Am I an addict?

Am I an addict?

The following bears no resemblance to medical research. I believe that addicts are wired differently, and that is as technical as I will go. Instead, the following represents my philosophy and the meandering thoughts I have encountered when considering the subject.  

To me, addiction is a distraction away from your feelings. At some point in your life, you experienced trauma and your brain dealt with it by either feeling it or suppressing it. When suppressed, any substance or coping mechanism you can find to numb the pain or give you pleasure becomes a habitual process.

There is a very fine line between an addict and a non-addict. The defining factor is your behaviour. Some addictions are worse for you than others. Every one of us follows behavioural patterns. My 3-year-old is not an addict but will still follow patterns. He will wake up, play with his toys, and ask for the iPad when he gets home from nursery. These same patterns and behaviours change over time. After all, we are human, and to survive and evolve, most of our actions and decisions become unconscious. We are simply following patterns and routines, some healthy and some not so healthy. 

What does ‘addict’ mean to me? 

It's something you do, even though you don't want to. 

I want to help people understand addiction. Perhaps I have been naive to think that enough people have come before me to de-stigmatise addiction. Actually, it is lazy of me to consider that all non-addicts (sic) would be privy to this information. 

The preconceptions around addicts are often muddied. Could it be that the addiction is an excuse to relinquish responsibility so that you can continually justify your behaviour that doesn't match your ideal? You could blame 'addiction', surrender your accountability and do what you want to do—almost a cowardly way to bypass your moral compass. "I took cocaine; I then cheated on my partner!”, "The addiction made me do it!". 

If I am constantly fucking up yet still do what I know will enable me to mess up; am I an addict?

Being an addict is so much more than a choice. It runs on a physiological, emotional, spiritual and intellectual level. In the depths of it, it feels beyond your current powers to control it. It controls you. I certainly don't remember thinking this way when I was active in my addiction; only now I am out the other side do I start to challenge my own thinking. 

As I type or say the word addict, I fail to associate fully with it; I still fail to accept that I 'qualify' to be an addict. In conversations this week with the closest people I know, I find myself having to defend my 'title'. "Please, please accept that I am an addict!"

I don't seem to be defending the mistakes I made or the lives I fucked up. I am almost trying to persuade others that I am an addict. I build a 'case' for the single occupant of the jury with whom I am now confident enough to discuss these things and properly open up. Do they even know that they have been crowned the juror of my experience? In a way, this comes back to the initial cause of my addictions: my lack or need for approval and love. 

The misconceptions of an addict:

My ingrained image of an addict, an alcoholic, is someone carrying a bottle of spirits, stumbling, homeless, in a dirty grey coat. The coward, the homewrecker or the weak villain.

I have a perception of an alcoholic who drinks from the moment they wake to the moment they collapse. Do you really qualify to be one if you can muster the strength not to drink before 4 pm?

Can you be a drug addict if you manage not to take drugs from Sunday to Thursday? 

Are you a smoker if you only smoke socially?

The pain and torment I endured early in life enabled me to be a highly functioning addict. I was superb at it. If it wasn't working, I could change my environment and start again. A new girlfriend. A new friend. Move areas. I shifted my life whenever I got too close to anything or anyone, so no one ever properly knew me. 

To bring it back to the alcoholic, I am trying to say, do we really need to see someone homeless and drinking 24 hours a day to call them an alcoholic? It could be that if you are looking for acceptance as an addict, you've probably got a considerable amount to go through to really meet the mould - I'd urge you not to test this theory.

Acknowledging the pain of acceptance

I can categorically say 'sober' that I would do nothing to harm my relationship with my son and everything to make his life a million dollars. But should I take a sip of beer, it could lead to past behaviour patterns. If I was unconscious enough, I could let him down and lean back into that self-destructive behaviour. And I know, as much as it pains me to say it, that I am perfectly capable of forgetting those outside of myself once intoxicated enough. Has my pleasure become the catalyst for potential abandonment?

Hopefully, you will grant me the right to defend my title ‘addict’.

The most overriding factor for me about Alcoholics Anonymous is accepting that you will never ever do it again. Once I made this decision, I welcomed in a bucket load of pain. This was the only time I could engage with it. When I'd given up before, say for a month, I knew I was only dealing with a countdown until I could go back to past patterns. I never let myself feel too uncomfortable, as I could justify it with a deadline. I needed to know I could drink again to keep my darker thoughts at bay.

If you decide to unlock that dam by truly believing and accepting that you'll never do “it”' again. You’re going to need to be ready for however many years of emotions flooding in at once. Imagine a paddling pool bursting and sending you in whatever direction it chooses. You’ll hang on, but you will not be in charge. It’s going to take a while before you come to rest. This period is not to be underestimated; it’s brutal. Unpredictable and totally erratic. It’s the first time you realise you were never in control in the first place… As much as you tried.

Life flips its balance, and the things I never knew existed, or potentially all of the things that I'd always yearned for, become available to me. It’s a privilege to say that the feelings and experiences now are better than any drug I've ever taken. I don't have to deal with any new shame. I instantly remember where I am and what I've planned for the day. All of life's treasures are sliding at me at such an incredible rate that even the disasters bring meaning.

This is not to say that I don’t have “off” days; it would be naive of me to assume that I won’t experience pain again. This is the beauty of life, feeling the entire spectrum of emotions in all their entirety. When under the influence of alcohol, I was numb. “Ecstasy” wasn’t real ecstasy; it was the dulled down version, the version that keeps you in prison. The real beauty is when even the painful moments and heartaches start to bring meaning into my life. You enlighten something completely new: your curiosity for life.

So wherever you are on your journey. Keep learning. Keep being curious.