Hopefully you learn more than 5 things when you get sober but, there are a few commonly held beliefs that addicts have prior to getting sober. One of the symptoms of active addiction is to be out of touch with reality so some of these might not make much sense to the average individual. However, having heard over 1000 stories up until this point, these 5 misconceptions stick out as the most humorous and nonsensical.
Everyone Smokes Weed
False. In high school, I remember debating with my friends on how, not if, my teachers chose to enjoy the ganja. "Ms. Kowalski definitely gets high on lunch break. She is always getting pissed off in the morning but, then she's way chill after she smokes in the afternoon". "No man. I think she tokes in the morning too because she just zones out and draws all over the projector". These were daily conversations we had about our teachers, police officers, Subway sandwich makers, and even our parents. Okay, we may have been right about the Subway sandwich makers but, it's just not true that everyone uses drugs. Many people go full days, weeks, or even years without touching anything illegal. However, the numbers are still pretty high. DrugAbuse.gov reports that 9.4% of people 12 and older have used an illicit substance in the last month. That's still pretty high but, most people are getting along fine without it.
I Can't Have Fun Sober
The sobering fact is that this can be partly true in the beginning. Our brains have become wired to expect pleasure from the dopamine release they get while on drugs. If there is prolonged use, our brains naturally stop producing dopamine in regular amounts so that we can only experience pleasure, motivation, and emotion while on drugs. This is coupled by the fact that we have trained our brains to get high before we get high. We remember the objects, situations, and stressors that came before the high and we are "triggered" before we even ingest the substance. These "triggers" are found all over and they are difficult to deal with in early sobriety. Fortunately, science and our experience shows us that brains can change. With consistent abstinence and emotional work, people can change and it has been many people's experience that life get's easier. In fact, many people including myself, have found a "second wind" with life and have decided to design their life around experiencing the most fun possible. The bottom line is, fun is most fun when you don't have to depend on anything or anyone else to have it.
Of course this has to be true. Who on earth would enjoy being in rehab? All they have you do is sit in a room and talk about feelings until you're so fed up with it that you don't even want to use anymore. The truth is that some rehabs might suck but, most treatment centers are filled with people who care and they are designed around getting the client to feel better about their self. Every treatment center is going to facilitate groups about feelings, family systems, healthy living, and drug use. They do this because it's important information and because it takes a ton of repetition to get an addicts mind to start thinking about recovery instead of substances. I've gone white water rafting, fishing, hiking, rock climbing, snow shoeing, mountain biking, canoeing, cliff jumping, snorkeling, and canyoneering.....while working for rehabs! As a former counselor, I can tell you that they quickest way to get a client to open up and trust you is to make them laugh. Most treatment centers are filled with recovering addicts who have the ability to relate with you like few can. It is customary to have a client share their experience on their last day of treatment. The stories are always different but, they end the same. "I'm glad I did it".
My Life Isn't That Crazy
Yeah, right? Most people go through a phase where they are sticking a needle in their arm to avoid getting dope sick. Everyone has had a few too many and fell asleep at the wheel and it's okay to lie a little bit here and there to keep your family from worrying. Hello? This is not normal behavior! If it was then going out driving would be suicide and absolutely nothing would get done. You're life IS crazy. It just doesn't seem like it is because everyone around you either has a crazy life too or they have tried to protect you and tell you it's not crazy. Measuring crazy doesn't just have to do with the amount of trouble you're in or the amount of drugs you use. Thinking about killing yourself, playing video games 10 hours a day, or getting moderate alcohol poisoning 1 night per week is crazy too. When I say crazy, what I really mean is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to hurt yourself. Everyone deserves better than that. I've heard 100's of stories in the rooms of AA and in treatment about how "normal" the addict behavior became. The reality is, the situations listed above are not normal and if you've been experiencing them, you probably need help.
