So maybe you or someone that you know and love is still trapped in active addiction. They remain trapped because they do not yet see a need for addiction treatment.
You know that you are hooked on your drug of choice, you know that you are trapped in a cycle, but right now you just do not see a way out.
This is because–the argument goes–you actually enjoy using your drug of choice, and nothing else in the world makes you happy any more.
Well, it is time to face reality and smash this illusion once and for all.
It’s time to measure how happy you really are in active addiction.
The first time you really got high on your drug of choice
For every addict or alcoholic, the first time that they really got lit up on their drug (or drink) of choice is sort of the gold standard that they tend to chase for the rest of their addiction. The first time is like magic, everything was right in the world, they were pleasantly buzzed without being out of control or reckless, the buzz lasted for a long time, there were no real negative consequences, and so on.
The problem with addiction is that our brain clings to this memory. That “perfect buzz” becomes our measuring stick, it becomes our default way of thinking about our drug of choice. Forever into the future, when someone mentions really getting drunk or high on our particular drug, our brain associates that with this “perfect memory.”
Some small part of our brain–deep down–realizes that we are not always going to experience that pure state of bliss every single time that we use our drug of choice, but somehow our denial overrides this logic. Instead of realizing that we are frequently miserable even while we try to self medicate, our brain stubbornly clings to that vision of the perfect buzz.
Many people try a drug before they really know what they are doing with it, and so this “perfect buzz” memory might not be formed the very first time that they get drunk or high. It might not happen until months or years later, when something clicks, and the person really goes off on a serious bender. It is not the first time, it is the first time when you really get wasted. That is the moment when the addict becomes hooked, when they say subconsciously to themselves “wow, this is so perfect, I want to feel like this forever and ever, it is the most important thing in my life.”
The first time the addict really gets lit up is the troublesome part. This then becomes their gold standard, the feeling of elation and “joy” that they are constantly chasing.
Clinging to the memory of the perfect buzz keeps us trapped
The problem is created from this denial because of fear. It is our fear of life without our drug of choice that keeps us trapped in addiction.
Now part of the problem too is that most people are very, very unwilling to admit to fear of any kind.
So really there are two problems that the addict or alcoholic must face, there are at least two levels of denial that they must pierce through in order to get clean and sober.
One, they have to realize and fully admit to themselves that they are no longer having fun and enjoying their life with their drug of choice.
Two, they have to admit fully to themselves that they are terrified to face their life without their drug of choice.
Most people who make the journey into recovery do not realize that these are two separate processes. Most people just lump them together and say “I got sick of being sick and tired and so I got help.” In fact, the true process of surrender is a bit more complicated than that, though the moment of truth for each individual will probably be fairly simple.
Fear keeps us stuck in our cycle of addiction. Some typical examples might include thoughts such as:
* What will my life be like if I can not depend on my drug of choice?
* How will I have fun again and enjoy myself if I can never use my drug of choice ever again?
* How will I socialize with others if I can not use my drug of choice to loosen me up, overcome anxiety, or as a social excuse in order to socialize with others, etc?
* How will I manage my job or my work or my family or my daily routine without being able to depend on the boost that I get from my drug of choice?
* How will I manage my weight without my drug of choice?
Notice that when you read through these thought questions, every single one of them is rooted in fear. At the core, each one of those thoughts is really asking “How will I live without my drug of choice?”
And to take it a step further, each one of those thoughts is really saying: “I am scared, because I do not know how I will manage my life without my drug of choice.”
Fear keeps us trapped. So the addict who is trying to surrender really has to overcome two things: they have to surrender to their addiction, but they also have to surrender to the fear that is keeping them trapped. They have to see this fear, name it, give it the credit that it deserves, admit that they are truly afraid, and then ask for help and move forward.
It is this fear that creates misery for the addict. It is this fear that tells the addict that they will be even LESS happy if they quit using their drug of choice.
Breaking through denial is about more than just seeing how destructive our drug or alcohol use is. It is about facing our fear of sobriety head on–something that is much more insidious and difficult than many people realize. It is actually pretty easy to admit that drugs or alcohol have us beat. It is, however, very difficult for someone to admit that they are truly afraid. And this is the critical realization AND admission that must be made before true surrender is possible.
“If only I had enough money/drugs/freedom etc.”
A big part of what keeps the addict or alcoholic trapped is that idea that they do not quite have “enough.”
Much of this goes back to the idea of “the perfect buzz.” Because tolerance rises, the addict knows that they generally need MORE in order to get the same effect.
And of course, drugs and alcohol cost money, something of which we all have a limited supply of.
The addict or alcohol is trapped in a fantasy. They have this ideal situation playing out in their head, this fantasy that says: “If I only had enough money, enough drugs and alcohol, enough freedom in my life without social obligations or responsibilities, etc.–then things would be better.”
The fantasy is always a step out of reach for the addict or alcoholic. In fact, if part of the fantasy comes true, it does nothing and changes nothing. For example, the fantasy may be “If I only had enough supply of marijuana, then I would be truly happy, but it is expensive, so I can never afford enough or get what I really need.”
But then, suddenly, that addict wins the lottery. Suddenly they have an unlimited supply of their drug of choice. And guess what they realize?
Everything was not made perfect as their fantasy had predicted, and what happened instead is that their fantasy changed.
They still had an ideal world and an ideal buzz and an ideal set of circumstances that would make them happy, but it was constantly morphing and always just out of reach.
