Sobriety sucks

I hate being sober. The lights are too bright, the music is too loud. Everything is too much, too fast, too close. I feel too much.

When I’m sober, I feel everything without a filter. Perhaps I have Asperger’s. Perhaps I have sensory processing disorder. Perhaps I’m empathic. Perhaps I’m just human. Perhaps this is normal, and I’d spent so long being altered that I don’t know what normal feels like.

Being sober means that my normal coping mechanism is gone. It was my teddy bear and my security blanket. It was my shield against the onslaught of the world. It was my go-to-thing for everything. If I was happy, I was stoned. If I was sad, I was stoned. If I was with friends, I was stoned. If I was lonely, I was stoned.

I started using it to enhance life. If food tasted good while I was sober, it tasted even better stoned. If a movie was cool sober, it was even more interesting stoned. But then it got to the point that the average everyday wasn’t good enough, and I had to be stoned to do everything. Life was vanilla, and stoned was 31 flavors. Who wants to have vanilla when you’ve had it all?

I don’t like myself sober. I’ve discovered I’m a very angry person. I don’t like being angry. I don’t think it is very ladylike.

So I write, and exercise, and do yoga, and paint, and collage, and bead, and drum. I fill my time with different ways to process my feelings, because I’ve got a lot of processing that has backed up. Instead of having the normal process of feelings go in, get dealt with, and then they go out, I shoved them deep down. I shoved feelings into myself the same way that people shove broken and unwanted things into their basement or attic or storage unit. Eventually, the reckoning time comes and you have to do the work to get all that stuff out of there so you can have room to breathe. It is like poop – if poop doesn’t get out in a timely manner, it backs up and you get sick.

I’ve been sober for four years this time. I say “this time” because I was sober for about the same time, about fourteen years ago. Sobriety, like being messed up, comes in waves. You think the high is going to last forever and it doesn’t. You think being sober is going to last forever, and it might. I’ve given it up, and walked right back. Just like a person in an abusive relationship, I keep going back until I put enough value on myself to stay away, or I find someone new. With sobriety, “finding someone new” just means finding another high – trading alcohol for cigarettes, for instance.

Being sober longer is seen as better, but in a way it is worse. You forget why you left in the first place. You forget how bad it was. You’re tempted to go back, just for a taste. Except a taste is never good enough when you are an addict. One bite becomes a bunch. Next thing you know you are right back where you were, stoned, sick, and stupid.

I don’t want to find another addiction to fill this hole. I just don’t want it to be so big, or gaping. I can feel the wind whistling through me.

Before and after

There is a Zen saying – “Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.”

Sobriety is much the same way. After you become sober, the problems are still there, but your coping mechanism isn’t. The troubles just trouble you more. You safe cocoon that you spun around yourself is gone. You realize that you got stuck in your own web of lies and avoidances. You realize that you were cramped by that cocoon, not comforted.

But those daily things are still there, those annoyances. You’ve spent years not learning how to deal with them in a healthy way. You are at least a decade behind the curve. Even though chronologically you are an adult, you are a child when it comes to dealing with life.

It sucks. It’s hard. It makes you want to start using again. Dependency groups seem to focus on the disease, not on how to live life. They seem to glorify the illness of addiction, rather than teach new and healthy ways of dealing with everyday and extraordinary stresses.

Sometimes just getting out of bed is a stressor. Sometimes coming home is one too. Sometimes the people you used to hang out with when you used were the only friends you had – and they still use.

So how do create this new life, this life without using? Plenty of people just trade one addiction for another. A lot of ex-drinkers become smokers. I remember one year I gave up smoking pot for Lent, and ended up drinking every day instead. I know a guy whose parents were recovering alcoholics. He loudly proclaimed that drinking was evil, but then every Tuesday when they would go to AA meetings, he would get stoned at home.

Addiction is addiction is addiction.

It isn’t about being a recovering former user. It isn’t about counting the number of days you’ve been without your intoxicant of choice. It is about every day forward and what now.

Back to chopping wood and carrying water.

Sometimes the only way to learn is to just do it, painful though it is. Nobody can tell you how to best live your life. They can tell you how they did it, how they got over the hump. They can offer suggestions. But for you, you just have to do it, step by fumbling step.

Recovering, not recovered. On addiction.

So what is the deal about the term “recovering” addict? You are never described as a “recovered” addict. It is as if you never get there. You are never home safe.

And really, you aren’t.

Even if you have been sober for twenty years, the fever is still there. Even if your last hit was so terrible that you ended up in jail and then the hospital, and you lost your wife and house over it, that fever is still there.

Because you forget. You forget how bad it can be. You forget how bad it was. All you remember is the high and the good times. All you remember is how it took away the pain.

You forget about all the pain it can bring, and did bring, to you and to everyone you love.

You say you are “recovering” as a sign to you and to others that there is no escape from addiction. You never ever are the same after you’ve been an addict.

You know what it tastes like, and you want it again. You forget the bitter and only remember the sweet. And you think that just because you were able to escape it then you can do it again. You think lightning can’t strike twice. You think you can just do a little bit of it and be fine. You think you are smarter than it.

It is the same as playing with fire. While fire can help, it can harm. It can light up the room and keep you warm, or it can burn down your house. It can be the difference between cooked food and raw food – it can also be burnt to a crisp and made worthless.

Drugs burn us up and make us worthless.

The trouble with drugs is the same as the trouble with fire – it can’t be contained very well. You think you’ve gotten it under control but really it controls you instead. You don’t do drugs. They do you.

When you forget, you’ll start doing drugs again. Just a little. Just to “take the edge off.” Soon you’ll be sneaking out to buy drugs. You’ll make up excuses. You’ll lie to your loved ones. You’ll call in sick to work. You’ll miss out on all the activities that you used to do for fun – because you are using drugs.

You think – that can’t happen to me. That is for suckers. That happens to losers. And I say to you – what makes you so special?

You aren’t special to drugs. You are another conquest. They are like a virus, eating away at all that is you. Slowly, slowly, you lose your fight. Slowly, slowly, it wins.

Quitting doing drugs doesn’t mean you are cured. You can’t get immunized against drug addiction. No matter how much you’ve done and how long it has been since you stopped doing it, you aren’t safe. You haven’t built up a resistance.

The only hope is to never let them back into your life again. The only way to do that is to continue to say you are “recovering” and not “recovered” as a reminder to keep that door closed and bolted shut.