Life is a journey, as cheesy and clichéd as that might sound.
And addiction is no different. Every step we take on that journey is leading us somewhere, turning us into that person we will ultimately become.
Sometimes, it can feel like there’s no choice, like life is just happening to us and that we’re stuck fast in our current situation. Sometimes, particularly after relapsing for the 10th time, it might seem like there’s no end, that it’s pointless even trying. But I can’t tell you how wrong you are in that assumption.
Every relapse has meaning; it has the potential to be a learning experience. And as the old storytelling adage goes, “There’s no character without conflict.” After all, Frodo didn’t take the ring, hop in a taxi, and simply throw it into the fiery pits of Mt. Doom, did he? No, he had to cross Middle Earth, go through hell and high water until finally, ragged and exhausted, he reached his destination.
That’s the addict. We’re Frodo. And with every blip, with every perceived failure, with every relapse, we’re taking that one step further toward Mt. Doom where we can finally dispose of that ring that’s been weighing us down all this time.
So if you’re reading this and you’re in the throes of addiction yourself, let me tell you something: while it might seem hopeless, pointless even, it isn’t. It’s all just a matter of perspective. If you wallow, if you fall into victim mode and choose to stay put, put you will stay, my friend.
I’m not saying that choosing recovery will mean you’re out of the woods. Far from it. Those woods are deep, and making the choice doesn’t suddenly transport you to the end of the journey. Think of it as the end of act one; you’ve still got a hell of a way to go, but this is where the story just starts to get interesting.
My mother often lamented that I just didn’t care, that I loved cocaine more than I loved my own family. How wrong she was. The truly painful thing about addiction is that you do care, but you are compelled to act in service of your drug of choice. In many ways, it would be easier if you didn’t—if you were truly empty and devoid of emotion. But you’re not. You care deeply for those you’re harming, but still you cannot stop harming them. Can you imagine that? Unless you’ve been there, I doubt you can.
Sometimes, it’s hard to see the addict as anything short of despicable, particularly if you have one in the family. After all, as they say, addiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and usually, the addict leaves a trail of destruction in his or her wake, ripping apart the support network that sustains them.
I certainly did. I drove my poor mother almost into the ground; in fact, I nearly killed her with my behaviour. I watched her wilt before my very eyes as she watched her baby boy destroy himself.
Addiction is worse than death for the family members caught in the gravity of it. At least in death, a person can be mourned. In addiction, our families are forced to bear witness as—alive but unreachable—we spiral further and further into oblivion.
I will never truly understand the heartbreak my mother must have endured at my hands, but I can tell you that I’m welling up as I write this paragraph. But I will say one thing: that woman never once even thought about giving up on me, and for that, I am forever in her debt.
But addiction is not exactly the end of the story, is it? It’s a pit that many never escape from, true. But there’s another side to addiction that many don’t consider until they find their way successfully into recovery. It takes strength to be an addict. It takes guile, tenacity, and fortitude. Sure, these things are channelled in all the wrong ways, and they’re used in service to a great evil.
But here’s the thing: the skills that are required of an addict are transferable. Once you’re in recovery, they don’t just disappear. Thanks to my struggle with addiction, I am stronger, cleverer, and more resilient than I’ve ever been before. And for once I can finally cope.
Isn’t it a paradox? Addiction turned me into a monster. It also turned me into the best version of myself, in the long run. And anyone who has successfully beaten their addiction will tell you the same, I’m sure. We’re an army of warriors marching on in sobriety, suddenly able to withstand all that life throws at us with staunch determination. Because we’ve been to hell, and most of us thought we’d never return. We had nothing left, and so we cherish everything that comes with recovery, hold fast to it, let it drive us to want more. In short, we’re still using those skills that addiction taught us, but we’re using them now in service to ourselves and those we love. It’s a beautiful thing.
I’ve been around the block. I’ve been through two separate rehabs, and I’ve met and associated with career heroin and crack dealers and let me tell you something: these are some of the most deeply caring people I’ve ever met. I often think we become addicts because we feel so intensely that we can’t cope—like getting into a hot bath after three hours in the snow. It’s unbearable.
No one uses habitually because they want to. Addicts are running from themselves, subconsciously programmed to believe that the only way to find relief is to pump themselves full of chemicals. Take those chemicals away, and most of the time, you’ll find deep empathy and a heart of gold.
And that’s the dichotomy right there. Many see addicts as the bane of society, as uncaring creatures that rob and coerce to get their own way, and they’re not exactly wrong in that assumption. But it isn’t us. You only have to look at those warriors marching on in recovery to see that. I can assure you all that addicts are not bad people—more a collection of bad decisions made without the knowledge of the horrors to come.
So, I am not ashamed of my battles with addiction. Like Frodo, I beat the odds, and I cast that ring into those fiery pits and rose anew. I wouldn’t trade those horrors I suffered for the world because those horrors turned me into a warrior. And I will endure.