Now that they had unlimited drugs and tons of cash, they complain about everything else in their life: “If only I had less social obligations, less intrusive family members pestering me, better weather outside,” and on and on and on. Nothing is every perfect, the fantasy of the addict or alcoholic is always constantly changing and consistently out of reach.
The basic mindset is “If only I had…..” and then the addict fills in the blank. Happiness and contentment is an illusion for the addict that never arrives. No matter how much things start “going their way,” things will never be totally perfect for them, because they will always be basing their happiness on the need to self medicate.
Their illusion is that if they could always have MORE drugs, then they would be truly happy. But “MORE” has a hard limit to it, you cannot just keep increasing your drug intake forever. Overdose or increased tolerance will ruin it for you eventually, and the addict will realize once again that happiness cannot be delivered consistently in drug or alcohol form.
An ingrained belief that you can only be happy on your drug of choice
A huge problem with many addicts and alcoholics is that they truly believe, deep down, that they can never be happy again without their drug of choice. They have convinced themselves on a really deep level that they cannot possibly function and be anywhere above “completely miserable” if they do not have their drug.
This is based on simple withdrawal. When they stop taking their drug of choice for a even a short while, they quickly become extremely miserable. This is basic withdrawal, no mystery there. But the denial mechanism kicks in and convinces the addict that they will always feel that miserable without their drug.
Not from a physical standpoint, mind you. The addict realizes that the physical discomfort will eventually pass. Everyone knows that. The addict is not worried about that at all.
What the addict is worried about is the fear, about facing life–the entire rest of their life–without their crutch. They are terrified of having to cope, having to deal with life, having to entertain themselves and try to have fun again without their drug of choice. This is what the deep seated belief is based on–that life without their drug of choice is boring, meaningless, and very hard to tolerate.
They way to move past this ingrained belief is to become so sick and tired of chasing the drug that the addict becomes willing to try recovery anyway. They will likely still believe that recovery will be awful, boring, and that they will live in misery forever. But they have to be fed up enough and miserable enough due to their addiction that they are willing to face this “life of boredom” anyway and give it a try.
Revelation: you were “happy” before you ever picked up your drug of choice
What is it to be happy? Is it having several hundred dollars worth of cocaine all to yourself, and blowing through it in a single evening? Some drug addicts may think so, but obviously this is not the path to lasting happiness.
To be happy really is to be content. You do not have to be elated with joy every moment of every day, and even if you are using tons and tons of drugs, that goal is not sustainable anyway. Hence the trap of addiction–you only think that you can buy permanent happiness through self medicating, when in fact, that “happiness” will eventually become your “new normal.” What of chasing joy and elation then?
So happiness is contentment. As a very young person, you had this state of mind once. No matter how early you started using drugs and alcohol, there was a time in your life when you were content. You were very young, maybe a toddler even, but you were not a raging drug addict or alcoholic, you were not running around like a lunatic and self medicating, you were not chasing happiness with chemicals. At that time, you were content. You were basically happy.
This is the point that you can get back to–where you are free from chemicals and basically content. No, you will not feel utter joy and elation every single day. Be realistic though: how many hours of complete joy and elation does your drug of choice really give you?
And the magic of recovery is that you WILL find that joy and elation again, over time, from other things. It will not come from drugs and alcohol, but from relationships, achievements, spiritual means, and so on. Every person who sticks it out in recovery and starts to really live again will eventually experience this joy again. Is it every second of every day? No, of course not. But you are basically happy, basically content, and you will still have this incredible moments of joy in your life based on new experiences and things other than drugs.
Take any human being and get them perfectly clean and sober. Now, give them a life–have them learn, teach, love, grow, and experience new things. That person–who used to depend on drugs or alcohol for their happiness–will find happiness, joy, and contentment in their new sober life, whether they believe it is possible or not.
Yes, it is possible to be happy again without your drug of choice. The addict does not believe this, nor do they care to investigate the possibility–until they are truly miserable with their addiction. It is only then that they will give recovery a chance, and even then they will probably not believe (at the outset) that happiness in sobriety is possible for them.
Start measuring how many hours per day you are happy, content, and miserable
If you are still struggling in active addiction, start a journal. Force yourself to do this, and you will be amazed by the end of 30 days.
Write down in your journal how happy you were each day. Focus on documenting your level of happiness for the entire day.
If you had periods of happiness, write down how many hours this “happiness” lasted for.
It sounds like a very elementary exercise, but if an addict does this for 30 days straight, it would be difficult for them not to have a revelation of sorts.
What this will do is to smack them in the face with the truth: that they are miserable, almost all of the time. Happiness is brief, fleeting, and rare in their active addiction, and they enjoy it only for very brief moments, if at all.
If you actually keep a “happiness journal” in your active addiction, this will be a huge step toward breaking through your denial.
Recognize that there is a transitional phase when you stop using your drug of choice
Keep in mind, too, the transitional period when you first stop using your drug of choice. You are obviously not going to be on top of the world during the first week or two after you quit.
Know this, plan for it, and realize that it gets better, quickly.
Also, keep your happiness journal going during this time, and you will realize that you are actually happier very quickly after you get clean and sober.
Addiction treatment can be the catalyst to get you through the “miserable transition”
Drug rehab or addiction treatment can be the stepping stone to get you through the transitional period. Going through a supervised detox can help to minimize your misery.
Seek help, go to treatment, and remember to document your happiness each day. By the end of your detox period you will be amazed at how much happier you are when you are sober. Our denial is clever enough to mask this truth from us, unless we are careful enough to actually measure our contentment.
You can be happy again in recovery…….