I'm sure that many of you can relate to coincidences like when you learn about a new word, you find that you hear it more, but when in reality it's just something new that has come into your awareness, it was really there all along. This is of course something that happens to me often, but has certainly been my experience since I have been writing this blog, as it is now always in my awareness to look for opportunities for what to discuss next and they just keep popping into my life!
Working in the addiction field, and the job I have in particular, keeps me very focused but also very isolated. Working in addiction also creates a sort of bubble, being that my clients are all trying to get out of their active addiction, my co-workers are all in recovery, and the doctors are addictionologists. I had been in California for four or five years and didn’t realize that I was protecting myself in a way, by not branching out of my comfort zone. So it wasn’t until about two years ago, that I started to go out to new places and interact with new people that have never struggled with an addiction. (People that experience temporary stress instead of chronic anxiety are still a wonder to me!)
The benefit, however, of the bubble realization was that all of that prep work that I had been doing (working with a sponsor, doing the steps, going to multiple types of therapy to figure out the core issues as to why I was using inhalants, then working on those core issues) was in preparation for returning to the real world and all its challenges and this time having a more positive impact, on myself and on those around me, and it was time to use them! The tools I have learned (especially emotional regulation, coping skills, and trigger identification) and the resources I have developed have been crucial in my relapse prevention, because life sure does throw me some curveballs and when I did come out of hiding, I found that some of my wreckage from my past was still there waiting for me. I am definitely grateful that I was given the opportunity to have a second chance, to get to be the same person, but a better version. By doing the footwork, it allows me to look at the same situations but have different reactions and therefore different outcomes than I would have in the past.
I feel that in order to be effective in communicating with people who are also struggling and/or looking for solutions or education, I need to write about things that truly affect me emotionally, because if what I'm writing doesn't induce some sort of feelings for me, how could it in someone else? So full disclosure in the hopes that someone can relate and hopefully allowing me to be of service.
The reason that the ability to have different reactions that produce different and better outcomes is on my mind is due to some events that occurred in my week. I felt discouraged this week for two reasons, and I feel like they have happened while I have volunteered to write this blog for a reason. I am a person that falls victim to a certain type of mental trap, where your brain immediately jumps into negative thinking or disaster mode when you hear certain things that are not ideal. In the treatment facilities I work with, we refer to it as addict brain.
I have been in the application process for graduate school, a track I was thrown off of due to my addiction, and have found that it has proven to be difficult because of the grades I received in my last year of college, the reason for that due to my using inhalants, causing my grades to be littered with F's and W's (withdrawals). For my last year of college I was in and out of hospitals when I wasn't under the influence, as my family was trying to figure out why my behavior was the way it was, as I refused to reveal my drug of choice, and not many people in my small hometown at the time knew the signs of inhalant abuse. Although I had all my ducks in a row as far as the other requirements, I received my first denial letter with the university citing my GPA in 2004 as the reason, and I felt terribly defeated and devastatingly sad. Besides for my credit score, this is the second unexpected thing that has reared its ugly head as part of my wreckage from my using past. I cried to my boyfriend and mourned the loss of that particular Master's program, but then I took a step outside the box. I reached out to someone in the program, someone with more time in recovery than I've been alive, and together we looked at the reasons I was so upset (besides for the obvious) and I realized in the back of my mind I was telling myself I wasn't smart, I wasn't worthy and I felt ashamed. My addict thinking had snuck back in and it was up to me to turn it around and take charge. Once I realized this I was able to take my power back from my “stinkin’ thinkin’” (as my first sponsor used to call it), turn my thoughts back to helpful ones, use their feedback as something constructive, and even go as far as the realization that maybe that just wasn't where I was meant to be, that I needed to have faith that I am exactly where I need to be, and as long as I am true to myself and those around me, I will continue to go exactly where I need to go. It also gave me the opportunity to show some gratitude, because what I plan to do with my degree is exactly what I do currently, which is counsel and serve those who need help in the world of addiction. I don't know about you guys, but this is not what the using, self-destructive Allison would have done. Six years ago I would have wiped out the nearest office supply store of their computer cleaner, mutilated my body, and proceeded to punish myself for that shame that I was feeling. I look forward to the day I immediately jump to being positive, but I'm halfway there if I can recognize the mental trap of old thinking and find my way out of it. After all, recovery is a process.
The second challenge of my week was having an acquaintance of mine watch my episode of Intervention, which in case you haven't seen it, is a one hour documentary of me completely bottoming out, the absolute worst moments of my life. To me it demonstrates just how devastating addiction is, what it does to you as an individual, and what it does to those around you. It'd taken me many years to get over the shame and judgment I felt when hearing that people had watched it. After watching my episode this particular person was curious and decided to go out and buy inhalants and use them. I was speechless. I like to think of that episode as being a stellar deterrent for inhalant use, or mind-altering substances in general (since I was a walking disaster) and I choose now to be proud to be a success story, instead of being embarrassed or ashamed. But whenever I have heard of people actually trying inhalants as a result of seeing it, I got angry. However, this time I found myself being angry for a different reason. I was angry because I was sad, sad that another person has to go through this. I found myself asking more questions concerning this young man, and it sounds as though he struggles with depression and regularly abuses alcohol. I was terribly sad because I can relate to the pain this person is feeling, I've absolutely been there. Depression and anxiety had been something that I'd struggled with as long as I can remember, and I remember like it was yesterday just how badly I was suffering, enough that it would make me self-mutilate and attempt to stay high for all waking hours of the day, anything to try to take away the hopelessness and helplessness and fear and I wanted to cry for this person for what he must be going through to having watched a show of someone's life being destroyed by a substance, yet be willing to give it a try in order to numb the pain. Instead of getting furious like I did when I first got sober, I found myself having compassion and wanting to help. I went over the extensive and deadly dangers of using inhalants, encouraged for him to reach out to me or a professional, and every possible solution I could think of, and it hasn't left my mind since. The sadness I feel for this person is unbelievable, which is the opposite of who I used to be, as I was terribly selfish in my addiction and lost my ability to be compassionate to those around me, I only cared about myself and my addiction. I ran to my Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book to look for some guidance, and I found a quote that at that moment soothed my soul:
"Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong, and then we approach true tolerance and see what real love for our fellows actually means. It will become more and more evident as we go forward that it is pointless to become angry or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.
Such a radical change in our outlook will take time, maybe a lot of time. Not many people can truthfully assert that they love everybody. Most of us must admit that we have loved but a few; that we have been quite indifferent to the many so long as none of them gave us trouble; and as for the remainder- well, we have really disliked or hated them. Although these attitudes are common enough, we A.A.'s find we need something much better in order to keep our balance. We can't stand it if we hate deeply. The idea that we can be possessively loving of a few, can ignore the many, and can continue to fear or hate anybody, has to be abandoned, if only a little at a time.
We can try to stop making unreasonable demands upon those we love. We can show kindness where we had shown none. With those we dislike we can begin to practice justice and courtesy, perhaps going out of our way to understand and help them."
I know that my recovery is a process; that each and every day it is now my choice in how to handle situations, and although my immediate thoughts are not yet always the correct ones, I have been able to build a foundation strong enough to lean on until I am able to defeat the mental trap of stinkin’ thinkin’. And if I falter, I can start my day over any time I want :)