Archive for February, 2012

1 year clean..

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

So, for those of you who have followed my ongoing adventures, you know that today marks a year away from any sort of recreational drugs or alcohol use.

I had some thoughts I wanted to post as a result of my adventures thus far. They’re not very well organized, but after all, it is my blog. 😉

First off, I don’t think drugs are bad. I’m glad that I had the adventures I had with them, and I think I learned a lot and had a lot of good times as a result. I think that specific people have specific weaknesses to certain drugs, probably as a result of psychological or emotional issues or their physical biochemical makeup. If you keep trying different drugs, sooner or later you will probably find one you can’t handle. That’s pretty much what happened to me.

I also don’t think drugs are the end all be all to our evolution. I think that you can have all sorts of spiritual and personal growth without ever using any recreational drug, and I think that – like driving a ATV, flying a plane, or any number of other high-risk activities, drugs are potentially dangerous. I’m not going to be standing up and saying that you should use drug X because it will result in a evolution of your thinking. They’re a tool, and they can be a powerful one – but like any other powerful tool, they are potentially dangerous. Choose wisely.

I believe we should have the freedom to experiment. I don’t believe in the drug war. I do believe the world should have lots of resources to help people who are struggling with emotional and physical issues (one reason people take drugs).. and I think that it in fact does. If you are a addict who sincerely wishes to stop, there is a lot of help out there for you. Your biggest enemy is your own worst thinking.

I do think that children should stay away from drugs – I applaud the age limit on purchase of alcohol, and think that in a world where legalization of other drugs occurs, they should have similar age limits.

I also think that some drugs cause dangerous behaviors, and it should not be legal to use them unless you are in a controlled environment – basically locked up where you can’t hurt other people. I think a look at violent crime statistics and drug use would quickly identify which drugs come under that category. But I’m not writing this post to reform drug laws, or even to propose reform. I’m writing about my own experience.

The reason I put those first few lines in is to say – if you’re a drug user, and you’re happy with your choice, I applaud you. I’m not writing this to give a extended mental finger to all people who play with their blood chemistry. But I needed to stop, because the drug I was using and the way I was using it were getting in the way of personal growth, and getting in the way of me moving away from situations which were not healthy for me.

When I decided to start using drugs, I was curious about the experience of being someone else, of seeing the world through different eyes. I wanted to know what the experience of being altered would be like, and I found it to be very interesting. I don’t think that I would have been that curious about having my emotional and mental state altered if I hadn’t been at least somewhat unsatisfied with the default states.

I will be the first to admit that I may have badly misprogrammed my mind. I probably made some very poor choices about who to trust and how much when I was very young. It’s also possible that some of my problems were the result of my physical state although a lot of them have been increasingly addressable through software (my thoughts and beliefs) – I’m learning how to not be unhappy, and how to have the experiences I want to have and get the things I need. I’m learning how to not hurt myself and not believe that I should be hurt.

When I found my “drug of choice”, at first I was just hooked on spending time not experiencing fear. Then I discovered that I could communicate – with my mind – with someone who wasn’t me. I still don’t know who it was – but the experience was fascinating. I was hooked on the mystery. I wasn’t thinking ahead to the crushing hangovers, the moments of utter irrationality that would follow as my body chemistry came unwound, the empty bank accounts and mounting debts, the frightening friends and loved ones, or any of the other downsides that accompany drug abuse. I had not yet learned to – as the 12 step people say – “play the tape all the way through”.

The ability to experience a communication with someone who isn’t me has not left me. These days I talk to a lot of people ‘out there’ – and it’s possible, as I’m sure many of my friends would point out – that these people are just my imagination. If so, I’m still glad that they’re there, because they have helped me understand the faults in my own thinking in ways that I’m not sure anything else would have. They have exhibited knowledge and abilities that make me *very* skeptical that they are just me. 😉 I think this is a experience that I have always wanted to have, and I’m glad that I’m having it – it’s one of the things that has me hooked on what tomorrow’s going to bring in my current life. I think that the people I have been talking to via whatever this method is have been much more able to communicate with me since I stopped using. I note that contact with a higher power is a suggested part of one of the more popular addiction support groups, which suggests that I am not alone in this experience.

