Of course in the beginning, drugs and alcohol were fun. They were so much fun that I could never imagine ever giving them up for any reason. Of course I could also not imagine ever becoming dependent on them to the point that they would create problems in my life.
And so it goes with any addict or alcoholic–the drugs and the booze are fun, until they are not. But the problem is that our denial keeps us from seeing this plain fact, even when it becomes obvious to everyone around us that we have become miserable and trapped in a vicious cycle. This is why addiction is so tricky. It can be years before the addict can finally see through this denial and realize that their dependence has become more of a drag than it is worth. Unfortunately, some addicts and alcoholics never get to this point at all. They stay trapped in the cycle for their entire lives.
So I want to examine my own journey from “having fun with drugs” to when it became a chore, and try to detail the denial that I went through in order to maintain my addiction.
The first hint of consequences
After I had discovered marijuana and was using it on a regular basis, my family learned that I was using the stuff. This created huge problems because at the time I had no intention of stopping, and fully believed that it was wrong for marijuana to be illegal and held to be “evil” and so on. At this point I was still living at home, but stated that I would have gladly moved out or even become homeless in order to take my stand against this evil persecution against what I argued to be a “harmless” drug.
Of course this twisted logic should have been my first clue about addiction. Here I was with a relatively happy and stable life, and I was willing to suddenly sacrifice everything and become homeless just to keep using marijuana? All for the sake of unfair persecution against the drug? It did not make sense. The casual outsider looking in would say “this person is nuts if they are willing to become homeless over this drug.”
But even more than that, you would have to admit that this twisted logic is a sure sign of problems to come. If the addict is already willing to make such sacrifices in order to defend their drug of choice, then you have to suspect that bigger problems are coming down the road.
Lessor forms of treatment were like a band aid solution
At this early stage in the game I agreed to go to counseling. This is a typical solution for all sorts of addiction and alcoholism problems. Someone gets caught drunk driving, or maybe they go overboard and get plastered one too many times, and so the family demands action. They get some advice and it is recommended that the person goes into counseling or therapy of some sort.
Depending on the level of dependence, this may or may not be effective. Someone who is not a real alcoholic but is only a “problem drinker” may do very well with counseling, get a lot of benefit from it, and go on to change their heavy drinking habits. But for the true alcoholic or drug addict, going to see a counselor and talking about problems, issues, and substance abuse patterns is pretty much useless.
I discovered this for myself after seeing a few different counselors and therapists. The problem was not that I would not listen, nor was it a bad attitude or anything like that. The problem was simply denial. I was still in denial. I just did not care or refused to see the fact that drugs were not doing me any good, that they were not contributing to my happiness, and that they were generally bad for my life and for my emotional health.
The therapists tried to convince me of this, and that I would be so much better off if I would just seek out professional treatment (like inpatient rehab or long term sober living environments). But I was stuck in denial, so I was starting with the premise that drugs were the most important thing in my life, period. That is just how denial works. It is not that you are necessarily denying that there are any problems with a life fueled by addiction. I could admit that there were some problems. But my denial still overcame those problems and over ruled them. My denial basically said “yes, I may have some problems based on my drug intake, but the benefits far outweigh these negatives you are speaking of, and besides, the drugs should be legal anyway, it is a crime against humanity that marijuana is illegal, etc.”
The problem with counseling and therapy, in my opinion, is that it is just not intensive enough to make much of a difference when it comes to rehabilitation. It may be helpful for some people, and I would imagine that it is especially helpful to people who are already clean and sober and looking to improve their life in recovery. But for the person who is still stuck in denial and is not really ready to change their whole life and enter recovery, counseling and therapy is a complete waste of time. One of my therapists even told me that once, which was a depressing blow. They basically said “we are wasting our time for the most part, unless you get to the point where you want to check into rehab or work on becoming abstinent.” Looking back I am glad that this therapist said this, even though at the time it was an upsetting thing to hear.
It is nice to believe that you are “making progress” by going to therapy and talking about your problems and your issues, even if you are stuck in denial and continue to self medicate and have no intention whatsoever of becoming abstinent. It is nice to coast along like this and tell yourself that you are making a positive effort when in fact you are not doing so at all.
