Now that this series that details my full recovery journey and story is finally kicked off, I want to dive into the background of my life and what led up to my addiction.
My intention is to cover the full story, from pre-addiction to my present day recovery, and I believe that there are parts of this background story that are important in describing the full evolution of my disease.
Assumptions about a bad childhood
I noticed something when I got into recovery and started listening to stories of people who were recovering from addiction and alcoholism. Many of them had a rough childhood. Many of them started drinking or using drugs at an unbelievably young age. I could not believe it when I would hear such stories, where people would say that they started abusing drugs or alcohol when they were eight, or ten, or seven years old. I just could not even conceive of such madness.
This is because I experienced the complete opposite in my own childhood. I had no problems to speak of, no major run-ins with drugs or alcohol, no abusive family members or people who were using excessive amounts of chemicals around me. I experienced nothing of the sort, and my childhood experience was pretty much squeaky clean and trouble free.
But the point is, I was comparing. I was comparing my own experience with that of others, and saying “I am not like these people. I am not as bad as these people, they all have been through a much more traumatic past than I have, and so it makes sense that they are drug addicts and alcoholics. But it does not make sense that I am!”
One of the things that we learn in addiction recovery is that we should not compare ourselves like this. What we should do, instead, is to relate to others. We look for the similarities. But in this case I was making a subtle (but important) mistake because I was comparing myself, saying “this is how I am different, and therefore do not really qualify as an addict” and so that was not helping me in my recovery journey.
The fact is that addiction does not discriminate, and it can ultimately affect anyone, regardless of how their childhood went. Do not assume that you don’t “qualify” to be getting help for your addiction just because you do not have the same level of war stories as everyone else at the meeting.
I did not have any abuse or major trauma in my past, so I assumed that I was somehow different from the other addicts and alcoholics who I met in recovery. The fact is that I had more similarities with them than differences, and I still needed help in order to recover. Trying to “compare myself out of recovery” was a mistake.
Feeling socially awkward and never feeling like you fit in right
I may never have had any major trauma in my childhood years, but I definitely felt a social awkwardness that I believe contributed to my addiction later on. I had a few friends throughout middle school and high school but not tons of friends, and I noticed that here was a this pretty big “in crowd” that involved several people, not just a few. I was not a part of that larger and more popular group, not in any meaningful way. I was a shy kid.
I never felt like I fit in perfectly with this more popular group. Maybe the frustrating part is that this group never really outright rejected me….but they never fully accepted me either. Perhaps if they would have been harsher with me, I would have found alternatives and things might have gone differently. Probably not though. I think the seeds of addiction were planted earlier somehow and were more biological/genetic than anything else. I kind of doubt that different circumstances in my life would have avoided my addiction. They may have delayed it a bit but I think if someone is an addict or an alcoholic at heart then it is just a matter of time before their disease manifests itself.
Later on it was evident just how socially awkward I really felt, because drugs and alcohol fixed this “anxiety” of mine instantly and completely. It was not like drinking just sort of helped this a little bit–it cured it completely. When I drank, I naturally overcame this social awkwardness as if by magic. Of course, we all know where that eventually leads for the alcoholic and what the ultimate outcomes and consequences of such “magic” are in the end, but the fact remains. Alcohol and drugs were the “liquid courage” for me that I was seeking all through my awkward teenage years. I always say that “I wish I would have started using drugs when I was younger” so then I might have:
* Been medicated through those horrible socially awkward years of my life.
* Discovered my addiction sooner, worked through it, and possibly discovered the solution sooner too.
Some people might recoil in horror at the idea that I would “wish I had started drinking sooner in life” but they are underestimating the anxiety and discomfort that I felt as a socially awkward teen. If I could turn back the clock I really would have started self medicating sooner. Being shy and socially awkward was, in many ways, pretty much just as bad as my active addiction.
Some teens are so frustrated, miserable, and socially challenged that they give up and commit suicide without ever even trying drugs or alcohol. I am thankful that I am not one of those kids. But I can see how it is possible and I see in the media that it does happen. So I am grateful to have found my drug of choice, because even though it made me even more miserable in the long run, it also led me out to a better path in recovery eventually.
