The literature on addiction is honestly overwhelming. And never more so than when you set out on your recovery and decide to start learning about your disease. The internet has opened up a new world of resources, but it has also led to the availability of every opinion ever written on the subject! Is addiction genetic? Is addiction curable? Is addiction caused by internal or external factors? Am I an addict or just a heavy user? Is abstinence the only choice? The list of questions you find yourself asking goes on and on. But the way I see it, is if you are asking these questions at any point you are in some respect worried about your substance consumption.
So many times I’d promise myself that “this was the last time!” I honestly don’t believe that someone who is in control of their using (of whatever that may be), tells themselves this kind of thing. And of course there is always the effect that substance use starts to have on professional and personal relationships. Over the years of my journey I’ve come to understand that no matter how “in control” of the situation I thought I was, it was ever so clear to those around me that I wasn’t. If I’d been a little more authentic with myself a little more often I would have come to the same conclusions sooner.
The big thing, all those questions aside, for me was that I just didn’t associate myself with what I understood an addict (in my case alcoholic) to be. I didn’t drink alone, I didn’t have bottles (empty or full) stashed away in my house, I was holding down a job, I had a group of close friends. I certainly didn’t drink every night of the week and definitely never consumed anything before or during the work day. So how could I possibly be an alcoholic!? But there were cracks in my story… I was holding down a job or more to the point running a failing business. My close friends and I often ended up fighting after a night of heavy “partying”. And my finances were abysmal even though my trash cans were empty of the offending empties.
Even when I went to rehab and sat in group with people who were trying to turn their lives around, I still felt vaguely superior as they talked of being separated from their families, fired from their jobs and basically living in the bones of their ass. I was arrogant, thinking that unlike them I was not nearly as far down the addiction road and that it was simply a case of choosing to stop. What I realise now, that I was too hot-headed to see then, was addiction is not a one-size fits all disease. Sure it may be an equal opportunist, for who doesn’t know someone who has been affected by this epidemic, but it certainly doesn’t present itself in the same way every time. What might be a genetic predisposition in one person could be a collection of environmental circumstances in another, both leading to substance abuse. And there are dozens of other thoughts on the causes for addiction.
When a lot of people think “addict” they immediately jump to all sorts of preconceived notions. Yet in my case, I never slept rough, I never stole to support my habit, I never crossed paths with the law because of my alcohol abuse and I never ever hid my drinking from those around me. So when people hear that I am in long-term recovery I can often see that knowing look cross their faces. Sure I did plenty of stupid stuff when I was drunk, including dabble in chemical substances, but I am not the stereo-type of what people immediately assume when they hear why I don’t drink. I am in no way trying to elevate myself above anyone else who is struggling or has fought addiction, I’m simply reiterating that addiction can strike anyone, anywhere and it never wears the same hat!
And the reason for peoples’ attitudes is simply a lack of awareness and education on the matter of addiction and substance abuse, especially in my country. I cannot speak for anywhere else, but I truly believe it is time to help people understand this disease and thereby lift that shame and guilt that so many addicts and their families suffer, especially in the early stages of recovery. Nobody chooses to be an addict…I wrote about this in my post “(Not) What Every Little Girl Wants to Be”
I’m not advocating taking no responsibility for what we have done while we were struggling with addiction, but I do believe that it is imperative that for an illness that touches such huge percentages of most of the world’s population, there should be even more awareness, more education, more treatment, more after-care and more support. Addiction is not something sufferers and their families should be ashamed of! It is something that they should be given the knowledge and tools to fight and overcome! I don’t want anyone in my life to be embarrassed (including myself) because I am an addict in long-term recovery. I want them to be proud of me for overcoming this life-threatening disease. And I want to make it my life’s work to aid and facilitate the recovery of those who choose to set out on this journey of sustained sobriety. I want to empower people to take control of their present situation and start living the lives they only ever imagined! Because addiction will end your life and recovery will change your story.
‘Til next time