Nobody Plans to Be an Addict: Rediscovering Dreams Unfulfilled and Finding the Courage to Move On

For human beings, dreaming of a brighter future is as natural as breathing, eating, and sleeping. We all have ambitions and personal missions, things we are determined to accomplish and absolutely convinced we will accomplish if only we are given the opportunity. Our dreams are chicken soup for the soul, keeping us motivated and optimistic and lighting our paths as we attempt to complete the long journey home to happiness and fulfillment, constantly ducking to avoid the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But alcoholism and drug addiction are the sharpest arrows in the dark archer's arsenal, and when one of them pierces the heart of the dreamer they will poison the body, corrupt the mind, and obliterate the spirit until all that is left is a pale imitation of an authentic life of achievement.

If you have been struck down by chemical dependency, you know how deep the wounds run and how horribly painful they can be. But drug addiction and alcoholism only occasionally kill their victims; in most cases, even though the injury is serious the patient can recover. Most people have the inner strength necessary to overcome hardship when it comes, and the millions of substance abusers who have risen from the wreckage to feel the warmth of the sunlight again are a living testament to the vibrancy and resiliency of the human spirit.

Whether you have been in recovery for months, only entered rehab in the past few days, or are thinking of going into treatment tomorrow, you should always remember the immortal words of the poet Alexander Pope: hope springs eternal. You must hold these words in the palm of your hand gently, like the most delicate flower, treasuring them and keeping them safe and warm and nourished. Hope must motivate you every day of your life, from this point on, and you should never become discouraged or allow yourself to become convinced that standing tall and strong in the face of the hurricane of addiction is an impossible task.

Where Dreams and Dragons Slumber: Emerging from Your Slumber

Unfortunately, many addicts and alcoholics who finally find the courage to enter the dark cave to slay their dragons are defeated almost before they start, done in by feelings of guilt, shame, and deep-seated inadequacy that can leave even the bravest souls too weak to fight. When addiction shatters dreams it leaves its victims feeling empty and without purpose, plagued by haunting shadow memories of what might have been if only substance abuse had not intervened and left disillusionment and despair where fearless and irrepressible joy had once stood proudly. Our dreams have incredible value because they seamlessly connect us with the innocence of our childhoods, where all things seem possible (which at that stage they still are). The jaded, chastened, cynical adult is a poor substitute for the ageless and unbounded dreamer, but all too often that is all that is left behind when addiction is finished doing its damage.

But if you are struggling to overcome addiction or alcoholism, and you are feeling beaten, discouraged, and just downright embarrassed by your past history and the mess you have made out of your life, you need to think long and hard about what exactly it means to dream-or more specifically, what it meant to dream in the way you once did.

When you imagined your future, did you dream of fame and fortune? Did you see yourself as a star athlete, a popular singer, a successful actor, or a wealthy businessman? Did you imagine being admired and loved by millions as you stood basking in the spotlight, hearing the applause as all of your fans chanted your name?

While a few do have dreams like this (witness the popularity of shows like "American Idol"), most people realize such goals are fanciful and unrealistic. For most, their ambitions revolve around ambitions that are much more attainable-learning new skills, seeing new places, meeting fascinating people, finding a fun and rewarding career, or accomplishing long-held personal goals based on individual interests. If you are in the latter category rather than the former, I have some very good news for you: despite what you may think or believe, everything you have desired throughout your life is still within your reach.

Now it may be true that certain aspects of particular dreams are no longer realistic, and perhaps no specific dream can ever be realized in its entirety, not even by those who have not battled addiction. But regardless of how it might seem, or what the little voices inside your head may have told you, you are still just as capable of learning and stretching yourself and going boldly where you have never gone before as you were before drugs and alcohol entered your life. If you had dreams of getting a college scholarship to play soccer, for example, that may not be possible anymore. But there is nothing to stop you from signing up to play in a community league, or volunteering to coach children who are playing the sport you love. If you wanted to be an actor, local theater could be a very realistic option, and you could take acting lessons to sharpen your skills if you don't believe you are quite ready. If you have always wanted to try something totally new or unusual, like skydiving or mountain climbing or backpacking across a foreign country, just because you are no longer as young or naïve as you used to be does not mean you cannot still do some extraordinary things. And if there is some kind of dream job you would like to pursue, it is never too late to go back to school to further your education if that is what you would need to make it happen. You may not be able to get the exact job you had once had your eye on, but finding a position in the same field could certainly be a realistic possibility.

The Magical Equation: Courage + Motivation = Eternal Hope

It does take courage to tackle addiction. It takes motivation to tackle it successfully, however, and this is what many recovering addicts and alcoholics are sometimes lacking. They feel so overwhelmed by the shame, guilt, and sense of failure that accompanies an addictive history that deep down they don't really feel that they deserve to be clean, sober, and free.

But while you do need to make amends to those you may have hurt, shame and guilt are worthless emotions for addicts and alcoholics, and failure should never be seen as anything other than a temporary state of affairs. Recovering addicts need to focus on releasing the past and embracing the future, and that means rekindling at least some of the dreams that have been left lying neglected and dormant for so many years. If you want to get back everything that you lost to addiction, you must believe that you can do it, above all else. That is the magic talisman we call hope, and if you hold that feeling in your heart it will transform your reality and allow you to put your past behind you and depart for your future with a clear conscience and a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.

Nobody plans to be an addict. But once you break the spell that addiction has cast over you for so long, you can finally take charge again and start planning the rest of your life, and that is when the dawn will break and a new day can begin.

Posted on January 9th, 2013

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