Happiness in the midst of a true addiction is always an illusion.
I never use to believe that, being stuck in my own addiction for many years. I genuinely thought that I was happy when I was getting drunk and high, and I could not understand how people (“normal people”) could walk around without getting wasted all the time and somehow be happy with their lives. I did not understand it.
I believed that I was only happy when I was intoxicated or medicated in some way. This was the key to my happiness, or so I believed.
Being in denial about your state of happiness in addiction
Now that I can look back in my current state of sobriety and examine my past thoughts during addiction, I can see the real truth.
The real truth is that I was miserable for about 99 percent of the time during my addiction, yet I told myself that I was happy.
And in order to pull that off you have to be able to lie to yourself. You have to fool yourself. You have to be in a state of denial.
What I was doing was this:
I was clinging to the happiest memories that I had while drinking and using drugs. So I had certain experiences whereby I drank alcohol and took drugs successfully and I had a great time in that particular instance and nothing bad happened. I could remember a few of these times and so I clung to the memory of those times.
Then what my brain decided to do was to take those particular times, those happy memories of getting drunk and high, and it projected them on to all of the future situations whereby I might use drugs or alcohol.
At the same time, my brain was also disregarding all of the times that I was sad, lonely, miserable, frustrated, hurt, or angry due to my addiction. As time went on and my disease progressed, these negative memories started to outnumber the positive ones. Near the end of my addiction it was nearly entirely tilted in favor of complete misery. Meaning that I was almost never actually happy, period. I was happy maybe 1 or 2 percent of my life. The other 98 percent of the time I was miserable and wishing that things were different.
“If I only had enough money and enough drugs and alcohol and everyone would just leave me alone and I could just get drunk and high in peace and be happy again.”
And those conditions were ridiculous. Those things would not actually lead to happiness, even if they came true.
Near the end of my addiction this actually worked out to come true at one point. I took some time off work, nearly everyone that I knew took a vacation and left me alone, and I was suddenly alone and able to drink and use drugs in total peace, all by myself. I thought that this would finally make me happy. But I realized that I was even more miserable when everyone finally left me alone and I had all the access to drugs and alcohol that I wanted. This was the final straw for my disease and it was the smack in the face that I really needed. That moment of realization is what they refer to when they talk about alcoholics having “a moment of clarity.” I glimpsed into the future and realized that I would never be truly happy if I was trying to generate happiness through self medicating.
Long term addiction and how your perspective changes over time
When you abuse drugs or alcohol for a period of several years, it starts to change you.
What changes is your idea of “fun.” This is important. Because eventually you start to define your life in terms of how much fun or enjoyment you are getting out of something. Everything is a chore and life is hard because you are dealing with all of the consequences of addiction. So if you can squeeze any pleasure or fun out of the situation this becomes a priority for the alcoholic.
The problem is that as your dependency on chemicals increases, your ability to have fun without your drug of choice goes down further and further.
So eventually every alcoholic and drug addict will reach a point where they are completely isolated and they just drink or get high in privacy. Another, perhaps more accurate word for this is “isolation.” If your addiction progresses far enough then this is one of the outcomes near the end: You start to isolate yourself from the real world.
Why? Because you have to get loaded in order to have “fun.” So maybe you stop going out to certain events where drinking or drug use is not socially acceptable. And then eventually you may not even go out to the bar any more because you have to spend far too much money in order to drink there. Much cheaper just to stay home. And there is a social aspect to all of this as well. How drunk can you acceptably get in public? At a bar, at a sporting event, at a family get together? And are you comfortable holding back so that you don’t make a fool of yourself? Eventually the answer to this will be “no, I am not comfortable going to even events where there is drinking, because they don’t drink like I do, and I can’t get truly rip roaring drunk like I want to.”
So even places where drinking is socially acceptable will become off limits to the hard core alcoholic or drug addict. Because their disease will progress so far that they cannot trust themselves in such places any more, and they would rather just stay home and drink in privacy.
This is how your addiction changes you over time. At first you will fit right in at the bar, or at the sporting event where they serve beer. But eventually even that will not be enough, and you won’t trust yourself to maintain control in such situations. This assumes that your disease is progressive, of course, but guess what? It is! If you are a real alcoholic or a drug addict then the “rules” that I am describing here all apply to you. It may not be this bad “yet” but eventually this is what you have to look forward to if you do not arrest your disease.
