Relapse Phobia – and Other Fears of Addiction
Addiction keeps us from enjoying our lives. It’s a disease, we are told, the fault of our DNA – and maybe our upbringing, our environment, our own body conspiring against us. How can we get better when we are sick?
When we look at relapse rates, the picture seems even more grim. We get better for a day with a feeling of accomplishment, and then we wake up in fear. Fear of failure. Fear of our disease. Fear that our weakness will eventually allow us to slip and escape into the wretched comfort that forms addiction.
Beating those fears is a daily job.
Many who attempt recovery fail – the numbers can be discouraging. How do we even start?
By wanting it, that’s how. Wanting it is the key to sobriety. When we want something bad enough, we will go to any length to get it. Until we want it we are destined to live in a cycle, addiction and recovery.Part of us feels addiction getting in the way of truly enjoying our relationships, work, and thoughts. I had tried and failed at recovery a number of times, and never knew why. But before I was able to move forward with confidence that I would get better, I had to really want to feel again. Now, it is crystal clear; I want the joys of being clear-headed more than I want to be intoxicated. Maintaining sobriety is no longer a daily struggle; it comes naturally.
So, if it is that simple, why do so many struggle with addiction? I believe that the choice, to get on with our lives or stay invested in habits, can actually be an intimidating choice. Those habits allow us to carry on each day when something is making us feel miserable. We think, “at least squeak out a moment or two of happiness.” So we get high. For a moment, the drugs and booze feel great, and that gives us something to look forward to.
I Wanted to Stop Waking up Under a Deficit
I wanted to stop waking up in the morning knowing that I had lost another day. I wanted to stop being hung over. I wanted to stop breaking promises to myself.
But I most certainly did not want to stop drinking; that was the only thing I could depend on.
Promising myself that today was the day that I would not start drinking put me into a cycle of deceit. Knowing that I was a liar chipped away at my self-confidence, and allowed me to see drinking as a valid escape from my own intricate web of half-hearted promises. Every day became predictable. I would wake up drowning in a pool of self-loathing, wash the stink of alcohol off of my body, only to have more of it ooze from my pores, clear my head with copious amounts of coffee, figure out what I had to do that day, promise myself I would not drink and get on with my day. I carried a heavy load with me, the memory of my latest failure the night before.
By five or six, if I wasn’t working, my promise not to drink turned into a promise not to get drunk as I cracked my first cold one.
By nine or ten my promise not to get drunk turned into a promise not to get TOO drunk.
By midnight it was lights out on another day of failure. Dull, uneventful and utterly predictable.
These days, I often hear people expressing the same thoughts I once had: Sobriety is dull, uneventful and utterly predictable, so who in their right mind would want that?
I do, that’s who.
Changing the Way I Look at Things
When I got unbearably sick and tired of the cycle, I finally decided it was time. I made the big move.
What was the difference this time? I got out of my head by telling another human being what was going on. That, for me, was the first step toward reclaiming my life. Just talking about my problem opened the door to taking another step in the direction I was always too afraid to follow.
Next, I sought professional help. The road to sobriety is paved one brick at a time. Some journeys are straight ahead, others have more twists and turns than a winding mountain road. The key to a successful journey is to have a plan, or a map if you will.
I thought I wanted to quit, but apparently not bad enough to formulate an actual plan of attack. After discussing my intentions and plans with a professional, I began to see, organically, how my original plan to not drink was simplistic, insufficient, and naïve.
“When I changed the way I looked at things, the things I looked at changed.” For me the quote refers to some of my reasons for drinking. I saw the people and situations in my life as obstacles to my freedom. But the revelation was that these were things that mattered. And because I looked at them as obstacles to be avoided by getting high, they were slipping away.
Mindfulness and Radical Willingness to See Things Differently
Using mindfulness techniques to look honestly at myself, without avoidance (but also without blame) allowed me to observe my actions objectively. I did not like what I saw.
It was essential that I change the way I looked at myself. This is not easy to do on your own. Though I didn’t like to admit it – I couldn’t do it by myself. It was the first bitter pill I had to swallow. I reached out for assistance and began to realize that receiving help was a luxury, not a failing. Once I did that, other tools to strengthen my recovery came together easily. It wasn’t about “getting my act together,” “turning over a new leaf,” “being more disciplined.” I simply recognized that I wanted the freedom that came with getting clean and sober. Freedom was not something being denied me, it was something hidden in sobriety. This small flip in perspective put all the work of sobriety in the light of pursuing a goal. Now I was going towards something I wanted, not away from something I “shouldn’t do.” It made all the difference.
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