Addiction is a word that has become quite personally meaningful to me in the last few years. The very idea of addiction, in fact, has been more influential on my life than anything else. Before I was introduced to the idea of recovery, I considered addiction to simply be something that happens to people who have had chronic and extensive exposure to powerful mind and mood altering substances. I’ve come to believe, in my recovery, that addiction has nothing to do with any sort of substance use or abuse, but rather it has to do with a person’s very approach to life itself. Some substances are thought to be more or less physically or psychologically addictive than others, but addiction, as I see it, does not deal with either of these. Anyone can become physically dependent on such a substance and break that dependence relatively easily. Addiction, though, is different. Physical and psychological dependence on substances is simply an effect of addiction, not a cause of addiction. In other words, it takes an addict to become addicted. Prior to the use and abuse of substances, I was an addict. My approach to life was such that it was not possible for me to be satisfied with life. There is a facet of my personality that seeks misery and is quite skilled at finding it. When I found drugs, they became a refuge for me from that misery. There were times that I used drugs and found a bit of escape from that misery that haunted me. The drugs’ ability to help me escape the misery quickly faded, though, and became, just as everything else, but another way for me to find that misery. When I was introduced to a recovery fellowship and the twelve steps, though, I was promised freedom from active addiction. I first took that to mean that I would simply not have to use drugs anymore. I thought that using drugs was “active addiction” and that abstinence from drug use was the goal of recovery. As I progressed in recovery, though, and continued to find misery in other ways, I began to learn a very important lesson. I began to learn that “active addiction” is when I continue to focus on and create misery in my life. Abstinence was only the beginning, as it has become impossible for me to use drugs without releasing my addiction, or that part of me that will tell me that I ought to be miserable. Abstinence from drugs is no guarantee of that freedom that I was promised. That freedom begins to come into my life when I realize that I have no reason to be miserable, and that I never have had or will have a reason. In my recovery, I learn to remove some of the excuses that I might use to be miserable and replace them with excuses to be grateful. The fact of the matter is that to feel either way is not dependent on the outside issues. I need no reason to be grateful and I have no reason to be miserable, I simply choose to be one of the two. Because I have a strong tendency to choose misery, I must practice vigilance in my recovery and do what it takes to avoid those things that might make a choice of misery easier than it must be. As I grow in my recovery, though, I develop an even stronger tendency to choose gratitude. A true relapse occurs at the very moment that I choose misery over gratitude. When I’ve chosen misery long enough, it can become an excuse to act in despair by using drugs or doing worse. As I choose gratitude more consistently, I become more secure in my recovery and in the idea that I do not have to use drugs. So it is that addiction is not chemical dependency, but rather it is simply a tendency to choose misery, and recovery is not abstinence, but rather it is a process of learning how to choose gratitude more consistently. This is what I believe, today, and what has worked for me, so far.
Thoughts and feelings are all I have
To tell me I am really here
But these are tainted, so it seems
They bring me often doubt and fear
Living seems to be a burden
Even when my conscience is clear
I cannot know, only believe
Anything that is beyond me
If then a peace I hope to find
I must first find a harmony
For a grasp on truest nature
Can be a peek at eternity
Forever are the time and space
The matter and energy, too
I touch all things and all things me
And so I am a part of you
Without beginning, with no end
From whence I came I return to
For having never left that place
I need not worry about return
Existence ought to be enough
Though I think there is more to earn
All we have is given, taken
We are the fuel we think we burn
And so it is that I will live
With illusion as my eyepiece
I have no other means to see
Until this consciousness will cease
I think that I am so alone
But I will find eternal peace
Jan slowly looked up to the alarm clock that had been calling to her in her dreams as she began to realize that it was time for her to wake up. She reached out and hit the “snooze” button as her husband rolled over and began to snore. She lay back for a moment and looked at the ceiling before she pulled the covers down and sat up. She looked at her sleeping husband and smiled as she felt around the floor with her feet to find her slippers. As she walked down the hallway toward the bathroom she could hear her daughters arguing in the kitchen. She sighed as she closed the bathroom door.
When their mother walked into the kitchen, Jackie and Alissa looked at each other briefly before looking at her.
“Mom, Alissa said that…” Jackie began before her sister interrupted.
“She’s lying, Mom, she just wants to get you mad at me!” Alissa said matter-of-factly as she took her bowl to the sink.
“Girls, I didn’t come down here to play referee for you. You’re both old enough to know how to get along with each other,” Jan said as she poured a bowl of cereal. “You should be getting ready for school, anyway.”
Jackie, who was eleven years old, stuck her tongue out at the eight-year-old Alissa as she walked out of the kitchen.
