Getting Free

Notes Along the Journey From Addiction to Freedom

One of the things I've started to notice more was how much my addiction is in my environment. It's all around me, all the time. Even though I thought I was doing a good job of hiding my addiction, even though I thought it was a “little secret” that nobody could detect when I wasn't actively using, it turns out I've filled my environment with it.

Which, I guess, makes sense. For years I've been involved in this. I have built a framework around me that was full of hooks...I would say “triggers” except that word has a different meaning these days.

So now I'm cutting a lot of things free. Not people, pleasantly enough; most of the actual people I know have been good influences and have been more than willing to make some little accommodations for me when I tell them what I'm trying to accomplish.

And it's an odd mix. I've started to look at things more subjectively instead of objectively. Even if, on the surface, a thing has nothing to do with my addiction, it still goes if it feels like it has “hooks” in it. Turns out addiction isn't about logic. Who knew????

That podcast that I like: it's not objectively about my addiction, but when I listen to it I can subjectively“feel” the hooks. It's gone. Same with that Netflix series I used to love. I don't know if the hooks were there to begin with or if they were embedded by being a show I watched when I was using frequently, but at this point it doesn't matter. And on and on. It's not just media, it's a lot of things. Certain clothing. Books. Some restaurants.

Now I'm finding new things to fill those spaces. And...it's kinda fun? I like listening to new podcasts. I kinda like spending time away from Netflix and reading instead. (And yes, those books that have “hooks” are gone now too. Which means I get to find new books!)

It's almost become a game: every time I feel “hooked” by something, I turn it off or push it away and there's a moment of excitement:

What new thing will I find to fill this space?

-A

Most of the time, when I've found the ability to open up to someone else about being addicted, that person has been wonderful, supportive, and helpful.

But there are a few things that still get said, both in person and online, that are... less then helpful, shall we say. Let's save some time and get them all out of the way at once.

Have you tried just...not using?

[Bright smile] Yes. Yes I have. Many times.

The best answer I've found is, “have you tried just...not being afraid of spiders?” Rationally you know that most spiders are harmless, but you keep going back to being afraid of them. With work you can get over that fear. This is similar.

Well, can't you just like, try harder?

Yep! That is definitely part of it. But that's just part of it and I've only got so much strength on my own. Which is why I'm seeking help and trying to fight smarter, not just harder. The hard part about “trying harder” is how hard it is.

You can't be addicted to that! It's not addictive!

This one is very common in online forums. And it's really rough.

A therapist I worked with for a while told me about this one. She said that she's heard people say “you can't get addicted to that!” in reference to just about every addiction, and it usually comes from one of three places:

  1. The person is also addicted, and is still in denial about their addiction. They're in the “I can stop any time I want” phase. They want to believe that you can't be addicted, because then they can tell themselves they aren't.
  2. The person is one of those lucky people who just doesn't seem to get addicted. There are people who can partake “socially” or from time to time and they just...don't get hooked. I am intensely jealous of these people. I'm trying not to be.
  3. The person has never really dealt with any addiction, and in their mind “addiction” means being a strung out junkie like in 1980's “very special episodes”. In their mind, if you don't snort/inject it, it's not addictive. If I am interacting with this person for real (not just on an online forum) I might spend some time explaining a more realistic model of what addiction is (like in my introduction) But most of the time I just shrug and try not to let my mood collapse.

Do you actually like that? (Alternately “how could you like that?”)

No, I absolutely hate it.

Except for in those moments when it's literally all I can think about and I would gladly trade something unimportant—my arms and legs, say—to use again. When I do relapse I like it right up to the moment the hook it provides starts to fade. Then I hate it again, but now I also hate myself for giving in! Fun!

(A big part of recovery programs is getting over the self-hatred part because it's amazingly detrimental. Feeling like a bad person inevitably leads to a “binge”. Learning to accept yourself and stand up and try again is more likely to lead to success. Or so I have been told.)

Some Helpful Things to Say

There are some good things you can say. They can be uncomfortable because, well, this is an uncomfortable topic. But here's some of the best:

Wow, that sounds rough.

Thank you! It really can be.

I'm not judging you.

Seriously, please say this if you know someone who is struggling to get free. I promise you they're judging themselves to pieces. It's an awkward thing to say, but bite the bullet and say it. Please.

Listen, if you ever need to talk, like, even at 2AM, just call or even just text, okay? I'm here for you.

You'll have to say this a few dozen times. But if you have the strength to make the offer it will mean the world to them. At some point they might just need it and you will have saved them.

Do you have the help you need? Is there a professional or someone you can call or something?

You don't have to take on an addict's problems yourself. There is support, and just encouraging them to find it is a major help.

Do you want to go get some lunch? I'm starving.

Let them know that you still accept them, still want to hang out, still think of them as a person, not a problem.

It takes a lot of strength to say any of these things. I know, I get it. All I can say is that any little bit of understanding helps immensely.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate it.

-A

There are a few reasons. I've been thinking about starting this blog for a while, and I think this is the right way to do this. (The original title of my first post was “Let's call it 45 days”) Here's why I think staying vague is the right move.

I'm Ashamed

Of course I am. I wasn't supposed to be an addict. That was never part of the plan, obviously. I don't like the fact that this is part of my life. I want to share what I've learned without sharing what's wrong with me. Call it pride or shame or cowardice, whatever you like. It's my blog, I'll be vague if I want to. 😃

Staying Vague Means I Can't Overshare

I've been to a number of group therapy programs. One of the first rules is that we should talk about what we're doing to recover, not what we did when we used. Humans are good at imagination, and it's easy to read someone's experiences and imagine yourself in the same place, following the same steps. Oversharing can trigger someone else to use again. It could trigger me to use again.

It (Hopefully) Makes the Things I Share More Widely Applicable.

I suspect that there are elements of addiction that are common to all of us that struggle with it. (Well, I don't just suspect it, Iv'e been told as much in therapy.) If this was a blog about my specific “flavor” of addiction people could easily say “Oh, I'm not addicted to that, so this doesn't apply.” They might be right, my experiences might be totally unique to me and useless to anyone else, but I'd like to hope that something I write might be helpful to someone, and I don't want to cut that off before it starts.

I'm Not Actually This Pretentious, This is Hard to Write.

Ugh. I hate how I sound here. So pretentious. I know you can't see my face, so I'll tell you that I'm not trying to sound all intelligent and “right”; I certainly don't feel that way. Mostly I'm scared that I'm wasting people's time, and I've been thinking about this a long time. I'm just trying to say all of this as best I can so you can see where I'm coming from.

Not sure who “you” are, of course. The Internet is weird.

-A

I don't actually know the date when I last used. Isn't that odd? Trying to quit has been front and center in my mind for at least two years now, but I couldn't actually tell you when the last time was.

In part this is because I've gotten so good at hiding and denial that I'm pretty good at hiding from myself and denying my own memory.

But it's mostly because at the time I didn't think it would be the last time. I figured there would be another occurrence the next day, or a few hours later, or in a week. Same ol' same ol'. Every time is “the last time, for real, I mean it” but it's hard to make that stick.

It doesn't mean you shouldn't say that, though. Every time should be the last time! I've been told that eventually I'll be right, and that last time will have been The. Last. Time..

Anyway. I've been doing some honest thinking and figuring and looking at a calendar and talking to people, and I can say that 59 days ago is the most recent an occurrence could have happened. It might have been longer. So let's call it 59 days.

-A

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