I drank and used almost everyday for a full decade of my life. I picked up my first drink at 11 years old, in an act of rebellion towards my mother who had been clean and serene in Narcotics Anonymous for 24 years. As that cheap vodka went down my throat, the voices in my head, which told me I was useless, ugly, untalented, worthless, and had no reason to be alive, began to fade. The burn of the spirits rolling into my gut was hotter than the pain in my chest, and for the first time, I took a deep breath. I felt free.
From there, this magical elixir became my solution to any problem. And I had a lot of them. As I look back on my using and drinking career now, with almost three years of sobriety, I have come to categorize this chapter in a single word – escapism.
I was using drugs and alcohol to escape from my life. From the fears. From the pains. Little did I know that in escaping these parts of the human condition, I was deepening the hole inside of me. In the evasion of life, my coping mechanisms for existence were becoming more and more like those of my father, who despite having until recently had a considerable amount of clean time, was in my eyes, a very malevolent man.
After years of running, the wreckage of my past was getting larger and larger and the problems that may have been manageable, if dealt with sooner, were catching up. My medicinal drug and alcohol use was no longer a viable means of escape. I ended up in a 12-Step meeting after a failed suicide attempt and adopted a whole new way of living.
It is a survival mechanism to retreat from pain. We need to remember the pain of the burn from the flame to stop us from putting our hands back onto the hot stove. As addicts and alcoholics, we tend to try to escape from everything that doesn’t feel nice. It was a shattering revelation to me that perhaps the wiser option was the stay present for those feelings and watch how they could evolve. It is a part of the human experience to feel anger. To feel sadness. To feel fear. Through recovery, I’ve learned that when I feel those feelings come, I have a decision: to choose in the instance of fear and pain to act with cowardice or courage. When it comes to anger, there’s the choice to be vengeful or merciful.
My success rate for surviving feelings up to this point is 100%. It is my choices and behavior which define what those feelings turn into. These days I choose, one day at a time, to stay present for my life. And while having to remain vigilant to not allow that old coping mechanism of escapism to pull me away from now through sex, food, and gambling, I am able to learn from those experiences and feelings, which I used to run from.
The one thing for certain is that it will change. Living in the acceptance that everything in my life is only for now. And through staying present, I gain the benefit of the experience to walk through it next time with a little more grace and share the experience with others.