“See, Mom,” Alissa said with a trembling voice that let her mother know that she was on the verge of tears. “She’s such a butthead!”
“Alissa, there’s no need for name-calling. Your sister only bothers you like that because you let her.” Jan said, turning the page on the magazine she was reading. “Are you ready for school?”
“No, I’m not done eating yet,” Alissa whimpered. She dragged her spoon from one side of the bowl to the next and then back again, not looking like she wanted any more of the soggy flakes in the bowl. “Will you cook us fresh toast tomorrow, Mom?”
“We’ll see. Right now, though, you need to get ready for school if you’re not going to eat any more of that cereal.” Jan sometimes cooked French toast for the girls when she woke up early enough, which wasn’t often, anymore. Alissa still called it “fresh” toast, which her mom thought was cute, maybe even cute enough that she’d try to wake up to cook tomorrow.
Alissa and Jackie walked into the kitchen as Jan put the last of the dishes into the dishwasher. “Is your Dad out of bed?” she asked.
“Yeah, he’s hogging the bathroom,” Jackie complained as she zipped her coat.
“Are you ready for school?”
“Yeah,” Jackie responded. “Are you ready to take us?”
“Let’s go,” Jan said, ignoring the attitude in her daughter’s voice. “C’mon Alissa,” she said as she helped Alissa with her coat. Jan took off her slippers and stepped into her boots as the girls walked out the kitchen door into the garage. She pushed the “unlock” button on her key chain just as the girls approached the doors of her light green minivan. Jan’s husband, Charlie, laughed at her whenever she came home and would call her “soccer mom.” She’d once responded, “the girls don’t even play soccer,” at which Charlie just laughed more. She drove the girls to school and then back home. Charlie was just about ready to leave when she walked in the door.
“Jan, drop those clothes off at the cleaner’s if you get the chance, would you?” Charlie kissed her on the cheek as he walked by her.
“Sure, I’m going by the post office, anyway, I can do that. Have a good day at work, dear,” Jan said as she sat down at the kitchen table to finish the article she’d begun to read.
“Good-bye,” Charlie said just before closing the door.
When Jan had finished reading her article, she went upstairs and showered. She dressed warmly, as it had been very cold outside when she drove the girls to school. Charlie had set his clothes on the bed for her to take, so she grabbed those and went downstairs. She found the bills that she had to mail sitting on a table in the kitchen only after fifteen minutes of looking through the living room to find them. She stuck them in her purse and walked out the door.
Jan drove through town carefully because the roads were still slick from the heavy snowfall the day before. Some of the busier streets were pretty clear, but most still had a layer of snow covering them. Jan was usually nervous about driving, anyway, so the snow made her a little more apprehensive. She managed to maintain control of her vehicle pretty well, though, and made it to the post office rather quickly. She bought the stamps that she needed and mailed her bills before going to the cleaner’s, which was just down the street. She then went to the grocery store and picked up some of the extras that she needed, as well as the eggs to make “fresh toast” the following morning. Jan sometimes joked around that the grocery store was her second home, as she spent not less than a half an hour there every day. She was on a first name basis with most of the employees, who were usually older women who asked about her daughters. “They’re still great,” she’d say cheerfully as she placed her bags into her cart. Today she spent an hour and a half at the grocery store, partly because she had a lot of groceries to buy, but mostly because she’d seen her friend, Tammy, from down the street.
“Hey, Jan, how are you?” Tammy said with a high whine when she saw Jan pushing her cart down the aisle. She had a voice that would drive anyone mad, but Jan never had a problem tolerating her for hours at a time.
“Well, hi, Tammy, why aren’t you at work?” Jan was curious. Being the only “stay-at-home” mom in the neighborhood, Jan sometimes wished there were others that she could do things with when she wasn’t busy running errands all day.
“I took the day off so that I could go to the doctor. You’ll never guess, Jan, I’m pregnant! I was going to wait until I’d told Mark, but I’m just so excited, you know,” her voice when she was excited was a plague to all dogs in the tri-county area, but Jan was excited for her, too.
“That’s great! How long?” Jan knew that Tammy had been wanting to have another baby since her son had been born two years ago, but her husband Mark had wanted to wait. She and Jan walked down the aisles together, talking about babies and husbands and the prices of vegetables. They reluctantly parted ways after checking out at the register. Jan began to feel hungry and realized that it was already nearly one in the afternoon. She didn’t have too much more to attend to that afternoon, so she felt quite justified in stopping for a bite to eat, and she knew just the place.
As Jan pulled into the parking lot at Alice’s Restaurant, she was amazed to see that Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marsha, and Cindy were all there. What a surprise!
This is the end…my only friend, the end…