What I have come to define as “normal” for me in my life has changed significantly over the years. What used to be “normal” for me was to go to work most days, self medicate with whatever I could find or afford at the time, and then come home and drink booze until I either passed out or blacked out. If I passed out then I just woke up the next day to repeat the whole process. If I blacked out then I knew that I would be hearing people tell me stories about what I supposedly did while I was blacked out, making a fool of myself.
This came to be normal for me. I was to the point that I was not surprised but merely annoyed when I had to listen to people retell my previous evening while I was blacked out. It happened over and over again and therefore it was no longer unusual for me.
My old normal during addiction was all about running and hiding from my fears, and hiding from myself. I was hiding from the person that I had become. Because I drank so much and I used so many drugs that over time I morphed into this version of myself…..and it was a version of myself that I honestly did not like any more.
Oh sure, I told myself that I liked my life back then, and I told myself that I would not want to face the world sober because it was so boring, and I made up all sorts of excuses as to why I had to self medicate every day. But inside I was miserable, and I did not like my life, and I did not really like the person that I had become.
If you live this way for several years or even decades, you begin to define yourself in terms of your fears and inhibitions. You tell stories to yourself and to others in order to maintain denial, such as “If you had my life and my problems you would drink too.” In truth, everyone has problems, and you just never really learned how to deal with yours in a mature way. So you self medicated instead because that was what you knew how to do, that was how you learned to cope with reality, and for a time in your life that strategy worked. The problem is that eventually your tolerance increases and the addiction progression takes over and you reach a point where things are not really working so well for you any longer.
I can remember reaching this point one time when I tried to quit drinking alcohol on my own without any help. My plan was to do the “marijuana maintenance program,” which was essentially the idea that “I can just get high every day, and thus avoid alcohol completely.”
This worked for me great until it didn’t. And the reason that it did not work eventually is because I am an addict, I am an alcoholic, and after you self medicate with a single substance every day, over and over again, you start to get used to it.
So the first day that you get really high on marijuana, it works perfectly for you. You are “rocketed into another dimension” and your emotional state is completely medicated. In other words, getting really high–at least at first–is fun and care free. Nothing can touch you in those moments and life is easy with no real problems. If you were emotionally upset for any reason before getting high, those problems are completely overridden by the buzz. Getting high “fixed” all your problems because you did not have a tolerance built up to it, and you were not yet used to getting high all the time.
Now fast forward a month or two and take that same person and let us assume that they used marijuana heavily every single day for the last few months.
So now, if that person has a bad day or they get emotionally upset, they cannot just consume their usual amount of drugs in order to medicate their emotions. This won’t work any longer, because they are used to using a certain amount of drugs every day, and therefore their tolerance has shifted, and now the usual amount “just doesn’t do it any more” for them.
And that is what I discovered when I was on “the marijuana maintenance program.” I was using a certain amount of marijuana every day, and it worked for a while, but at some point it became my new normal. And once it was my new normal, it was no longer strong enough to thoroughly medicate my emotional state; it was no longer powerful enough to erase a “bad day” and transport me to where I really wanted to be.
This is the nature of addiction. We build tolerance, we establish a new normal, and then we feel cheated when our drug of choice no longer treats us the way it used to treat us. If an addict or alcoholic has not experienced this yet, it is coming at some point if they continue to self medicate. Addiction always cheats us in the end.
Now this same phenomenon also exists in recovery, only now when you continuously reset your experience of “normal,” you are forever adjusting it upward and upward in terms of personal growth and self achievement.
No, this doesn’t mean that you have to be a superstar and go save the whales or anything. All it means is that–if you are working an actual program of recovery and following through with it consistently–then your life is going to just keep getting better and better with each passing day, week, and year.
This is because, in addiction recovery, we are changing our lifestyle and exploring new habits of behavior.
So we try new actions, we take suggestions, sponsors and therapists and peers tell us what to and how to live our lives.
Then we try those things out, we actually follow through and take positive action and we establish a new lifelong habit: Going to AA meetings, reaching out and helping newcomers in recovery, physical exercise, seated meditation, healthy sleep and nutrition habits, and so on.
Every time we “upgrade” a part of our lives in our recovery journey, if we choose to establish a new habit from the experience, we lock in those gains forever.
And then we begin to build upon those positive gains and reach for ever higher heights in our sobriety journey. Which is why, when I first started in recovery I was almost completely hopeless and I just wanted to make it through a single day of sobriety–but now I have built so much success on top of other successes that I never could have imagined such a great life. Things just keep getting better and better in my life, all because I am listening to advice, taking feedback, and trying to improve myself on a regular basis.
This is really in support of learning based recovery. But it is more than that, because we don’t just learn–we experience, then we lock in the new habit, then we build on top of that new positive lifestyle. And it just keeps getting better and better. Good luck!