A revised version of this article has been published on Psych Central.
Once an addict, always an addict? This is a saying I’ve always grappled with. One part of me is against any type of labeling, let alone a heavy label to be carried for the rest of your life. We are all so interchangeably dynamic, that to categorize someone into a box forever doesn’t sit well. It’s like trying to describe a piece of music: sometimes it doesn’t fit into a particular genre and maybe what’s more important is the expression of how it sounds in a particular moment.
Another part of me completely agrees with this statement and perceives it to be utterly valid. Instead of denying who you are, true acceptance perhaps is the only way to not only recover, but to continue to maintain your recovery. However much I am against “branding” someone for life, it is human nature to create categorizes in order to piece things together and make sense of circumstances.
Three recent events have inspired me to write this article.
- Robin Williams’ recent suicide after battling addiction for over 30 years.
- Coming home to find that my father had picked up smoking cigarettes again after “quitting” for 15 years.
- Witnessing a co-worker undergo major drug withdrawals during a shift at work.
As a “former” addict, I’ve had to come to terms with my own fate. At age 14, I started smoking marijuana, age 15, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, age 17, I started attending raves and got introduced to an entire world of hard drugs, namely ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine, magic mushrooms, and pharmaceutical drugs (adderall, ritalin, morphine, methadone and oxycontin). Am I proud to of all this? No. Am I ashamed? Kind of. Am I okay with where I’m at now? Yes.
Although I’ve been “off” hard drugs and cigarettes since 2008, my addiction appears in other aspects of my life. I still drink alcohol in moderation and battle with how I feel about marijuana, especially now that it’s legal in my state and is “all natural” (this is a whole separate article). I have no future plans to smoke weed again, unless I maybe end up in the forest somewhere with the right people.
After coming clean from drugs, I turned into a health nut and avid spiritual seeker. My addiction transferred into the realm of health and I became addicted to being overly fit, doing yoga, running, going on juice fasts, and I became very particular of what foods I put into my body. This is all good to a certain degree, but was taken a bit over-the-top (a typical pattern of an addict). I also became obsessed with new age studies, “positive thinking,” and meditation. I dabbled in Buddhism and attended epic retreats. I joined a Hindu group for 8 months. I studied Taoist philosophies, was enraptured by the concept of “zen,” and was fascinated with various forms of mysticism and becoming “one” with the trees and Universe. I also became an acupuncture junkie and workaholic.
Fast forward to 2013.. I somehow became a Christian. I’m hoping to not be a Jesus freak now, since this seems to be the new “high” that I’m on. Maybe this time, it’s real. However, why do I still feel confused? Now that I’ve been “saved,” shouldn’t I feel “complete?” My church friends would say I’m not praying enough. However, in a recent sermon I heard, I was pretty much appalled at what was coming out of the pastor’s mouth. He presented a whole plethora of statistics between Christians and non-Christians. I just can’t come to terms with a narrow “us” versus “them” mentality. I think Jesus, or God, or whoever, crosses way bigger boundaries beyond what we can even comprehend. There are no boundaries, yet in relationships there has to be. Hence, the constant devil versus angel act. Will life always be a teeter-totter? You’re either in or out? Making a good or bad choice? Falling into temptation or overcoming? An addict or not an addict? To say you’re never going to drink, smoke, or make a not-so-good decision ever again is a lot of pressure to carry and can create a path towards relapse.
In many situations, I appreciate the Eastern philosophies of balance and the “middle way,” but for some addicts, this is completely impossible. I think it is vital for addicts to surround ourselves with people that are supportive of our recovery and ongoing maintenance. If you don’t change your car’s oil and give it a tune-up on a regular basis, it will break down. The same is true for recovery.. it’s a lifelong process. It is also wise to not place ourselves in situations where an opportunity to use is freely presented. Does that mean we have to lock ourselves away forever? No. But maybe instead of meeting friends at a bar, a tea shop would be more appropriate. When I finally decided to change my life, I deleted all the phone numbers of people I knew could give me access to drugs. I also recently decided that I don’t want to go into a bar alone anymore. Do I want to be that lone girl sitting on a bar stool? Sounds like a great song lyric, but it’s not the woman I aspire to be.
All I know is that I wake up every morning thankful to be alive. I have no idea what lies ahead, but have faith that I’ll be able to endure whatever is thrown my way. Making decisions, even small daily ones, can be stressful. I’ve realized that it’s not up to me and there is a way bigger thing happening beyond my control that can’t be fathomed. Even if the “right” thing is staring at me in the face, and I do the “wrong” thing, make poor choices, and end up repeating bad habits or patterns, I trust that I’ll be able to get out of it because I’ve accepted my fate. I’ll always be an addict, I will never live up to any standards, I’ll continue to make mistakes and will never be perfect. Once this weight is lifted, it becomes a lot easier to keep walking everyday.
by Kristin Bach