The myth of perpetual detox
I was trapped in addiction and denial for many years because of the discomfort of detox.
Think about this for a moment. How long does it take for an alcoholic or a drug addict to start feeling better after they go through detox? How many days, weeks, or months does it take?
That is a good question and I wish that I had this perspective and knowledge back when I was struggling to get sober. Or maybe it wouldn’t have helped much. I don’t know.
For alcoholism it takes about a week to get through the acute and immediate withdrawal symptoms. But then there is an extended period of time after this when you are still very much adjusting to sobriety on many different levels. After a single week your body is basically detoxed and you start to function somewhat normally again, but from a mental, emotional, and spiritual perspective you have only just begun your recovery journey after one week.
And physically there are some long term effects after quitting that don’t just magically change overnight. A great example of this is sleep patterns. I can remember having 90 days sober, six months sober, even a year sober, and realizing that my sleep patterns were still badly screwed up. I had come to rely on the alcohol to put my mind and body to sleep every night for so long that it was going to take some serious time before I bounced back from that. So I slept during the first year of sobriety, but not real well. Today after 13 years of continuous sobriety I sleep very well again, but this took some time.
But back to the point–every alcoholic and drug addict has to sober up and go through detox if they want to turn their life around.
And I was stuck for many years because I was projecting the misery of detox on to the rest of my entire life.
Meaning that I was worried that I would feel crappy forever if I quit drinking. And how could you blame someone for this? They stop drinking for a few days and they feel terrible. This is basic detox and withdrawal 101. Of course you feel crappy at first. Your body is craving and starved for your drug of choice. You suddenly cut it off and your body is angry with you.
You get over the acute withdrawal within a week or so but there are some lasting effects that take a bit longer. And you also have to learn how to cope with life and deal with everyday stress without resorting to chemicals. It is all a bit overwhelming and of course the physical detox part of it makes you feel crappy inside.
So this is a myth of sorts, that this crappy feeling might last forever. And the alcoholic might sort of half believe that it gets a little better, but ultimately they are discouraged and realize that they can instantly feel a whole lot better by returning to their drug of choice.
So the answer to the question “How long am I going to be miserable for?” varies depending on your drug of choice, your length of addiction, your method of detox, your body’s age, and so on. But ultimately you are looking at a week or so to get past the really tough part, and after that it starts getting a whole lot better very quickly.
To the point where you should no longer project the misery of detox on to the rest of your life in sobriety.
You may have heard the term “Give yourself a break” when people are talking about trying to get clean and sober. This is one way to do that. Go to rehab for 28 days. That is “giving yourself a break.” Because now you are well past the point of miserable detox symptoms, and you can at least realize that you will not feel crappy forever if you choose to stay sober.
Writing it all down
Happiness in addiction is an illusion. But how do you know this when you are stuck in addiction? How can you see past your own denial?
I know how to do it because I have done it myself.
It is hard, and it is a smack in the face, and you have to be really honest with yourself, and therefore no one will want to do this.
But if you are struggling with denial in your life–denial about anything actually, not just addiction–you can use this technique to bust through your illusion and stop lying to yourself.
The key is this.
Start writing it down, every single day.
Keep a journal. Force yourself to write down your true feelings, at least once per day.
Every single day. This takes discipline that some of us may lack. I have certainly lacked this discipline myself at various times in my own journey.
So how do you force yourself to do this, and why does it actually work?
You force yourself to keep a journal and start writing things down when you become miserable enough to take action.
This is the basics of change as outlined in such groups as Al-anon (or even in AA for that matter).
One of the basic ideas about change is this:
“When the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the fear of change, you will change.”
In other words, we don’t change until it hurts too bad to stay stuck where we are at.
Why is it like this? Why is this some universal truth?
Because change is scary. We fear change. We fear the unknown. And it takes energy and effort to change. It is so much easier and more comfortable to keep doing what we are doing. To stay stuck in the familiar. So we resist change out of fear.
And then if we happen to get miserable enough, this will finally give us the motivation that we need to face our fear and make the change.
This is how alcoholics get sober. This is how people leave miserable relationships, even though they are terrified to do so.
