As I sit here alone in my apartment staring at the blank screen in front of me, I’m struck by the realization that putting my story into words is going to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated. I already came clean to the people that my drug use affected. I’ve talked to a couple dozen close friends that I avoided while using. I’ve shared stories with strangers in Refuge Recovery meetings, which are awesome, by the way. I’ve been open about the whole thing since the day I stopped using. In fact, opening up is the only reason I was able to stop using.
After all of that, I never expected to have any trouble repeating my story in the form of a blog. My only concern was how I would tell the story. What should the tone feel like? How much detail should it contain? Should it be chronological? Reverse chronological?
Where do I start?
That is a tough question, but not for reasons you might expect. You see, in asking where to start, I was forcing myself to focus intently on the darkest moments of my life. It was a mindfulness meditation of sorts; one that resulted in acute awareness of how vulnerable I feel putting myself out there for the world to see; one that highlighted my fear of exposing myself to ignorant judgments; one in which the awareness of that fear soon transformed into the greatest reminder as to why I had chosen to start Hello, Mara in the first place: It can feel impossible to embrace the vulnerability necessary to reach out for help. As difficult as this is for me right now, it pales in comparison to my struggle to open up the first time.
REACHING OUT FOR HELP
Asking for help was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. So difficult, in fact, I was certain I would die before finding the strength to speak out. I thought a lot about death. I had to. I was facing my own mortality. If I was going to die soon, I had to accept my death. And I did. How could that be?
My life hasn’t been perfect but it hasn’t been bad by any means. I’ve been pretty lucky. I have a loving family and great friends, all of whom would have done anything in their power to help had I asked. Before everything spiraled out of control, my life was better than ever. I was in love. I had an amazing job that I enjoyed. I was making more money than ever before. A lot more. I had recently got a new apartment. And for the first time in my adult life, I was sober. No drugs. No alcohol. No weed. No cigarettes. On paper, my life looked great. The problem is I didn’t feel great. I was depressed and had no idea why. Since beginning my recovery, I’ve been thoroughly investigating why I was depressed, but I’ll go over all of that in a separate post. What I want to focus on right now is why it was so hard to stop using once the (8) ball was rolling.
I feel like I should pause for a moment to address one thing before going any further. Logic does not apply to addiction. It is not logical to continue using drugs, all the while knowing for damn sure that they are creating problems that you’d prefer to avoid. So if you try to apply logic to the thought process that drives addictive behaviors you will never get any closer to understanding addiction. That being said, if you are willing to accept that there is an explanation for the behaviors, however illogical they may seem, it’s really not all that complicated.
Addiction is a cycle that feeds itself. For me, that cycle went something like this:
Feeling depressed/unworthy —> drug use —> guilt —> affirmation of unworthiness —> repeat
I felt like a piece of shit. Every time I used, it confirmed that I was a piece of shit; each time, an even bigger one. It was never about the high. I wasn’t running towards pleasure. I was running away from displeasure. As the cycle continues, there becomes more and more suffering, which manifests as increasingly more debilitating feelings of guilt and depression. So, on and on it goes with no end in sight.
After coming clean with everything, I noticed a trend in the initial responses from people around me. “You could have told me. You know you can tell me anything.” It’s true. Like I said, I’m a lucky guy. I have people in my life that love me. But this omits the simple fact that the cycle of addiction is a closed loop, and the mind that is responsible for reaching out for help feels helpless. It was depressed to begin with. Now it’s depressed and on drugs. Even when you want help, you circle round and round without ever seeing an exit.
I knew help was available, I just didn’t feel deserving of being helped. After making several rounds through the cycle, it became unbearable and my mind no longer worked as it used to. I had become paranoid and delusional. I didn’t want to die, though I had convinced myself I did. The alternative, living, seemed worse. I was scared to even try. I didn’t see the point.
Society stigmatizes addiction. It tells the addict they are fucked in the head. There’s something wrong with them. They are abnormal. We point to abstinence as the solution. But as I learned after sobering up the first time, abstinence only mitigates symptoms to the underlying problem. It’s necessary, but the real problem is dissatisfaction with our reality. Substance abuse is a symptom of that preexisting problem. Drug addicts aren’t abnormal. We’re human. And being human is painful at times. Pain is completely normal. How we deal with the unsatisfactory parts of our life is what determines our level of happiness.
We need to stop treating addicts as criminals and start showing compassion. They were suffering before becoming addicts. They are suffering more now as addicts. We should be asking ourselves what led to the drugs in the first place, not casting them aside and locking them up. We need to be open about the struggles we face as human beings and teach people how to deal with them in healthy ways, not ignore the hardships we face and give up on people when they get off track.
Addiction can happen to anyone. It preys on people when they are down. Living with addiction is far more devastating than I ever imagined. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. We need to start asking questions and getting educated on the matter to figure out a way to prevent depression from leading to self medicating. And we can’t give up on people once they fall victim to addiction.
It’s time we stop stigmatizing addiction and start having uncomfortable conversations. People are dying for fucks sake.
Compassion, people. Compassion.
Hello, Mara is an ongoing project seeking continual improvement. If there are any resources you would like to see added to HelloMara.com, please e-mail directly at TakeOnMara@gmail.com