Natural High… The Addiction Blog
March 19, 2013
The problem with having an addictive, compulsive personality is that once you’ve weaned yourself off the drugs, booze, and cigarettes there’s an awfully big hole to fill. The mentality is difficult to explain if you don’t have it. A few weeks ago someone tweeted something about addiction not going anywhere just taking on a different form. That’s kind of it. I don’t know what it feels like for other people because I’ve never asked anyone or even admitted I had a problem till I stopped.
On the surface I’m the least likely candidate for addiction issues. I am, or at least I used to be, a classic over-achieving, people-pleasing, Girl Scout. At its heart my addictions came from a cluster of depressive illnesses that I had since childhood and weren’t dealt with until my 30s. I was a mess and always looking for a way of blacking out feelings I couldn’t cope with. I started at 13 when I discovered why they tell you not to drink with antihistamines. As a student there were days on end where I would alternate shots of Whisky with Night Nurse until I was comatose and when I woke up I’d just do it again.
I have been in some dark, places sometimes for months on end but I am lucky to have always had good, straight friends around me. They would occasionally stage interventions where they would discuss my drinking but weren’t really aware of what else I was doing because I always kept it secret. I had separate ‘bad’ friends who I would see less often. Some of them were heavy drug users and dealers but they never pressurised me into trying anything. More often it was the reverse I was treated as a novelty, a pet, and they were generally very protective of me keeping me away from the stuff they were using. Mine was a squalid trawl, more substance abuse than drug use, mostly Class B and at its lowest point solvents.
For me drug and alcohol use was never recreational or fun and it was never about the high. I was reaching for a place way past that where you feel nothing at all and the faster I got there the better. For an addictive person there is a moment where, despite your promises to yourself to straighten up, you give in. It’s a tiny switch in your head where you move from a desire not to go there again to the exhilaration when you let yourself fall. I think what I was actually addicted to was that moment of surrender.
If you asked me how I conquered these addictions it is a different story for each one and they all had their rock bottom moment. Aged 22 I accidentally took a cocktail of drugs and found myself alone and in trouble. This cured me both of habitual drug taking and my suicidal thoughts. The point where I thought I would die made me realise just how much I wanted to live.
Kicking the drink happened in stages. I resolved never to drink on my own when I moved into my first flat aged 25. In keeping with my other addictions I wasn’t a social drinker. I drank fast and to the point of blackout every time. It made me very careless with my personal safety and I realised there was going to be nobody to stop me anymore. Two years later I quit drinking to excess. The event preceding it was a night out with some work colleagues including a younger girl I was mentoring at the time. She was quite damaged in her own way and as I drank and lost control I saw her crumble. She needed me to be a better person. I left and decided to be that better person because I didn’t like who I was when I drank either.
So I have been pretty much clean and straight for the best part of eighteen years now. If you have addiction problems and you want my advice it would be to get some real help.
I was fortunate and I found a way through but I can’t tell you it was easy. If your outlook has been chemical or alcohol-fuelled then for a long time afterwards the real world is a pretty ugly, lacklustre place. It’s boring and everything in you yearns to make it pretty and exciting again with your drug of choice. The natural highs are a bit of a disappointment to begin with. I would recommend you persevere because you will get there. You are going to need something that will totally occupy your mind and without your addictions you are going to have a lot of time on your hands.
With some of these things an addictive, compulsive personality is a real asset. When I took up playing the electric guitar I practised obsessively and when I read that it takes 20,000 hours to be really good at something I printed off pages of grids marking half-hour practice session units which I would shade in with different coloured highlighter pens. When my hands eventually gave out I took up making machine-sewn patchwork quilts instead, losing all track of time and sewing into the early hours till I could no longer see properly.
Nearly 20 years on from my bad days there is still nothing that beats waking up with a clear head instead of a blank where the night before should be and having to piece together the shame of what you did through flashbacks and other people’s gleeful stories. Addiction for me is about emptiness and wanting but not knowing what it is that will fill you. Until you know what that is you really need choose to get addicted to something healthy. So go learn to play an instrument, take up photography, train for a marathon if you must. Choose your future. Choose life because eventually the real world will stop being boring and you will understand.