Why I’m Proud To Be An Addict

Why I’m Proud To Be An Addict

“Every addiction arises from an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain. Every addiction starts with pain and ends with pain. Whatever the substance you are addicted to – alcohol, food, legal or illegal drugs, or a person – you are using something or somebody to cover up your pain.” – Eckhart Tolle

I had always struggled with vices. Binge drinking, daily cannabis use and chain-smoking were central parts of my life for well over a decade. Starting in my late teens and recovering in my early thirties meant my twenties took the greatest hit.

I didn’t call them addictions back then, as far as I was concerned I had some bad habits coupled with the misfortune of being born with weak willpower, rendering me firmly in the domain of victimhood. I often thought about quitting one of my three substance addictions but after careful consideration realised that each one was too closely linked to the other. I wouldn’t be able to get drunk without reaching for a cigarette, I couldn’t smoke a joint without tobacco and I couldn’t sleep without smoking weed so the only way to quit one was to quit all three and as far as my weak willpower and I were concerned, that was totally inconceivable.

Fast forward to my early thirties, after a decade of mornings after, feeling nauseas with shame as I pieced together hazy segments of the night before, I had finally learned to control my “vices”, somewhat. I was getting better at avoiding social situations, which might result in me getting so drunk that half the night would be obliterated from memory and I’d even managed to quit smoking for three whole years, which would have continued if it weren’t for the “one” cigarette I had at a New Year’s Eve party which re-started my twenty-a-day habit. I’d also managed to kick my cannabis addiction and even found myself in training for the London Marathon, a far cry from my twenties. I was living a healthier life and I had a blossoming career in project management but I was still miserable.

The drama of my drunken antics had been replaced by the on-going drama of my love life and at 33 I hit rock bottom following the failure of yet another relationship. This time, rather than absolve myself of responsibility by heaping all the blame onto my ex, I accepted my part and promptly had a mini-breakdown resulting in a trip to a local therapist.

Not seeing a link between my addictive personality and my inability to have healthy, functional relationships with men, I had instead self-diagnosed myself as bi-polar or some other condition that could explain away the mood swings and aggressive outbursts that had destroyed one relationship after another. How desperate I was for a diagnosis and then hopefully a cure, ideally in pill form.

“You are codependent”, he said.

It wasn’t the diagnosis I’d been hoping for, there were no famous co-dependents as far as I knew of and what the hell was codependency anyway? But despite this initial disappointment, my overriding feeling was one of relief, finally it looked like I might have the answer to the question that I’d been asking all my life “what is wrong with me?” and I felt excited at the prospect of being saved.

What followed was a book that turned my world upside down, weekly 12-step meetings that helped me put my life back together and two years of therapy sessions to assess my stuttering progress. Recovery was both at once the most painful and the best thing that has ever happened to me. I learned in detail about the link between the abuses I suffered as a child and the self-destructive behaviours of my adulthood, I learned to forgive my care-takers and myself, I learned how to let go of being a victim and finally take responsibility for my life and my own happiness, I learned to stop trying to control everything around me, I learned the ways in which I sought to rescue, manipulate and care-take others (because it made me feel needed) and most of all I saw that my addictions weren’t just to substances but to people, places and things. I learned that I had been looking for love in all the wrong places and after letting go of all the toxic relationships in my life, I learned what healthy love actually looks like. Starting first with my relationship with myself.

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” – J.K. Rowling

The first six months of my recovery were one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through, it was a purging of all that I had known to date, a falling away of all my crutches and quick fixes. It was a dark and lonely time and just as I thought that perhaps I couldn’t take it anymore, it started to get easier.  I started to like myself more, I no longer felt gripped by feelings of shame, I quit my substance addictions and I stopped looking to others for my sense of self-worth. I was learning to become my own best friend and learning to respect myself.

I remember well my therapist telling me that people in recovery are often the healthiest people you’ll ever meet and now nearly five years into my own recovery, I think I know what he meant. Just as Tolle says, if addiction arises from an unconscious removal to face and move through your own pain then surely it follows that overcoming addiction means the conscious decision to face and move through your own pain.

Overcoming addictions is hard. It requires that you dig deep on your courage and face fear and shame with love. Love for yourself and love for your incredible journey. If I could go back in time and change everything, would I? Absolutely not. Going through my journey as an addict was the best thing that ever happened to me. How about you? I’d love to hear in the comments below about your experiences with addiction.