Had I never discovered drugs or alcohol, I might still have a crushing anxiety in my life that is, in some ways, worse than addiction. At least my disease offered a light at the end of the tunnel, a way out eventually. (Which brings up another side point: many addicts and alcoholics in recovery say that “they would kill themselves before they considered relapsing back to their drug of choice.” Stop being so overly dramatic and do the simple math here people! You made it through your disease one time and you are living a decent life in recovery. Being dead ends all hope. I don’t care how far down you think you have gone in your disease, you can always recover, and you can always go down even further, as evidenced by people who do relapse. But when you’re dead….it’s game over people! Think about it. The addiction/recovery cycle may be a rough ride, but it beats being dead!)
Going through a “pre-addiction” phase and a sign of things to come
At one point when I was a teen, I started shoplifting, just for kicks. I started stealing stuff from stores, just for the thrill of it, and I did it over and over again, never getting caught. Looking back, I can see that this was sort of like my “pre-addiction” phase. It was not too many years after this little shoplifting experiment that I ended up experimenting with drugs and alcohol for the first time. What I was really doing was self medicating, I was stealing stuff or the buzz that it gave me, for the high.
Because I was bored. Because I was bored with school, bored with life, I had that social awkwardness thing going on, and so I did not have a ton of social stuff going on other than my few close friends (one of whom was stealing with me for kicks!).
Just like with addiction, I believe part of this had to do with the idea of challenge. Life was so easy, so automatic, so boring. I was good at school, for the most part, and I think by this time I had almost completely eliminated homework. I was fairly smart and I was really fast and efficient when it came to getting all of the mindless and senseless busywork done that passed for “homework” those days. My goal was to pass my classes with good grades without ever really doing homework. I was the kid who always did his homework from one class in the next class, while the teacher was lecturing. Blah blah blah! Just let me get my work done here so I can still have a life when I leave school!
So I was good at school and I had a few close friends and they were pretty good at school at too. We were too innocent and pure to be exposed to drugs or alcohol at this point and we just had not discovered them yet or been exposed to them. Come to find out later, many of the “popular kids” had discovered marijuana by this time, and I can look back and sort of wonder why no one ever offered me any. Maybe it was because they knew I had asthma? All part of my social awkwardness. Or maybe they just knew I was a good kid or whatever.
This idea of needing a challenge, I believe, was part of why I started shoplifting, part of why I eventually wanted to experiment with drugs, and part of why–even today in recovery–I refuse to go get a nine to five job and just do what society expects me to do with my life. It’s all so BORING. I need something more than that, I need a creative outlet, I need a challenge. Going to school was a drag at times but it was also really easy. I pretty much eliminated homework from my life without too much trouble. Later on I found out that college was just more of the same, it was no different than high school really, and it was darn easy too if you just followed through and did the work.
I am not saying that I am super smart or anything, because really I am not. I had many friends in school who worked even less than I did but got better grades. All I am saying is that I think I have this condition where I need to challenge myself in some way, to deviate from the norm, to not fall into the normal ranks of society. Perhaps this is at the core of addiction? Probably not but it is a tendency that I see threaded throughout my entire life, even in recovery today.
The DARE program and how useless and ignored it was
I grew up in Michigan and this is sort of just a side note but our schools had a program called “DARE – to resist drugs and violence.”
Our teachers encouraged us to be in this program and I think we got some sort of perk by doing so, we got out of class 10 minutes early for homeroom or something, I don’t remember. So I was exposed to this program and it was so useless and awful that I cannot remember what it even sought to accomplish.
If anything, it made me slightly more curious about what it might feel like to be drunk or high, because at this point in my life, I had never been either.
Clearly this sort of prevention program is not the answer to society’s drug problems. I cannot even remember what they talked about. I think I got a free key chain or something. Just sort of a side note but I think it bears mention that we had this multi million dollar drug prevention program all through my school years, and it was so incredibly useless and ineffective that I cannot even remember what they talked about or what their core message really was.
