Lately there has been this trend towards people (especially youth) saying “You only live once!” This is of course used to justify shirking responsibility and having some fun in the present moment, doing something that they might ought not to do. The idea certainly works well in light of drug addiction and alcoholism.
Why not just live it up and get wasted, right?
The main idea is to just get drunk or high and have fun while you can. This is how the argument goes, anyway. But people who are living this philosophy need to ask themselves at some point:
“Is it really fun any more?”
Addiction and alcoholism are progressive. In the early days of your drinking or drug problem it will be nothing but fun and good times. Over the years though this will slowly start to change (more quickly in some cases). Denial prevents us from seeing this change.
What happens is that our minds cling to the early memories of our drug or alcohol use. We hang on tight to the fun times that we used to have, and we imagine that every single time we use our drug of choice, it should be like that. We project our greatest happiness and our peak experiences with drugs onto our every day existence. We falsely assume that every day can be just as good as those peak experiences.
But of course this is never the case. Too much of a good thing ruins it, and the same is true with addiction and alcoholism. Our baseline of happiness becomes the peak experience that we thought we could have every single day, day in and day out, for eternity. So that is what our goal is and that is how we try to live our life. We attempt to self medicate all the time, every day, for no particular reason.
In the beginning we may have had excuses. We would celebrate the good times by indulging in our drug of choice, or we would self medicate when something bad happened or if we were feeling down. We would justify our drug or alcohol use. But over time our justifications become more and more automatic, because the frequency of use tends to increase. Pretty soon we are self medicating every single day and our justifications are just sort of a big running gripe about life in general. We say things like “If you had my problems you would use too” but we fail to realize that our problems are entirely of our own making, and all of them relate to our addiction.
(Note: even if a problem is not directly related to our drug or alcohol addiction, every possible problem still gets easier to deal with if we are clean and sober rather than hiding from our feelings and self medicating them away. Addiction always complicates even the simple problems in life, and sobriety makes nearly everything easier to deal with.)
So the typical downward spiral of addiction is one of increasing problems and then trying to medicate those problems away. The addict is stuck in the center of this and their denial prevents them from seeing how they are creating their own problems. They are busy blaming others and making excuses as to why their problems are so bad and why they have been dealt such a lousy hand, instead of taking personal responsibility and doing something to improve their life (rather than just medicating all the time).
The whole idea of “why not just live it up and get wasted?” is based on the idea that the future is going to be as bad as the present for you. This is part of the misery of addiction and alcoholism—it feels like a trap because it never really gets any better, though your denial convinces you that it might some day. Self medicating with drugs or alcohol becomes a real drag, and at some point it stops being fun. The key though is that you can still have the occasional peak experience, but then you revert right back to several days or even weeks of misery while you continue to medicate and try to get that peak high again.
Most addicts do not realize when they are miserable. The reason they do this is probably instinctual. Instead they focus on the memories of when using their drug of choice was fun, and they ignore the fact that their life has become so horrible. Part of this may be a survival mechanism. They are just trying to preserve themselves and forge ahead as best they know how. Unfortunately, the only way they know how to deal with life is to self medicate, and they do not know any other way to live. The thought of dealing with life without their drug of choice is often unbearable.
Recovery is based on the idea that things will get better tomorrow if you make positive changes today.
The reason that this is so difficult is because making positive changes today can be quite challenging. The payoff is usually delayed. In other words, you have to sacrifice some short term happiness for some long term gain. This should become a better and better deal though the further you have progressed in your addiction. Someone who is deep into their addiction is likely miserable at least 99 percent of the time, and their peak experiences on drugs are few and far between. Their denial keeps them stuck and blind to this fact, but the trade off that they would be making to get clean and sober would be a very favorable choice for them.
All they have to do is forgo their drug of choice for a while, get detoxed, and then start making positive choices. Do this consistently for a few months and suddenly life is way better than it ever was during their addiction, and they will be happier too. This can happen after only a few short months, but just imagine what will happen after several years in recovery. Keep taking positive action every day, and the long term results are incredible. Life gets really good. They have a saying in recovery “It gets greater, later.” This is absolutely true and it is not just some statement to pacify the miserable newcomer in recovery. In fact it is absolutely true.
