How I've managed to escape addiction is an actual miracle. I mean, I can count on two fingers the times I've tried alcohol! (Beer, which tasted like sweaty gym socks, and a glass of wine at a cousin's wedding.) I used to joke that I was simply born without any desire for mood-altering substances, but the older I get the more I've come to realize I survived by the skin of my teeth because some small part of me knew from early on what hell I would unleash if I ever turned to substances. And though I've been lucky, I would never count myself above anyone who isn't also sober, as I've fought my own battles with other, different addictive behaviors.
Many with mood disorders (bipolar, schizophrenia) turn to drugs and/or alcohol in effort to escape the never-ending nightmare that is being unable to trust your own mind. The line between reality and delusions often becomes blurred, and for some it's on a daily basis. After years, months, even days of that sort of terror, wouldn't you do anything for relief? Even though I've lived sober throughout my issues, that's not to say I've never felt that pull. There are times I want to down as much hard liquor as possible and if I haven't drank myself to death by the next day, wake up and do the whole thing over again. Wash, rinse, repeat until the delusions pass. It's such an inviting notion to be able to calm the storm in my head, but in those dark moments there was one lone voice frantically urging me to push past it. I would fantasize about the lengths I would go to in order to cope, and then this mental slideshow would start playing. Sure, drinking myself into oblivion sounds wonderful, but later on, there I was an alcoholic. Shoot up and feel painless and content, but without a doubt overdose within a few short years. There would be no casual, recreational use with me; I can have an obsessive, addictive personality, and to invite anything destructive like that into my life would have been a death sentence.
My therapist and I have talked at lengths about substance abuse and how, if I had started when the episodes did as a child, I would've been dead before making it out of my teenaged years. It's a chilling thought, one that's constantly lurking in the back of my mind, but it keeps me alive. And again, the one experience with THC was enough to eradicate any lingering doubts: if my mind is this fucked up sober, the literal absolute last thing I need to be doing is be altering it in any way. Some days I'm unable to tell the distinction between what is actually happening and what my diseases are fabricating, and it's that small voice that keeps me from losing it entirely. Regardless if I have a harmless glass of wine or smoke something to relax my nerves, once my inhibitions are lowered that sane, rational voice will get smaller and smaller until finally, the insidious voices take over. I would be angry, violent, destructive, and completely uncaring. I would want to cause as much pain as I've felt, pain that went ignored for so long it started to rot inside me and turn parts of me into a cold, calculated sociopath with no feelings other than the rage. To be able to recognize that and avoid it at all costs comes with a monumental price, though, but it's one I will pay time and time again. Part of therapy is working on beneficial coping skills to replace the self-destructive ones, and because I've avoided substance abuse, mine manifest themselves as self-harm. Depending on whether I need a release or a quick jolt back to reality, I would either see it as punishment or what I've referred to as an "offering to the voices," essentially. Because self-harm can release the very same endorphins drugs do, you can begin to link the behavior to the euphoric feeling of relief.
But I feel like my self-awareness alone wouldn't do the trick; I have been enormously fortunate to have avoided what has so easily ensnared so many others. Good, kind people who have suffered and were pushed to their breaking point. People who are preyed upon by those greedy and lusting for power and wealth. And to everyone struggling with addiction of any kind, my heart breaks for you. It breaks for everyone who has been dealt an invisible illness and is tying to navigate the unchartered territory the best they can. I met some recovering addicts while I was in the hospital and their determination to get clean was nothing short of awe-inspiring. It is my hope that we all find the same courage in our journeys towards recovery, and know that there really is hope. Some days it might be far away, and other days feel as though it's entirely gone, but please believe I am cheering you on and that with each other's support, we're going to make it.
"Maybe I'm fucking up, but I think that that's ok, just so long as I'm learning every day." Make Do and Mend