Stephanie and I often have long conversations about my prior drinking habits and what we always come back to is the question, “Why?” I am sure that many people who deal with any kind of addiction is asked this question by loved ones. Why? Why do you continue to abuse something that is killing you? Why do you NEED to be drunk/high? Why is being high more important than _______? Well I can’t speak for everyone, but in my case, it’s because I like it.
Now I have not gone so far down the path of addiction where I started stealing to feed my habit, nor have I even gone so far as to become homeless or lose a job or friend or family member because of it. However I have had many people distance themselves because of my drinking – but I always knew I could get them back. Really, my alcohol addiction is mild in comparison to many others who suffer. However, I recognize the demon in me that always wants another high, or another way to ignore reality, or another way to feel good for even just a moment.
There are hundreds of studies out there that say why alcohol or other drugs are addictive. Some create a physical dependence while others form a psychological one – some are both. Actually, I think all are both in some ways. While marijuana is not physically addictive, one can easily fall into a pattern where is is psychologically addictive. It makes you feel good – and if that is what you are chasing – which most addicts are (even after the point the drug is no longer enjoyable) you become dependent on that feeling. That escape. It is when the drug of choice no longer meets the addicts needs that they usually move on to more potent drugs.
Now I firmly believe that some human beings are more prone to addiction than others. I have known people who have smoked pot their entire lives and have never moved on to more potent drugs. I also know many people who are fully capable of having a few drinks on the weekend at a party and then don’t touch alcohol again until the next party. They are’t drinking or smoking to escape – it is a recreational activity. For addicts though – it is more than recreation. It is in most cases – sanity. Counter-productive right? Yeah.
You see, I really like being just on the cusp between so drunk I can’t see, and that awesome buzz where nothing matters. I have spent the last 20 years of my life perfecting finding and holding on to that space. It’s like a personal scientific experiment. I managed to maintain that with just alcohol and never felt the need to explore further. Although I really like narcotics too. Eating a pill is so much easier than drinking 16 beers and peeing all night. It was a dangerous realization that I came to after my doctor prescribed me Vicodin for the pain in my back. It is one thing to eat a few narcotics after a tooth extraction or surgery then to have them at your beck and call all day everyday. I started liking them so much I worried myself. Also, as with any narcotic our bodies become tolerant pretty fast. So while I was prescribed 3 pills a day – it quickly got to he point where I was taking 4, then 5. Had I not talked to my doctor about it and been honest, I would probably be hopelessly addicted to them by now.
It was only because of my past with alcohol that I was able to quickly recognize the path I was heading down. I recognized the feeling. I recognized the need to get that certain buzz. That specific high that tells my brain and body, “Everything is okay. Take another drink, pop another pill. This is awesome!” That space, that buzz, that perfect moment where everything feels okay – that is what addicts chase. That is WHY. That is the answer. Some people can stop. Some people can’t. Most addicts simply don’t want to. The trick to curing addiction is to find something that makes you feel that way without the help of a pill, needle or drink. For me, my cure (if you want to call it that) was love. Seriously. I credit Stephanie for the fact that I no longer feel the need to escape from this reality. I actually like it here now. I have a lot to worry about. I have a million reasons to want to escape. However, I don’t feel the need. I have found at least on some level what I was always looking for. I found a place where I fit. I found a place where I am okay. I found joy in a natural way – and quite honestly it is better than any chemical high I have ever tried.
I think that’s the thing with addicts that isn’t really looked at. All addicts stay addicts until they can learn to value themselves and find a way to be content without assistance. There are days where I crave alcohol so much I almost can’t stand it. It is usually when I am frustrated or unhappy. There are many times now where I just crave the taste of beer and have one or two and am perfectly fine not getting to that drunk or even buzzed state. I now can enjoy a beer or two and stop. It’s pretty awesome. The difference is how I think about alcohol. It isn’t an escape anymore – its just something I enjoy. There is a huge difference. Now many addicts can’t do what I have done. Most have to quit completely forever. Just like quitting smoking, if you fail once, you are back on the hamster wheel. There is a very valid reason why alcoholics are in recovery – even if they haven’t had a drink in 20 years. One drink, feeling that buzz even one more time can send people into a path of chasing again. Chasing that perfect feeling. I am not immune to that. I think that I just think and analyze it so much that I refuse to allow myself to go there – even when it is prescribed to me by my doctor.
