Learning to Call Myself an Addict Was Freedom

It’s not so bad, being an addict. And for those of us who fit that description, most have discovered that the biggest hurdle to jump is neither the actual quitting, nor the emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms. It is making the pure and honest admission that you have become what you feared, and if you don’t do something about it you’re going to enter a place from which you may never be able to return. You are at the point when the pain of one more day of the disease is more excruciating than the prospect of the fearsome unknown of sobriety and there is nothing left to do but to admit that this has all gone completely out of control. It’s a terrifying admission because it represents the end of an era—a bad era, no doubt, but at least a familiar one. We all know what sobriety means; it means never having that drug of choice again, even when you want it really badly. It means no more … forever. It’s frightening because we can’t imagine what that life would look like. What will we do for fun? What will happen to our relationships as many were eased and greased by the oil of intoxication? What will we have to lean on when the pain and the stress threaten to overwhelm us to the point of death? What will we do on that day? That is the uncertain moment when we come to the fork in the road. We can walk down the dismal, slippery, bedraggled path that we know so well (and don’t like all that much anyway), or we can take this other road. It isn’t as easy a decision as one would think. The other path is unknown and the road seems to lead uphill—who knows what’s around the bend? Could it not be more painful, frightening, or filled with despair than the path we have already been trudging? You can’t be certain. All you can know is that you have reached the point where you are so fed up with the quicksand you’ve been walking through that you will gladly reroute your course, no matter where it’s going. And we do reach that point. We call it hitting bottom. And then we leap onto that uphill, unmarked path, not caring where it goes, only that it’s not going where we have already been. Because that was hell and we’ve had it. And so we say it—I said it: I am an addict. At first the words feel strange in the mouth and the sick brain rushes in to whisper, “you’re really overreacting here … the people telling you that you need help just have it in for you … you can stop anytime you want to … moderation is possible … you just need to find your willpower … there’s no problem here.’ And at first, I listened and I started to believe. But finally something in me knew. I knew that my own narrator had deceived me, that I was being fed lies by my very self—to my own destruction. I heard my inner craziness posing as reason and I had to tell it to shut up so that I could start listening to all the seemingly well people around me I really didn’t trust and suspected might have it in for me as well. But I did listen to them. And I followed their directions to the letter. Several months later, when labeling myself an addict had become somewhat more comfortable, I realized that there were no longer any voices in my head. And I had the suspicion that perhaps they had ceased some time ago, though I couldn’t say exactly when the silence had conquered the noise. It was just quiet. Blissfully, wonderfully quiet. I knew I was an addict and no one was trying to tell me any differently. I embraced it and I had peace. And as recovery became more “me” than the addiction, being an addict was no longer something to be ashamed of or something I needed to hide. It became a part of me, but in a way that I could be comfortably detached from. It became a way to heal and to help others. It became a badge of spiritual growth, character development, and personal strength. In a humble way, I became proud to be an addict. And I became eager to make the admission that might help others still suffering do the same. Rather than a death sentence, learning to call myself an addict was freedom.

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