WHEN YOU’RE WEAK: The Delusion of Strength

Weakness blows. Self-hatred, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, and all of those garbage thoughts are the hardest to push out. Personally, my own biggest struggle is figuring out which of these thoughts are invalid and which of them are actually coming from a place of truth. A couple days ago, I hit 90 days sober and I posted an article that emphasized my new philosophy of “embracing the suck.” Like everything else, (especially in recovery) this is easier said than done.

Every morning, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, I have to jump out of bed and thus commence my daily battle with alcoholism. I’ve been back home in New Hampshire for 41 days now since I got out of rehab in Washington D.C. It’s hard to explain and it’s probably hard to understand unless you yourself struggle with addiction or alcoholism but I have been terrified of leaving my house. The voice in my head (who sounds way too convincingly like me) is telling me all of the time that being sober is not only a mistake, but it is going to get me killed. In rehab, a standard exercise is to draw what your addiction looks like. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to do this but I know exactly what my addiction looks like: it’s a gun to my head.

Ever since I was very very young I can remember always having that classic “impending sense of doom” that is often described and experienced by individuals who suffer from mental illness. Since I can remember, (3, 4, at least 5 years old) I’ve always been haunted and consumed by this horrible feeling that everything in my life can be taken away at any moment whether I like it or not. Death is inevitable; Death is the great equalizer; circle of life; that’s just nature and science, etc. But since I was at least 5 years old I’ve always felt as though at any given moment that my entire life as I knew it could just go away. Like a dream or a nightmare, I would turn around one day and everything and everyone would be gone. And it would be the strangest and worse kind of darkness. This feeling has been my constant reality for 17 years now. Because I’ve been feeling like this since I was very young, I’ve just thought that this was how everybody else felt. I thought–at 5 fucking years old–that everybody including my peers had a similarly unhealthy preoccupation with Death, loss, and the feeling of powerlessness that comes with that kind of obsession. I’ve never felt all that “in control.” Now, I’ve definitely felt LARGE AND IN-CHARGE! I was born the Big Man on Campus! But I was also born with what would later be diagnosed as Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And then later on down the road, full-blown Alcoholism. Capital “A” Alcoholism. This trio of mind-fuck is the proverbial “suck” that I am on a mission to embrace.

If I were to draw my addiction to alcohol (and the way in which it feels when I abuse other substances) it would look like a gun to my head. There’s not really a devil or an angel on my shoulders telling me to do bad stuff. It’s more like a fight for the driver’s seat in my brain. Addiction for me the delusion of strength. It’s odd but I think other people who also suffer from alcoholism/addiction can maybe relate; when I drink or use drugs, my brain tells me this is “normal.” My brain tells me that when I’m using, this is who I really am. This is the only way that I can function. This is how I’m supposed to be; like gasoline in a car. I feel way more in-control when I’m drinking or high. But that’s not what’s actually going on. It’s fucked up. Sobriety for me has been extremely hard to get used to again and it’s taken me 90 days to feel like my head is above water. I only now, three full months after the end of my relapse, feel that I’m not treading water. It’s less exhausting to stay sober. It’s finally become a habit rather than an active effort. Staying sober every day has gone from being an hour-to-hour active goal to a daily negative goal. That’s to say, I’m not at that point where I’m spending a ton of energy trying to wrestle with cravings. I’m just “not drinking today.” And thus, I’ve finally gotten the energy back to get on with life and do battle with my other internal and external problems.

I’ve got high hopes for the next 90-days when I break my previous record of sobriety. Five months is my longest sober streak, which ended last January, 2015. It’s actually exciting to see what it’s going to be like 6-months sober. It’s kinda cool to think that I’ve never felt like that before and I’ve got something that I’m working on every day that’s going to be gratifying in the near future. And, month by month, progress is becoming soooooo much easier to recognize. Even in shittiness if you can believe that. I hit 90-days and I didn’t feel like a fucking champion. I threw away my stash of drugs the day before and I didn’t feel like a hero. I felt like a little bitch. I’ll write about that later but last week was indicative of the combined progress of several consecutive baby steps. Baby steps blow. Chipping away and grinding is not some shit that I’ve ever been good at. I’m a one shot, one kill kinda guy. But that’s addiction–that’s not life. And most importantly to remember, that’s not living.

I haven’t been living until now. I’ve been fighting with addiction and alcoholism. I waste a ridiculous amount of time having to fight with myself about the reality of life and death and addiction. Everything that I think? It’s wrong. My judgement is and has been completely compromised. And what’s more is that I did not know this until I was hospitalized for the first time two years ago. It’s been difficult to know which thoughts/feelings I need to ignore and which ones are actually valid. It’s really like I don’t have survival instincts. Most of the time, everything in my brain is telling me that I should not be alive. I shouldn’t be breathing. If my respiratory system was involuntary, I would have given in to my depression a long time ago and just shut it down. I wouldn’t have made it to 7th grade. That’s how bad it’s been and that’s how long it’s been. These mental illnesses have thrived in my brain because I never addressed them and they’ve developed because I haven’t had the strength in the past to fight off these bad mental habits.