It Will Be Different This Time
This is probably the toughest one to come to grips with. When addicts share their story, a common theme is many failed attempts at getting things back on track. We told our family it would be different now because of a new realization, our kids future, or our new job. The crazy part about this is that it's not even lie. We are full convinced of our newfound direction. It makes sense to us and those around us that things will change because of the aforementioned situations. Why wouldn't they? They don't change because substances hijack the thinking part of our brains and force us to use our mid brain which is designed for survival. Our brain can't tell the difference between the stress of being chased by a lion and intense emotional stress. It deals with this in the only way it knows how. It tells us to run and find a safe place and it remembers what made the stress go away last time. Drugs. That is why people are constantly caught in a state of utter disbelief when the relapse. They literally weren't even thinking. To mitigate this, it's important to understand that a massive overhaul of life has to occur in order to build a lasting foundation of recovery. People, places, and ideas usually need to be replaced and sometimes this is something only a treatment center can provide. It's possible to find recovery in other ways but the truth is, it wont' be different unless you change one thing. Everything.
Today, as I read the results of the test, my eyes started to water with joy. Something that had been on my mind for the last 8 years was finally becoming a reality. At about 2 years sober, my life had become pretty dismal. I was a waiter at a restaurant in town and I went to the gym. There wasn't even one young person in recovery in all of Northwest Arkansas and I had been going to AA meetings for 2 years. It was starting to become a lonely place fore me. A recent arrest for fighting had really woke me up to the reality that I wasn't doing my best. I was basically hanging on my a thread. All the cliques about being a dry drunk were coming true. My life was lacking passion because I wasn't doing what I really wanted to do. I was thirsty for adventure but, it seemed impossible with only a few hundred dollars. After my arrest, I was required to do 200 hours of community service, anger management, and pay restitution. My parents could see that I had slowly spiraled down even though I was still sober. I was what some may call "white-knuckling it". Therapy had been a great tool in the past but, it just didn't seem to fit at this time. I wanted to get excited. I wanted to dream. I wanted to be who I was mean to be. My parents suggested a life coach and I liked the idea. We talked for the first time over the phone and I could feel the conversation was different. He asked me what my life's purpose was and he asked me to tell my story as if I was a hero. He didn't tell me what to do. He asked me what I really wanted and sat silently waiting for my response. Amidst all the setbacks, I still knew I wanted to go out West and be a counselor. That was the starting point to one of my greatest adventures. As the weekly calls gained momentum, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He asked me what I needed to do to get where I wanted to be and I started thinking. I signed up for life coaching workshops in Chicago and saved up enough money to drive back and forth. During this time, I was also hustling to get my court requirements done. I knew I had to finish in order to leave so I would do community service from 8-3 and then go to work at the restaurant from 5-10. I worked weekends to make sure I would have enough money. Although it looked like shit on the outside, I was becoming more fulfilled by the day. All the BS I was dealing with was getting my closer to my goal. When I arrived at my first workshop, I could see I was the youngest person there by about 15 years. It wasn't new to me as I had always been the youngest person in the room in AA. Everything felt so natural and I connected what my coach was doing with what I was learning to do. The classes even increased my enthusiasm to keep moving forward. As I continued to work with my coach, show up to work, finish my legal requirements, and attend the workshops, life began to take off. I was finally on my way to being who I was mean to be. The story makes many more twists and turns. I could talk about how I ended up living out of my car in San Francisco for a couple months, how I ended up working in a town of about 500 people in southern Utah, or how I circumnavigated the globe but, those are stories for another day. Today, I finished the requirements to become a Certified Life Coach through the International Coaches Federation. My hope is that I can hold the space for many people just like myself. There is always more to be explored inside and out. It's time to reach further and jump higher. This blog is part of what I want to give to the world. Thank you for reading and feel free to share if you found it inspiring.
