
Before coming to NA, I’d tried everything I could think of to control my drug use: switching from narcotics to pot and beer, believing my “real problem” was with “hard drugs.” I tried limiting my drug use to “only after work” and “nowhere but at home.” And when those approaches ran their course and I was still feeling physically beat down, emotionally a wreck and spiritually crippled, I recall vowing to stop using altogether numerous times… always to return to drinking and/or using, sidestepping my commitments and dishonoring both myself and my values. Not to mention self-centeredly turning my back on my relationships and responsibilities, both personal and professional, all in the name of satiating my obsession and compulsion to drink/use.
Over and over, I remember, I told myself I’d never do “X” again (e.g., acting out in some drug-related behavior, like lying or stealing). But within days, hours or even minutes, I’d be doing that very thing once more!
And the fact is, nothing I tried provided me with a way out of this truly vicious cycle of obsessing on and then compulsively using alcohol and/or drugs as often as I could get them. In my case, my addiction continued to progress and literally overpowered even my best intentions to keep both a 10-year relationship and my career intact. I ended up being kicked out of the relationship (as well as the house I’d helped pay for) and booted from the job I’d held for years.
Given addiction is a progressive disease—sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always downhill—I am a witness to and evidence for the truth of the anonymous addict’s statement: “As long as we’re using drugs, our lives will steadily get worse.”
Looking back at how I was then: mentally, I was continually bombarded—from when I awoke ‘til when I went to bed—by obsessive thoughts of drinking and using. Physically, I had a compulsion to keep drinking and using, no matter about the wide range of consequences I would face. And spiritually, I had crowded everyone and everything out of my life but the alcohol and drugs, and that meant dropping my morals and spiritual principles (including abandoning or even hurting others I’d previously cared for) to just get what I needed as often as I needed it.
So, when I reflected upon my life in the context of the addiction I was experiencing and with the stark realization I had absolutely no solution, no effective approach for getting free of the wide-ranging symptoms—not the least of which was my uncontrollable use of alcohol and drugs—I was so deeply grateful to discover that an important part of recovery was actually learning about the nature of addiction and how it affects us in all the dimensions of our lives.
And by getting greater clarity about addiction, my addiction, as well as about the nature of recovery, I became more open-minded and willing to learn “recovery tools”: new behaviors and practices to avoid triggers and relapsing; to take suggestions from those who had “been where I’d been” and yet now had years of recovery under their belt, so could offer sound advice as to how to begin living a more productive life, free from active addiction; and to become more honest with myself, asking for help when I needed it, striving one day at a time to maintain my sobriety and strengthen my foundation of recovery.
I’m grateful for what I’ve learned about the nature of addiction, and heartily suggest doing likewise to anyone seeking to live a life free from the ravages of addiction themselves. Help is available and treatment works. You simply have to find the willingness to say “yes” to recovery.