“You can’t process or overcome a trauma when you’re still going through”
Most of us can relate to this, as, if you’ve spent any length of time in recovery, you’ll appreciate that *all* of us have the underlying trauma that goes with addiction.
Why The Pain?
As Gabor Mate says – don’t ask “why the addiction”, but instead ask “why the pain?”
It takes time to pass, before we can:
(i) come to terms with what’s happened
(ii) adjust our daily lives to account for this
(iii) then, later, take the learnings and wisdom from it.
It’s not until later in the addition journey that I was able to actually fully realise to what extent my traumatic past (I won’t bore you with the details…..today (lol)) actually contributed to my actively developing addiction.
At the time of course we just believe “this is life”, “this is what happens to people” or worse “I deserve this somehow”.
Nowadays I realise, that even through there are often negative consequences in the outside world as a result of trauma, there is no negative malice or negative intention inherent inside any one event – but sometimes we interpret it like that at the time.
And it’s how we react to this interpretation – what we think it means, either about us, or about life, that then leads us to addiction, quite simply, in order to cope.
When I relay this story at meetings, I either get the glassy-eyed, nodding “yes of course I know what you mean” look, (no, she really doesn’t), or, if I run it past, say, one of the more experienced alcoholics in the room, I’ll usually get a more wistful response.
Demons Don’t Need to Be “Conquered”
Understanding your own demons and conquering them is a life-long thing to navigate, and although we can never really claim to know or understand the impact of life events on our addiction, we can certainly begin to fear them less.
In my experience having the addiction recovery community around me has helped me realise that the demons aren’t really there to be “conquered”.
There is no enemy within.
It’s only when we realise that it’s *understanding* that we need – to overcome powerless, fear, helplessness, and all our other perceived problems in addiction, that the cogs being to shift internally, and changes begin to happen in the outside world.
It doesn’t make the trauma at the time any easier to deal with of course, but later, in hindsight, we can look back at what seemed at the time to be a gruelling ordeal, that would surely last forever, and with the wisdom of age becomes an event that had to happen, to provide a certain learning, or so that something else, much more positive, could take place in life.
Often times I feel like we’re so consciously focussed on “being positive” and staying “upbeat” about recovery that we forget that the old traumas actually do have positive value – in the right light.
I wanted to focus a little on what exists *around* alcoholism today, as opposed to overcoming the addiction itself.
When we start out, attending meetings, etc, so much of the focus is on not picking up, on *not* doing the act of drinking itself, that we lose sight of the supporting story around alcoholism.
And sometimes, when we take the periphery stuff away, the act of not picking up becomes infinitely easier, as we’re no longer focussed on *not* doing something, and instead have our minds focussed on something else entirely. Let me illustrate.
This is overwhelming, when caught up in the throes of the addiction.
Mainly as perspective is warped when alcohol has you in its grasp. Your brain is low on serotonin (alcohol is a depressant in case you weren’t aware) and so it’s all too easy to lapse into self-despair – as I did many times.
At this point in the process, we *perceive* so much, that just isn’t there. In more severe cases (esp liver damage etc) we can get a bit paranoid even.
But the reality is that, most of the people around us, love us, and want us to take the ownership of the beast that is addiction, so that we can get better.
“….but I’m an alcoholic”
I don’t know an alcoholic that’s never used this one as an excuse, for some errant behaviour.
In the latter stages, when self-pity has reached its peak, it’s tempting to use the addiction itself as another reason (excuse) why we shouldn’t get help.
We know at this point, that we would have to take ownership of the mess that is our life, if we agreed to treatment or chose to own the addiction.
So the addiction itself is a much easier option to blame.
“I can’t do (that task) – don’t you know I’m an alcoholic?”
In its most potent and bizarre form, this is used as an excuse to not get better- even when treatment is being laid out on a plate for us, to get better.
“How can I possibly look at my psychological issues behind alcoholism – I’m an alcoholic – how could you expect that of me?”
We don’t realise the ridiculousness of it until we have our sober head on.
Ask yourself this – beyond the reasons you fell into alcoholism itself – in what way does having the addiction benefit you?
In what way are others around you, accommodating it?
Does it let you skip events or other obligations, simply because, you’re an alcoholic?
Do your errant behaviour, unpredictability, and previous misdemeanours as a result of alcohol misuse, mean you now get to avoid appointments and adult responsibilities, simply because you’re an alcoholic?