On September 23, 2007, I was told I had an opportunity to reach my bottom. This didn't seem like something to strive for and I wasn't amused by my current situation. I hadn't lived under a bridge, spent time in prison, or put a needle in my arm so, it seemed like I was more in the middle then at the bottom. There was still plenty of opportunity in front of me and all I had to do was take advantage of it. However, this had been the case for the last 5 years and I had repeatedly fallen short. As intelligent as I may have been, I was unable to think myself out of addiction. The roller coaster was going downhill. The lows got lower and the highs weren't what they used to be. Many things I thought I would never do were beginning to pile up. The house of cards was falling and I had no choice but, to accept help or go forth on my own. An easy decision for the sane was turned into a difficult decision for the irrational. 60 days in treatment as an 18-year-old sounded like a life sentence. Not only because of the time but also, for how it would label me moving forward. What would that make me? None of my friends had been given this ultimatum and some of them were in deeper than me. Every reason not to go was firmly planted in front of my mind. The debate ensued inside my head every day that I was in treatment. I threatened to leave twice, only to be thwarted by my own inability to function. I told my parents to "@$%& off" and I refused to do any assignments after the second week. My operating manual didn't change and it gave me similar results. The last week in treatment was a special one. Everyone was given the opportunity to spend 4 days and nights in the wilderness with themselves. We would be checked secretly and there would be no communication. I was thrilled to take a break from the constant barrage of group work and feelings talk. My resistance had drained me and this was going to be the perfect opportunity to relax. It turned out to be my worst nightmare and the very thing that would help set me free. On the second day, I awoke to the sounds of birds chirping and sunlight creeping up onto my sleeping bag. The serenity was interrupted by a deep unrest. I got up to walk around and warm up because it had been a very cold night. My sleeping bag zipper was broken and it was getting down to around freezing. As I paced around my camping area, my mind began to desperately reach for anything I could do to stop this gut-wrenching anxiety. It was too deep to even understand exactly where it was coming from. I dove into my food bag and ate about half of the ration they had given me for the 4 days. 2 pounds of peanut butter, granola, and cheese did the trick. I calmly drifted back to sleep under the shimmering of the sun through the trees. When I awoke, it must have been about noon. I felt groggy and my stomach was twisted in knots. There was no way I was going to get away from it this time. The unavoidable pain had come knocking and there was nowhere to hide. My attempt to sacrifice my body to avoid my mind had only made the presence grow. This is the moment that many addicted people refer to as "hitting bottom". It's interesting that this moment was postponed for the first 8 weeks. I used every trick in the book to dodge it, even without drugs. A part of me knew that something big was happening. My diaphragm began to seize uncontrollably and my eyes began to water. I felt like I was being crushed in a trash compactor and I curled up into a ball under a giant oak tree and began to cry. I was transported back to adolescence as I sobbed and drooled all over myself. I wanted to run away but, I was paralyzed. Just as I hit the crescendo of my sadness, bits of inspiration came filtering in. I didn't mean for things to be like this but, this is where I was. I wanted to say sorry to everyone I hurt. I wanted to have a better life and make other people's lives better too. As my crying slowed just enough to hear my breath, a message began to appear in my mind. "Everything will be OK if I don't give up". This was the only message I needed to find and I found it underneath an oak tree somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains. For the first time in treatment, I felt I wanted to be there. It wasn't that I was excited about it but, I wanted to get better. The next few days were still a struggle and it got easier. That was my bottom because I was given the space to face reality that day. I didn't get to choose the time, the place, or the terms and that's OK. My parents were courageous enough to set the ship in motion, professionals fostered patience and understanding, and the silence of the mountains created space for me to feel. I'm forever grateful for the opportunity to hit MY bottom. Today it is a beautiful thing to look back on. I've made so many amazing friends who share similar stories, I've been able to help clients and families struggling with addiction, I'm closer than ever with my family, and I even traveled around the world because I could. Every year has been better than the last in this journey. It is an honor to be able to share this with more and more people. Tune in because the story is still being written. It's never too late to be healthy, feel inspired, and be you. It's also, never too early.