The Committee – Voices of Addiction

June 27, 2016
Happy therapist talking with a rehab group at therapy sessionThe things I became addicted to were not my friends.
They were not my family, co-workers or acquaintances. They were substances that only found life when mixed with my intricate body chemistry. A bottle of beer is harmless. But beer when mixed with me became a controlling, destructive entity that knew no boundaries. The beer had no mercy, and only sought to multiply, and multiply it did, 12 ounces at a time.

Had I seen the way I was replacing relationships with substances I may have saved myself a few decades of suffering. Had I nurtured the relationships with the people in my life, maybe my relationship with alcohol would not have taken precedence. Meanwhile, the people in my life desperately wanted the piece of me that alcohol had taken. Had I listened to them, and my better voices, my recovery would have been far less complicated.

You Say It’s Boring Without Substances…

blind girl on drugsAs we go through the minutia of living on automatic, 90% of life is boring. I’ll admit it. It’s routine; getting up, socks on, brushing teeth, maybe a coffee and a pop tart, driving to work, doing the work, going home, cracking a cold one, going to bed, and doing it all over again the next day. Thankfully, we can make the 10% of our time meaningful, profound even, by being fully there for it. As a drinker, I lost that “good” 10% of my time in mind-altering behaviors and substances. That’s how I see it now, from sobriety. At first, I thought I was pulling off some bigger-than-life moments. Drinking works like that at first. But at some point, for me, the disease of addiction took over, and I started using the substance just to “feel normal.” After arriving there, I stepped into the zone of 100% drudgery. Now, with nothing to look forward to, addiction’s grasp only tightened.

Sure, being in recovery has its dull moments. But I have had to admit that though some people can have a drink to relax, pain meds for pain, stimulants for ADD, I am not that person. Once I let anything into my system that changes my reality, all rational thought is out. I can’t wish that fact away, can’t buy my way out of it, can’t control it or depend on somebody else to take charge of my addictions. I own it.

All for Loneliness

At the root of many addictive behaviors, you will often find loneliness and isolation. Sometimes it’s isolating to protect the gap we see between our ideal self and our performative self – for example, fear of not living up to personal standards or others’ expectations. Isolating can even become an addiction all its own.

Coming to understand that my method for staving off loneliness is seldom healthy has been part of my recovery.

Now it’s up to me to stay away from those things, and replace them with people. Without sharing my existence with others, I’ll find an unhealthy way to replace the emptiness. The relationships I’ve forged keep my 10% where it needs to be: living life, connecting with people, and strengthening bonds. When 10% of my moments have human connection in them, the other 90% are bearable. Accomplishment is great, but it is far greater to share other people’s wins with them. And OK, it’s also nice to have someone close appreciate my accomplishments.
For those of us in recovery, it’s still greater to have somebody to lean on when nothing is being accomplished and the weight of the world is resting on our shoulders. It is then that the true value of the relationships we have forged becomes clear. Drinking my way out of misery has yet to work for me.  But talking it out with someone who knows me, warts and all, helps. Even if I don’t find the answer I need right away.

How to Take Charge of the Committee

Support GroupI like to call the voices in my head “the committee.” Members of the committee are talking heads sitting on the shoulders of random fears, thoughts, and impulses, and they can behave more like a herd of cats than a committee. They are restless; they seek excitement. Poke a fear here, trigger an anxiety there – that’s how they operate. Paradoxically, the committee’s constant critical chatter and activity make it easier – or tempting – for me to isolate. My history of battles for recovery has brought me to understand a few things about taking charge of this committee. Mainly,

  1. All of the members of the committee have to listen to the boss to get anything done. The boss speaks with a single voice committed to sobriety, listens to other people, seeks reference points outside himself, allows the suggestions of those who care about him to enter in. The boss sets anxiousness aside and holds patience, giving better judgment a chance to speak – before he takes action. When the boss is healthy and of sound, recovered mind, the committee has no choice but to follow him in the direction they need to go.
  2. Find a group of like-minded people. The breathing humans will soften the impact of the Committee and reinforce the better instincts of the boss. When we feel most alone and vulnerable, knowing a group of friends and acquaintances is a phone call away can make the difference between success and failure. These friendships are not one-way streets. The isolator thinks all streets go one way. And this thinking can become an excuse – to keep isolating, “toughing it out alone.” Part of breaking up the bottleneck of isolation is establishing these two-way, multilane streets of human connection. Sharing the burden of addiction, and listening to somebody who is struggling, is the foundation of recovery. Helping and getting help go hand in hand. Some days we help, some days we get help.

Ultimately, it is up to us how connected – yes, and that can mean vulnerable – we chose to be. But how it works is pretty simple, when we let it work.

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