Yesterday we looked at a modern approach to recovery from addiction. Today we want to take a realistic look at the consequences of your addiction and ask ourselves: “Is your addiction making you miserable?”
How to honestly assess your life during active addiction
Really this call comes down to honest self assessment. Unfortunately most people who are trapped in addiction will not want to take an honest look at their lives and in doing so have to admit that they have made poor choices.
Part of doing so is admitting that we have led ourselves into unhappiness, and that we are ultimately responsible for this. Part of our denial is to keep casting the blame for our unhappiness on others. We don’t want to accept that our addiction is our own fault and the cause of all of our misery. A popular way to summarize this defensive attitude is in the statement: “If you had my problems you would drink/use drugs too!” That statement is very typical of a struggling addict who is in denial and it illustrates that the person is not accepting responsibility for their own happiness. Instead they are blaming others for the chaos and misery in their life and using that as justification to self medicate. In addition to that, they are likely not willing to admit that their addiction itself is playing any sort of part in creating additional chaos and misery for them. The rest of the world can clearly see that it is; their denial will not allow them to admit to such a thing.
The question is this: “How can you honestly assess your life and your happiness when you are stuck in active addiction? How can you get honest with yourself?”
The answer is both a process and an event known as “surrender.” In fact it is this honesty with yourself that precedes the moment of true surrender at the start of any recovery journey. What happens is that the struggling addict or alcohol finally realizes the truth about their condition and then they are able to ask for help and take action to fix their problem.
But no one can ask for help and take action until they have become honest with themselves about their condition. This is why they label it as a “disease” that demands that we ask for help. We have to acknowledge that we are truly messed up if we are going to allow ourselves to seek the level of help that is necessary to recover.
Honest self assessment starts with the reason that you are using drugs or alcohol and self medicating with them. First of all, why does anyone use drugs or alcohol in order to self medicate? What are they really self medicating?
You may have started using drugs or alcohol for a variety of different reasons, but in the end none of those reasons really matter because your addiction eventually took over completely. No matter why you started using, addiction demanded that you keep using. So the reasons for starting on drugs or alcohol are not really an important part of the equation. What is important is to realize that you continue to use your drug of choice in order to medicate your mood. You have come to depend on your drug of choice to provide you with happiness. This is at the heart of every addiction, the fact that we have to pursue our addiction just to avoid misery. Unfortunately we end up equating this with “happiness.”
Can an alcoholic be happy if they are not drunk? Just ask a struggling alcoholic and they will tell you “….of course not! I definitely need to be drinking if I want a shot at being happy. If I am sober I will be miserable for sure.”
Can an addict enjoy a movie without being high or medicated? No, they cannot. If they are stone cold sober and they try to do something “for fun” then it will not be any fun for them. Instead they will be fixated on the idea that they are miserable because they are being deprived of getting high or using their drug of choice. I know this is the case because I used to be stuck in addiction myself. If someone wanted to go to a movie or go do something fun I was always hesitant to go with because I was afraid I might not be able to self medicate along the way. My addiction was preventing me from doing “normal things that are fun” because I was too fixated on the need to be constantly self medicating. This isn’t normal living! At this point you may as well lock me up in a cell and just give me an intravenous drip of powerful drugs, as that is what I really wanted. I wanted to be medicated 24/7 without any hesitation or interruptions from “real life.”
The problem of course was that I could not see that I was miserable nearly all of the time because of my addiction. This is denial. I was convinced that I could be deliriously happy whenever I wanted just by using my drug of choice, but this had actually stopped working for me a long time ago. This was also the reason that I became an addict in the first place–because I was amazed that I could regulate my mood so effectively by using drugs and alcohol. The reason this stopped working was because my tolerance changed over time as I continued to abuse chemicals. Being drunk and high became “my new normal” and it was no longer enough to be truly “fun” all by itself. Part of the problem at this point was that I had to drink and use so much just to feel halfway normal that it was no longer acceptable to go out into public and socialize while self medicating constantly.
I had stopped trying to have fun in other ways outside of my addiction. I knew that none of them would lead to happiness because I just knew that I became miserable if I temporarily stopped medicating myself. This was based on the idea of detox and withdrawal. All I had a concept for was what it felt like to go a few days without using any drugs or alcohol, as this was the longest I allowed sobriety to continue for. Therefore my entire perception of sobriety and recovery was based on how I felt after 2 to 3 days of abstinence. I had never experienced weeks or months of abstinence and therefore I simply believed that if I got clean and sober permanently that I would be permanently miserable.
The truth was that I was actually quite miserable in my active addiction but I would not admit this to myself. For some reason my denial made me cling to the idea that I could create instant happiness with my drug of choice no matter what the circumstances were at the time. The reason that this was so insidious was because it was absolutely true in the beginning of my drug use. When I first started on drugs I could be in a bad mood, use a small amount of drugs, and suddenly I could be totally medicated and happy again. This was wonderful and it was the reason that I became an addict. The problem is that it stopped working, and it took me a very long time to figure out that it had stopped working. In the end I was using tons of alcohol and drugs (together) and it was not enough to create even a tiny bit of happiness. I was using huge amounts of my drug of choice and I could not longer get to “that happy place.” Eventually I had to admit this to myself because I was so thoroughly miserable and I had run out of excuses.
Part of my denial was in pointing fingers at other people and placing blame on my life situation. In particular I was blaming another person for my unhappiness and I was also blaming the fact that I could not get enough drugs and alcohol in me to properly medicate myself. Finally a situation arose where the person I was blaming left on vacation for several weeks and I also had plenty of drugs and alcohol at my disposal with which to self medicate. It was during this time that I had to face myself honestly for the first time. My conditions of happiness had been met and here I was, still miserable. I had got what I wanted (to be alone and have unlimited drugs and alcohol) and it was not enough to make me happy. I was trying to medicate more and more and I remained miserable. This was my point of surrender and this was the point at which I realized that no amount of fantasy could make me happy. In other words, I thought that I would be happy if reality would just bend to my whims and give me exactly what I wanted…..but when that finally happened, I was still miserable.
