An addict lives in chaos. It comes in different degrees; the need to act out every weekend and make apologies on Monday, the need to sneak out of work for a few minutes/hours to satisfy the cravings, or the need to get up at 3:00 am and have a few drinks. It comes in various forms; “How am I going to keep all these lies that I’ve told straight?” , “Here’s ANOTHER number on my cell that I don’t recognize - who is it and what does HE want?” , “How am I going to explain (and pay for) the damages?” , or “What day is it, and where the fuck am I?” Regardless of the particular circumstances, a life consumed by addiction is one that is permeated by chaos.
One of the biggest and most immediate perks of getting sober is that the individual no longer has to endure new consequences to addictive behaviors. No more hangovers. No more empty wallet in the morning. No new charges (from the police or the credit card companies). It is a powerful and exhilarating period of early sobriety, often referred to as the pink cloud.
The problem with the pink cloud is that it doesn’t last. There is a huge relief that comes from escaping the downward spiral that one’s life was turning into, but instead of segueing into a pervasive sense of ease, this relief frequently transitions into an overall sense of boredom. Chaos brings excitement and lots of activity that is sorely missed when it’s gone, although the addict may find it hard to admit that this is the case. Frequently, one finds it necessary to make a gratitude list. The list contains all the things life IS NOT, DOES NOT, and WILL NOT be, if one remains sober. It is examined and reexamined, hopefully on a daily basis, as a way to constantly remind oneself of how much better life is, now that the bad habits have been dropped.
But memory has a way of glorifying bad ideas and downplaying bad situations. The highs that were chased appear to be attainable and the consequences that were suffered appear to be avoidable. The possibility of successful reconnection with addictive behaviors dangles in an addict’s mind like the magic of Christmas morning to a six-year-old. And all the time that has been freed up by not participating in these behaviors gives the mind way too much time to ponder the pros and cons of caving into ever-present urges.
What an addict needs is a list of healthy habits that replace the old ones. He needs something to put time and effort into. Merely avoiding negative consequences does not create a fulfilling existence, nor does it provide healthy alternatives to the coping mechanisms that, up to now, are all he used. He needs to DO, to TRY, to EXERT, to SWEAT. The opposite to his previous life of avoidance is action. He needs to build a new life around ideas that drive him and ideals that inspire him. Even his response to the inevitable backlash from those who disagree with him gives the addict something to put his energy into and distract him from the old way of thinking. The negative energy that others may throw his way gives him something positive to work on.
If addiction’s agenda is to destroy everything it can get its claws into, the ultimate weapon an addict can yields against it is creation. And creation requires action on the part of the creator (and the Creator, but let’s not get off topic). It takes time. It demands mental and physical effort. By its very definition, the act of creating something entails work. And therein lies the huge benefit. When an addict immerses himself in work, he leaves little energy to fuel the urge to act out.
Conversely, when an addict focuses solely on everything his life DOES NOT HAVE or IS NOT ABOUT any longer (failed relationships, squandered potential, self-delusion, lies, manipulation, deceit) he is living a life based on lack. He lives in a void of discarded habits and lingering self-recrimination. He creates nothing, and how can you build on nothing? What is fulfilling in a void? The human psyche craves some sort of input, whether it be sensory, spiritual, or mental. An addict living in a bubble that provides none of these is far too susceptible to the call of old behaviors to fill it.
As an alcoholic and addict, I have been in and out of recovery more times than I wish to admit. Every time I threw my hands up in frustration and returned to the rooms, I vowed to get a sponsor, a home group, a long list of numbers...everything they told me to do. I would follow suggestions for a few months, get bored and dissatisfied with the program of recovery I was exposed to, disconnect from the program, and eventually go out again. As much as I gained from 12 step recovery, I still felt there was something vital missing.
When I went to prison for my fourth DUI, I began a long journey inward that continues to this day. Deep inside myself is where I connected with my higher power and began learning about myself, who I was, where I wanted to go, what I was meant to be and what I was meant to do in this life. It began a long process of gaining awareness through observation and sharing insights with others who were sick like me. The journey has been at times daunting, fraught with doubt and fear, confusing, enlightening, joyous, difficult, and a host of other emotionally-charged adjectives that change, at times, minute to minute. It has been almost all-consuming in its demands of my time and efforts. It has provided long-sought-after answers to many of my life’s questions. It has kept me sober, and it has provided great comfort in my sobriety.
It has helped me create serenity in my life.
Your serenity depends on your ability to create something out of your deepest, brightest, highest self - not on your ability to avoid repeating the mistakes of your past.
Time to get to work.