Addiction and the Holidays
November 23, 2018Addiction
Holiday times are good times. Aren’t they? Nowadays, with air travel, the holiday season can be at any time of year. The good times don’t need to fade away into distant memory. We can have them again whenever we want. A holiday gathering can be a family gathering with any number of family members. Or it can be a fun time meeting new people and making new friends in holiday parties day after day. The sweet life, la dolce vita, is ours for the taking.
Or is it?
My experience, from running my own treatment centre for 23 years, is that holidays can be grim times for addictive families. Addicts let their hair down at other people’s expense. What they call ‘fun’ can be a wretched time for people close to them.
Getting ‘smashed’, ‘wasted’ and ‘out of it’ can be literally true. I did exactly that, in one way or another, many times.
And then I wised up to what I was doing to my mind, my relationships and my life. I was destroying them. My mind was besotted by chemicals. My close relationships were with addictive substances and processes rather than with people. My life was a mess.
Eventually I lost my genuine friendships and found fair-weather friends instead. They weren’t going to criticise me or, worst of all, tell me how much they carefor me. They would leave me alone to get on with my life in my own way.
Until the only person left in my life was me.
I wasn’t aware of what I was doing to my mental health. I knew I didn’t have mental illness, as defined in psychiatric text books. Therefore it never occurred to me that I might not have mental health.
As an active addict, my primary quest in life was to find the next ‘magic fix’, something or somebody to lift the sense of inexplicable inner emptiness that accompanied me wherever I went and whoever I was with.
I thought the terms ‘alcoholism’ and ‘drug addiction’ applied to other people, not to me. I genuinely could not see what I was doing to myself. In my psychological state of ‘denial’, I thought I was in great shape. In this respect I told my truth. But I could not see that my truth was wrong.
I didn’t see that my ‘drug dependence’ was no different in principle from that of any addict, even though I was not using the particular drugs that some other addicts used. I looked always for the differences between us rather than the similarities.
I was just as much a drug addict as any other. My substance abuse matched the addictive process of any other person hooked in a dependency.
Certainly, regardless of the precise nature of my various addictions, I got many of the addictive characteristics that caused havoc in the lives of other addicts. I damaged every aspect of my life and I didn’t see that I was doing so.
Because I was having a great time, a wonderful time, a fabulous time. Wasn’t I?
Eventually, when everything fell apart as it inevitably does with alcoholics and addicts of any kind, I asked for help. For my wife! I wanted her back. I couldn’t understand why she would walk out on me. I was fun to be with. Wasn’t I?
I simply did not see that I was an addict of any kind or that I needed addiction treatment of any kind. A treatment programme, treatment centre or rehab was for other people. Not for a sane and sensible person like me, still in full-time work, earning my living and paying my way.
And then the most extraordinary thing happened. I met people who were just like me in the Rake’s progress they described. But they were having really happy lives, not the pretence that I put on for show. And they weren’t using any addictive substance or process.
I hadn’t believed it was possible to be happy without using something to ‘make’ me happy.
They describe themselves as ‘recovering addicts’. They still acknowledged they have addictive natures but they don’t give in to them. I was amazed. I’m pretty tough. I’ve been to British private school, done time in the army, and been a junior hospital doctor. But I had never been tough enough to beat my addictions. To be sure, they must have superhuman powers!
But they seemed to just like me, coming from the same emotional ‘pod’ even though our social backgrounds differed considerably.
And they appeared to be having a lot of fun, not in a forced way but genuinely.
They taught me how to value my weaknesses rather than my strengths. They showed me how to avoid ‘trigger’ substances, processes and relationships that might lead me back to a life of superficial bonhomie hiding an inner loneliness. I didn’t want to trigger relapse. I’d done that too often, when my determination and willpower were insufficient.
Well, it seemed to me that relapse prevention seemed to be a lot more sensible than continuing to pick myself up after one relapse after another.
So I asked them how they did it. They told me. And I followed their example. And now I call myself a ‘recovering addict’, I do what they do and I help many addicts of one kind or another. Along with other people ‘in recovery’, I help people to put their days of active addiction behind them, often by using support groups to counter the inner sense of emptiness that had dogged us for so long.
And then – guess what? – we have the life of our dreams. Holidays were never as good as this!