By: Donald Huffman
Finding Relief Anywhere I Could
This is what compulsion looks like to me. Using drugs made all the bad feelings go away and every other ambition or goal was put off into the fictitious tomorrow in exchange for making those feelings go away. The drugs were that reliable. I can only speak for my own journey, for the path that only my footsteps have beat.
Alcohol was the first drug that did it for me. At age sixteen, after a breakup with my first girlfriend, I discovered that cheap vodka dissolved the tremendous heartache, like my despair was a thin stain.
The clear liquid washed away so much more than that, however. Years of tension carried in the muscles of my upper back unfurled and smoothed, something I became aware of when I stood up off the couch after several pulls off the bottle. I experienced myself weightless as a miracle standing on my friend’s basement floor, no longer anchored down in the psychological swamp I had seemed to be born in. I had found that something that worked. __
When Relief Didn’t Come – I’d Get Close
I would chase that miracle through the remainder of my adolescence and through the entirety of my twenties. I never quite made it back to the weightless moment on my friend’s couch, but I would get close. Close was good enough. Close was reliable enough. So reliable had become my lifesavers in the bottle or the bag that they began to fasten themselves to the ends of every connection I had in this life.
The substances were certainly more reliable than friends and family. I didn’t see anyone else in that filthy bedroom with me at two o’clock in the morning when my depression was so great and the voices in my head so loud that I could almost physically hear them. There had been a case of low-quality domestic beer standing at the ready by my feet.
I cared deeply for the people in my life during my use, but the warm feeling of love and support was no match for the total annihilation of all pain that heroin provided me.
The compulsion became my spirituality and my ritual. They say God can reach you in your darkest hour. In that case, I had God in my cell phone’s Contacts and I only had to wait twenty minutes for God to show up. The pastor talks about God like God’s a faraway entity.
I had something in my pocket that took me straight to Divinity behind a closed door. The Church was never my thing.
The compulsion became my hobby. Drugs were fun and drugs took effect immediately. Boredom can lead to discovery and there would be no need to discover when I had everything I needed in a prescription pill bottle with the label torn off. A sports drink bottle full of whiskey and a walk through the woods was how I blew off steam.The compulsion became my medicine.
Relief at Any Price
My mother once told me her thoughts on my use. She didn’t think I’d ever get clean until I addressed the “mental health thing.”
How do you convince someone to try months or years of therapy with medications that takes weeks to take effect (if they have an effect at all) when they already possess something that vanishes all depression and anxiety instantaneously?
As the compulsion slowly became the source of life, it had become life. It had become me. Where the drugs lead, I followed. The compulsion restricted my access to everything else non-drug related, and like a rope tightening I was finding it hard to breathe.
When Relief Didn’t Work; I Found Recovery
Until one day I couldn’t do it anymore.The pain of staying the same had become greater than the pain of change. I started to go to 12-step meetings and I surrounded myself with different people.
I’ve heard it said in meetings that “my worst day clean is better than my best day high.” I’m not certain that I agree with that.
Again, I can only speak for my own journey. My using days were defined by Herculean highs and miserable lows. When I was chemically taken care of, the sun shined only for me. When I was forcibly sober, something grim covered my eyes. I suppose it was a rather manic life like that.
My life in recovery is more even-keeled than that. Even-keeled doesn’t quite feel like the right word. My happiness, while more mellow and low-key today, is more constant than the peaks and valleys of getting high, more unshakeable than relying on something outside of myself that has become unreliable.
I don’t think I can speak about the gifts of recovery without talking about the pain of recovery, because I don’t think you can have one without the other.
Recovery Isn’t Instant Relief, It’s Freedom to Choose
The pain of recovery is choosing to not have the option of instant relief. Recovery is choosing to have no other option but to learn how to develop nourishing and life-affirming relationships with other people, of choosing to have no other option but to hesitantly reach out of the isolationist self into the warm mystery of connectedness to humanity.
I became clean and I found something out – I didn’t feel good at all. It turns out a guy has to eat regularly, sleep regularly, and move his body off the bed from time to time in order to feel good. Recovery afforded me the chance to find new outlets that just may make me feel well. I guess the pain of not going to the gym had become greater than the pain of going to the gym.
Out of the sheer desperation of not knowing what else to fill my days with, I discovered I could get almost as high with meditation and yoga as I could with substances. I found that perhaps all the good feelings that the drugs had once brought me were perhaps inside of me all along.
I did my work in AA and NA. I became stable in almost all areas of my life. Something, however, still wasn’t right. Looking back, I think I was still at war with myself. Aside from a new open and honest relationship with my psychiatrist, I started to see a therapist. Working through past traumas and deeply ingrained beliefs, I have about myself, I am learning how to accept myself with all of my imperfections intact.
I’ll Choose Understanding over Relief, Today
I understand now the pressure that the first drink at age sixteen lifted off my shoulders – it was the world sitting on them. I don’t have to carry that weight anymore.
There’s something magical about going into the pain, the uncertainty, the fear, the outright dread of early recovery and letting the experience transform you.
I needed two things to step into that void – proper motivation and support from other people.
I spent the first six weeks of my recovery starting out my day by rolling off the bed and pressing my stomach against the floor. The cool hardness was the only relief I had for the unrelenting nausea that I experienced since coming off the opiates and the benzodiazepines. It was loving hands of people in AA and NA that led me through that darkness. They showed me how to become an adult and take my life into my own hands. They showed me how to use the power of choice in my life. They showed me what was mine to take responsibility for and what was none of my business.
I learned something precious in that painful and miraculous time of drastic change – with support we can do anything.
I still need support and I am still surprised where it comes from at times. I hope I am half as good as offering that support as I am with receiving it.
Challenging the Readers
Here is my challenge to you, the reader – if you are struggling in any phase of your recovery, think differently about what recovery is.
The right answer can be found within yourself. Try to think differently about your life for even a brief moment, and see if it leads to new actions. You might be surprised.
About Donald Huffman
Donald Huffman is an aspiring writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Struggling with trauma, mental illness, and alcohol/drug addiction, substantial segments of his adolescence and early adulthood had been spent in and out of hospitals, treatment centers, halfway houses, and jail.
After a suicide attempt, he got sober at the age of 29 through 12-step recovery and therapy.
Clean, refocused, and rekindling a passion for writing, he began his autobiography shortly into his recovery.
Donald now has a full-time job in the healthcare field and has a daily practice of meditation and writing.
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