Resources:

Book: Facing Codependence: What it is, where it comes from, how it sabotages our lives by Pia Mellody.

Meetings: http://coda.org

Photo by Maëlle Caborderie

Caroline Leon

Caroline Leon is a Life Coach, writer and digital nomad, travelling the world with her boyfriend, while making it her mission to help people live happier and healthier lives. You can find her over at www.lifeislimitless.com and her new online venture www.lovecourage.com aimed at helping people overcome addiction and shame by finding the courage to love themselves completely.

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38 Comments

  1. You just told my story… even down to the quitting smoking for three years, mine was two and a half……!!!! All the while we are thinking our experiences are so unique and so many others were on the same path..

    I rode Harleys and hung out with a rough crowd…. sorry, still miss that 30 years later…. the riding, not the craziness….

    I have walked that path of fear and pain… and am a whole person today….never did I dream I could be the person I am today…. years of therapy, more 12 step meetings than I can count…. and will be clean and sober 30 years this Dec. 26…. ya, I missed New Years that year….

    So thank you so much for sharing your story, and hope others struggling will see there is a way out… and up….. sending you lots of hugs for your courage….

    Reply
    • Hi Linda, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your (very similar!) experiences. I love that you describe yourself as “whole person” today, I know exactly what you mean. Your hugs are gratefully received and reciprocated! :)

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  2. Great. G R E A T. article Caroline. I never realized how similar all of us addicts are. Going through many of the same issues now, myself . Drugs, gambling, alcohol were addictions….now it’s coffee, ice cream…and alcohol ……..I would like to thank you for this article…it was great, and I plan on checking out your websites.

    Reply
    • Thank you Rich! Yes there are lots of similarities, which hopefully means where there is a way out for one person, there’s a way out for all!

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  3. It takes courage to face your fears and weaknesses. Your ability to write so clearly about your addictions shows that you are in total control now. Congrats. For me, I am blessed with the ability to turn off a bad habit once it encroaches on the safety and security of my family because nothing matters to me more than the four people nearest to me, an example: I was introduced to horse racing once. From gambling at the ticket counter, I upgraded to calling for a bet from the comfort of my home (you have to have a credit standing with the bookies and that takes time and volume). One new year, I had to pay so much that we could not have a new year celebration. That was it. My interest in horse racing died immediately as those around me also suffered.

    Reply
    • Hi Stu, thanks for your comment and congratulations, living a life that is free from addictions is cause for celebration indeed! How wonderful that you can see the impact of your bad habits so clearly and curb them for the sake of those you love.

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  4. Thank you for this article. It’s similar to my story, and the 12 steps have helped. To me, Al-Anon is a whole different animal than AA. AA only touches the surface, and if people don’t get beyond the surface, people will not learn. I only wish more people could realize addiction is not just to “drugs”, but to money, food, drama, etc. The worst addictive behaviours do the most harm to others. Our leaders, government and corporations, addicted to their lust for power and money are the ones who need to be in recovery, but that is not “rewarded” in our society. And, the most dangerous of all are those addicts who, beneath the surface, are psychopathic narcissists who will never admit they are hurting others. A whole lot of waking up needs to happen. Let’s just hope there are more of us than there are, of them: the addictive narcissist. We need to allow them to hit their bottom, by refusing to enable them! I only wish the existing 12 step programs were not so narrow in their focus, because the whole world needs to be working on recovery. 12 steps is not the only way, and even these programs have been muddied by egos, but it’s a start.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your comment. I totally agree with your sentiment about addictions going so much deeper than simply substances and I also think that we live in a society that encourages and fosters addiction and so I totally get what you say about the whole world benefiting from recovery. It’s my hope that people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves to be “addicts” start to understand how pervasive addiction is in our society and seek any help they might need in order to experience the joy and peace I and so many others have from the recovery process.

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  5. I found it hard to read this and think of you, you are the person I always wanted to be as strong as and have as much confidence as, I have so much respect for you, love always, P x

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    • Hi P, thanks so much for your comment, your love and your support, it means so much x

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  6. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You described my husband to a T. I’m going to show this story to him. Don’t know if he’ll be open enough to see himself, but it’s worth a try.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your story. I am beginning the recovery process–working the 12 step AA program. It is requiring me to do as you mentioned and change all my ways of coping in unhealthy manners. I am taking stock of my part in the pain that I have experienced. Hitting “rock bottom” was a difficult thing, but it was the only way that I was going to get better and begin to recover. I hope to one day be able to say with confidence that this was the best thing that ever happened to me. My support network, others in recovery and even the AA Big Book assure me that if I faithfully adhere to the program serenity and joy will be the fruits that are produced. Thank you again for sharing your story–it encouraged me!

