Two weeks ago, just prior to boarding a wifi-free ferry from Sicily to Naples while on holiday, I received an email confirming that an article I’d submitted to MindBodyGreen had been accepted for publication. This felt like a giant cannoli beamed straight into my heart- I was over the moon! However, after a sleepless night at sea, I woke up to find that a portion of my article had been omitted and that the title had been dramatically changed. The original title was “From Bars to Barbells.” It had been replaced with the more clickbait worthy, “I Struggled With Addiction for Fifteen Years. Here’s How Fitness Keeps Me Sober.”
The control freak in me has since made peace with the edits, and I’m grateful to MindBodyGreen for featuring my writing and story, as I am a fan of the site. The article has since been shared over three thousand times and I’ve received many emails from people all over the world who had their own raw and personal stories of addiction to tell. However, something has bothered me about the title of the piece, namely, the word “STRUGGLED,” which implies an emotion and action that is in the past and no longer relevant today. To some readers it may be similar to saying, “I used to be addicted but now I’m all better.” The truth is, while I have nearly six years of sobriety under my belt and work professionally as a coach to help others do the same, I am not “all better” or “cured.” I still have my struggles with the recovery process, I still have to get up every day and “do the work” in order to remain in a healthy place, and I still remain mindful about staying the course so as not to replace one addiction with another. In short, I- like many millions of others in recovery- recognize that tomorrow I could fall into the same self-destructive patterns which landed me in the ER and AA in the first place.
We who have lived with addiction are never ABOVE IT. This truth not only applies to individuals who have had an alcohol use disorder, but to anyone who has wrestled with an addiction or compulsion, be it gambling, food, shopping, power, drugs, love, sex, or any other external force that helps us avoid- at least temporarily- the internal pain brewing within. The recent deaths of several celebrities bear this out. I remember vividly the sinking, sick feeling I had in the pit of my stomach when I read that Robin Williams, who had stayed sober for 20 years, committed suicide or when Philip Seymour Hoffman, who got sober at the age of 22, died from acute drug intoxication at age 46. Make no mistake about it, sobriety is a commitment to yourself that is made every single day, a day at a time.
A more visual example would be the disordered eater who has binged on sweets for five years to deal with emotional trauma, leading to a weight gain of 90 lbs. She may hire a personal trainer and health coach, relearn how to eat in a more balanced way, and work on the psychological side of why she’s compelled to binge. However, once she reaches a healthy weight and loses the excess 90 lbs. after many months of hard work, she may decide that she is ok now and can go back to eating whatever she wants. This is actually a very common pattern I see with clients who have been riding the yo-yo diet roller coaster. They get to a place where they are feeling good and finally like what they see in the mirror, so they somehow convince themselves that they no longer have to do the work- they can let things slide and get loose about their routine. Over time, they’re right back to where they started- and then some.
Addiction recovery, then, is a lifelong commitment to change. Drug and alcohol relapse statistics show that people who relapse after a period of recovery spans from a whopping 50% to 90%. Ambivalence and lack of commitment to the recovery process are two predominant factors for these dismal numbers. We also know that an estimated 95% of all diets fail and that most dieters will regain the weight within 1 to 5 years. There is no quick fix for any kind of addiction- you don’t emerge from rehab cured, and you don’t come off of a diet with a brand new metabolism and a skinny body for life. All of this stuff takes WORK, day in and day out. Through that daily work, you slowly transform. The work becomes you.
After many years of resenting that aspect of the little girl who had to emerge into the world with her thumb in her mouth (and who sucked that thumb for fourteen years before discovering cigarettes, booze, and drugs), I have come to see addiction as a gift. Many of us who have lived with addiction for much of our lives came to it from a place of heightened sensitivity and openness. We arrive at addiction’s door wounded and desperate to “unfeel” our experiences, to “unsee” the world’s injustice. And so, we turn to an external substance or behavior as a way to moderate the otherwise raw, sharp-edged, and often painful version of our reality. This process of moving from addiction and into recovery has allowed us to experience the darker places of human existence, which in turn encourages us to tap into our empathy, our awareness, our humility and our intuition as we travel on the road of healing.
The addiction recovery journey calls us back to our true selves.
With this in mind, the concept “once an addict, always an addict,” is no longer viewed as a life sentence, but rather a commitment to continuous awakening, to moving through the world with both eyes open and a heart that’s no longer afraid to feel. Next time you see an addict in the throes of his or her addiction, recognize the healer and the seeker within, respect their potential.
This post was long overdue! Thank you for your patience, and for continuing to read "The Conversation." If you missed previous posts in this series on drinking and women, head on over to the main blog page. What would you like to read about? Do you have any questions for me, or topics you'd like me to cover? Leave your thoughts in the comments section! I'd love to hear from you. If you missed the MindBodyGreen article, you can read it here.