Sobriety puts me in a panic. That is not uncommon for people afflicted by drug and alcohol addiction. The simplest way to explain the basics of the brain chemistry behind the disease of drug and alcohol addiction is to imagine your greatest fear in a closed room with you. I’m fucked up by spiders. So, if I were describing what sobriety is like after my relapse to somebody who was also afraid of spiders I would say: imagine that from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, you’ve got that feeling of shear terror that you feel when confronted with just the image of a spider. I’m terrified of spiders. If I google imaged “tarantula” on the ol’ googler, I wouldn’t be able to look at the search results for even a second. One peak of those 5-fived fuckers and I’m GONE. I’m feeling uneasy just thinking about it. So imagine that feeling. That terror. That feeling that you’re always fighting to breathe because if you don’t keep yourself breathing, you’re going to have a full blown panic attack. FEAR. True fear. Brain chemistry explained fear. Not ghost stories creeping you out, but fucking full-on chemical imbalance in your brain fear. You can’t control that shit and before ya know it you’re beggin’ for a klonopin even though you know there is no klonopin. There is no escape. This is what my life has been like for the last three months since I got sober. And if I can sleep, I just have nightmares. It’s all been a nightmare. My brain is throwing all of this fear at me and the only answer that it gives me to shut out the fear is drugs or death. That’s that gun to my head. I’ve got no choices. I’m constantly bombarded with this paralyzing fear. This panic and stress that seems to be causing my hair to fall out (and I don’t blame my hair, I wouldn’t want to live on this head of mine either! It’s too scary!). When my brain presents drugs or alcohol, the fear goes away. I literally think about smoking or drinking or getting high and I instantly calm down. I stop shaking. My heart stops beating out of my chest. That’s how my addict brain works. But it’s false. My addiction just wants to be fed drugs and alcohol. That’s how badly my brain is compromised by addiction. It takes a physical toll on me just as it takes over every aspect of my psyche, consciousness, and depths of my subconscious. When I have the strength to sit down and wrestle this fear that’s being caused by my alcohol addiction and I actively push out these thoughts and cravings, the panic hikes back up. My addiction gets nasty and pulls a fucking gun and gives me the addict’s ultimatum: use or die. This panic induced by fear never feels like it’ll go away when I’m in it. Even when I know exactly what’s causing it, it does not get better and then I freak out even more and pop some baby aspirin just in case my heart fucking explodes.

Sobriety is an insanely hard choice for me the way in which my addiction to alcoholism manifests itself. The delusional thinking and cognitive distortions are almost impossible to think through. Especially, when there isn’t much thinking going on. I don’t trust myself because nothing in my brain seems real or true. How would you feel? It feels unnatural to be sober. It’s not that I would rather be dead, but it feels like this is so much worse than Death. I believe this is what they call in AA, “stinkin’ thinkin'” but unfortunately, there is not much thinking going on. I’ve had to force myself brain-dead to keep myself safe and sober the last 3-months. This shit is not sexy.

Nothing about addiction or recovery is sexy. It’s dirty and hard and impossible to explain when early on in recovery your sobriety depends on putting yourself in a fugue-state. I don’t know about other people, but I’ve got the least sexy brand of depression/anxiety disorders too. All I do is eat and sleep. I lose coordination and balance and my cognitive functions are all but completely compromised. I’m slow. I’m dirt-o-phobic and ironically afraid that if I come into contact with something that is unclean I will be killed by bacteria or worms or some nasty little parasite. This is a weird distortion to be co-morbid with feeling suicidal. It’s like I’m either in fear of life or I’m begrudgingly breathing and hating the very basic state of being a living organism and cannot make sense of how or why there is life in this body when my brain is trying its hardest to shut it all down. It’s a strange catch-22. It’s the nature of the “suck.”

I don’t know what’s different 90-days on other than enough time has passed and sobriety has become a habit. I’m not having using dreams. I’m not having to hid from drugs and alcohol. And, really, is it that simple? I kinda think it is. I’m been living with my drug stash under my bed for 41 days now. It took me more than a month to finally evict the Weed Yeti from my mom’s basement. And I’m so hard on myself that I didn’t feel good about it. I beat myself up about it. “WHAT TOOK YA SO LONG, FAGIT??? YER A PUSSY!!” I’m still miffed 72 hours later. WHERE’S MY GLORY?? WHAT I DID WAS HEROIC!! And I have to let it sink in. Not every 22-year-old could just throw their stash of weed away. It was REALLY fucking hard and I’ll tell that story in full on another time. But that’s what progress in recovery looks like. Time takes time. Waiting fucking sucks but that’s the reality of the situation. Sobriety for the alcoholic/addict is a waiting game. Good habits take effort, discipline, and practice. Habits don’t become habits over night. I’ve learned that the hard way. And again (and I cannot say this enough) it is so much easier said than done. And the worst part is that nobody knows how hard it is.

