As I drove home from an early-morning meeting today, I realized something major. I was thinking about NOTHING.
For those of you who haven’t had the exquisite pain and pleasure of experiencing addiction, this probably sounds quite silly. Or negative. For someone like me, with a diseased, addicted brain, it’s absolutely wonderful and miraculous.
You see, addiction is a progressive, chronic disease, oftentimes (but not necessarily, although it appears to be in my case) marked by relapse. I learned this my first go-round in recovery. Intellectually, it all sunk in– the fact that I was “powerless,” that my “life had become unmanageable,” that I in fact had a disease, not a moral condition or problem with self control, that would be with me for life, progressing even while I recovered and abstained.
I understood that with an academic fervor and underlined all the right places in my Big Book. I talked the talk and walked the walk. But I now recognize I didn’t wholly feel it. And now I do– it’s living and breathing in my bones, my muscles, my tendons– all of me.
When I relapsed, the “obsession” that is a key part of addiction returned… and tenfold. I don’t recall being that preoccupied and consumed by drinking thoughts and fantasies over three years ago. Now perhaps I was, but I’d forgotten it. One mistake I hope to never repeat.
The day I decided that I had relapsed and I admitted that despite my best efforts to be a “normal” person and drinker I just wasn’t and would never be, my thoughts were completely focused on alcohol. I was going through the motions of my day–working, actually–but every few seconds, I’d get distracted and pulled back into the sick thinking. Put simply, and (please forgive me) harshly, addiction is one big giant mind fuck.
I experienced first hand how this disease hi(gh)jacks (Get it? “high”? Pun totally intended) the brain. It moves in and fills all the space that is occupied, in a healthy brain, with rational thought and feeling.
I have trouble putting it into words, but it goes something like this:
I have to get to work. Shit I am late… Oh man, I so want to not be here right now. A drink. A drink. Many drinks. I can taste them. How can I make that happen? Oh wait, I can’t. I am an alcoholic. Or am I? I never had a DUI. I’ve never been arrested. I can’t be a drunk. I just need to control this. Later. Later I can have drinks… I hate my job. It sucks. Everyone is so mean to me. I bet they all drink after work. I wonder if I could drink a beer after work with them, even though they clearly don’t like me… A beer. Beer. I love beer. I am not an alcoholic. Alcoholics drink vodka by the barrel. I never hid my drinking like those people. I was always honest. Plus, didn’t I hear in recovery that alcoholics are people who cannot stop drinking? I did stop, on my own volition, for three years… and then I drank only three glasses of wine the other night. Sure, I wanted to drink lots more. But I didn’t. Therefore, I cannot be an alcoholic… I hate my job. Why am I such a loser? I am a lawyer for Pete’s sake and I am taking orders for omelets. I just want to have fun. Party. Why don’t I ever get to have fun…Wine. Wine tonight, that would be awesome. Nothing would be better than to be alone with a bottle of wine and some cheesy television show. But I can’t. I have a problem. Or do I?
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Imagine that looping in your brain over and over ALL DAY LONG, the only semblance of relief coming with sleep, which is fitful and peppered with dreams (nightmares) about drinking. Fuck…
Yes, indeed. Addiction takes over the brain. And it happens so slowly, so insipidly, and then ever so fast.
Now, fast forward a few weeks. I’ve been sober. I’ve been doing what I need to do to rejoin the recovery community and get back on that path. Only a few weeks.
And my brain can be quiet.
It’s not all day, every day, but it’s often enough that it takes my breath away. I have moments of pure, unadulterated joy and gratitude. I wear a shit-eating grin from time to time. I have space to think about things like oh, say, OTHER people. My career. Thesis. How to be a considerate human being.
What went through my head when I awoke this morning? I have to get up. Crap it’s early. But I am going to a meeting. I may not want to go but it’s what I need to do.
I kissed my man friend goodbye, took my dog out to pee, and then climbed in my car at 6:07 am for a meeting. No hesitation once my feet hit the floor. Not even when my friend who planned to meet me there let me know she couldn’t make it (hell, that would have given me plenty excuse not to go myself a couple months ago!). I went; I listened; I evacuated the sick thoughts from my brain.
It’s going to be a sweet day. Not only do I have my mind back (and therefore can plan things like fun outings and thesis strategies) but I am regaining my sense of humor (also stolen by booze). Thank you, Universe.
Peace and Love to All.