Some things are true only because you believe them to be. Some things are true whether you want to believe them or not. One of my truths is that I’m an addict. It doesn’t matter what the substance is, if it has the potential for abuse, I will abuse it. I try to tell myself it’s just booze. That since I’ve been sober for so long I’m in the clear, but it’s never just been booze.
It’s obvious some places. Of course I can’t have just a little bit of cocaine. But it gets fuzzier and fuzzier the more socially acceptable the drug is. Prescribed anti-anxiety medications that are known to be habit-forming are out. Anytime my psychiatrist wants to change my medication I have to ask if any of them have known potential for abuse. I can’t have just a cup of coffee, because soon I’ll be drinking coffee all day, pushing my anxiety through the roof while my sleep bottoms out. Unless I want to smoke a pack a day again, I can never take a drag from a cigarette. I can’t even smoke pot without it quickly consuming my whole day. And forget about sugar. There is no such thing as moderation when it comes to substances with me. It’s an off/on switch.
I guess that’s just another personality trait I need to learn to deal with. But the first step to dealing with it is probably recognizing that it’s a personality trait and not a character flaw. That it does not mean I am fundamentally broken or there is something wrong with me. Moderation is just a thing I can’t do and that’s okay.
That’s why they make you say you’re powerless in AA, I guess. I never went to AA precisely because I hated that part. I didn’t want to powerless, I wanted to be powerful. Vibrant. I wanted to feel like I could do anything. Not powerless. Powerless feels so small and weak. But maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe it can be liberating.
Maybe by admitting I am powerless over addiction I can stop trying to be something I’m not. I can stop testing the waters of substance abuse and finally walk away.
There’s a patch of grass above the freeway near my house. The fence around it has several “No Trespassing” signs tacked to it. But the fence is easy to bend back and sneak in. So the homeless population sets up camp there. Today on my way home I saw city workers repairing the fence. They do this every month or so. Go in, evict the residents, clear out all the trash and cardboard boxes that have accumulated, and repair the fence. Double it up this time, maybe. Make it a bit taller, the wire a bit thicker. As if that is going to take care of the problem. As if that is going to put people in houses and off the streets. As if that is going to take needles out of arms. The city workers will always find a new way to reinforce the fence and the homeless will always find a way back in.
It occured to me that this is exactly the same as my substance abuse issues. Stop drinking and start smoking more. Stop smoking and start eating more. There’s always something that comes in to take the place of unaddressed emotions. The difficult problems. The things that are not easy to sit with. The feelings I don’t know how to feel. Something always slides in to take it’s place until I take care of the problem. Lately it’s disappearing into bowls of pasta, bags of potato chips, pints of ice cream. A hunger that has nothing to do with food and everything to do with drowning out feeling. Just like bourbon used to. Just like cocaine. It reminds me how much of a process this is. How far ahead I can be, but how far I have to go still.
I think about what I was like five years ago. Going through the motions of getting help, but never committing to it fully. I’d show up to my 10 AM therapy appointments still high on coke from the night before and not say a word about it. Only partially brave enough to face the things happening inside my head.
I think about what I was like two years ago. Just starting to re-admit that I need help. Finding myself sitting in my therapist’s office with lots of “I don’t knows” dripping from my lips. Never dropping in words like “worthless” and “suicide” and “desperation”. Refusing to admit that maybe I needed more support than I thought I did. Than I wanted to admit. That this thing is bigger than I’m equipped to deal with.
Only three months ago I finally started talking about how bad it’d gotten. It wasn’t the first time I was that scared. Wasn’t the first time I started investigating ways to end my life. But it was the first time I reached out to anybody. And I reached out to everybody. I told my therapist, I found a psychiatrist, talked to my medical doctor about it, lined up a DBT program. I told my family. My readers. It felt like unzipping my skin, standing up all tissue and bones. Terrified.
But that shows me that my capacity is growing. That I’m moving toward something more stable. So even when I feel like this isn’t working and I’m never going to make it. I just have to remember that I already am. I’m taking steps to address the problem, not the fence.