Being in recovery from an addiction has gifts beyond measure and, at the same time, deep, acute pain. Sometimes I feel like I am a big open wound walking around, bleeding all over the place. Everything I touch makes me flinch. And, once the wound starts gushing, it can take an hour to scab over, or it can easily take a few days. I call it affectionately ‘my downward spiral’.
Addicts, as a rule, avoid pain. It’s why we latch on to a substance that helps us numb out. When life gets too hard, grab a drink … a twinkie … a joint … or a new lover. I’ll feel better for a little while. Unfortunately, the lifestyle and consequences inherent in being an addict multiplies the normal aches and pains that human beings feel. I am so grateful for recovery because there are lots of consequences to my past behaviors that kept me from dealing with the open wounds that I already had and the new ones that I was creating with my addictive behavior. Broken relationships, superficial relationships, financial woes, and depression were some of the wounds that I kept heaping upon myself with my addiction to the possibility – otherwise known as codependency. I relapsed briefly with my other addiction of choice – alcohol – when the open wounds of codependency got so bad that I couldn’t bear the incessant throbbing of pain throughout my body. And, if you think codependency won’t make you physically sick or even kill you, check out a survivor. I know I was getting physically sick from the stress of trying to control an uncontrollable situation.
Ironically, there is a stigma around recovery. I hope it’s getting better, but there’s more of a stigma around recovery than there is around active addiction. They don’t ask those 20 questions on job applications to help you determine if you have a drinking problem. They do ask if you’ve ever been treated for chemical dependency. Hmmmm …. why would getting treated be a detriment? I’ve had dates canceled when they re-read my profile and realized I was in recovery and didn’t drink. I actually pay more for my disability policy because I was on an anti-depressant when I signed up. If I went untreated with my depression or remained in denial, I wouldn’t have to pay more. But, because I stepped up to the plate at an early age and took care of the problem so that I could lower my risk of illness and suicide, I now pay more. I’ve been off it since October, but I am told that I have to be completely off for a year before the policy can be underwritten again. I get their logic, but it really doesn’t make sense. It is a barrier for me to get help if I needed it.
When I talk to friends who are struggling with drinking problems or codependency, and they ask for help, many mention that they don’t want to go to a support group because they may see someone they know. Well … duh …. if they are there, they are there for the same reason? And, honestly, do they think that people don’t watch your lives and realize you have a problem with alcoholism, substance abuse or codependency. Dude … it’s pretty noticeable that you keep careening from one bad news boyfriend to another, or that you have gotten two DUI’s and can’t drive to work anymore. It’s in the newspaper! It’s no big secret. But, the stigma is around the solution. It’s just so comfortable to deny the active problem.
It is not easy being sober sometimes. Now, it’s a helluva lot easier than being addicted. But where the typical person can have a glass of wine to take the edge off a particularly stressful day or go have a fling to ignore their sinking marriage, we can’t do that. We actually have to feel our way through the whole thing. Yeah, we can numb with some secondary addictions like caffeine or sugar if they aren’t wrecking our lives, but they don’t have the numbing ability of some of the super drugs like alcohol, recreational drugs and falling in love. Those things have an uncanny ability to distract us from pain like nothing else. It can be complete numbness for however long we want to use. But, when I hurt now, I have to let it throb. I have tools that help me move through it more quickly than before but that doesn’t necessarily lessen the pain. On those days, it’s really hard to live life sober. And, yet I know how much harder it would be to live ‘using’ that I’ll suffer through the hours and/or days that it takes to get through. Luckily there are places to go and ‘bleed’ where it’s safe. At least sitting in a safe place is a harbor that protects that open wound until it can scab over a little. But, as soon as I walk out that door, ‘it’s on’ all over again. Life is not easy or soft for any of us – addicts or not.
I joked with my sister this morning about hating the fact that I can’t drink over the particular open wound I have today. She laughed and texted me back that “It’s not too late to start drinking! I can be there in 3 hours with Mimosas.” We both know that’s not an option, but it is fun to remind myself that it’s always a choice. It’s not one I want to choose TODAY, but it’s always a choice. And, the more that I walk through life in reality – including the pain from open wounds – the more I realize that being sober is the gift that keeps on giving. Everything passes …. this, too, shall pass. I even passed up the coffee this morning in Starbucks although I went there particularly to use that drug of choice. The consequences of not sleeping tonight and my raised anxiety level informed my decision to order a green tea latte instead. I don’t need to be my own perpetrator any more.