Addiction is an extreme form of the self-sabotage that we all experience from time to time. This is my story through the depths of extreme self-sabotage. Whether you are in the grip of addiction, struggling with recovery, close to someone who is, or simply experiencing some level of self-sabotage, I hope this will help you understand the nature of this affliction.
The Seeds of Addiction: Playtime Micromanaged
From a very early age, I practiced what many would define as addictive behavior: long before I ever used any drug compulsively. While other kids would race and crash their matchbox cars, I would build little cities for them and micro-manage every aspect of that city.
One of the defining traits of an addict is a compulsion to manage and control everything around them. In most cases, this attempt to manage and control fails miserably and leads to a life of chaos which further drives the compulsion to manage and control. It’s one of the many ironies of addiction: a feeling of powerlessness leads to a desire to manage and control which leads to more powerlessness.
Today, when I look back on how I complicated my play time as a kid, I can laugh. And at first, I had fun with the idea of giving all the citizens in my little city a personality, an income and a budget and keeping track of the profits and inventory of all the businesses. It made the city come alive for me. But, eventually, I became a slave to it. I couldn’t enjoy playing with my toys because I had to track everything I did with them. This idea of “liking something at first, then eventually becoming a slave to it” became a very familiar pattern for me in years to come.
A Little Boy Snitches From The Tapper
As early as six years old, I made a habit of opening my mouth under the quarter barrel tapper and taking a few swigs every now and again. At the time, I wasn’t chasing a buzz or anything like that, but the idea intrigued me. Champagne at Christmas was another thing I indulged in. I remember getting a mild buzz on one occasion as a small child and feeling like I was on top of the world.
A Whole New World
It wasn’t until I was about 12 years old that I became attracted to the idea of getting wasted. I remember the first night I got really drunk. I was camping with some older friends. I felt as if a whole new world had opened up to me. It was as if I finally understood how it is possible to enjoy life. From that day forward, getting drunk became my ultimate goal. I couldn’t imagine anything better or more fulfilling.
At 12 years old, the opportunities to get drunk didn’t present themselves to me very often, but the thought of it preoccupied my mind. In the same way that a successful athlete might become preoccupied with their performance, or a parent might become preoccupied with raising their children, there was nothing more important. This was the key to fulfillment.
This phenomenon explains the selfish nature of addiction. If nothing is more important than getting high, relationships lose there importance. And to drive this idea even deeper, as the addict chases the high, everything else in life falls apart. When life falls apart and you are at your lowest, the last thing you feel prepared to do is concern yourself with the wishes and needs of your friends and family.
Loss of Free Will
I can’t say that I sunk into complete selfishness overnight. On the other hand, it’s not unusual for a 12 year old kid to position themselves at the center of the universe. However, it wasn’t until I was 15 and 16 years old that things got bad enough to really seriously affect my life and relationships. My school performance suffered, my ability to follow through on my commitments and promises deteriorated, and I had a few run-ins with legal authorities. I frequently found myself in a position where I had to explain my actions to parents, teachers, school principals, social workers and judges. Of course, the sad part about it was, I couldn’t explain my actions. I didn’t really understand why I would make a decision to do one thing and “end up” doing the opposite.
The most devastating aspect of addiction is it’s ability to strip our free-will. Though I did not reach the depths of despair that many fellow addicts I have known over the years had – homelessness, prison, severe physical or mental damage, etc. – I shared the common experience of being desperately out of control.
It’s My Party, I Can Do What I Want
One fateful night, I had a party at my house while my parents were gone. You may have heard stories of people having drinking parties at their house where their guests end up trashing the house. In this story, I was the one who trashed my – er, my parents – house. At the time, I was angry with my Dad about an interaction we had earlier. That anger turned to rage when mixed with some alcohol and other chemicals.
I proceeded to pound holes in the walls with my fist, throw a storm window from a second story window and scream and yell at my friends at the party about how much my life sucked. At some point, I blacked out.
The next thing I remembered was waking up at about 3:00 am on the living room floor covered in sweat and vomit. Fortunately, I “landed” on a throw rug that I could easily throw in the laundry. But, the destruction around me made my stomach turn.
I remember being overwhelmed with remorse, but what was even more profound than the remorse was the complete and utter feeling of loneliness. I felt completely isolated. I had alienated my parents. I alienated my friends. And now, here I was, completely alone, with a big mess to clean up – both physically and emotionally.
One of the things that my Dad reflects on when we discuss this incident is how little I seemed to care about the consequences. I made little attempt to hide many of the damages I caused, nor did I show much remorse. Interestingly, I was swimming in remorse. But I didn’t feel responsible. I felt as if my free will was gone and I had no control over my actions. Further, I was so overwhelmed with the extent of the damages to my relationship with my parents, I felt completely powerless. What could I possibly do to fix this? And even if I did, what if I do it again? At this point, I felt as if I could neither control nor predict my own behaviors.
