“Addiction begins with the hope that something ‘out there’ can instantly fill up the emptiness inside.”
~Jean Kilbourne, Can’t Buy My Love
It was never supposed to happen to me.
Sometimes, even today, it seems easier to believe that it happened to someone else. I know that is just wishful thinking, because I have the scars – both physical and psychological – to prove that it was always me.
Hi, I’m ____________________, and I’m an addict.
Maybe I should be more politically correct and say “recovering addict”, because thanks to positive People, Principles, and Powers outside of my own meager abilities, I have been clean for eight years now.
Why Am I an Addict? A Look at the Contributing Factors
That answer is actually pretty simple:
I am an addict because I have a disease that makes me powerless over drugs that make my life unmanageable.
When left to my own ego, mindset, and old behaviors, I like/need to take drugs without regard for how they destroy my life and may even kill me, all because my brain is wired just a bit different than 90% of the population.
Now, if you want to ask me why I BECAME an addict, that answer isn’t quite so simple.
It would be so very nice if there were just one thing that made me an addict – something that I could point to and shout “THERE! That caused my addiction! If only…”
But life isn’t that neat.
Like any person who has ever been a drug addict or alcoholic, there is no single one cause of my substance abuse. In all probability, there were probably several factors that played a part in my development of the disease:
- Heredity – Looking back, I can clearly see how substance abuse was always a presence in my life. On both of my parents’ sides, I had uncles who – to my sober, adult mind – obviously alcoholics. No one ever used that word around me as a child. To me, they would just get loud or silly sometimes at family gatherings.
Because he died before I was born, I never knew my maternal grandfather, but based on stories that I heard of his wild – and sometimes brutal – behavior, I can make an educated guess that my mother’s father also had a problem with booze.
For my mother’s part, she wasn’t that much of a drinker. But, because of the era that we lived in, she did like her pills – her “mother’s little helpers“. Whenever the stresses of the day would get too much for her, she would send me to go get her prescription bottle out of the cabinet.
It’s sadly astounding that, even at six years old, I knew when to run get “the medicine that makes mommy feel better“.
Years later, when I was in rehab and more educated about my disease, I learned that some researchers believe that addiction is 50% due to genetic predisposition. I personally had four close relatives with substance abuse issues.
The other 50% is said to be due to a combination of environment and poor coping skills, which can lead to bad decisions. Which brings me to –
- Home Environment –With the benefit of hindsight, I can say there were never any real consequences for anyone who drank too much or popped too many pills. If one of my uncles made a fool of himself or got into a fight at a party, the family would just say “that’s just the way he is“.
On those all-too-frequent occasions when my mother would be in a zombiefied stupor, my dad would take over. He would make dinner (badly), believe me when I told him that I was finished with my homework, and try to steer mom to bed. He’s the one who made the excuses when she missed a PTA meetings, school plays, and family events.
Evidently, it was his job to clean up the messes. The word they use now is codependency.
- Social Environment –-I took my first sip of alcohol at a party when I was just 10 years old. The adults thought it was hilarious. I got drunk for the first time when I was 15, passing around a bottle that one of us had boosted from our parents’ liquor cabinets.
That’s what my friends and I did for recreation – we drank. And the first time that my father caught me coming home drunk, there was no big hassle. He just told me that I was too young, and that I should probably stop.
No yelling. No grounding. No consequences.
So, I didn’t stop.
Again, much later, when I was in rehab, I learned that by drinking so heavily as a teenager, I actually rewired my already-genetically-predisposed brain to be even more receptive to mind-altering substances than it already was.
- My Own Decisions – I’m not going to lie. As a teenager, I loved to drink. I loved how I could escape from what was bothering me. I didn’t have to put up with my passed-out mother, my weak and ineffectual father, or the teachers at school who rudely insisted that I attend every day.
Drinking made me feel…good…accepted…NORMAL.
So, when one of my friends offered me a joint and said that it was even better than booze, I happily said yes. And I quickly went from drinking a few nights a week smoking weed every single day.
- My Drug of Choice –Like a lot of people who start drinking or smoking marijuana at a young age, I eventually “graduated” to harder drugs. Over time, I found that the booze and the weed just weren’t cutting it anymore. It took too long and too much to get my mind where I wanted it to be.
By the time I was in my twenties, I had tried most everything out there, and settled on crystal meth. Nothing else felt the same. I was more alert, alive, energetic, and confident than ever before.
Or at least I thought I was.
I was alert, but I could never seem to focus on one thing very long. I was alive, but like most hard-core tweakers, I looked three-quarters dead. I was energetic, but when I would “crash”, I would stay in bed for days. I was confident, but when I couldn’t get a bump, I was a pathetic nervous wreck.
Welcome to addiction.
The Addiction Takes Hold Of My Entire Life
I had chosen methamphetamine to be my constant companion, and that was one of the worst decisions I could have made.
Again, later in rehab, I learned that meth is one of the most addictive street drugs out there. Meth changes the brain so quickly, I may have become addicted by as soon as just my third time using.
By this time, everything was about my drug habit –
- Where can I find some meth – who’s holding?
- Where my going to get the money to buy more meth?
- When can I get high again?
That was my day – finding a source, figuring out how to steal or scam enough money to buy what I needed, and then doing it all over again.
I didn’t waste time working, going to school, or even taking care of myself. I didn’t need to.
My parents paid for my apartment, bought me food (which I didn’t eat), and were usually good for a few bucks when I would hit them up. Dad was still the softest touch. He would only get a sad look in his eyes whenever I would make some lame excuse about needing more money.
Rock-Bottom Means the Only Way out Is up
I got busted. People in my situation always do. We’re just that dumb, that desperate, and that unlucky.
On the other hand, I was very lucky – I lived in a place where the local government firmly believed in the benefits offered by drug court. Rather than simply throwing the book at me, the judge gave me a chance to go to drug rehab instead of straight to jail.
I was pretty far gone, so my only real option was a residential inpatient treatment facility. I absolutely, positively did not want to go. I howled at my family to do something – to help me find a less drastic step.
And you know what? They stood firm, and that is the best thing that they could have done for me.
Real Recovery Will Include Counseling for the Family
Strangely enough, my getting arrested woke my parents up. Even stranger, it started with my mom, rather than my dad. She was so horrified at having her only child become a jailbird junkie that she actually began going to 12-Step support meetings for the families of addicts. She even began dragging my father along.
Eventually, she started going to meetings for her own problems, as well.
So when I expected them to bail me out again, they let me know, in no uncertain terms, that this was my mess, and I would have to clean it up myself. They told me that they loved me, and that if I would clean myself up, they would continue to help me, but until then, I was going to have to do the work.
So I went to rehab. I stuck it out, and completed my entire recommended treatment plan – 90 days inpatient, followed by a year of outpatient therapy.
How I Live Today As a Recovering Drug Addict
While I was in residential drug treatment, I learned how my addiction was a disease that I was going to have to deal with for the rest of my life. I learned to stop depending upon my own faulty responses and most importantly, how to stay out of my own way. I learned how to avoid the people, places, and things that might trigger a relapse and jeopardize the sobriety that I have worked so hard to attain.
Most of all, I learned that although I am powerless over the disease of addiction, I am not powerless over my own thoughts, behaviors, and responses to everything that life throws at me. Although I still have to be constantly vigilant, I do not have to make choices in the immediate or short-term that put my long-term future at risk.
You will never catch me saying that I am an “ex-addict”. I am no longer that stubborn or foolish.
I don’t know if I am going to be clean tomorrow, because I am not there yet. But I do know that I am strong enough and my head is in a good enough place that I can face today without using. Just today. But today is enough.