This post was originally published on April 4, 2014.
The more people I talk to who are also on the path to recovery from either some form of addiction, mental health issue or life trauma, the more convinced I am that becoming recovered is not about becoming a new person. In fact, I believe it is more about becoming the person you were meant to be and already are but don’t know how to be. Really, everything we need is already there. We just need to de-clutter or shed the non-essential parts of ourselves that we seemed to have picked up along the way and felt the need to carry around with us, holding onto them for dear life “just in case.”
Perhaps you have forgotten who you are. Perhaps you got lost in the maze of addiction and are in the process of navigating your way out. Perhaps you never learned how to be you and never fully understood what it meant to be authentic on a personal level. Perhaps, like me, you picked up survival tactics over the years as a means of survival to get you through life, always feeling like you were in combat—every daily event seemed to be dangerous and had to be meticulously organized and executed like a military operation.
Whatever category you fall into, it seems to be a universal truth that achieving health in either a mental, emotional, spiritual or physical sense, is not about adding to but getting rid of. I spent my entire life believing the exact opposite. I thought I needed to be adding to “me” all the time to feel remotely acceptable. But the more I added, the harder it was to carry “me” around. The heavier I got, the more relief I craved from this endless and exhausting search for self or perfection or whatever the ideal state of being was.
I remember at around the age of 16 feeling very incomplete, like there was something devastatingly wrong with me that needed to be remedied immediately. Constant reinvention seemed to be the order of the day. Nothing unusual there, you might say. After all, our teens are all about self-exploration, self-expression and rebellion. So the constant change of hair color, clothing style and group of friends ensued. While many find a comfortable place among all this exploration, for me it just seemed to add to my already confused mind and emotional embodiment. I had no idea who the hell I was or where I fitted in. I hated that constant state of anxiety. So did I ever feel peace or at ease? You better believe I did! When I was completely out of my mind on some substance or other, bliss engulfed me for at least a short while.
I had already had my first drunk at age 13—loved it, couldn’t get enough and continued to drink fast and hard. Smoking pot came shortly after—laughed a lot that first time, never got the same effect after that and didn’t like the mellowness of being stoned. Mushrooms—ah, now there was a fun experience. After you get past the horrendous sensation of swallowing them down, the effect was frickin awesome; I liked the world when the realness of it was taken away, obscured, multicolored and fantastical. Acid—yes, please. Cocaine—yes, I shall have some of that too. Ecstasy—oh, giddy up. Speed—my particular favorite. And the party went on and on and on.
Then one day at the age of 35, I woke up to a reality that was pretty crappy. The party ended and it seemed as if everyone had gone home a long time ago—everyone except for me that is. There were two children standing in front of me that apparently I had given birth to. How exactly had I managed to rear them and actually keep them alive up to this point? Seemingly I had attempted to have a life, marriage, job and all the trappings that go with normality. Had I dreamt it all? Was it just one long acid trip?
Alas, no it was not. It was all real, although now it seems as if I existed in a parallel universe. If you lived like I did, in a constant haze of chemicals, you will know how utterly shitty it is to face reality when you eventually decide you have had enough. And so began the deconstruction of the “me” I had created and thought I knew. It felt like I was looking inside a giant snow globe: everything had been all shaken up and there were bits of my life floating around that had been damaged and displaced by my insanity. The harder I tried to capture those pieces, the more they wanted to escape from me.
Each part of my life from beginning to end had to be held in my hands and examined. From early childhood to present day, all the events of my fractured existence seem to be standing in line waiting for their turn to be exhumed. The last four years in recovery has been like one giant spring clean: each item removed from its hiding place, dust blown off, a decision made to either polish it and keep it or throw it in the trash.
So far, there are very few items that have remained. The trash pile is building higher and higher. The items being kept are just sitting there patiently waiting to be used for reconstruction. They are the valuable antiques which will always be needed and nurtured and are forming the bedrock for the reconfiguration of the real me. Hopefully, they will fit seamlessly together without much effort. As with anything, the real work is in the preparation and yes, there are some days I want to kick the crap out of that trash pile and send it floating around that snow globe again. It’s a thoroughly difficult and unappetizing process but I’ve come too far to give up now.
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