Now I am going to go ahead and make an admission that will surely make me unemployable (which apparently I already am), but marijuana has been a God send for me. I have told my doctor about my smoking – and told her that I no longer want narcotics to deal with pain everyday. I am scared of the narcotics. Yes they take my pain away. Yes they are awesome. I don’t want to be addicted to anything anymore though. I don’t want to be dependent on narcotics. That feeling of being blissfully happy is addicting and narcotics make me blissfully happy. Marijuana however doesn’t make me blissfully happy. It doesn’t provide the same escape as alcohol or narcotics. Is there a buzz/high? Yes. Does it compare to being drunk or high on narcotics? Nope not for me. For me it is a way to manage pain without the physical addiction of narcotics. I find it sad that my doctor can prescribe pain killers to an admitted addict but she can’t prescribe marijuana that has no addictive qualities beyond a psychological addiction. If she could prescribe it to me, I am sure she would. I went to her and said quite honestly, I feel better smoking weed than I do taking these pills. She agreed. I am making the right choice even though it is illegal in my state. I can tell you horror stories of the things I have done while drunk. I don’t have any marijuana horror stories.
Here’s the thing though if you are dealing with addiction either as someone who is addicted or someone who loves a person who is addicted; addicts are chasing something they can’t find in normal interactions. Whether it is internal or external – we chase a feeling. That feeling that can lead us to use all kinds of things to create that feeling. Huey Lewis and the News came up with a song in the 80’s that explains it perfectly, “I want a new drug!” I think all addicts want that drug that will make them feel okay – but won’t have the negative effects that so many drugs have. I just want to feel okay. We all just want to feel okay. All the studies about addiction seem to ignore that goal. Addicts are on a chase. We use what we need to use in order to feel “normal or happy” – it is only when we find that ‘thing’ that makes us feel normal and happy that breaks the chains of addiction and some addicts never find it. It is a constant chase of feeling okay.
What worked for me, was not some admonition from those who love me, but what Stephanie did for me was accept who I was – addictions and all, and provide a reason why I didn’t need that. She taught me to value myself. She taught me to enjoy our interactions. She never condoned my behavior, but she never insisted that I change it. I worry sometimes about how I would behave if something came between us (God forbid). Quite honestly, if something were to ever happen to her, I would need someone to step in. I know this. I know that if for some reason she was removed from my life, my answer would be the nearest bar. Like all addicts, I need to find that thing that makes me okay that isn’t Stephanie. I also know on some level that I will always have her voice in my head, and I will always know that I can be who I want and need to be without chasing that perfect feeling.
So that’s my take on addiction. It is a chase of that feeling that life is okay even when it isn’t. It is allowing a superficial substance to dictate your own self worth. It is the constant chase of feeling okay in a world where things are never okay. It is hard and nearly impossible to give up that feeling. Feeling perfect in an imperfect world is what drives addicts. Even if that high, that feeling only lasts a moment, that moment of perfection is what drives us even when we know that feeling is artificial and even when we know that getting that feeling will take more and more of the drug to get us there.
There are a million reasons people become addicted to something. Sometimes it is a chemical imbalance, most times though I feel it is a lack of training. We are taught to seek self fulfillment, and when we fail at that, sometimes people turn to artificial means to accomplish it. Those artificial means, can become a surrogate for real fulfillment. I drank a lot to fit in. I also drank a lot to ignore the reality I was living in. I always wanted escape. I always wanted to behave in such a way that I could make excuses. “I was drunk” – “that wasn’t me.”
