Saturday, July 26, 2008

Your Daily Om Gal Fix: An Inquiry on Addiction

I’m not an expert on addiction. I’m not an addict. I’ve never been to rehab. I barely succeeded in giving up sugar for Lent this year. I have never suffered through the dark hours and days of being weaned off a substance on which I was physically and emotionally dependent. The hardest stuff I do is yerba mate.

However, like you, I know people who are addicts, and I recognize certain qualities in myself that without my own outlets for angst (like yoga, meditation, and Thai food with my best friend after a bad day or week) I might just as easily turn to a harmful, as opposed to healthful, means of decompression. More than a few times, I’ve wondered what I might do without my chosen practices of stress relief. Where would the anger go, if not out my pores along with the sweat of a long-distance run? What would relieve the tightness that clamps down on my lungs during periods of grief without pranayama? How would I process my hurts or ponder my missteps without the clarity of a stretch of road or the swath of a yoga mat?

I count luck and a healthy amount of fear as key factors in my ability to avoid self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. I am no better than the millions of people who detour into these behaviors to ease their own pain, and I believe, to a degree, that we’re all dancing with addictions of some kind. From gossip, to dieting, to certain relationships, we all know the seductive pull of something that starts out harmless enough but, when left unchecked, can leave a friendship in shambles, endanger our health, or mushroom into the drama that accompanies toxic relationships. Perhaps that’s why society currently finds itself in a love affair with the concept of rehab. It’s a familiar and sensationalized version of our own struggles all at once.

From TV shows like Intervention and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew to the safari-like fascination with which we keep tabs on the Lindsays and Britneys of the world, to the flummoxing inclusion of Amy Winehouse singing her hit “Rehab” at Nelson Mandela’s recent 90th birthday celebration, we certainly seem to have an unprecedented curiosity in the addictions of others and how they are addressed, or not- or in Britney’s case, um, undressed. In these people, we see Fun House reflections of ourselves; we wonder how we might handle the same situations if we were them, or their families, or their friends.

As you know, The World According to Om Gal likes to stay atop of what’s going on in the world, hence the title of the blog, (and, for the record, I love both Intervention and Celebrity Rehab), so I hoped I might weigh in on this timely topic, in a manner that’s useful to all of us. To that end, I sought the experience of a friend and former yoga student, who is a “grateful recovering alcoholic and addict” to provide some first-hand insight on addiction (and because he offered). I’ve left our conversation unedited. I hope you find it as honest and hopeful as I do. Thank you, Luke.

O.G.: How long were you an addict?
Luke O.: I was an addict my entire life. That may seem a little odd, how can someone be an addict at age 5? I always felt “different,” even before I picked up a drink or a drug and possessed the characteristics of an addict before I actually used drugs or alcohol. I abused drugs and alcohol for 20 years.

How long have you been sober?
I have been sober for a little bit over 4 years.

Describe addiction in three words.
Fearfulness. Isolation. Selfishness.

Briefly, describe how the addiction started.
Piggy-backing on question 1, I believe I was an addict from birth. I was “troubled,” and both [my] parents were affected by addiction issues. At age 12 I found a solution to my internal pain. I started drinking to get drunk on a regular basis.

When did you know it was time to quit?
I knew I was an alcoholic at age 16; I didn’t drink or behave like others when I drank and knew my relationship to alcohol was unhealthy.

What was the first thing you did after realizing you needed to get sober?
Because there was a long time before I actually took some action in quitting (15 years), I had to wait until the pain got bad enough; I went to an AA meeting.

Was there any one piece of wisdom or element of treatment that helped you stay the course when the recovery process was daunting?
Absolutely- I never had to do it alone. The disease is a disease of isolation and affects the thought process and the emotions. I got to hear other alcoholics talk about their struggles, and they were the same as mine. [It] felt good to be around others who could help me by sharing their experience, strength, and hope.

What's the hardest part about recovery?
Understanding that this is a process that happens slowly, over time, but it must be taken just one day at a time. That “one day at a time” concept is not natural for addicts or human beings for that matter. This is a tough question to answer because it has changed over the course of my recovery. At the beginning, it was to just not physically take a drink or drug, then it was to understand that my way of being in the world was backwards, and I had to learn a whole new way of living sober. Now, it’s a lot of trusting in the universe . . . that I am being taken care of and the less I meddle in the outcome, the better off I am.

What's the best part of being sober?
I get to know who the Authentic Luke [is]; it’s been such a great experience to get to know myself. I get to be the person God intended me to be, sober, loving, authentic. Being present in moments that need my presence. I get to be a sober father to an amazing 3 year-old who teaches me that being curious about the unknown is healthier than fearing it. I get to help others along the way in my journey.

What else do people need to know about addiction & recovery?
This disease does not care who you are, how much money you have, or [what your] your social status [is]. This is not a moral issue. If you think you may have a problem with addiction then seek help. It’s counter intuitive for addicts to ask for help because we feel shame and think we can just “do it” on our own. While I think there are people who have accomplished this, there is no need to suffer that way.

Describe sobriety in three words.
Acceptance. Peace. Authentic.


Anonymous said...

I came across your blog not too long ago since I began my own journey in to teaching yoga recently. The ironic thing is I came across this most recent post & realized "WOW, that is my ex-husband that is sharing about being an addict." I appreciate the dialogue & can echo the comments about our beautiful 3-year old daughter.

Being on the other side of the addict's struggle & also having grown up in an addict's home I can relate. I too was very lucky & grateful as you (Om Gal) are for not having been afflicted by the daily struggle with picking up a drug or drink. However, this disease knows no boundaries & can affect the non-addict just as much in different ways. For the "non-addicts" out there, but those that have been affected by addiction there is help too. I highly recommend seeking a program. It helped me during a desperate time of need.

It makes me very sad to think of how many people in this world are affected by addiction & how many families have been broken because of it. I pray for happiness & peace to come in to the hearts of those affected.

Luke O. thanks for sharing & I wish you peace today & everyday.


dfg said...

This hits close to home. I had someone in my life who I walked with through her addiction for many years until finally she killed herself. There's rarely a day that goes by that I don't think about her. I think about all that she's missing and all that she gave up while under the influence.

She had so much damned pride, she would go off by herself and try to stay sober but she could never break free long enough to effect a life change. Your friend is right, it is a disease of isolation and being alone only makes it worse. And it's a struggle that takes a tremendous toll on those that love you the most.

I danced close to this edge myself but caught it early enough or just had too much fear from seeing what it could do. It makes you wonder whose side the universe is on - but without that trust, that faith, and that was her downfall, there is no redemption.

Om Gal said...

Dear D:

My sentiments exactly- WOW. Sounds like we're both astounded. Thank you for your positive feedback regarding today's post, particularly given how close the subject is to you, personally. Addiction is a delicate topic, and I wanted to handle it in a sensitive way.

Thank you, also, for sharing your own insight and support of your family.

If there is anything I can do to support your forray into teaching yoga, please let me know.

Om shanti,