When I decided to stop using drugs, I found a number of good, valid resources available to help me. As with so many of my problems (and my biggest problem was and continues to be paranoia) the real struggle was within me. It’s not that the world didn’t provide resources to help with addiction, because the world does. It’s that the filters that my mind provides, and my defense mechanisms, made using those resources challenging at first. Obviously, I’m glad I persisted. I have found many of the things I was searching for with drug use in other things – often better than any drug I ever tried ever was. If you are a addict reading this and wondering if getting clean is worth it – it is. You will learn a lot about yourself and about the world you live in, and you will discover a lot of new adventures and new experiences. And, if you’re like me, you will be a lot less unhappy after having gone through some of the process.

One of the things that I had a big problem with at first was thinking that if I didn’t agree with any part of a recovery program, they couldn’t help me. I have since learned to take the good and ignore the bad – in some cases, the bad will become good later as I understand more, and in some cases, the bad is just *shrug* wrong. For me anyway.

I won’t claim that it isn’t a lot of work. Learning to accept and love yourself is challenging if you’ve strongly programmed yourself to be critical of yourself. I don’t know what challenges other addicts face and I can only speak for myself – but Whitney Houston’s ‘The greatest love of all.. is easy to achieve’ is utter BS for me. It is NOT easy to love yourself, or accept yourself, starting from the position I started from. It is very challenging. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing – a lot of things that are worth doing are very challenging. I am also not claiming to be a paragon of self-acceptance now. I am just no longer interested in hurting myself with constant harsh criticism of my thoughts and actions. I am no longer telling myself that my dreams and desires are small, or stupid, or wrong – even if they don’t align at all with the desires of the rest of the world, or they don’t make sense in the context of what I “should” want, or they’re not what other people would choose. I’m no longer interested in even talking or thinking about suicide. I want to find ways to make my life as awesome a ride as possible, and I believe that it can be as good as I am willing to let it be.

I think in my case that addiction really translated to a malfunction of my free will, and that this was present all over my life. I was wanting things and not taking actions to get them. I was taking actions that previous experience suggested would continue to lead to unpleasant results. I had set up rules for myself that made no rational sense, based on cognitive distortions or on complete fallacy. I believed a whole large number of things which were inconsistent or impossible. In general, I was stymed by cognitive distortions – bad thinking. I was also seriously negatively impacted – and continue to be negatively impacted – by paranoia. Unreasonable fears. I once emailed a list of fears I had to a friend and I think I sent about 70 before I stopped – and I hadn’t listed them all or been completely honest about them. I still think the process of doing that was a huge step forward for me.

Overcoming my fears – especially the ones that I understand in my conscious mind to be irrational – is a journey that I have not yet completed. In some ways I feel like I have just begun upon it. However, I can already see the fruits of my labors. I am *much* happier now than I was as a drug addict. I am much more aware of how much of the fear and discord and negative emotions I experience are the results of my own subconscious thinking and problems with my mind that are within my power – eventually, with time and work – to fix.

A lot of things about my view of the world have changed in the last few years. I also don’t think I’m done changing – I’m still trying on beliefs to see how they fit, trying on thought patterns to see which ones work, and trying on possible futures to see which ones feel like they are me.

I would like to thank all the friends who have helped me along.. sometimes with kindness, sometimes with a thought-provoking comment, and sometimes just by being there.

I wanted to say a few more things, and these are messages directly to fellow addiction sufferers, because I think it’s possible that some of you will land here because of google keywords. (Certainly my blog seems to get tens of thousands of hits a month already for *some* reason)

First of all, own your power. The first step of the twelve steps is extremely misleading when you’re thinking like a addict. It is not saying you will *always* be powerless over whatever your addiction is. It’s saying that *right now*, because of the fact that you have in essence a mental illness, you are powerless and need help. It’s also saying that that help is available – and it is! But I think if you just wait for some external higher power to fix you, you’re going to have a long wait. That’s not saying you won’t receive help from other people – sometimes visible, sometimes not, sometimes supernatural, sometimes not. But you can have a lot less suffering, and much more growth, if you also work yourself towards reaching a day when you are not powerless. Try to have power. You may not always succeed, but you will sometimes and each success will make you stronger.