So this is what happened in my own addiction for a year or two. I stayed stuck in denial, talked with various counselors, and never had any intention of quitting marijuana or changing my ways at this point. The therapists were not stupid and they called me out on it (as they should have) and told me we were wasting our time. They were right. I needed to get some more pain and misery in my life before I was ready to surrender. At that time, the drugs were–for the most part–still fun. Why would someone change when the drugs are still fun? They won’t. They have to be miserable first, unfortunately. Or at least I had to be miserable first before my stubborn mind would allow me to surrender. This would not come for several years.
A tale of “yets”
In recovery programs they talk about something called the “yets.” These are things that you have not done in your addiction, YET. But the idea is that the disease of addiction is progressive, and that all of us will eventually do things that we said we would never do in our addiction IF we continue to abuse drugs and alcohol.
My own story has several “yets” that eventually came true for me. Most of these involve using or experimenting with yet another drug that I never said that I would use. The first and biggest of these “yets” was alcohol.
I started out using marijuana only, and I felt a bit of smug superiority at the idea that I was somehow better than those drunks who were always out of control. So I avoided alcohol for a long time. I continued to use marijuana and I continued to believe that I was somehow better than other drug addicts because I did not drink.
So my yet was “I’ve never been drunk, yet.”
Well, obviously that changed at some point. And the reason it changed was because I was miserable, I had gone through a very bad fight with my family (over drugs) and I was really angry with myself and with my situation.
There is a point where anyone could potentially say “screw it” and then they go ahead and do something that they said they would never do. I was at that point out of anger and frustration and so I got drunk.
And of course, when I got drunk for the first time, it was a whole new world for me. Alcohol medicated my fears and anxieties even better than marijuana did. This was the drug that truly “fixed me.” And so it became my new drug of choice, just like that. What was once a “I’ll never do that” was now an everyday routine.
Now the thing is that anyone can learn from this idea of the “yets” if they are smart enough to see the long term pattern. Every single “yet” out there will eventually come true if you stay stuck in the cycle of active addiction.
One of my “yets” was about shooting heroin. I had never used needles or shot any drugs into my body, that was always one of my “yets.” And I never did. But today I realize that this is just another “yet,” and if I go back out there and start drinking again, eventually that one would probably come true as well. It is the nature of addiction. Things get progressively worse until you are broken down to the point of saying:
“screw it. I’ll try anything. It can’t get any worse.”
But of course it can get worse, and it most definitely does get worse every time the addict encounters another one of their “yets.” But if you stay in the vicious cycle of addiction then you will continue to experience new lows, new bottoms, new yets that you never thought that you would experience.
Exposure to treatment and half solutions
So my addiction kicked off when I discovered marijuana. I used it for a while without experimenting with other drugs, and I went to counseling and therapy, but I stayed stuck in denial.
Later on I discovered alcohol, even though I had promised myself that I would never get drunk.
My drinking escalated so quickly that it was absolutely insane. I started out as a beer drinker and regularly drank large quantities of beer. I quickly switched to liquor though because it was so much more portable, compact, convenient, and more powerful. Much quicker to get things going as well.
Within a period of only a few short years, I was suddenly drinking up to a half gallon of hard liquor each day. I was in my early twenties.
I had some horrible and out of control experiences while drinking these obscene amounts of liquor. This pierced through my denial to the point that I realized that I needed help and I needed treatment.
I drove myself to an inpatient rehab and checked in.
Now you would think that this would be a huge turning point. I had realized that alcohol was creating a problem for me. I had realized that my tolerance to alcohol had built up very quickly, and that most people in their young twenties were not polishing off half gallons like your common alley wino was. This was clearly not normal.
Unbelievably, though, I was still in denial, even after being educated at this treatment center and learning more about the disease of addiction.
I can remember a few key points about my first experience with inpatient rehab:
1) Like nearly all rehab centers, this one that I attended was pushing the idea of 12 step programs as a big part of the solution. I was terrified of AA meetings and so I was not necessarily willing to follow up with a lifetime of meeting attendance at this point. I was so scared of meetings at this time that I believed that I would rather be dead than be forced to attend meetings.
2) I somehow glossed over the idea of “cross addiction” or that a drug was a drug. I was clearly separating marijuana and alcohol at this point in my mind. Alcohol was a an evil substance and the root of all of my problems, and marijuana was innocent. This was my attitude and my mindset when going into and leaving my first rehab.
