Recovery: Beyond Up, Down, Functioning, and Existing

By: Marilyn L. Davis

“You want to know the truth about drugs? You can only go one or two ways. You can go up, or you can go down. That’s it. After a certain point, though, no matter what you do, what you take, you don’t go anywhere, and that’s when you’ve got to sit down and face yourself.”  RuPaul, Lettin it All Hang Out: An Autobiography
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 Our Brains Developed Tolerance for Alcohol and Drugs

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from addict 2 advocateMost of us were not entirely successful in our first attempts at use; we got drunk and threw up, snorted cocaine and turned into a whirling dervish going nowhere, or missed a vein. We could contemplate our navel for hours, or sit in a stupor and not be embarrassed.
 
The list goes on. Our brains and body were responding poorly to a new substance, and it took us time to adapt when we started using.
 
However, we did not experience embarrassment over not knowing how to use successfully, nor did we give in from frustration; no, in fact, most of us dove right in trying things repeatedly.
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We Thought We Could Function on Drugs and Alcohol

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With this commitment to our use, our systems – physical, emotional, and mental, learned to function. Some of us even believed that we performed better on drugs and alcohol as we adjusted to the effects. We worked; we were Dean’s List Students, we drove our children and others to summer camp and football practice, we performed surgeries on others, we carried out our obligations and looked liked we had it together.  On the outside, some of us functioned well. 

Our brains adjusted and we sometimes maintained that outer facade of ‘having it together’. Some of our friends and families were shocked when we entered treatment for our addictions; we had seemingly fooled them.  They might even comment on how well we functioned. But what exactly is functioning?

Functioning is Not Our Best

Functioning is performing adequately.  Think about the functionality of everyday items:

  1. Hats: they keep our ears warm, hair in place, dry, or concealed on bad days
  2. Computers: they store data, check our spelling, provide entertainment
  3. Watches: tell time, and eventually get replaced by a phone
Each of those has limited functions, and if we’re honest, we had limited function in our use as well. Functioning gets us by; for a while, it conceals our addiction. However, if we were honest about our lives in addiction, we were not functioning well at all; the money squandered, the time wasted, the emotions we were unwilling to experience.
 
Most of us had to use more just to keep up the fronts and masks to make others see us as functioning. 
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But we will create the illusion that when we get into recovery, everything is going to work smoothly, and we’ll function normally.
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Unfortunately, our impaired brain is still with us even when we give up drugs and alcohol. For some of us, we seemed to be worse off in our early recovery than we were in our use.   
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I Gave Up Drugs, Why Can’t I Function?

I got into recovery and could not even function. I did not realize how much damage I had done to my body and brain; nor did I understand that all the emotions that I overlooked or ignored would come rushing back at inopportune times.

For some of us, we seemed to be worse off in our early recovery than we were in our use.  In our recovery, we forget appointments, we lose track of a conversation, laugh when others are crying, or space out and have shiny moments for no clear reason.  Our eyes betray us.  We are reading one sentence, our eyes wander two lines down, and nothing makes sense.

The contradictory difference from functioning on drugs and alcohol to struggling when not on drugs and alcohol is frightening for many of us.   It creates the illusion that it would be better to function on drugs and alcohol than appear stupid sober.

We forget that it will take some time for our brains, bodies and emotions to heal. 

 

Healing Takes Time and Resolve

from addict 2 advocateToo many give in or give up at this point and relapse. They forget the resolve that they used to develop tolerance, their steadfast approach to using. They succumb to the choice of functioning on drugs because they refuse to appear inadequate in early recovery.

Rather than think about this in binary; on/off terms, it is important to realize that the brain, our bodies, and our emotions will take some time to readjust and heal in this new non-using state. Learning to live without drugs and alcohol is part of a healing process. Our brain and body need time to regroup and recuperate. In early recovery, our brain needs to recover its ability to think without chemicals.

Be Patient and Encouraging While Healing

If we apply the same resolve to healing that we did to using, not being embarrassed about the shiny moments, asking others how they dealt with the embarrassment of forgetting, and talking about our feelings, we do begin to heal.

We strengthen our resolve to stay in recovery when we show patience with others and ourselves during this time. We are learning about something new – living without drugs and alcohol, and just like any new subject, or when we were learning to use, it will take time.

It is ironic that we were so often proud of how well we functioned on drugs and alcohol, yet cannot muster this same attitude in early recovery. 

We always have to remember that we did not develop a tolerance overnight and we will not heal overnight, but we can and do heal.

By accepting that our brains, bodies and emotions are healing, we can gently move from functioning to living – that is the true healing of recovery.

 



Writing, and recovery heals the heart


 
 

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2 comments

    • Hi, Aaron. Thanks for commenting. I think you’re right. A lot of us only heard “functioning” and bypassed “addict”. Perhaps if I’d listened sooner, or heard both words, I might have paid attention. Ah, well, we get it when we get it.

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