24 years ago I lived to drink and drug. From the time my eyes opened until they closed, each day, all day, every day. Eventually, my spirit and body couldn’t take it anymore. The depression, the despair, the damage to my body. All of it had to stop. The impossibility of living clean, however, seemed so unlikely and thus equally insane. You mean not use nothin?
I wish I could go back and comfort that person. I would say, “Have faith. It get’s easier. I promise.”
I would say to my younger self, “I understand how you think being clean and sober is impossible. I know you think to even go one day without using feels like a miracle, much less the rest of your life, but just remember – when you’re going through hell, keep going. You’ll come out and be amazed at how staying clearn starts to become second nature, same way that getting drunk and high all day, every day, seemed as essential as taking your next breath. Pretty soon you’ll stop feeling that staying sober is a curse, but a blessing.”
When you’re not sure how to cross the raging river, just jump in and start rowing: the boat will appear underneath you.
It did for me, and it did get easier. I learned so much about myself and how to cope with reality, 24 hours a day, and to live with the insidious nature of addiction.
What I would not tell my younger self, and the part that I would lie about is this: The cravings will remain. Yep, they stick with you, FOUR-EVVV-ERRRRR. You’re forever changed, or at least I’ve been. It’s been 20 years since I used, but I still dream about using. I still get cravings often, but I have learned to live with them same way someone with a peanut allergy learns to live without peanuts.
When I see people drink beer slowly, I am perplexed, for my addiction would have me gulping it down. When I see others walk away from a half finished beer at a restaurant, I want to scream. When I watch someone snort cocaine or crystal meth on TV, I feel a jolt up my spine. (I felt a jolt just writing that). I have never fallen out of love with drugs and alcohol, I have only learned that it was a divorce that saved my life, and in fact, I love being free from the relationship.
The reason I would lie to my past self is that the young foolish one would never truly believe that he could learn to live with such cravings. Nor would he ever believe that he would become grateful for the cravings. Yes, GRATEFUL. When I get cravings, it just reminds me that I am still sick, and I’m grateful for that reminder. If I chose to pick up, it woud not be ‘normal, social use’. Nope. My craving brain thinks about the mass quantities I would use, and I don’t pretend that a 12 once beer today wouldn’t result in vodka, orange juice, and cocaine for breakfast tomorrow. Cravings remind me that I am still sick, and therefore could not use any substances successfully. I just expect the cravings to come. They are indeed less frequent, less intense, and are fast and fleeting, but I sense them always. I can feel my addiction inside me, and at any moment can tell you where it is located. All of this is okay. Cravings remind me I’m an addict, and I just don’t feed them, for I don’t want that life anymore.
I love my life now. Love it. Love my family, my kids, my new found ability to ‘intituitvely handle situations that used to baffle me’. I am no longer handcuffed by needing a substance to feel normal. I no longer have to plot and plan how I am going to keep a certain blood alcohol content in my veins and hide the fact that I am drinking. No more car wash returnables to get that first half pint of vodka to start the day. I have had so many adventures in my recovery, while in my addiction I was a pathetic and cursed lump of flesh. Miserable. There’s not enough time in the day to do everything I want to do with my life now that I’m sober.
So, if my old self is reading this: just know that staying sober will get easier, and you’ll learn to live with addiction. That craving you used to feed every chance you get? Well, as natural as it felt to feed that craving, it will feel just as natural to starve it, and the results will be wonderful. I PROMISE.
Mark Matthews is a substance abuse therapist and author of addiction-based dark fiction including MILK-BLOOD, All Smoke Rises, and the newly released anthology: GARDEN OF FIENDS: TALES OF ADDICTION HORROR