For as long as I can remember It was always there. From an early age, I always felt its presence with me. Why did it choose me? Was it some genetic default, a brain injury or a personal choice? I don’t really have an answer. I have asked why me a million times. All I know is enough was never enough. I always had to have more, just one more. Why could I not control It? It was embarrassing, but “It” helped me not feel like me. One thing I knew early on, I had to keep “It” in the dark. Where shame thrives and “It” survives.
Hi, I’m Daniel, I am a recovered addict.
I remember calling my cousin Johnathon; “hey dude, come check out what I found in the cabinet.” It was a pint of clear Bacardi Rum. I cannot remember what he said as I drank from the glass that would enter me into a lifetime of control. I do remember how disgusting it tasted as it touched my lips. I have never really cared for the way it tasted. Self deprecation I suppose. It started as a harmless way to look cool, to fit in or a way to feel grown. My insecurities would never let me stand on my own, mask less, in the raw realness of identity. It became my identity, my security, my mask. It hid my true identity, my truest nature, my flaws, my weakness. It hid me from myself.
I became a chameleon early on in life. Blending in would prevent my truest self from being identified. Secrets of child hood, feelings of inadequacy, pain and abandonment followed me into my career. With the freshness of a report date to fire station 181 I was able to put It aside for a while. But like any good infection, it slowly spreads through out the system creating issues. Like a slow systemic inflammation it crept through me. With my teenage past out in the open, I had to hide It in the dark. Like any good secret, we will go to great links to cover our tracks. We create an alter identity, an alter ego. Batman and Bruce Wayne, Good vs Evil. We must protect this secret at all costs.
As with all things, the truth always comes out. One good thing with It, abuse is widely accepted and even encouraged with first responders. As long as It is within the invisible parameters of addiction, it is acceptable. As with anything, what you permit you promote. I went on cruise control for a few years and was able to keep It at bay from public view. As life progressed, stress surmounted, trauma from the job piled on; the ability to tame It became harder and harder. It needed more, more consumption, more intimate time, more attention. The more of It I consumed, the more of It I would have to consume. Tolerance builds, so does the need.
Alcohol made me feel better. It loosened me up, made me feel connected. It also did a magical thing, it made those calls, the faces, the voices go away. Alcohol helped with the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional exhaustion. It was not without consequence, sadly. Never being able to have just one, one quickly turned into ten, that turned into passing out at the steering wheel of my jeep. More times than not I would be startled by the sounds of my cell phone in the early morning hours to alert me that I had missed shift change yet again. Covered in alcohol that missed my mouth, the smell of stale cigarettes and often vomit that missed the toilet, I would stumble into the bay at my fire house. I would instinctively give my obligatory apologies to my Captain, shower and crash on the couch. With nothing more than a little harassing from my officer, we would recount the brave conquest from the night before as if I had slayed a proverbial dragon. Lived to die another day, or get fired another day.
I quit drinking a number of times lying on the cold bathroom floor or awakening in a random parking lot.
”I swear this time I am done!” I would mutter through the cotton mouthed stinch of a hangover. When It needed more, I turned to an endless supply of benzo’s prescribed for the stress of the job. Whiskey and a handful of benzo’s would get me to the desired effect for the day or night. I had devolved into a binger, It had it grasp on my throat. I was powerless to its affects. More led to more, that led to more. More damage, more lies, more hurt and more pain. Like dominoes, one lead to the fall of another and so on. Years passed and my wild and wreck less identity grew larger and larger. Like a tornado, I left a path of physical and mental destruction where I ever I went. I was out of control and I didn’t really care who I hurt in the wake of my addiction, even myself.
Mr. Mills, your lab results are in. Months of physical pain and discomfort manifested into this moment. Severe heptatic steatosis and severe hepatomegely. My liver was failing. A few months later, I would be laying naked on a cath lab table having a metal wire shoved through my groin. I remember hugging my son good bye for what I thought could be the last time. As the lights on the ceiling flickered by, I had a prolific experience. Was this it? A bit anticlimactic as I had hoped my departure from this Earth would be. As the versed touched the walls of my veins fear, regret and pain coursed through my soul. I would die a degenerate human being, my legacy would read he could have been more. As I woke up, groggy, the fear still lingered over me like a cloud. The realization that this was not something I could run from. My liver was protruding from my stomach, I was weak, broken.
I remember leaving the hospital, alone. The sun was setting in the parking lot of the hospital. As the sun set over a familiar Mexican restaurant I thought about how many sunsets I had taken for granted over the years. I drove home, alone. I got home and sat alone in quiet contemplation. What was next? I wish I could report that over night I made a total transformation and started making all the right decisions. It was a slow process, but anything that is beautiful takes time. Making a total transformation is never easy, especially in addiction. Working on yourself is the greatest undertaking any man or woman could ever under take.
The plight of the addict. The majority of the damage we inflict is upon ourselves. The addict must completely recreate themselves, as well as undo the damage that they inflicted. It takes a complete dissolution of ones ego and identity to reach total transcendence from addiction. I have had to take my fair share of stripes from people I have wronged in the past. The serenity prayer is a powerful tool when dealing with yourself and others. You must above all else, forgive yourself. Others are not so quick with their forgiveness and that is ok. Shame nor darkness cannot survive the light. You must remove the mask of addiction and shame.
You can’t heal in the same environment that you got sick in. This means recreating yourself in a safe environment. New friends, no surroundings, new habits, new rituals for a new you. I had to wage war physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. I had to make radical change. Radical change takes radical change. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable in all aspects. You must renew your mind, body and spirit to achieve health past addiction. Find healthy activities and hobbies that will give you a new mission in life. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” No truer words have ever been spoken. You have made it this far, keep waging war!
Addiction wreaks havoc on the mindy, body and spirit. Alcohol and drugs have never solved any issues with mental health. Addiction has negative compounding interest within our lives. Stay sober and never be afraid to walk alone.
If you need help recreating your life, reach out. No one fights alone.