8 Life Lessons from Survivors of Addiction [List]
Anyone who’s in recovery right now, currently struggling with addiction, or in a close relationship with an addict knows that getting clean isn’t easy. There’s a lot of work that goes in between the moment when we decide it’s time to get clean, and the point when we’re actually living a healthy, drug-free life. Getting there takes dedication, support, hard work, and of course, a little bit of wisdom too.
If you’re looking for some insight into the journey that lies ahead of you, you’re not alone. A lot of addicts have questions about recovery, and not just about the science or the treatment plan. Bigger questions often come up too, like: Is recovery worth it? What will I gain? And of course, the most important (and scariest) question that’s on everyone’s mind:
How the h*** am I supposed to make it through life without drugs or a drink?!
We’re going to try and answer these questions and share some valuable life lessons from people who’ve already been through addiction, and made it out on the other side. These insights are about motivation, ways to stay strong, understanding what is inner peace, and taking positive steps to achieve it.
1. Take it Day by Day
During today’s day and age, instant gratification is the Modus Operandi. We’re used to fast, simple solutions to whatever needs or desires we might have.
Feeling bored? Type some words into google and find nearly anything.
Feeling anxious? Anxiolytics. Feeling sad? Antidepressants.
Well, what if we’re dealing with an addiction? ….
There is no true ‘quick fix,’ it’s a long-term project. The work that goes into recovery is all about choosing more good and less bad. Every. Single. Day. Even when you’re having a horrible time, and it seems like staying clean “forever” (!) is impossible, focus on just getting through the day. Break it down into manageable pieces that you can handle.
At first it’s really hard, but the support of a qualified Detox Program will help you get through the first few days. Once you’ve gotten the substances out of your system, a personalized Rehabilitation treatment plan will help you figure out your triggers, and build the skills you need to keep on going.
2. Addiction is a Chronic Disease, and we should treat it like any other
Research tells us that 50% of our risk for addiction can be chalked up to genetics. When one twin becomes an addict, the other twin has a 50% chance of becoming an addict too even if they were raised separately (this rules out the influence of life experiences or bad influences). Children of addicts are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction themselves, and with the help of fMRI scanners, we know that brain structure, chemistry, and functioning change during addiction. Some people even claim that addiction is “contagious,” but we’re still waiting on the firm evidence for that one.
Hold on a second. This article is supposed to be about life lessons, not a science class!
Well, I’m mentioning all of these facts and statistics because I want to encourage you to get rid of the layers of bias, judgement, and hatred that are keeping you from seeing clearly what this problem is: a chronic neurological disease. Once we stop looking for something or someone to blame (usually ourselves), we can start taking treatment seriously.
All we can do [as addicts] is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill. ~ Russell Brand
3. Self Care is more than just face masks and hot tea, it’s about Survival
If you’ve ever been online, you’ve already seen plenty of articles and buzzfeed lists about self-care. They typically feature some luxurious bedtime ritual involving bath bombs, maybe even a face mask too, and at least one mention of the phrase “Treat yo’ self!” However, is that really all there really is to self-care?
We know that addiction is a chronic brain disease. Relapse can happen at anytime, but it’s more likely during times of stress, heartbreak, disappointment, and frustration. Since these feelings are a part of life, they’re going to happen sometime or another. Staying clean means that we’ll have to find new ways to heal our tired spirits when the world seems like it’s trying to break us down.
For addicts, as well as anyone with chronic mental or physical illness, self-care is more serious and can even save our lives. Self care is about recognizing our limits, respecting our triggers, not forcing ourselves to bear through a toxic situation, and finding healthy ways to self-soothe when wild emotions are trying to take over.
Self Care is all about taking simple steps to counteract the stressful forces of the world around us to prevent relapse. Quiet time, avoiding certain people and places, managing how much stress you take on, and of course luxurious bedtime rituals featuring bath bombs and lavender mint tea can all be important parts of a self-care plan. Choose activities that work for you.
4. Don’t worry what other people think
One of the most common triggers for recovering addicts is the feeling of being judged, or talked about behind your back. It’s an especially horrible feeling when the people you care about, or look up to are passing criticisms.
