Firstly, I need to introduce this with a warning to other recovering addicts, especially those in early recovery: My approach to recovery is not “standard”, assuming such a concept exists. I hate NA meetings; I don’t believe in the 12-step plan; I don’t have a sponsor; I do not believe in God and in fact am more than just an atheist – I lean towards being an antitheist atheist; and I avoid all other addicts, even those in recovery, if at all possible. (Except for Megan; I can’t avoid her but we never talk about addiction, or recovery, or the past. Well, I bring up the subject(s) sometimes but she refuses to engage me on it.) I’m not saying that my way is the right way, because I don’t believe for a moment that there is a single “correct” approach to recovery. So my warning is that you must not assume that everything that I state is correct, or that everything that you are taught in rehabilitation is correct either. Do not approach recovery with a closed mind. Question everything and everyone, because even the so-called experts with their rigid approach to recovery and their insistence on that being the only way to do it, are fallible.
I am still required to complete an outpatient program, before getting Josh back, and my employer knows about this, but I haven’t gotten around to starting it yet. There was another program that I did complete, but this one remains. Ironically when I do reluctantly attend meetings, I can’t help but participate, and even enjoy doing so, but that’s not the point.
So with all that in mind, here is my subjective opinion on why recovery is difficult, and also why getting out of active addiction and into recovery in the first place is almost impossible. I take my proverbial hat off to all recovering addicts for getting into recovery in the first place. You are in the minority – I’m pretty certain that most addicts will never recover.
Edit (for update and clarification): Regarding my statement above, “I’m pretty certain that most addicts will never recover.” Yes, I know my title uses part of the NA literature, We do recover, and this post is somewhat negative, but that’s the way I feel. I believe that most addicts will never even attempt recovery. And of those who try, we might not all make it. (I have no idea what the statistics are.) I hope that we all can recover though, and by all I mean all who attempt recovery. But the fact is, most of the addicts I knew back in active addiction didn’t even know that recovery was an option, and I figure it is likely that way everywhere.
I also don’t normally care to mention my clean time anymore. My reasons for this are not relevant to this post. But since my current clean time is relevant, I’ll mention that it has now been more than two years since my last hit.
I believe that most people who are not addicts themselves will never understand this, but I’ll try to make them understand, to the best of my ability, anyway… To understand active addiction, you need to understand this: Once an addict has used a drug every day for a few years, they really do need that drug. I’m not going to say that they think they need it. They fucking need it! The drug becomes as important as the air you breathe; the water you drink. Having a hit of your drug of choice before doing anything at all becomes no less important than putting on your clothes before you step outside.
In active addiction, there is never a matter of making an intelligent, rational and logical choice… You don’t ever weigh up two options… say for instance remembering your mother’s birthday and buying her a present, versus buying drugs if you have run out. There is no choice. Since the drug is essential for survival in the mind of the addict, it will always come first. If there is enough money left afterwards for mom’s birthday gift, then she gets one. No choice is made, and no harm is intended. Obviously that approach to everything in life leads to disaster, but you shrug it off, as long as you get your drug, because it is more important than anything else.
So getting out of that situation, and into recovery, is impossible to do alone, no matter how good your intentions. You will always go back to the drug, because it is more important than anything else in your life. The drug is life.
So once an addict gets help from other people, and gets into rehab, which results in a few short months clean time, does it all go away? No, of course it doesn’t! The fact is, the first few months clean, you just manage to convince yourself that this is only temporary… Deep down you still believe that you need the drug, and that you will continue when it is safe to do so.
But it is never safe.
One of the reasons I don’t like the twelve step programs is that they, with their “just for today” approach, allow the addict to stay in that state that they were in during rehab. They don’t deal with their real underlying issues, but instead take solace in not being alone, but remain in that temporary clean state, while deep down the need to use never really goes away. I’m being unfair, I suppose, because at the end of the day, however you manage to stay clean isn’t important, as long as you do manage to stay clean. But I do not believe in 12-step plans, and I do not believe that they do anything to justify the huge amount of work we are supposed to invest in “step work”. I’d rather play with my son, or do my work, or do anything else that is useful in my life, than believing in any false sense of fellowship that does nothing for me when I go home, or place faith in a fictional higher power when there are important people and activities that are far more useful to me. I also don’t believe in making amends. What’s done is done.
The point is, after years of using, that inner need to use never goes away completely. It’s like an excruciating nagging itch, while walking in public. You can’t scratch that itch without sticking your hand in your pants and making an obscene scene, but as soon as you’re alone, you’ll scratch until you bleed.
My major downfall when I first started recovery was to try to suppress that need. I tried to pretend that it wasn’t real, that I didn’t really want to use. Then when things went wrong (and they always do) I wasn’t able to cope with them, and went straight back into active addiction for a time.
Now I don’t supress it. I face it. When I want to use, although it happens far less frequently now (but it does happen), I don’t try to push it away and pretend it didn’t happen. I imagine the consequences of what would happen if I did use. I imagine the guilt that I’d feel after taking that first hit, the guilt that comes too late. And then, I feel that guilt, even though it hasn’t happened. It makes all the difference; feeling the guilt before it is too late, and it takes the craving away every time.
There are other difficulties in recovery, of course, and I don’t mean to trivialize them. You have to deal with the consequences of active addiction for a long time after cleaning up; deal with all the damage done to relationships; deal with financial consequences, and this is not even taking the normal difficulties in life after starting over into account.
But there is light at the end of this tunnel. When things go wrong for me now, the desire to use is never the first thing I feel. Time does make a difference, and it appears to get easier when you have been drug-free for a while. But it is important to keep in mind that the deep-down need to use is always there. Pretending that it isn’t is suicide, at least in my mind, so it is imperative always to be aware of the danger of giving in to that nagging itch.
Update: (Unusual for me to do this… I haven’t published yet.) Megan saw this post and asked me what it was about. Apparently she never craves. Good for her. So maybe I’m wrong and that nagging need to use is not the same for everybody. But to be safe, it’s probably best for us all to assume that it is, and always be prepared to deal with it.