I was thinking about ways to explain addiction to someone the other day. I spent quite a while thinking about the various characteristics of us addicts, and the one thing that I came up with that seemed to cover us all is compulsion: as applied to addicts, a strong, usually irresistible impulse to do things that are not in our best interest.
I was actively addicted to other drugs and behavior as well, but the one that brought me to recovery was alcohol. Something else would have, but I drank the longest and booze got to me first. I remember the compulsion so clearly.
Originally, I didn’t notice it. I drank and drugged when it wasn’t an especially good idea for quite a while, and eventually all the time, but I made excuses why it was okay. I needed to sleep, and a drink or a pill (or both) would help. Those people were such a pain that I needed a drink to mellow out before going to that dinner party. When I got there, it would have been rude not to have a drink (or a line) when offered. And of course, after the first couple, the rest seemed like a very good idea indeed.
As the old saying goes, “denial ain’t just a river in Africa.” A good solid dose of that commodity enabled me to justify the things I was compelled to do, and to overlook that fact that they weren’t in my best interest and that I had to do them.
Toward the end, though, it wasn’t that way. Some months before I got clean and sober, the excuses ran out. The other drug use, which mainly supported my drinking, may or may not have been out of control, but I was obviously powerless when it came to booze. The times when I tried not to drink, or not drink more and failed, were countless. I felt ashamed. I felt hopeless. I felt as though I was no longer in control of my life — and I wasn’t.
I would come home from work determined to have a couple of beers, and kill a six-pack and half a bottle of vodka or rum. I have absolutely no idea how much I drank or how many drugs I used on my days off. Knowing that I couldn’t drink on the job (although I eventually did that too), I took pills provided by a helpful doctor to deal with the urge for the eight hours until I could get to a bottle. I’d tell myself that I wasn’t going to drink — that I couldn’t drink — and yet I always did. I never got to the point of withdrawal. I didn’t drink or use because I was sick, I did it because I could, and because I had to. With alcohol and other drugs in my system, I was powerless. I was unable to stop doing something that I knew was not only not in my best interest, but that I knew was killing me.
Eventually I reached the point of giving up. I knew I had to drink, had no idea that I could actually quit, and figured I’d end up dying drunk. Over time — a short time — it became clear that it wouldn’t take much longer. I carried a gun for a living, and I knew exactly how to use it.
Well, I got lucky and an intervention brought me to treatment and sobriety. When I got sober I found that I was no longer powerless over some of my addictions (as long as I didn’t use), but that there were other compulsions that needed attention. Although I was clean of alcohol and other drugs, I still smoked, and I decided that I couldn’t go around calling myself clean and sober unless I finished the job. It took me three years to kick the most dangerous addiction of all, but a couple of weeks ago I had twenty years smoke-free as well. Yay me! And I mean that. It was harder than getting sober. I couldn’t have done it without my program of recovery. Quitting’s not for sissies.
I remember those compulsions. Do I ever! The need for a drink. The need for nicotine. The need for another pill. I remember the lies I told myself: that one more wouldn’t hurt; that I’d quit as soon as (insert excuse) was over and I could relax a little. That I’d cut down. That the next one wouldn’t kill me. I remember. It scares me to death. I like my life too much to take the chance of encouraging those compulsions to return, so I don’t use. Chemicals controlled my life: where I could go, who I could go with, what I could do, and when.
I like freedom.