Addiction is many things: a physical dependency, a spiritual deficit, a cultural pitfall, but most of all, a mentality.
In the throes of our addiction, our bodies are hardwired to expect and depend on our drug of choice. We believe we can stop at any time while simultaneously worshiping that substance which holds us hostage. We surround ourselves with the wrong people in the wrong places. But the bottom line, the thing that drives all of this, is the deep, sometimes subconscious belief that using (the act of partaking in our drug) is the only way forward.
This mentality can plague us even after we get sober. We’ve programmed ourselves to use in any circumstance, especially the hard ones. Before sobriety, our drug was our escape, our solution, and our master.
In early recovery, there’s a very real physical hurtle called withdrawal. It can be painful and even deadly. In fact, detox centers were founded because drunks brought to jail were dying in their cells. While withdrawal from hard drugs like meth and cocaine can be painful and intense, alcohol withdrawal is one of the worst. It can cause vomiting, seizures, loss of muscle control, migraines, and can last up to a year.
Beyond these physical symptoms, we have to relearn how to live our lives. This is a dangerous phase because many people in recovery develop what’s called a transfer addiction. This means we turn our attention and dependency to something new and equally unhealthy.
In my personal forays into sobriety in my teenage years, I often turned from alcohol to marajuana and back again. It wasn’t until I went to an in-patient treatment program at age 23 that I actually developed the skills and knowledge to beat my addictive tendencies.
Some believe the journey never ends. I believe there’s always something to work on in recovery and that falling back into addiction is never out of the question. However, in my decade plus of sobriety, I’ve noticed a distinction between those struggling in their sobriety and those thriving in it. This difference is their mentality.
The struggling addict in recovery is obsessed with how life used to be. They face triggers frequently and are often upset by them.
They may also struggle to shed their ties to their old life. There is nothing wrong with being in this phase.
It’s a necessary part of the recovery journey. But it’s not ok to stay there.
The recovered addict is someone who knows that this new life is infinitely more valuable and worthwhile than their old life. They may face triggers once in a while, but those are easily shed or altogether avoided. They may not face daily temptation, and have restructured their lives so they can thrive in sobriety and help others do the same.
Getting to this “recovered” point takes different degrees of severity and time for everyone. For me, it took about four years. It’s not an easy journey, but I remember clearly having an “ah-ha” moment just after my fourth year of sobriety. I realized that I was no longer a slave to my old life and old ways of thinking. I realized I could face my daily challenges and life struggles without fantasizing about using to get through it. It was an incredibly empowering realization.
A big part of that mentality was the kind of environments I put myself in and the kind of people I hung around. This can be the hardest change any recovering addict must make and is an important aspect of recovery housing, where people in recovery live together and support one another on their sobriety journey.
Often, addiction is deeply buried in family and community culture. I know many people in recovery who have moved across the country in order to root themselves in a healthier environment. Jim Rohn said “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” which is why it is so important for addicts to make a community of healthy people.
Here’s the hard news. Addiction mentality is not exclusive to addicts. Everyone with a heartbeat has some vice or way of thinking that holds them hostage. It can be sugar, caffeine, a quick temper, anxiety, or any number of things. (This is a reliable way to relate to addicts if you have no personal experience with addiction.)
The path to recovery is different for everyone. For me, faith and accountability were essential to getting to the point where I could consider myself recovered. I am a Christian, and my mentality shift came down to the belief that, although I’m a work in progress, I have been redeemed through Christ and no longer have to live in slavery to my worldy trials and tendancies.
Addiction is a trial and here is hope. It can get better. There is a life waiting for you that does not hinge on the day going just right or avoiding triggers.
Build your life around something that gives life instead of robs it. Build your life around people who are full of grace and truth telling rather than enablers and judges. Be a person full of grace and honesty for yourself and others and you will find your own way out of addition and addiction mentality.