But that’s why I’m going to AA–and I’ll talk more about that later on because I think it’s important. In the AA book, I do think that they got this right, despite my own infuriating cynicism: only another alcoholic and truly understand an alcoholic. The same goes for addicts. I’ve found that even though everybody’s story is different, we’re all fighting the same thing here in recovery. I can only speak from my own experience but I’ve found this to be my truth. As a recovering alcoholic, I can relate to a 60-year-old, recovering, black junkie from D.C. who I’ve only known for 40-seconds introductions, pleasantries, and a friendly handshake, than I can relate to another dumbass, 22-year-old, Irish-Anglo-Masshole with a major in Schlitz Malt Liquor and date rape from Cornell. That guy sucks. That guy is who I was on the fast track to becoming if I didn’t nut up and start asking questions about my drinking. When it comes to addiction, the point I’m trying to make is that it doesn’t come down to race, socio-economics, geography, nationality, ethnicity, education-level, or age. None of that matters. A person in recovery is just that. There is unconditional respect in recovery. There is no division. We’re not divided. There’s no camps, teams, or cliques. It’s not like the coke heads and the dumb alcoholics have beef. In my experience thus far, you’re either in recovery or you’re not. That’s just the way it is. And there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Going to AA is hard. Especially being a begrudgingly cynical dickhead like myself. It’s serious stuff. And it’s a commitment. But I’m committed to recovery so fuck it; I’m all in. I got sober in D.C. I did 5 days in detox and then 2 months at the Kolmac Clinic in Silver Spring, MD just outside of the D.C. Metro Area. It was easier being an outsider and relating to other addicts and alcoholics in recovery. Being a Masshole in Dixie is like being Ziggy STAH-DUST, DOOD! GO PATS! It was eye opening to be so accepted by people from a different region of the country because of what we had in common. I felt empowered and confident in being an outsider. But now that I’m back “home” in New Hampshire, it’s not so easy. I am from New England/New York but it’s a long and confusing story and I’m basically just a Masshole with New York values. It’s just as confusing to me as it is to other people when I try to explain where I’m from. So I’ve felt a major jilt in my new found confidence and self-esteem but I’ve kept going and really if it wasn’t for getting involved with the recovery scene here in NH, I’d be absolutely fucked.

As I said in my previous article: fear is inevitable, being a coward and pussy is up to you! It’s been hard to nut up. I’ve never felt weaker or shittier or hated myself more but now it’s time to be a red-ass. Strength is hard to find. Before this relapse, I never knew where my strength came from. My relapse has been a real eye-opener. The positive thing I’ve taken out of it is that I now understand myself on a level that I’ve never understood myself before. I am an alcoholic. Good, bad, or ugly. Rain or shine. Day or night. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years and all years I’m an alcoholic. And yeah, that fucking blows. I didn’t want to grow up to be an alcoholic but that’s now how it fucking works. I was born an alcoholic. This shit is a reality. I can’t “fix” my alcoholism. I can only manage it. And in a way that I’ve never understood before, I’ve been able to find strength in that. It honestly feels like I’ve come out of the closet of denial about my drug/alcohol addiction. If nothing else, it’s my truth. In recovery, I’ve found strength in honesty. Being honest with myself and my reality has been very empowering, which sounds like some hippy bullshit but it’s for fucking real, man. The truth gets abused like nothing else. But now that I’ve chosen to accept my own personal truth, everything has been much MUCH easier. I can relate to other people. I can talk to my friends again. I can look at myself in the mirror again. It’s a pretty awesome feeling. I have no clue what coming out as gay feels like but if it’s anything like this? Holy shit that is awesome and everyone should pop out of whatever closet they’re hiding in.

Long story short, as I approach 3,000 FUCKING WORDS: I’ve come out of my coffin-shaped closet. I didn’t find any strength in denial. The truth doesn’t go away. It’s been in my closet with my no matter how much I try to drink it away or smoke it out. YOU CAN’T UNKNOW THINGS! Especially about yourself as I’ve found out the hard way. I’ve found strength in popping out of my closet. It’s not an illusion or a delusion. It feels good and it calms my tits down, which is all I’ve really wanted in life. This sucks. This early recovery process. But there’s definitely strength to be found. I’ve finally found some strength in sobriety. The best thing I’ve heard in AA so far is this: as long as you’re sober, do whatever the fuck you want! And as long as doing whatever you’re doing is keeping you sober? KEEP DOING THAT SHIT! That’s why I go to these things, man. This is the shit that makes it all worth the work. This shit is awesome.

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