Many people in recovery fear or even loathe drugs and alcohol. Go to any recovery fellowship meeting or scroll through posts on recovery-oriented social media feeds, and you’re bound to witness it. Former addicts maligning the substances that brought them to their knees, calling for prohibition of alcohol, the banning of addictive or habit forming medical drugs, urging that less harmful recreational drugs like marijuana remain illegal. You’ll hear people in recovery circles say that alcohol is the single most destructive legal drug in the world. That marijuana causes laziness at best, and at worst causes brain damage or leads to harder life destroying drugs. You’ll see posts calling for a ban on opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines, two families of drugs that are widely prescribed to everyone from sufferers of mild ailments, all the way to those in the final stages of cancer.
Just because I’m an addict doesn’t mean everyone else is
Despite the fact that these substances and my addiction to them left a path of destruction in my life, I recognize that’s not the case for everyone. Not everyone who uses alcohol and drugs on a recreational basis is an addict. There are millions of people who have a beer or a cocktail with dinner, use recreational drugs like marijuana without any tangible consequences to their lives, or take prescribed medications as directed to great benefit to their own health. Am I jealous of those people? A little. Do I have the right to judge them or chastise them for doing what works for them? Absolutely not.
My instincts tell me to warn people against the things that nearly killed me. If I’d almost died in a car crash, I’d have the urge to constantly warn others to drive safely. If I was mugged and beaten in a bad neighborhood, I’d worry if one of my friends moved in right down the street. And that same urge occurs every time I hear a friend complain of a bad hangover or a tell a story involving wild drunken antics. But it’s not my job to tell those people they have a problem. Even when I see or hear about someone acting out on behaviors I’m almost certain are evidence of addiction, it’s not my job to point it out to them. My responsibility is to help people who ask for help. It’s not my place to judge someone else as an addict or an alcoholic. It’s up to each individual to make that determination for themself.
It starts at the beginning
While I understand the urge to lash out against the substances that have brought millions of addicts and alcoholics to their knees, I don’t agree with it. I’ve been sober for many years now, but I love alcohol and drugs - which is why they have no place in my life.
As a child, years before I ever got sober, years before I discovered alcohol and drugs, I suffered from severe anxiety and cyclical depression. At the time, my ailments went undiagnosed, and I thought I would spend the rest of my life feeling uncomfortable, confused, and sometimes enraged for no apparent reason. The pressures of adolescence - school, homework, grades, social circles, romance and crushes, and growing up in general - caused crippling moments of anxiety in me that I didn’t know how to handle. I had trouble sleeping. I ate either too much or too little. I was confused in situations that other kids seemed to navigate with ease.
The quest to feel good
In high school, I discovered alcohol, marijuana, and a host of other “recreational” drugs. And while I’d been warned about the dangers of drugs in health class, D.A.R.E. speeches, Just Say No commercials, After School Specials, and “very special episodes” of my favorite TV shows, I was curious. I rarely if ever felt “good,” and by the time I reached my teenage years, I was actively looking for anything that would change my mood and the way I felt. The first time I used substances, my entire life changed. I felt a decrease in anxiety and an increase in appetite. I started sleeping better, and my overall mood improved.
This overall improvement in my life, thanks to alcohol and drugs, led directly to dependency. While it would be years before my addiction reached a critical life-or-death point, alcohol and drugs were the crutch that helped me deal with life. Substances were my best friend, and once I discovered that self-medicating could help me function in what I thought was a healthy way, there was no turning back.
Drugs giveth, drugs taketh away
Of course I know now that none of this was healthy behavior. My anxiety and depression should have been treated by professionals with a combination of therapy and SSRIs to help balance the chemicals in my brain. There were a variety of healthy ways for me to cope with my mental and emotional problems, but I chose the easiest, most direct path to happiness. What ensued was more than a decade of hardcore drinking and drugging. I masked my pain with alcohol and drugs, seeking out ever more elaborate concoctions and combinations to help me self-medicate my way to happiness and feeling good.
By the time I reached my early 20’s, I was addicted in every way - mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I surrounded myself with people who used substances the way I did, comparing notes, pooling our money to buy ever-increasing quantities of our drugs of choice, partying hard, sleeping it off, and doing it all over the next day. As we grew older, many of my peers seemed to naturally age out of this hard-partying phase, but I kept going. I couldn’t see a path to happiness that didn’t involve alcohol and drugs, and I didn’t see a problem with the way I was living.
A few more years went by, and I found myself nearing what I’d later come to call my bottom. I was physically addicted to a variety of prescription drugs (obtained semi-legally through doctor shopping scams) as well as a number of illegal substances, all buoyed by the constant presence of alcohol in my life. Finally, I crashed and burned, and I began my journey of recovery. But despite the damage that alcohol and drugs caused in my life, there were many years where substances helped me get through the day because I simply didn’t know any other way.
A life beyond my wildest dreams
These days I recognize that there’s no way for me to use alcohol and drugs safely, but I’m not resentful of my addiction. Without my addiction, I would have never discovered recovery. I’m one of the lucky ones. Through my journey in recovery, I’ve gained some of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I learned how to deal with my anxiety and depression in healthy ways. I learned how to ask for help. I learned how to be a trustworthy and responsible romantic partner, family member, friend, and member of society. I learned how to help others when they ask for help.
I love my life today. A life free of alcohol and drugs, a life built on a foundation of recovery. And as anachronistic as it might sound, I wouldn’t be where I am today without alcohol and drugs. Substances gave me everything I’d ever wanted, and then promptly took it all away and then some, unwittingly putting me on the path to true freedom through sobriety. So no, I don’t hate alcohol and drugs, I love them. Which is exactly why there’s no place for them in my life today.
-- Anonymous for Life Assurance Recovery, 2018
For more information about Life Assurance Recovery and recovery services like Recovery Coaching, At-Home Detox, and more, visit www.lifeassurancerecovery.com
If you are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please seek the help of an addiction specialist, alcohol and drug counselor, case manager, medical detox center, inpatient rehab, or sober living residence. If you are experiencing withdrawals from alcohol or drugs, please seek medical attention or dial 911.