In order to make this assessment I had to measure my happiness. Without the measurement you cannot make a decision. You have to start measuring and get honest if you are going to see your way out of denial. Honest assessment is the only way forward.
Increase your awareness and start measuring your happiness
So how do you measure your happiness? Start measuring it!
This takes conscious effort. In fact you may even want to start writing it down, silly as that may sound. If you keep a journal for how you are feeling each day then very quickly you will be able to tell just how often you are truly happy.
If you are caught in the cycle of addiction then it is very likely that you are just basing your happiness on memories of happiness. This is how our denial can fool us. We cling to the memory of when using our drug of choice made us really happy, and we refuse to let go of that memory and see what our life has become as our tolerance has changed.
In order to honestly assess our happiness we have to let go of these “happiness memories” that are based on our early days of addiction. We have to let go of the memories and instead focus on our present reality and what our drug of choice can do for us today. In all honesty I never would have stopped using my drug of choice if it had kept working for me. But tolerance changes over time and the drug will lose its effectiveness. If you are medicated 24/7 is it still a “special” experience? No, it is not. So how can you make being high or drunk special again? You can either detox for a while and go through the misery of withdrawal, or you can try to take ever increasing amounts of your drug of choice. Obviously the latter choice has a hard limit that eventually results in overdose or death.
I tried the other option for a while and it is not sustainable. Truly, I experimented with intermittent drug use, and found it to be unsuccessful. At first it worked well. I would get really drunk and high every few days, followed by at least 3 days of total sobriety. This worked really well at first because after 3 days of total sobriety it made it feel quite “special” to get suddenly loaded again. I thought that I had found the secret to happiness all over again.
The problem was that it was not sustainable. I could not make it last because eventually going through 3 days of sobriety just to get to that next brief “reward” was too much for me. I could not sustain the pattern and eventually I went back to self medicating every single day.
In order to really break through your denial you are going to have to honestly assess your happiness. This takes guts.
Get in the habit of asking yourself every day, several times per day: “Am I really happy right now?”
Don’t judge your answers. Don’t judge yourself when you do this. Just keep asking the question, over and over again. Make this your new mantra for a while. “Am I happy?”
If you are stuck in addiction then you are going to find that the answer to this is almost always “no.” And eventually you will see that it makes sense to try and change.
But you cannot arrive at this answer intellectually by just reasoning through your denial in a few minutes. Instead, you must go through this process of realization and arrive at this conclusion on your own. But when you do it, it will be a function of measuring your happiness. Is your drug of choice still working for you? This is the same question as “Am I really happy?” Keep asking the question over and over until you have naturally broken through your denial.
Are you minimizing consequences?
One thing that we frequently do during our active addiction is to minimize the consequences. One of the key words here is “yet.”
So you might say “well, I haven’t gone to jail yet.” This is a rationalization. You are trying to justify your addiction and make it OK. Notice that even if you do not say the “yet,” it is still implied. As in:
“Well, at least I haven’t killed anyone while drunk driving!” (yet….)
The reason that addicts and alcoholics tend to minimize consequences is because they are basically trying to “save face.” They don’t want to admit to themselves that their life is a train wreck or that it is spinning out of control because then it points the finger at how bad their addiction is for them. They don’t want to face the idea that they might be better off if they were clean and sober. Their fear of sobriety keeps them trapped.
The problem with minimizing consequences is that it is just a stalling tactic. You are just buying time until those consequences and those “yets” become real for you. The reason that this is the case is because addiction is progressive and it always gets worse over time. So you can bet that any negative consequences that you have avoided are coming eventually if you keep abusing chemicals. The progressive nature of addiction all but insures this.
What would your life be like if you did not have to depend on drugs or alcohol to make you happy?
Imagine for a moment what your life might be like if you did not have to depend on a chemical for your happiness. Would that not be an incredible amount of freedom?
If you can embrace recovery then you can absolutely have this level of freedom again some day. Unfortunately there are two major hurdles that you have to get over before you can enjoy this freedom:
1) You have to admit that your addiction is making you miserable.
2) You have to commit to taking action in order to get help to overcome your addiction.
Real freedom and happiness are possible for any struggling addict who is willing to surrender.
Do you believe that you could ever be happy again without self medicating?
When I was stuck in my addiction I used to believe that I would never be free. I really believed that I would be miserable forever if I got clean and sober.
Therefore I did not even believe that happiness was possible for me in recovery. I thought I was doomed to chase happiness with drugs and alcohol forever.
I heard someone at an AA meeting once tell me (I was still stuck in addiction at the time) that anyone could break free and live this awesome new life of happiness if they were willing to embrace recovery. He was so passionate and his message was so powerful that I got genuinely excited for a minute.
But later I realized that his message did not apply to me (or so I believed). Maybe he could find happiness in sobriety, but I was unique. For some reason I was just made differently, and I had to have drugs and alcohol to be happy. This was my level of denial and I really believed it. I thought I was the only addict in the world who could not recover.
How to take action and break free from addiction
In the end I broke through my denial by seeing just how miserable I was in addiction.
I also realized that it was never going to change if I kept chasing happiness by using chemicals. I could clearly see that the future was not going to get any better if I continued on the path of abusing drugs and alcohol.
That is when I asked for help and became willing to do whatever was suggested for me. Willingness was the key that led me to a new life in recovery. But before I could become willing I had to admit to myself how miserable I was in addiction.