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March 2, 2016

Living with Addiction: 6 Lessons that are Crucial for Recovery.

Joseph Xuereb/Flickr

Bonus:

The Truth Behind the Pictures. “Like my Addiction.”

The classic definition of an addiction is repeated and compulsive behavior that causes adverse consequences to the user and their loved ones.

It reminds me of the quote “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result,” but with a twist.

Many people assume that addictions always have disastrous consequences, but that is not always true. I know many highly functional people who compulsively engage in addictive behavior and seem to glide unscathed through their dependency on this behavior.

I know a lot about substance abuse (drum roll, please): I was arrested twice for driving while intoxicated (alcohol). I became a substance abuse counselor for my state Bar Association and was involved with countless interventions with addicted lawyers who had let their addictions adversely effect their practice and quality of life. I was the poster boy for that legal tribe.

Substance abuse can involve almost everything, some of which are quite legal. I have had a love affair with alcohol, which thank God I now can take or leave. I can go quite a long period of time without consuming alcohol simply because I don’t want to. When I do consume alcohol, I stop before it becomes a problem, otherwise known as “social drinking.” It seems to be working for me.

There was a time years ago when I thought about drinking 24/7, sometimes drinking in the morning or before lunch to get me through the afternoon. Fortunately, I have a high tolerance for alcohol, and one or two drinks are not noticeable. Thankfully I never needed an intervention, because the “blue light special” (the Highway Patrol) got my attention before it was necessary.

The second DWI was especially embarrassing. I was clocked going 75 in a 55 mph zone with my 10-year-old son (let’s call him Thing 1) and a 165-pound Rottweiler in the cab of my pick-up truck. I can only imagine what the Highway Patrol trooper must have thought when he walked up and looked inside the truck. Needless to say, it was not my finest day and it isn’t mentioned in my resume.

I have gone to many addiction recovery retreats and workshops on addiction and it still is debated whether the disease is environmental (if your parents drank, like mine did, there is a social predisposition to become dependent on alcohol) or hereditary. Psychologists attribute the disposition to become addicted to mental disorders, especially personality disorders including denial of obvious circumstances, inability to control impulses (especially instant gratification) and problems with handling emotions.

I never felt that I had any emotional or mental problems, I sincerely just liked the pleasurable feeling I got when I drank. I was able to stop drinking relatively easily so the issue for me was to restructure my life around activities that did not include alcohol. So imagine my surprise some years ago when my younger teenage son (Thing 2) became addicted to Cordicedon, an over the counter medication. It’s active ingredient Dextromathorphan (DXM) made my son hallucinate like he was on PCP.

I had been sober for 10 years and had been involved with substance abuse counseling for several years and he had never seen me drink or be drunk. Where did the addiction come from? His story has a happy ending, but it took a long time to wean him from alcohol and drugs. He did it all by himself in his mid-20s which was a miracle in itself because the doctors have labelled him suicidal and did not have a positive prognosis for his life expectancy.

Addiction is sneaky and doesn’t respect income, education, social status or intelligence.

I personally believe that the best way to deal with addiction is to find positive activities and behaviors that are as pleasurable as the substance abuse.

My experience is that when people stop using addictive substances or behaviors, it is like they have lost their best friend.

Addiction is at its core a habit, and behavioral scientists teach that to stop a habit you have to replace it with another one. It takes 21 to 30 days to change a habit. Depending on the addictive properties of the substance or behavior it can take longer. It is important not to transfer your addition to another adverse behavior. I became a competitive golfer when I sobered up and my (ex) wife accused me of being just as addicted to golf as I was to drinking. I suppose she could have been correct, but at least I didn’t go to jail for playing golf.

I learned a few core lessons when dealing with addictions, whether it is substance (drugs, drink, food), behavior (porn, gambling) or any other behavior that has adverse consequences. Here are some that are absolutely crucial to recovering from addiction:

1. We have to take responsibility for our actions.

No one forced us to consume pleasure-causing substances or behave irresponsibly. However, that does not make us bad people. We simply have to recognize the goodness within us.

2. We have to have the discipline to take responsibility for our own health—physical, mental, emotional or spiritual (ideally all of them).

We have to take time for ourselves to do whatever it takes to recover. Actively participating in all of those areas will take up a lot of the time that one would have otherwise spent participating in addictive behaviors. What other people think of us doesn’t matter. What we think about ourselves does.

3. We have to volunteer our time and services for others without expectation of reward.

This behavior leads to the highest success rates in recovery. The best way to re-establish self-respect and self-worth is help someone that is not as fortunate as us. There is always someone that needs our attention and kindness.

Whenever my sons would complain about anything, I recommended that they go volunteer their time at homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Nothing will cheer you up faster than helping someone that needs it. I was in Hong Kong and feeling lonely and afraid of my future. Then I saw a beggar who had no feet. It shocked me back into reality and I have never forgotten it.

4. Focus on what we are doing in the moment.

Stop thinking about the past or the future. The past will only imprison us with guilt, the future will burden us with fear. It does no good to resent the past or to stress out about the future. The fact that we are changing our behavior from addiction to health is huge!

5. Find peer support.

If you don’t have any, call me.

6. Don’t be afraid, be excited!

The statistics on addiction are frightening, but they can be changed.

If you have to be addicted, be addicted to being humble, generous and happy. And as far as I know, no one has ever gone to jail for being kind.

~

Author: James Robinson

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: Joseph Xuereb/Flickr

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