July 25, 2019

An Open Letter to Anyone Struggling with Addiction.


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I know you.

You couldn’t stop thinking. Your mind is running the show 24 hours a day: Sad memories from the past. Apprehension about the future. If I only had this. If I could just get him to notice me.

It all revolves around and around like an endless train on a broken track leading to nowhere and nothing.

You’ve tried so many ways to get it to stop for just a minute or two, and sometimes it does. But it’s only just long enough for it to start again with even more intensity than before. Day after day, you are a slave to the feeling that you are never enough. Never good enough. That ever-present feeling.

You couldn’t stop feeling. Whether it’s a disturbing look from a stranger, a snub from a friend, an ignored text, or an off-hand comment—it impolitely wakes you up every morning and lays next to you as you try to sleep at night. You are never anything besides ill at ease about most everything and triggered constantly from your childhood insecurities. The words, the situations that are seemingly tattooed in your mind. It hurts.

You couldn’t stop hurting. Yes, and because of all this, the never-ending hum of hurt wracks your body and your brain incessantly. You were traumatized at some point by something and you never quite got past it. It has become your identity and it follows you everywhere. Mind you, it’s not every minute of every day; but it’s most of the time.

So, you look for whatever you can find to numb yourself.

The vehicle really doesn’t matter. Yes, some are deadlier than others but beyond that, it makes no difference if you gravitate toward bad relationships, crack, chocolate bars, pornography, or scratch off tickets. The end result is always the same. All addictions begin as a desperate attempt to stop the pain and they end in more pain than you ever could have imagined.

But it’s not just the pain you are trying to stop. It’s the emptiness.

Why else would you keep shoving food in your mouth, drugs up your nose, and sex in your face? It’s as if something has been missing all along and you’re not quite sure what it is but you suspect it could be some free money, a sneaky text from someone else’s lover, or that electronic device you really can’t afford.

The worst thing is that it doesn’t take all that long to come to terms with the fact that none of it really fixes you. Maybe you’ve been to jail, rehabs, detoxes. Maybe close friends have died along the way. Whatever the case, at least in some unconscious way, you know that you can’t fix the problem with any of this stuff and you are left with nothing but the compulsion to keep trying. The insanity of repeating the same behaviors over and over and hoping for different outcomes.

What’s the alternative, though? You know the feeling where you know the stuff that helps everyone else will never help you? You’ve been convinced of this for years.

You may have even tried to stop whatever it is you are doing, using these over-rated programs, but the pain and rawness were too intense. If the addiction is fatal, then you’d rather die numb than live having to feel your feelings. It’s too painful.

I know you because I am describing myself. I was this person for decades. I’m still this person sometimes.

The expression “one day at a time” has been so overused that it seems to beg for the eye roll, the annoyed sigh, and the mumbled profanity, but deep in the recesses of its Grandma simplicity is the most profound tenets of Eastern religion and philosophy.

You don’t have to stop copping dope forever and ever. You don’t have to swear off of inappropriate partners for the rest of your life.

Just don’t do it today.

Yesterday and tomorrow are inconsequential. If you can get through this moment—right now—it’s all you need to do to change your entire life. I say this from experience.

Whether you take the pill or put it off for the day, the compulsion to want to do it again will re-appear. The difference is that if you can avoid it for the moment and avoid it for the next moment, the chance of recovery will get greater and greater. You may, as I have, be introduced to real feelings of joy for the first time in your life.

Of course, this path is not easy. Some say it is the most difficult thing you’ve ever tried to do. You know, somewhere in your heart, that the people who do it are some of the most authentically happy people in the world. If you could pull it off, there’s no telling where you could wind up.

I know for me, the journey from street corner, to family man, to signing a contract for my first book didn’t really take eight years. It took one day. One day of just not picking the thing up and putting it in my body.

If I can leave you with anything, let it be that. It is just a one day commitment.

And it’s never too late. Even a hard-headed guy like me, who didn’t get it until I was 40 years old, was able to reinvent myself so completely from the ground up that some of my family members are still confused about what happened.

I heard once that if Maya Angelou died when she was 20, she would’ve been known as simply a prostitute and a single mom, and if Malcolm X died when he was 20, he would’ve gone down as just a thief and an addict. Instead, these people went on to change the course of literature and history.

You have greatness within yourself somewhere that just needs a chance to get out. You, too, can change the world around you.

How can I be so sure?

I know you.

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