But, here’s the thing: if they aren’t saying it to your face, it DOES NOT matter, and it DOES NOT affect you.
People are always going to talk. We fill in awkward silences with whatever nonsense pops into our head first, and sometimes what comes out is mean-spirited gossiping.
Most people have not experienced addiction for themselves, so they can coolly observe and comment on it from a distance. They think, ‘wow, I wouldn’t behave that way’ and go right on ahead with judgemental, belittling, and cruel comments without considering any point of view other than their own. Their lack of understanding is not your responsibility, and sooner or later, they’ll end up looking like a fool because of it.
Trust your own self-image, and tune out the extra noise.
5. Spirituality is a form of Strength
As active addicts or drunks, we have this giant hole of anxiety, fear, and hurt that requires constant patching up and our main concern in life is just getting by. Drugs or alcohol are quick, albeit temporary and harmful, solutions to thosefeeling. We get caught in a cycle of “I don’t feel good”, “this drug/drink will make me forget and feel better.” Day in, day out; it’s the same story.
The problem is, this hand-to-mouth type of existence doesn’t leave much room for anything else. There’s no time or energy to think about important questions like:
What higher power is guiding me?
Which values will I choose to put into practice?
What kind of person do I want to be for others?
It’s really a shame that addiction doesn’t let us focus our heart and minds on such questions, because figuring out our spirituality can make us so much stronger as we battle addiction. It’s one of the most important parts of recovery because it helps us see very clearly why sobriety matters.
No higher power (whether its God in your eyes, or another like Mother Nature) put you on this earth to disappear. You were put here, with your unique combination of strengths, experiences, wisdom and personality traits to make some positive contribution. What does that mean for you, specifically?
6. Asking for Help doesn’t mean you’re Weak
No one wants to be thought of as weak, or incapable of handling one’s own, which is why we try our best to be independent. However, when everything is falling apart and we’re getting sicker and sicker, and still refusing to ask for help, does that really mean we’re “strong?” I don’t think so. Instead of strength, I see insecurity. I see a dangerous, irrational fear of being “found out.” I also see someone who’s wounded, and clutching fiercely onto a feeling of ‘independence’ as a way to feel better.
When someone is struggling with an addiction, and reaches out for help it’s not a sign of weakness. It actually shows strength of character, and positive traits like self-awareness, responsibility, and humility.
Chances are, your addiction is no secret anyway, and your loved ones are waiting for the right moment to step in.
7. Discover your Identity
So many recovered addicts talk about having looked into the mirror one day, and not recognized the reflection staring back at them. Does that feeling sound familiar?
Overtime, drinking and drugging became such compulsive, repetitive behaviors that we stop making any real choices, and just relinquish our life path to pure chance. Some of us lose our identity in the mix, and some of us never had the chance to get to know ourselves in the first place.
When we recover from addiction, a safe space opens up for us to explore our identities and find out who our true selves really are. Addiction doesn’t define who we are, there is so much more to us than our past. It’s up to us to develop and show those other parts of ourselves to the world.
8. True Happiness comes from within
Ok, I admit this life lesson is cheesy, and you’ve heard it before, but where is the lie?
Throughout my career, I’ve worked with rich addicts, beautiful addicts, popular, famous, and successful addicts and of course, lots and lots of regular addicts. This disease affects us all the same, even the people that we expect would be perfectly happy with their lives.
As much as we like to think so, happiness cannot be bought, or won over. This isn’t to say that achievements aren’t valuable; of course they are. They are exhilarating and rewarding, and they bring genuine joy too. However, the feeling fades as soon as we set our sights on the next big thing.
Inner peace is what we need to focus on first, and it comes from knowing ourselves, and accepting the person that we are, faults and all. The happiness that comes from inner peace is long lasting, and doesn’t melt away when a storm hits. Cultivate it, and you’ll find that you just naturally wake up with a smile on your face, grateful for one more beautiful day.
I can’t tell you how to find inner peace, or when it will come to you. However, what I can tell you is that your journey will require you to forgive the mistakes you’ve made, give thanks for the loving contribution of yourself and others, and honestly love the individual that you are.