I had a friend turn to me this morning who has been really struggling withtrying to break free from substance abuse. I don’t often share my story with those who aren’t in my “inner circle” and even then I am still quite closed off about that part of my life. Why? Because I still feel ashamed for having been there, for the people I hurt, the relationships I destroyed and the lack of understanding I had for those around me, how my attitude was impacting on them. In a nutshell, I didn’t give a fuck about anyone, other than myself. Did I know this atthe time? No! I felt I was still a decent human being with enough cop on to hold my shit together. And publicly I did, with panache, it was those closest to me who suffered. I was the moodiest thing I had ever encountered, how I felt depended (in my eyes) on everyone else’s behaviour around me. If something went wrong? It was NEVER my fault, it was always someone else who had done the thing t outrigger a reaction to get under my skin? It didn’t take much, dirty dishes left around. Laundry piling up. Something as simple as the cap being left off the toothpaste. I was a persnickety headcase and I’m sure at times my loved ones just wanted to catch me and shake me or lock me into a room until the poison ran out of my body so I could be human again. So I could act with empathy and not be hurting those I love.
It’s only in getting clean that I realised the reasons why I did these things… I was hurting immensely which led to the addiction in the first place, as a crutch to help me cope with all the feelings I didn’t want to feel, which is usually the case for the majority that become addicted… they are trying to block out some emotional pain that is pretty much insufferable to deal with while they are sober. The drug or substance doesn’t do anything to fix the problem but it sure helps that switch go off that makes you care a hell of a lot less, and as you slide Dow that slippery slope, more problems arise and rather than addressing them we just continue to take and take to dull the emotions we are feeling and unable to process…
Wevaerevonly recently becoming a nation of “emotionally tolerant”, what I mean by this is that we are allowing people to be expressive in not being ok, not coping, for reaching out and asking for help and rather than ridicule them for weakness, we give them the ultimate pat on the back and encouragement for being so braved as to take the steps towards better mental wellbeing. As a nationality we are slowly realising that by pretending big boys don’t cry and women get hysterical for the simplest reasons. Is quite simply, utter bollox. There is so much pressure to perform on people in today’s society, to be well, to get that education that leads to a successful career, to raise the family, pay the bills, keep a roof over their heads, sort transport, be a good friend/spouse/partner. There is too much emphasis on our younger generation to be perfect. We see this in young girls trying to be asthetically pleasing, we have 12 year olds with a face full of make up so professionally done by themselves they could easily pass for 25 and if they don’t have their countour or eyeliner “on fleek” they are banished to the uncool table. Same with young boys now, striving for asthetic perfection. And I think back to my time as their generation and I realise that I dressed how I wanted, to please nobody but myself, I was that grunge/goth and make-up, well that didn’t enter my vocabulary until my twenties… but I carried a multitude of baggage that was crippling me emotionally and I imagine if I had to feel the need to dress or wear make up to fit in I probably would’ve cracked a lot sooner in my earlier years. What I’m realising is that we are creating a breeding ground for all of these amazing kids to grow up feeling like underachievers, because we are setting an impossible precedent already for them when they are so young…
If we don’t nurture them at this early stage they are going to fell the pain that we already as adults are trying to unburden ourselves from. We are creating a future of people who are going to find the need to take some substance be it an antidepressant or illegal street drug to “fix” how they are feeling, so they can feel worthy to exist. All the while not realising that they already ARE good enough, and that without all this pressure to conform maybe they wouldn’t feel the necessity to need that “band-aid substance” to get them through each day. We are teaching them that it’s not ok to feel… but in order for things to improve and for emotional stability we need to be allowing our youth and adults alike the freedom of expression of emotions without any stigma attached to that. That is where the healing begins…
In the substance abuse field, professionals generally agree that a person stops growing emotionally at the point that they become dependent upon drugs or alcohol. Basically, we revert back to the chronological age we were when we began using. So if your began using at (say) age 13 … emotionally, that’s just where you are emotionally when you clean because you learned any coping skills beyond this point. It makes sense. When we turn to drugs to cope with life, we stop learning healthy, mature ways of coping. Drugs are our “quick fix” – and anything else takes effort, time, patience and delayed gratification. So, when we get clean years later, we are ill-equipped to deal with difficult emotions or any challenge in our lives. Life often becomes a series of dramas or mini-crisises… because everything is so overwhelming.
On top of it, as addicts, we are often accustomed to a bit (or a lot!) of insanity. That becomes ‘normal’ to us. It makes us feel alive. So we, in essence, either seek that out when we get into recovery – or we create it. It’s mostly subconcious, we don’t even see what we’re doing to create the drama.
In the past, when we were using, drama was also an excuse to use more. Sometimes, especially when very new in recovery, we (consciously or subconsciously) create the turmoil as a possible “excuse” to return to using.
Another issue… basically, as addicts, we are self-centered folks. Our primary concern is ourselves and maintaining our drug use. The concerns and needs of others is secondary. We ignore how much we are hurting those who care about us, and we justify that we are only hurting ourselves. Lots of mind games, without even realizing it.
And so, put us in a relationship, and we don’t know HOW to balance both our needs and those of another person. We tend to go to extremes… problems are ALL yours or ALL mine; black or white… no gray. And if we don’t get our way, we react immaturely.
We don’t just automatically become mature, responsible adults when we stop the drugs. There’s nothing “automatic” about it. We have to learn HOW to do these things that we should have learned along the way. It takes a lot of time, dedication and support from loved ones who are willing to put up with the struggle beside you while you are learning to heal yourself.
To my friend and anyone else who is on this arduous journey, I do understand how you feel. But it was only in getting clean and looking back that I see just how I was as a person back then. It wasn’t an easy feat to accomplish and I pushed many people away, hurt so many through my venom and actions and now I have to learn to live with that regret, and I do every day try make up for the shitty person I was by making amends in other ways. But in truth, while you are still using that substance to mask those feelings you’re never going to experience who you truly could be.
To my friend who took the incredibly brave decision this morning to go to rehab, I am so immensely proud of you, and yes you are right, you have fucked up, so have I. Every one of us have at some point. But in no way does that make you a failure. You cannot undo the hurt you have caused but you can find ways to show those you have hurt how truly sorry you are for what you’ve put them through when you come out the other side. Get ready to say goodbye to the person you hate, the one you’ve been feeding into for the past few years, because after all of this hard work that lies ahead of you, you’re going to absolutely love the new you once they emerge from the shadows. You’ve only got everything to fight for…
For anyone in addiction or living with someone in addiction, realise this is not who they are or who they are meant to be, and they anger more often than not is stemming from a place of complete unhappiness within themselves and an inability to cope I’m not talking about the individual who smokes a few joints or has a few drinks. Just be present, support and offer encouragement as much as you can, but look after yourself too. I’m talking about the ones who literally cannot function throughout a day without some substance to help them along the way. I believe there’s an addictive personality in every one of us, be it from chocolate, computer games, social media, coffee, we all ave something. But it’s when that something is hurting you and those you love, it’s time to address it and begin the healing. It’s never too late.