I really hate the word addiction. It sounds like something that consumes you and leaves nothing left of your real life, with no power to make any decisions or live in any meaningful way. It's such a spectre, and I don't want anything to do with that image of life.
But the other day, I was emailing a friend, who now lives on another continent, about having quit drinking (again) and how I had been feeling completely flattened by it. I said I knew the flats would eventually go away, and then I remembered, and mentioned, that she had said something about that when she'd quit smoking, which she has done several times. She replied that yes, quitting flattened her every time, and it took about six weeks for it to lift, every time. That seems to match my experience from last summer, too: I felt a lot better somewhere between one and two months. After the email exchange, I went for a run in the park. (I am walking, running, biking, sleeping, eating like a heath freak who loves real food, reading good books, and doing every single thing I can think of to jolly some healthy feeling along. And when I still don't feel so good, I am accepting that I might have to stand still and look at the moss and the falls, or sleep three extra hours, or have a cup of tea and read some poetry or a beautiful passage from something I've already read, find some shred of wonder and wallow in it, instead of getting to work on soon-to-be-urgent work. I've even been meditating a bit, though what I am doing is the usual comic attempt of the newbie. Still, I'm trying!)
Anyway, I was running in the park, thinking about my friend and her experience with smoking, and how similar in some ways it is my experience quitting drinking. And I thought, in a loud, clear, completely unfamiliar thinking voice, "It might be time to come to terms with the word addiction. You know it's an addiction, this drinking thing. Don't you?" I spent an extra five minutes running, another loop around the small pond, just to let this settle in. "OK. It's an addiction," I answered that voice, running around the pond for the second time. "Addiction. Yes, I do know it's that." I have to accept that, and continue from there. And I am accepting it. It won't come all at once, I know. But I've started. I am fooling myself if I call this "a small problem" or "a bad habit." Yes, it's both, but that's minimizing something which I know is just too serious to minimize.
The truth is, quitting this time has kicked me in the guts. I've been flattened for the better part of a month. Yes, I'm getting through things, but it's hard, and the lows are bloody scary. I know I have some issues with depression, but I also know I would not be going through this mucky spell right now if I had not been drinking too much. Or if I hadn't, having quit for a bit last year, started again. That's not to say I'm beating myself up. It's the opposite. I'm admitting what it is, and realizing that I do not want to go through it again.
So, addiction. Hello, scary word. I have some big (HUGE) resentment about the addiction experts announcing how it's all going to go once someone is an addict. I don't want to make addiction the most important thing in my life, or put it first before everyone all the time, or bang on about my feelings and motives to a group of strangers (except to you, my fellow strangers, to whom I will bang on freely, thanks so much!) So I'm inconsistent. Most people are. But the received wisdom about addiction and recovery can feel like an enormous weight to me, one I just can't carry. That's a part of why I hate the word. I do not want to be told that this will be a permanent struggle, and that I might not make it. I felt the same when I was in one of my big depressions, the last one, over twelve years ago. At the time, my doctor told me I would have to take medication and deal with (he probably said "suffer from") depression my whole life, as it is a chronic, recurring condition. It is not polite to say what I thought when he told me this (@#$%%$#!!!) but I rejected his advice. It took me a while to figure out how to live, and it was hard work, but now I rarely think about depression, and I don't take medication. (It didn't work very well for me anyway, unless you call gaining 50 pounds and feeling like a zombie a roaring success.) For the most part, I have changed my life so that I have never again experienced that same level of deep, protracted low flat life. Yes, I get hit with it sometimes, usually when I forget to take better care of myself, but I do what I have to do before things get too bad, and I don't lose a year or two of my life. So far that's worked. Lots of people have something like that, and I don't feel especially cursed or singled out by disease. For the most part I am capable and confident (enough) and I like my life. (Yes, I drank too much, eventually, but my life didn't suck the whole time.)
I'm going to try to do the same with this addiction monster. I will have to do some things that work, and I'm trying them. (See list above, to start.) I admit that I can't drink again, and any thoughts that I will are just fleeting nonsense--nothing to be scared of in themselves, but something to be plucked out before they turn into action. I don't plan to take on an addiction narrative, and say that my life before was a waste and I was a lying, cheating, selfish mess who only thought of herself and her drinking, because that doesn't describe my life at all. I know I have lots of work to do to get through the next few months, and then I will have to be attentive to how I live. Like the depression (or anxiety, because who really knows how to know one of those evil twins from the other, anyway?), I will take the addiction seriously. But I don't want it to define me, either before now or after now.
OK, I guess that was another bit of a rant there. I didn't plan on my blog being somewhere I fumed at the world and told it just what I thought, but here we are. It's day 32 for me, and I am starting to feel a bit better. My partner is doing laundry and errands, and then we will go for a walk, and end up in our favourite cafe, where they might even still have one of my favourite lemon bars left. (It's become a favourite treat, though I limit it to once a week, and by the time I go they are sometimes sold out, so it really is an irregular thing. No obsessing now!) All in all, I'm doing kind of well. It seems strange to me, but this admission really has helped me in some way that I can't quite explain, as has writing about it here. I'm reading John Dewey, and I'm taking a page out of his book on this one: more about the doing, less worrying about the why. (That's what I think he's saying, anyway. But I'm still reading.)
If you're still here, thanks so much for reading. Let me know what you think of all this, if you like. Peace and joy and sunny weekends to you all.