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.