Facing Death – Do I Want To Die?
One evening in particular, I drank nearly a quart of vodka – by myself – in my bedroom. This was frightening to me for several reasons. One, I was by myself. Drinking was no longer a social activity for me. Two, according to my calculations, at 130 pounds, my blood alcohol content was well above the limit for potential alcohol poisoning. Even if I hadn’t died of alcohol poisoning, I could have easily choked to death on the vomit that I found in my bed the next morning.
I remember almost nothing about that night except waking up in a bed that was soaking wet with sweat, urine and vomit. This event, along with my increased usage of inhalants, awakened me to the reality that, if I continued on this path for much longer, I may very well kill myself.
The possibility of death wasn’t always a great deterrent for me, though. There were times when I was really wasted and riding in cars with friends who were also wasted that I fully accepted the idea that we might crash and die. I thought perhaps death would be easier than the life I was living.
But, on that morning I woke up in my soaking bed, I knew that I didn’t want to die.
Motivation To Change?
At this point, many people reading this might think, “Oh good, this is where things change.” However, if you are an addict or are close to one who has lived through the horrors of addiction, this next statement will come as no surprise to you. Insane as it may seem, I didn’t stop. I didn’t think I could. I felt as if I had no choice.
I experienced many more nights of getting high alone in my room and waking up alone and muddled. I continued to roam the streets at night with friends looking for the next escape.
At this point, it was clear that I was moving further and further from the bliss and fulfillment that the high seemed to promised in the beginning. Yet, I wasn’t ready to give up on it just yet. Maybe if I tried one more time, I would find it.
Intervention and the Solace of Blame
When you find yourself experiencing a difficult and desperate set of circumstances and you have no idea how you got there, it’s natural to want to desperately attempt to find the cause. As an addict, out of control and perplexed by my own behavior, it was natural for me to point the finger at other people and institutions as the cause for my problems. “I never wanted my life to be like this. It must be someone else’s fault.”
This is why an intervention with an addict often fails. The intervention itself becomes another excuse. “See! Everyone is against me. No wonder I drink so much.” As ridiculous as it may seem, it actually makes a lot of sense. If you have no idea why you’re drinking so much or why you can’t stop, almost anyone or anything around you is suspect.
After being repeatedly “harassed” by school officials and social workers, I was approached by my mom one day. She said to me in a very caring and non-judgmental way, “Danny, maybe you are an alcoholic.” I felt deeply offended and was speechless. I felt as if I were under attack. I couldn’t believe that even she was “against me.” I complained about this interaction with a co-worker that evening. However, I didn’t get the pity that I was hoping for. Instead, though he didn’t say it, I got the strong impression that he agreed with her.
A seed was planted in me that day. Though I wasn’t ready to face reality and change my destructive ways quite yet, the seeds of change started sprouting and spreading like dandelions. There was no turning back.
Not long after that, intervention from a social worker along with some encouragement from the court system disrupted my pattern of addiction. My habitual absences from school finally caught up with me. As did my school principal’s keen sense of smell. She could detect alcohol on my breath from 8 hours ago from across the room. Though I resented it at the time, her sense of smell and her willingness to be firm yet supportive helped saved my life. (Mary Skalecki, I thank you from the bottom of my heart!)
Fighting Against Freedom
There is another interesting irony that occurs in the life of an addict. An addict fights the legal system and any other societal intervention systems, fearing that it will take away “freedom.” Yet, the addict has no freedom. And the recklessness of addiction often threatens the freedom of everyone around the addict. It is often not until an addict finds themselves in a jail cell or a restricted treatment center that they have the opportunity to find real freedom.
In my case, a court order and a structured outpatient treatment program were enough for me to see that there was another way to live. And, I am still amazed at how much my life has changed for the better and how quickly it happened.
It further amazes me how things continued to get better over the years. The life I live today is such a far cry from anything I ever thought possible. The hopes and dreams I had back then pail in comparison to the reality of my life today. I use the phrase “hopes and dreams” very loosely here, because really, I had none. I had no expectations nor aspirations. I saw nothing past working as a cook in a greasy kitchen in order to pay for my habit. That was it. That was life. The life I live today was something that “other people” experienced.
Yet, here I am living it and wondering what amazing changes are coming next.
This article is the first in a series chronicling my story from active drug addiction to a fulfilling, rewarding and productive life. See the other articles below:
- Addiction & Recovery (currently reading)
- A Template For Change
- Self Love
- Lessons Learned As A Professional Helper
- coming soon….