So what does keeping a daily journal have to do with all this?
Why write it down?
Because then it is real. Writing it down every day forces honesty. Now you have the truth in front of you, staring you back in the face.
You may be telling yourself that you are happy “most of the time” in your drinking and drugging. But then if you actually keep a journal, you may look back after a few weeks and realize that you are only happy very rarely, and that most of the time you are miserable.
This is how writing can set you free. It is a tool; it may work for some people. I suggest you commit to a daily journal for 30 days, regardless of what you think your denial may be, and simply keep a written log. Write down your feelings, how happy you are, your emotions. Don’t bother writing down your opinions, as that is a waste of time. Write down how you feel inside. Because that is your highest truth and that is what determines if you are happy or not in life. Write down your emotional state every day.
Taking the one year challenge
Let’s say that you are drinking or drugging on a regular basis and you are still on the fence.
You are not sure if you are truly miserable, and you think that if you quit your drug of choice that it may result in even MORE misery in your life. After all, if you keep drinking or taking drugs then at least you have ONE thing in your life that makes you happy, right?
Ha! That is what I used to tell myself, because I was in denial about how miserable I really was in my addiction. I thought that taking away my drugs and booze would leave me even worse off than before. I thought it would lead me to total misery.
Obviously that was not the case for me, and it will be no different with you, or with any other alcoholic or addict.
So here is what you do:
Take the one year challenge.
A full year. I know it is a long time. But you owe it to yourself to find out for sure just how unhappy you really are in your addiction.
You owe it to yourself to discover a world of peace, happiness, and joy in recovery. A world that you never knew existed before. And I don’t just say that to sound cheesy about it like I am selling you a vacation to the tropics. I am literally telling you that after you get sober and do the work in early recovery, your life will be better at that point than it ever was before, even before you picked up your first drink or drug.
You can verify this phenomenon by going to a few AA meetings, and taking an informal survey.
I double dog dare you to do this. Go to a few AA meetings and ask the people there:
“Is your life better today than it ever was before, even before you picked up your first drink or your first drug?”
Everyone will tell you that yes, it is better.
And this is because the drugs and the booze were not actually the core problem….they were but a symptom of some underlying dis-ease in us. There was something wrong before we even picked up the first drink that was making us unhappy. And so after we removed the drugs and the alcohol and really learned how to live, how to live a life of personal growth and exciting challenges, that is when we found true peace and contentment.
This is not just something that happened to me. This is what countless people were telling me in AA meetings for years and years, even before I tried to really get sober. I just didn’t believe them. I did not believe that this path of contentment and joy applied to my situation.
Because I was different. Because I really, really loved drugs and alcohol. Because I was different than all of these other alcoholics and addicts and for some reason they just don’t love the drugs as much as I do.
Yeah, right. I was no different than all of these alcoholics and addicts that came before me.
And you are no different either. I realize that you love drugs and alcohol. I know that you love them more than anything in the whole world. And I know how hard it is for you to face a life without them, a life of total abstinence and complete sobriety. I know it sounds like an impossible mission right now. I know this perfectly well because I lived it exactly.
And I can tell you that it is denial. You are not alone, you are not unique. There are other alcoholics and drug addicts who loved their drug of choice just as much as you, and they have managed to crawl out of the hole and find happiness. You can do the same thing if you are willing to get honest with yourself and take action.
This is counter-intuitive but it is the solution:
Embrace your misery.
Embrace the misery that you feel each day and start being honest with yourself. If you are stuck in addiction then you need to embrace your misery. This is the only way that you will ever be able to overcome the fear of change, is if you finally acknowledge that you are completely miserable.
Fear is what holds us back from recovery. No one wants to walk through that fear. And I don’t blame them. It is one of the worst things in the world. Some alcoholics die instead of facing the fear.
I don’t want you to die. I want you to get sober, because I might need your help some day. I might need your message of hope. And surely others will need it too.
My happiness during my addiction was an illusion. But for the last 13 years, I have experience real peace, joy, and contentment.
I never thought it was possible for me. I thought I was doomed to be miserable and drunk forever.
Life is good today.
What about you, are you miserable in your addiction? As strange as it may sound, I hope that you are. Let us know what you think in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!