Now you’re in secondary gain territory.
These are the secondary advantages, that sit in top of the addiction itself, making it less likely you’ll push through the gains to do the real work underneath.
This one is bittersweet. Tragic, actually.
When you were in the throes of alcoholism, the worst of it, how many around you were perfectly happy to give you money, keep a secret for you, or otherwise alter events to suit your addiction, if it kept the peace?
If it led to an easier life for them?
Our families love us, dearly. And in the case of addiction, it can be too much.
Parents don’t want their children to experience *any* pain.
So when the pain of withdrawal kicks in, and the lies and deceit begin, parents will do almost anything, including ignoring clear signals that there’s a problem, if that’s the way to feel ok.
It’s easy to rationalise all sorts of behaviour in different ways, if it suits us.
If it means less pain for us, less pain of facing up to what *our* responsibilities are, then we’ll rationalise it – that’s what the human brain will do, to overcome problems.
Unless something impacts directly on our ability to survive, it’s easier to make excuses, put it down to “a phase”, or excuse it in some other way, than for the enablers to truly admit something is wrong, and that there may be an amount of short term pain to go through, to get the long term gain of addiction recovery.
This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive account of my alcoholism recovery, but just a starter – an overview to help those starting out.
In it’s simplest explanation:
(ii) therapy & CBT
(iii) working with my triggers
The alcohol addiction rehab I went to helped me through the treatment piece. I just couldn’t do it alone, I wasn’t in that place, and I wasn’t privileged enough to be a functioning alcoholic.
I did get some financial help from family to get my journey started – something I’m grateful for to this day.
My main input was, that I was there, surviving, at that time.
Part of that was my willingness to trust, and, if I’m honest, more than anything else, my total lack of insight into what to do next.
I had tried everything already myself. Why wasn’t this working for me? I mean, I’m intelligent, I know my way around my life’s issues. There’s millions in recovery, so why wasn’t it working for me?
What I didn’t realise at the time was that what felt like utter despair, emptiness, feeling bereft, and defeated, was exactly what I needed, so that I could hand the reins over to someone else for a while.
I got intensive therapy whilst in the clinic, and continued it on my own outside with many (many!) more CBT and later, counselling sessions, except this time I knew a lot more about me, and my triggers, by the time I got to this stage.
It’s taken a lot of work and a huge amount of help from, basically everyone around me.
Even today I’m still constantly aware of my triggers.
I’m just so used to dealing with them in a different way now, that it just phases me a lot less than it used to.
Substances generally, have a lot less hold over me, not because I was obsessed with control in recovery, and not because I’ve regained my power.
But because I’ve increased my awareness.
When a trigger crops up, that the old me would have instantly turned to the bottle in response to, I immediately recognise it for what it is, and look at it differently, or reach out for support if needed.
Going into recovery, no-one ever tells you of how self-aware you need to be.
All this time I’ve been focussed on being the model recovery citizen. For all these years I’ve been so focussed on “doing it right”, and the process, that I never realised the journey was making me a better person.
It takes a lot for an alcoholic to say that, as you know.
But with the blinkers off, I can see that recovery HAS given me life back, but with a different perspective.
In addiction we’re focussed on how we’re feeling, and not so much on developing.
In recovery (long term recovery) I can finally see who I’ve become along the way, and feel, ever so slightly, a little proud of that.
One day, I stopped drinking.
And soon, I celebrate my third year recovery birthday and it’s been one hell of a ride.
It’s about time I gave back a little tho, and shared some of the wisdom I’ve learned from my teachers, with you.
It’s funny, the booze is such a personal journey, yet universal at the same time.
We all got into it for reasons. Reasons, which we told ourselves were *perfectly* valid, perfectly formed, and not excuses at all.
Because, anyone in my position would have. Right?
My real reasons would be different from yours, but we were both escaing the pain, to different degrees, and in different contexts.
One of the biggest insights I ever had was understanding what I got out of it. I wasn’t ready when I was in treatment (sometimes it just takes time), but the wisdom of age taught me to wait, and revisit it.
My sponsor means the world, and she brought me gently, to a place of realisation, of my life’s themes, and the repeating patterns I’d gone after, all these years.
I’ll share some of them here, in the hopes that you’ll recognise a few, and continue on your journey from a positive and more informed place.