There’s some pretty good stuff over at the Sunrise Detox site, so if you’re interested go to the blog and look at the top of the page. If you mouse over “Browse By Topic” you’ll find all sorts of stuff about addiction and recovery.
Yesterday, upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away….
~ William Hughes Mearns (1875-1965)
My dear friend Pierre, a powerful influence on hundreds of people in recovery, is fond of remarking that “the Old Me will drink again.” Old Me — the “man who wasn’t there” — plagues us throughout our early recovery, and is even known to poke his (or her) head out of hiding from time to time when we think we are pretty far along in our journey.
Human beings go through clear stages of emotional development, from prenatal to adult. When we are traumatized — by abuse, unresolved grief, prolonged stress, severe illness, injury, or drug use — our emotional development is interrupted and stalls at whatever point we were when the trauma occurred. Essentially, we stop growing up. That’s when Old Me is born.
As we progress in our addictions, Old Me develops along with them. Old Me is the character who lies when it would be easier to tell the truth, ignores ethics, hurts loved ones and others — the part of us that did what we had to do in order to further our addictions. Old Me is all the bad habits and sick ways of looking at life that we developed as we denied, justified, and tried to ignore the erosion of character that accompanies addiction of all kinds. Old Me is the aspect that throws all those memories and feelings that we couldn’t stand to face into the closet, out of sight.
As much as we might wish it otherwise, Old Me doesn’t just retire and head into the sunset when we get clean and sober. Instead, it hides in the closet too. Since the closet holds all the garbage that we chose not to deal with in our active addiction, it gets putrid in there after a while. If we don’t deal with the closet after we become abstinent, it isn’t long before nasty stuff starts seeping out beneath the door. If we ignore it, we are likely to return to our addiction or transfer our addictive impulses to new pursuits.
We have two choices: we can get some help cleaning the closet, or we can decide we don’t need help, open the door, and let Old Me come out and play with our heads while we try to handle emotions, problems and urges that we were unable to handle to begin with. The easy solution, drinking, drugging or other behavior that relieves the pressure — that turns on our “forgetter” and helps us shore up the closet door — is only a short step away.
We need to be extremely careful that we work on all the old stuff, and that can be terrifying. Those of us who don’t, however, will inevitably discover — perhaps far into our “sobriety” — that we were in fact nowhere near the level of recovery we fooled ourselves into believing we had. It is simply not possible to board up the door and stuff feelings underneath to stop the seepage. One way or another the garbage and Old Me will eventually escape, unless we insure that the closet is cleaned out.
What we are really doing, as we clean the closet and learn to live life on life’s terms, is allowing the emotional development to occur that was stifled by our addictions and other traumas. We are growing up, all over again. Some do a better job than others.
The Belly of the Beast
By Dr. Howard Samuels,
Author of Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
One of my most powerful memories is of my sister crying.
Now, it’s important for me to tell you that I come from a very large family and that, over the course of our lives, I’d seen my sister cry many, many times. When you’re all living under the same roof, you learn a lot about each other — how to tolerate one another . . . how to love one another . . . and, in some instances, how to keep secrets from one another.
But, what made this time different — what burned this particular instance into my brain — was the fact that she was standing in a dirty city street with traffic everywhere while flashing lights rioted against her tear-stained face as I was being loaded onto the ambulance after o.d.’ing on heroin and cocaine.
Now, it’s also important for me to tell you that even though I would go on to survive that overdose, it would still be years before I’d stop drinking and using addictively.
And it was all because I’d never really gotten a handle on my Beast.
And, it’s funny, I can feel you rolling your eyes at this, but, the truth is, everybody has a Beast. I mean, this isn’t a concept that’s exclusive to addicts and alcoholics. The Beast is an entity that lives inside of everybody; it’s your negative self-talk. It will create resentments in you, it will create judgements of other people, and it will create fear, it will create crisis — in my work as a psychotherapist, I can tell you first hand that I deal with people all the time who come to me and they turn little issues into huge, complicated problems — because that’s what the Beast does. It doesn’t matter if you’re a “Normie” (someone who doesn’t have addiction issues) or an addict/alcoholic, chances are you have this thing inside you already and it is informing your decisions.
The difference between these two groupings (Normies and addict/ alcoholics) is that, if the addict/ alcoholic listens to their Beast and gets seduced by their Beast, the addict/ alcoholic, in order to deal with their Beast, will go out and medicate themselves (whether its alcohol or heroin or weed or whatever). And they will medicate themselves to such an extent that they will lose control of their lives and, still, they will continue to use their “medication” to quiet the noise from the negative Beast within.