Addiction is the mindset of “let’s use drugs today and enjoy the moment, even though this will create greater misery in the future that we will have to deal with.”
Recovery is the mindset of “let’s take positive action today, even if that is uncomfortable, in order to build a happier tomorrow.”
It is about your time preference for happiness, and learning how to shift that.
The reason this is important is because the “happiness” that you experience in addiction (you only live once!) is short lived and mostly hollow. You get the occasional peak experience when using your drug of choice, but then you are miserable 99 percent of the time besides that. This is a poor way to chase happiness, and it is not very sustainable. Pretty soon you run into physical limits of tolerance and you can no longer take enough of your drug of choice to really be happy any more. The only way to have another “peak experience” with your drug is to go through some miserable withdrawal for a while, or deprive yourself first.
The happiness that you achieve in recovery is not like this. It is much more sustainable and it endures through all sorts of different experiences. Because you build it up slowly over time, it cannot be eroded based on random events like your happiness in addiction can. For example, you may be happy in your addiction while self medicating, but suddenly you may get into legal trouble, or end up overdosing, or whatever. The chaos of addiction can create instant misery.
You are much better protected from chaos and misery when you are clean and sober. Because you take positive action every day, you build up a great deal of protection in your life from things that might bring you down. For example, regular exercise has become an important part of my recovery. This is just one small piece of my recovery, but it does a lot to help increase my overall health and protect me from all sorts of things that might upset my life. There is less illness and more energy and many less tangible benefits that are difficult to even put into words, but it is all part of the recovery mindset. Greater health, positive action, and cumulative results.
This is what happens in recovery: you accumulate positive benefits from staying clean and sober. In addiction you tend to accumulate negative stuff in the form of more chaos and misery. But in recovery you take positive action every day, and the benefits of doing so start to build up over the long term. It does not happen in a week or a month, but after a certain amount of time in recovery you will be able to look back and realize that things have gotten really good in your life. No single action can account for this. It was a series of positive decisions that led to this awesome new life in recovery. You don’t just wake up one day and have this new life, you have to build it up slowly over time. It takes time and it takes consistent effort.
People who struggle in recovery often backslide when they relapse frequently. They call this condition “chronic relapse.” Really it is no better than staying stuck in active addiction. Someone might argue that “even though I relapse every other month or so, at least I am clean and sober part of the time, right?”
Wrong. They are missing out on nearly ALL of the benefits of recovery. Because they are always backsliding they may get sober for a while, but then they take “two steps back” after taking one step forward. They are no better off than they were in the past, because when they relapse they constantly reset themselves back to chaos, pain, and misery. All of the positive benefits that they worked for during their brief period of sobriety get erased.
The only way to experience a great new life in recovery is to create yourself, one day at a time, by taking consistent and positive action in your life. This requires a firm commitment to recovery. It is a long term commitment. You are not going to see fantastic results in the first week and possibly not even during the first month. It takes time. But once you start to accumulate these positive benefits in recovery, things just keep getting better and better.
Recovery is about creating a better future. Addiction is about creating “happiness” in the present moment at the expense of future misery. In order to create a better future in recovery, you have to take consistent action for a long period of time.
The gift that you never knew about your whole life
Recovery is a gift that most addicts and alcoholics never knew about, and could not have predicted. This is because they have never known recovery in the past, and their whole life has been tainted by addiction. This is true even if they did not use drugs and alcohol for most of their life. For example, before I ever tried a drink or a drug I knew that there was something “wrong” with me. I was seeking a solution because something was just not quite right in my life. I was not comfortable, I did not fit in, and I was not happy. So I was seeking but I was not sure what for. This is when I eventually stumbled on drugs and alcohol and I believed that I had arrived at the ultimate solution.