I realize now that it IS me. That need to escape, to feel normal or happy is ME. I just have to find ways to feel that way without drugs or alcohol. That is the hard part. It is easy to pop a pill, it is much harder to chase that high, that feeling of belonging, that acceptance without the assistance of a drug. Once you taste how easy it is to get that feeling from a drug, it becomes difficult to give it up. I am lucky. I found a way to get that feeling without being drunk. I know for this first time in my life that I am okay – even without drugs or alcohol. I have learned that drugs an alcohol effect the way people think about me – and what I believed for a long time was the path to acceptance, was really a path to personal destruction. It took someone loving me enough to let me work through that to see the light (also a really good therapist and a supportive doctor).
Addiction is never cured by a 90 day stint in rehab. Addiction is ‘cured’ when a person realizes their value without the drug. Addiction is curbed when the addict can find ways to feel okay without the drug of choice. Addicts chase a feeling. It is a constant battle between feeling okay and feeling connected. If you don’t feel okay and connected – drug abuse isn’t far behind.
Am I cured of my addictions? No. Probably not. Have I found a way to fill in that hole in my life? No. Probably not. Stephanie is just my new drug. She makes me feel that way alcohol does. I feel okay with her. I feel loved and accepted by her and her love and acceptance has given me the feeling I have always been chasing. Would I be okay without her? I don’t know and I hope I never have to find out. Is Stephanie unhealthy because I am more addicted to her and our conversations than drinking myself into oblivion? I don’t think so. I think she is the best thing that has ever happened to me in so many ways I can’t even explain it all. I need her more than I need beer or Vicodin. Am I swapping one addiction for another? Yeah maybe. Isn’t that what all addicts do though? Is it any different than one who finds fulfillment at the gym, or in their job? I don’t think so. Different strokes for different folks. We all have addictions. Some though are better than others. An addiction to running is acceptable while an addiction to pills is bad. Both provide the same thing for the people engaging in the activity.
What changed things for me is that I decided I wanted to be present for my own life. Stephanie was an important part of the process. I am learning everyday the value of being present. I have never been through addiction counseling – at least not in that specific sense. I still crave that easy escape. The difference is that now instead of giving in to that easy escape – I find ways to give me value without drugs. Most times it is because Stephanie will disengage from me if I am drinking too much and I prefer her over booze. Sometimes, like with the pain pills – it is just because I find it too easy and anything easy isn’t worth pursuing. My garden provides a high that doesn’t compare with alcohol or Vicodin. It is matter of value. My garden will die if I am too high to take care of it. There is something out there that depends on me to be present. The fact that my lettuce needs me is enough to abstain from things that make incapable or unwilling to tend to it.
I found value in being alive. In being a part of my own life instead of letting an addiction dictate values. It is empowering. It takes the addictive tendencies and redirects them to more positive pursuits. Am I healed? No. Do I have potential to fall back into my previous ways? Yes. It is a constant chase for satisfaction. For happiness. To feel okay. The key to “curing ” addiction? I think it is finding that thing that addicts crave without the use of a drug to get there. Drugs are the easy answer. Drugs make you feel the way you think you should feel without the work to get there. It is hard work to find that “thing” on your own. Without love, without therapy, without personal acknowledgement it is kind of impossible for those of us who find satisfaction from a drug to replace that.
The cure to addiction? Find that thing that people are seeking and find ways to provide that feeling without the destructive influence of drugs. Much easier said than done. I think though that is the solution. Therapy is about finding your value. Finding the reasons behind your actions. Drugs are a stop gap measure that some never find their way out of. Whether your drug is physically or psychologically addictive is not the problem, the problem is why you are seeking that drug intervention. The problem lies within our need to chase that perfect feeling. Find that feeling without drugs or alcohol and you have the answer (in my humble opinion).
Have you dealt with addiction either on a personal level or fighting for someone you love? What worked? What failed?