The Normie isn’t quite so driven to self-destruction. Normie’s will usually tolerate their Beast; they’ll just live with it and put up with it. They will become depressed or try to repress it; they may have issues in relationships (maybe they’re in a bad relationship and are afraid to end it), maybe they’re in a job and they’re scared to move onto another job, so they stay in that job and get depressed . . . they’re fear-based, but their Beast doesn’t allow them to grow. The Normie, unlike the addict/alcoholic, isn’t motivated to change. Many of them eventually do, but it isn’t as if they’ve got a gun to their head.
When a Normie gets seduced by their Beast, they become unhappy and lead grey, dull, repetitive lives that are still punctuated by moments of joy and self-awareness.
When an addict/ alcoholic gets seduced by their Beast, they get loaded and they die.
Now, truth be told, I don’t remember much about that night in the ambulance. I can tell you that the men who took care of me — who kept shouting at me to hang in there, buddy, you’re gonna be okay — they did their jobs well, and I owe my life to them. It is a thankless job, I think, being a First Responder, but if, by some miracle, the EMT’s who rescued me are reading this missive, I want them to know — on behalf of myself and my wife and my three beautiful children — that I am very grateful to be alive today; and that I do not for one minute kid myself about how close I was to never experiencing any of this on that hot summer night.
And that’s why I think most addict/ alcoholics become grateful to be addict/ alcoholics: it’s because they’re learned that they have to deal with their Beast and work through all of the fear and the negative thinking and change it all if they are going to survive. And I can tell you first-hand that there’s real freedom in that notion, but (more often than not) it’s commensurate with the work: You get out of it what you put into it.
But, then, YOU get to reap the rewards.
The poet Maya Angelou says that we all come into this world trailing wisps of glory. She’s not talking about any one group of people; she’s talking about all of us. Everyone has greatness within them. But the Beast? If your Beast is anything like mine, it doesn’t want you to live your dreams. The Beast doesn’t want you to be in a successful relationship. It doesn’t want you to be the best you can be.
It doesn’t want you to be what you were destined to be.
And, so, the challenge, then, is re-educating yourself and learning how not to listen to that voice that plays you out of pocket every time. And, in my experience, nobody does that alone. It takes work to create a space where you can investigate the validity of the voices that motivate and inspire you — and to transform those voices into voices that motivate and inspire you in a positive way. For the addict/ alcoholic (again, in my experience) this is accomplished with treatment and the advent of a twelve-step program. For the Normie, many times it simply takes a round of good old-fashioned therapy.
Because no one defeats their Beast alone. Believe me, I’ve tried, And every time I’ve tried to do it alone, I’ve found myself in a jail cell or sitting in the back of a speeding ambulance breathing through a tube.
WE decide how we want to live and WE decide what we want from our lives. But that’s only possible once we’ve made a conscious commitment to stop being human piñatas — stop being victims — and truly take responsibility for our lives and face our problems head-on; because it is then, and only then — whether we’re addict/ alcoholics or Normies — that we can truly slay the Beast within.
© 2013 Howard C. Samuels, Psy.D, author of Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
Howard C. Samuels, Psy.D., author of Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, is an internationally renowned recovery expert. He is the founder and president of the prestigious The Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles and he appears regularly on national TV news shows about the challenges of drug addiction.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you want to stay sober you don’t go into a bar, order a drink, and sit and look at it. There’s a technical term for folks who test themselves that way: relapsers.”
One of the more common questions around treatment centers and the recovery fellowships goes something like,”I’m addicted to prescription drugs, not alcohol, so why can’t I have a drink? What’s this cross-addiction I’ve heard about?”
That’s really not an unreasonable question. Why do addicts who don’t seem to have problems with alcohol need to stay away from it anyway? Why can’t a prescription drug addict have a few drinks?
There are really two reasons:
- Alcohol reduces our inhibitions and increases the likelihood that we will make bad choices; and
- Just as they say in the rooms, “A drug is a drug is a drug.”
After we get clean and sober, many of us discover that we are still addicted to sugar: in our coffee, in our snacks, in our desserts and elsewhere. Sugar addiction is common, in and out of recovery. Our bodies have a natural attraction to sweet things. We need sugars and other carbohydrates in our diets, and we are pre-programmed to like them because they are good for us (in the right quantities). They are easily burned by the body for energy. In fact, every cell in our bodies is fueled by glucose, a form of sugar.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow;
it empties today of its strength.”
- Corrie Ten Boom
Depression is not uncommon in the first year or so of recovery. Some people manage to avoid it entirely, but many of us experience it to one degree or another. That’s because sometimes the ability of our brains to produce the chemicals that make us feel good has been damaged by the alcohol and other drugs, and it takes time for the necessary repairs to take place.
Unfortunately for many of us, the drugs that we used masked underlying problems.