It turned out that drugs and alcohol really were a great solution, and totally fixed all of my problems–in the short term. But in the long run they had too many negative consequences and in fact they stopped working altogether (I could not longer get drunk and happy, I just went straight from being sober to blacking out entirely. Not much fun there).
This was all quite disappointing because I had thought that I had stumbled on the ultimate solution. Drugs were not my problem, I was my own problem, and I had always had this unease about me for my whole life. I had always been seeking something but I could never find a “cure” for my anxiety about life. I thought that drugs and alcohol were the solution, but this was a false path. Over time the drugs and alcohol “betrayed me” because they stopped doing what I wanted them to do (and they brought along all sorts of unintended consequences with them).
Therefore recovery was the gift that I had not anticipated. I could never have predicted the positive benefits and the incredible life that I would have in sobriety, because I did not believe it was even possible for me. I believed that I was doomed to be miserable in recovery if I could not use my drug of choice every day. How would I ever be happy again? I listened to people who told me that recovery was a gift, and that I could be happy again some day if I just gave sobriety a chance, but I did not believe them. I was projecting the misery of withdrawal and detox on to “the rest of my entire life in recovery.” This is obviously not realistic and life does get better in recovery if you give it a chance! It is all about taking consistent, positive action.
Recovery is a gift that keeps giving through reinvention of the self
Not only is recovery the gift that you never anticipated, but it also is something that keeps giving to you over and over again.
You may believe that when you make the decision to get clean and sober that you are trading in the decision to have fun and excitement with drugs for the boredom and security of recovery.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as recovery is really what you make of it. If you want fun and excitement in recovery then you can create that. In fact you are in a better position to create that experience when you are clean and sober as opposed to when you are self medicating.
And the kicker is that you will actually remember your excitement, fun, and experiences in recovery. When you create “fun” in addiction the biggest drawback is that you can never really remember all of it. Most of it is a blur and you just “knew that you were having fun” because you feel so sick or hung over the next day. What good is that when you could be remembering all the details instead?
If you stay stuck in addiction then your experience is severely limited
It is rare for the addict or alcoholic to be able to take a step back and look at their life from the 10,000 foot perspective. They may feel like “they are getting wasted and having a blast” while they are self medicating every day, but what does this look like from 10,000 feet up? Keep self medicating for the next ten years and then look back on your life and see what you have really accomplished, what experiences you have had, and how you have grown as a person. Chances are good that ten years of addiction will amount to almost nothing. It is then you might realize that instead of really enjoying life you are merely existing and avoiding pain.
What was supposed to be the fun and excitement of using drugs and alcohol becomes a daily chore to simply avoid the discomfort of withdrawal. You have to keep feeding the beast at regular intervals or you will become uncomfortable. This is not “the freedom to get high and enjoy life,” this is a prison that you have built for yourself that demands that you keep self medicating. You are stuck on this hamster wheel and you thought that it could provide you with unlimited happiness. But is your drug of choice really making you happy all of the time? Does it make you happy every single day? All day long? Or is it more like once a week you really get high and feel good about yourself? Once a month? Start measuring!
Because really, what is the point of staying on the hamster wheel (of addiction) if it is not all that fun any more? Why not give recovery a chance instead? I can promise you that “it gets greater later” or that you will have this awesome new life if you just commit to sobriety and stick it out for a few months, but really the only way for you to know this is to experience it for yourself. Recovery is a trip–the greatest trip of all. It is a wild ride and if you commit to staying sober and taking positive action every day you will not be disappointed. And if you are, you can always go back to self medicating every day, right? Drugs and alcohol ain’t going anywhere! They will always be there if you want to call it quits on your recovery journey.
True freedom happens when you can walk away from chemicals
You only live once, so wouldn’t you rather be free instead of being stuck on a hamster wheel?
True freedom is when you can be happy and content with yourself without needing chemicals at all. This is real freedom and any addict or alcoholic can achieve this if they are willing to stick it out for a few months in early recovery. You have to start making positive choices and stay committed to recovery no matter what. This is the “cost” of having this awesome new life in recovery.
You only live once, so why not be free? Addiction is just a prison that you build for yourself.