3) Some old guy at the rehab with me was supposed to leave the short term inpatient treatment and go live at long term for 90 days. I was absolutely amazed that anyone would subject themselves to a 90 day rehab. It sounded to me, at the time, like a fate worse than prison. The thought of long term rehab was offensive. I was amazed that I was even doing two weeks or ten days or whatever it was for short term treatment.
So as you can see I was still in denial at this point, and when I left this first rehab, I attempted to use something that is commonly referred to as “the marijuana maintenance program.” This just means that you give up all drugs and alcohol except for marijuana. You continue to smoke weed but attempt to stay clean and sober otherwise.
You can imagine how well this marijuana maintenance program actually works out in real life for an addict like myself. It works pretty poorly in fact. And I can tell you why it works so poorly, and hopefully caution you against doing the same:
When you smoke marijuana you are medicating your mood. It may be a “soft drug” compared to most others but it still medicates you mood. If you are having a bad day, or you are in a bad mood, and you suddenly decide to smoke a large amount of marijuana, guess what happens? It changes your mood, totally and completely. Really what is does is that it just sort of scrambles your brain and it scrambles your thoughts to the point that you cannot even remember or realize that you are, or were, in a bad mood. It just sort of scrambles your mood away, leaving your scattered and high and pleasantly buzzed. This is how the drug medicates your mood and your feelings. It scrambles your thoughts.
The problem with this is that if you continue to use marijuana, you are going to be using it to self medicate every little thing in your life. If you are bored then you get high and that is sort of your solution for boredom. If you are angry or frustrated then you can get high and it will be your solution for that.
Even if you do not intend for marijuana to become your solution for these things, it will become your solution because you continue to use it on a regular basis. Your brain is going to notice when you scramble it and regulate your own mood. It can’t help but not be medicated when you ingest marijuana.
So if you happen to be a real addict then this still creates psychological dependence. You teach your body, your mind, and your mood to rely on marijuana in order to medicate away your negative moods and your negative feelings. This will happen naturally over time if you continue to use the drug.
Another problem that will become apparent over time is that you will build tolerance to the drug, and it will lose its effectiveness. I experienced this first hand, when I could not seem to get high enough in order to fully medicate my frustrations at one point. This was the moment when I said “screw it” and decided to go back to drinking. I could either smoke fifty dollars worth of marijuana and forget my problems for an hour or two, or I could spend five bucks on a cheap fifth of vodka and get hammered for the whole night. At some point your tolerance makes it nearly impossible not to consider the cheaper (and more effective) option.
It does not really matter what your drug of choice is or what you might have tried to switch to in order to “maintain” your abstinence from your “real” drug of choice. In the end, you will build a tolerance to any drug and you will realize (like I did) that it is just so much easier, quicker, and more effective to revert back to your original drug of choice. Maintenance programs do not work for real addicts or alcoholics.
So at this point, I was starting to realize more and more that this was not really about “having fun” like I originally thought. I had tried to do the marijuana maintenance thing, but eventually had to go back to drinking again. It was difficult to maintain denial through this, but I was able to do so for several more years.
Alcohol dependence and sleep
Another thing that was a real eye-opener when it comes to dependence was my sleeping pattern in relation to my alcoholism.
I had quickly progressed to a point where I was dependent on alcohol for sleep. Without any booze in my system at all, I would not be able to sleep. If I tried to “take it easy for a night” and drink significantly less than what I was used to drinking, I would not be able to sleep. At all.
This is a sign and a function of physical dependence, when you reduce the alcohol or you cut it out entirely and the body reacts by having too much adrenaline. This is the same physical process by which alcoholics have seizures and delirium tremens. If you quit drinking suddenly and you cannot sleep and your hands shake a little bit, you are seeing the first signs and symptoms of a horrible and dangerous withdrawal process.
This was another strong clue in my own life that I had crossed that line between “fun” to outright dependence. I could not sleep unless I passed out with large amounts of liquor.
I had been to treatment once at this point and I had also spoke with several therapists. I would soon attend a second treatment that would also fail for me. I am going to detail why and how this second treatment failed for me as well, but how it eventually led to a third treatment that was finally successful. Stay tuned…..