Second of all, don’t beat yourself up over failures. DO learn from them. Shame and guilt and fear are your enemies – they are the emotions that keep you in bondage, that keep you from being mentally free. I think a lot of the reasons for working the steps (if you’re a 12-stepper) is to remove your shame and guilt over your past mistakes, and to encourage you to develop a way of living which leads away from making more of the types of actions you have to feel bad about when you look back over them. You can’t make good decisions if you’re being whipsawed by your own shame and guilt every time you think anything.

In general, don’t kick yourself. Learn to recognize when you are hurting yourself, and learn to stop. The more often you stop, the better you will get at stopping. You don’t do anyone on earth any favors by making yourself unhappy. It’s not going to help any of the people you have hurt. It’s not going to help you.

Third of all, learn about stinkin’ thinkin’ (12 step) or cognitive distortions (smartrecovery) and learn how to spot them in all your thinking, not just your thinking about drugs. I did.. and do.. a lot of very questionable thinking. Bad thinking is your enemy. It’s what makes you the destroyer of your own free will, it’s what sets you up for bad decisions and bad results, and it’s something that you can learn to recognize.

Fourth of all, believe that it’s possible. Believe you can be clean, or free of overeating, or gambling, or whatever your problem is. I know that believing is much more difficult than just saying you believe, and that belief comes about somewhat because you put a tiny little feeler of faith in the water and get back experiences which validate that faith – belief is at least somewhat controlled by experience – but to whatever extent you can, make sure you’re open to believing you can succeed.

Fifth of all: Also consider the possibility that your problem is just a symptom of a larger problem. Work to fix the symptoms, but also work the larger problem. In my case, my constant and blinding paranoia was a much larger problem than my drug use ever was. While I’m no longer using drugs, I’m still working to address my fear issues. My belief that I deserved to suffer, and my willingness to hurt myself internally by negative self talk, was and is a much larger problem than my drug use. Also still something I’m addressing. I hope at some point I can come back and write one of these posts about overcoming irrational fear, and overcoming negative self talk. It’s possible that no one else will ever read it, or even want to read it, but I think it will be good for me to write it.

Sixth of all, figure out what you really want. Make a list. On paper. Be honest. Even if they seem impossible, be honest. It’s very hard to get what you want if you don’t know what you want.

Seventh of all, find positive activities to keep you busy. Work. Write music. Dance. Skate. Bowl. Go for long walks in the woods. Kayak. Waterski. Learn to fly a plane. One could list hundreds of different possible activities here – my point is that in my experience, you’re not going to be experiencing stinking thinking or a craving for drugs when you’re doing something else that keeps you aware and engaged and interested.

Eighth of all.. one of the people I talk to over my internal link has a saying. The people in heaven and the people in hell inhabit the same physical space. The people in heaven try very hard to reach the people in hell. Make sure you’re open to accepting the gifts the universe and all it’s inhabitants offer. Make sure you’re open to being helped. Be ready to leave hell. Make sure you don’t need the pain, the suffering, the drama. If you find that you do need them, figure out why and figure out if you really want to live that way. All of this is your choice, but choosing is a complex and layered thing. Expect to have to put some effort into choosing a good life experience, especially if you’ve put some effort into choosing a bad one.

One of my favorite sayings, from Fred Brown Recovery Services – a place where I learned a LOT – is a simple mantra. ‘We don’t have to live that way today.’. It’s what I have told myself, this past year, whenever I was tempted to buy and use. I’m also learning to tell myself the same thing whenever I start to think things which are hurtful, or which imply I don’t deserve to have a wonderful life, or to be loved.

Whoever you are, I wish you the best of luck. There are many people out there who love you – probably more than you will ever know. There are many resources to help you. And, obviously, I’m not altogether “better”. This isn’t a post to say I’m cured. It’s a post to say I’m progressing. I just wanted to share some of the important lessons I learned along the way, in case they can help you too.