Traffic crept along the 405 freeway just north of Costa Mesa, California; everybody in a hurry going nowhere fast. I wore my ear buds in hopes to drown out and escape the thoughts in my head – even if only for a short time. Apparently I’ve done this to no avail, for my brain started operating – at first in a subtle manner; innocent and unconsciously in fact – then it was off to the races, rapidly gaining speed. As I peered out the window of the large white van that was transporting me, I noticed a middle-aged woman driving a mini-van. Her elbow rested on the driver side door, just below the window – her head being held up by her hand; leaning slightly off to the left. The expression on her face was catatonic; almost vacant, like somebody had programmed her to complete this mission – which most likely was escaping her place of work only to be greeted at home by dirty, tired and hungry children with a side of grumpy, ungrateful husband.
For a minute I sat back and empathized with her. I felt like I was behind the wheel of that mini-van devoid of any emotion or facial expression; neither wanting to move forward nor slide my way back; like we were together in this state of limbo that, much like quicksand, the harder we fought, the further we became stuck. We have found it easier to conform and submit to this melancholy mediocrity, rather than strive for something anomalous or extraordinary. And as she drove off beyond my line of vision, I panned around the freeway almost desperately searching for anybody with a smiling face; anything to counter what I had just experienced – but not one. We were a vast, sluggish entity seemingly lifeless and robotic; an ample army of the mentally tired, emotionally drained and spiritually dead, all marching in the same direction; all to the same tune of submission; like we had no other choice and we surrendered to the belief that this is just how it is.
I’m exhausted from this fight; I want to give up. It’s like the ground I walk on will decompose under my every step; a transient sauntering aimlessly through this stretch of unearned time with no real emphasis spent formulating a final destination, let alone these vain attempts to awaken a castaway spirit and revere the experiences or lessons learned along the way. This victim mentality that I can’t seem to shake is paralyzing; ripping endlessly into my core and plunging steadily; it’s progress is alarming, yet I’m holding on imperviously to a life preserver; struggling to keep my head above water; pleading for every granule of air I can suck into my lungs. How can I be so miserable; so lost and so broken, yet still wish to cling on for dear life? I keep hitting this wall; I obsess to burst through it – maybe it’s my adamant, stubborn, addictive personality that keeps me in the battle, craving still more – refusal to give up; never waiving that immaculate white flag. Perhaps my greatest weakness has also been my greatest strength; secluded and trapped – petitioning to wield its opposition to my self-diagnosed, contemptible condition.
Over the years of battling against myself and the reoccurring trips to detoxes, treatment centers, psych wards and episodes in and out of the rooms of AA, I have come to a few conclusions – some of which are generally known and scientifically proven traits of most addicts; some of which might be more particular to my individual personality type. In any case, they are the characteristics that make up a portion of who I am and I’d better start learning how to handle them.
MY BRAIN LIES TO ME. This can make life rather difficult to navigate because, generally speaking, my brain is my operating system. For example, simply imagine looking up at a clear blue sky, but you perceive the sky as being red – and in a pretty convincing manner because it is literally what your brain is communicating to your eyes. If your brain tells you the color you see is red, but everybody else sees the color blue, confusion and frustration can quickly set in – this is a small scale example to provide insight as to how my brain works when it comes to my internal process, life decisions, and everyday choices as a human living with the disease of addiction. Things can get dicey quite rapidly.
MY REALITY, IS NOT NECESSARILY ACTUALITY. This, for all intents and purposes, sort of parallels the realization that my head is a master liar and manipulator. It even fools me. As soon as a mood altering substance enters into my body, a shift takes place within my mind. Actuality quickly resorts to my false reality. Any normal person who takes a few drinks or experiments with drugs here and there will experience lowered inhibitions – but for the addict or alcoholic, this happens at an extreme level and starts to formulate into what we actually perceive to be real and normal.
NO PURPOSE OR PASSION = SLIM CHANCE TO RECOVER. A strong starting point on my journey to recovery is having a purposeful reason to get out of bed in the morning – a passion for something that drives me to be a better human being; motivation to love and pursue happiness and meaning in the short time we are granted on this earth. In the late 1970’s, a study was conducted by Bruce K. Alexander and his colleagues at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. This is a commonly known as the “Rat Park Experiment”. Alexander’s hypothesis was that drugs do not cause addiction, but rather the living conditions and circumstances of any particular individual. Hence, Rat Park was built. There were 16-20 rats of both sexes in the residence, a ton of food, balls, wheels and enough space for mating and raising litters. They were given the option to drink water laced with morphine or plain tap water; most chose the plain water. Rats in a separate and isolated environment were given the option to drink plain tap water or water laced with morphine for 57 consecutive days. After this period of time, virtually all the rats were partaking in the morphine laced water and were then brought into Rat Park. They were given the same option to drink plain tap water or the water laced with the morphine. For the most part, the rats always chose the plain tap water. He attributed this to the rats being housed in a reasonably normal environment and stimulated, rather than isolated in smaller cages. They had found a purpose.
FINDING A BALANCE IN EMOTIONAL AWARENESS AND REGULATION. This may seem odd, but any given emotion only lasts for approximately 90 seconds. After that, we have a choice whether or not we wish to move out of or stay in the emotion that we have experienced; I know–easier said than done. We will certainly face obstacles while attempting to regulate our emotions, especially when the environment we keep ourselves in reinforces dysfunction. The most important step in regulation of the emotion is naming it and describing it in its proper context. This requires at least some sense of self-awareness and I have found that regularly practicing different varieties of meditation helps in achieving this better sense of self.