Deep down I believe that every person either has the “addict potential” in them right from birth, or they do not. I realize environmental shaping is a factor and can be a strong influence, but deep down I really think people are born with the potential for addiction or they are not. This is what my experience led me to believe anyway, and in the end, I suppose it does not matter much. Once you discover you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, you basically either move forward with a solution or you stay stuck in the chaos. The reason that you became addicted in the first place matters very little. Just my 2 cents of course….
What made me want to finally experiment and try drugs
Nothing in particular happened that made me want to suddenly try drugs or alcohol. I was curious, I suppose it had been subconsciously building for a while, and I was–as I said before–sort of bored with my life. I was in college now, and was probably disappointed that it was just more high school. I had thought that I could specialize, that I would be able to learn what I wanted to learn at this point, and that was clearly not the case. My first 60 credit hours of college are what you would refer to as “general education credits.” I was told in high school that this would be challenging and vastly different from high school, that expectations would be raised, that professors would be ruthless and strict, and that I had better get myself into high gear if I wanted to survive in college.
No greater lie had ever been told, in my opinion. College was just more of the same. In many regards the material got easier than high school, and the workload actually decreased. I was bored and uninterested.
For some unknown reason I decided one day that I should experiment with drugs. No particular event precipitated this. I was simply bored with my life and I was curious what it felt like to be high on drugs. So I thought about and I made a decision and I said “to heck with it! I want to know what it is like to be high on marijuana, so gosh darn it I am going to find a way to get me some weed and I am going to get high and see what all the fuss is about. It must be stupid or boring, but I will try it anyway. What the heck.”
That was my general thinking at the time. Up until this point I had been VERY shielded from drugs and alcohol. No one had ever really offered me a buzz my entire life. Perhaps just a sip of booze here or there, but never enough to even get a glimpse of the full effects. I had never been drunk, or high, and I was about 19 years old and I was suddenly curious. Plus I was sort of bored with my life and the extremely clunky process of college education. I was promised customization in college, and I was warned that it would super challenging, and it was neither. It was boring. It was more of the same.
So this is what caused me to seek out marijuana, and finally get high for the first time in my life.
Why I believe prevention failed for me
I suppose if the DARE program had succeeded then I would have stopped this line of thinking, I would have stifled my curiosity, and I would have reminded myself of all the risks that supposedly come along with drug or alcohol use. The risks are obviously real, but I do not think that a program like DARE could ever portray them accurately enough to really convince people to change their behavior in the long run.
Part of the problem is that there really are no short term, immediate risks with certain types of drug use. Smoking marijuana is not going to cause you to drop dead suddenly. So when kids or teens get curious, trying to convince them that they are in imminent danger if they take a hit from a joint is misleading and outright deception. Once the kid figures this out they may very well feel cheated, and I think I had a bit of that going on myself. I sort of realized that drugs and alcohol were used by lots of people in many different ways and that I had been sort of lied to with things like the DARE program. I realized that it was basically a scare tactic that was going about it all the wrong way. Reefer madness is ridiculous and trying to scare or intimidate kids away from drugs just doesn’t work so well.
After getting into recovery years later and hearing other people’s stories, I was constantly amazed at how long I had gone in my life without using a drink or a drug. My first 19 years were completely clean and sober. This was much more unique than I ever realized. Virtually all addicts and alcoholics seem to have gotten an earlier start than I did. Like I said, you should not compare in this fashion, but I could not help but realize this about myself. I started very late and perhaps that is why I felt so cheated, that I had been shielded from this “magical world of altered perceptions” for so long. Upon discovering drugs, they became my spiritual quest. Or rather, this is what I told myself as justification for getting high and exploring other kinds of drugs. I will go into this a bit more as my story continues of course (the false spiritual quest aspect of my addiction).
The next entry will go into the drug use itself and how it made me feel, which is really the whole crux of addiction. I will do my best to keep any glorification out of these descriptions. Obviously, we all know that there is nothing glorious about drug or alcohol use–but when the addict first discovers their drug of choice, it can certainly feel glorious and wonderful. But that is how we get cheated, and at some point the drug turns on us, and we become miserable–without really knowing how to break free. And thus my story will continue….