    Reply
    • Hi Lora, thank you so much for sharing your story, I’m so happy that you have found this process and I firmly believe that if you persevere with recovery, you’ll find the same serenity and joy that I have found, it’s there for each of us.

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  8. I have a similar story. Except for the “healthiest people you’ll ever meet” part. AA is where I found (in several instances, years apart) the sickest people who preyed on not only me, but others. I guess it depends on the strength of the group, because I have also found some healthy people (certainly not as many sickos). I’m not happy to be an addict. I would change most of it. If I could go back in time and see where my past abuse was on the brink of colliding with my self destruction phase, I would have sought help then and there. Life would be so very different today. The funny thing to me is that we are all labeled and pressed into cookie cutters. There is not a blanket of truth and there is not a certain formula for the addict. It all has to do with our brains. Once an addictive substance is introduced, it is hard to let go. Take a look at sugar. Most Americans are addicted to it. If the day should occur that sugar would be banned across the World, we would see some havoc and the true nature of addiction. Ok, now I’m rambling.

    Thank you for your post. I love the Change Blog! Thanks for popping up in my email!

    Reply
    • Hi Michelle, sorry to hear that 12-step recovery hasn’t been all positive for you, I agree that it depends on the group and also I was in CODA rather than AA and so there may also be differences there. I hear you regarding the cookie cutter approach and blanket of truth, I often try to define exactly how I recovered from my addictions and there are so many elements that it would be impossible to replicate and completely useless anyhow because we are all individuals with totally unique stories. I think the problem of addiction is, as you say, very widespread, we often think of hardcore substances when sugar is a prime example of an addiction that adversely affects are health and reduces our lifespan, but most people would never look at it as an addiction and so don’t seek the help they need to transform. Thank you for your thought-provoking comment!

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    • Thanks Vera and thank you for sharing your beautiful story, I absolutely love your post and totally believe that learning to love myself has been the best thing that has ever happened to me and the ultimate cure to my destructive and self-sabotaging behaviours so it was lovely to read your similar findings.

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  9. Love it Caroline. You’re such a brave soul. Thanks for sharing your journey with us all.

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    • Thank you Greg! And thank you for reading :)

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  10. Don’t know what to say… you’re fabulous my friend. Never change. You remain a source of inspiration for me. xx

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    • Thank you Ross for your unwavering support and encouragement, it means ever such a lot to me! x

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  11. Thanks for sharing your personal journey Caroline. You’re a great example of our endless potential as humans beings when we put the work in. x

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    • Hi Elles, thanks so much for your comment – I love the idea of “our endless potential as human beings” what a comforting thought! x

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  12. Dear Caroline
    I have been longing to hear a good friend telling me about the the vices that grip our progress.
    I move away from smoking addiction like biblical Moses facing the burning bush.Now i m currently
    volunteering with an NGO,maneuvering the path for others that…it is possible to come out of it and be free …some of these addiction you just have to be angry and say …enough its enough ..no more yoke of a vice….other wise trouble addiction with new habits..thanks for your story ..i l follow.

    Reply
    • Hi Mabhuchi, thanks so much for your comment and congratulations on giving up smoking. It can be one of the hardest addictions to overcome in my experience. I totally agree that sometimes we have to get serious with our addictions and I love what you say about troubling them with new habits. Thanks for sharing!

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  13. Enjoyed this vulnerable post, Caroline, and loved the JK Rowling quote which I can 100 % resonate with. And isn’t it amazing how much being down and out can really help transform our life. People in recovery and people who have hit rock bottom have the opportunity to learn the tools to help us turn it around. We learn how to be healthier, learn new habits and look for ways to constantly self-improve. I’m also grateful for my journey of coming back from difficult situations. And grateful to be inspired like people like yourself who remind us that it’s possible:)

    Reply
    • Hi Vishnu, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I too have always been fascinated by the way that adversity can so often propel us to greater things. It’s following the struggle that so often we find the light. I think it’s one of the beautiful paradoxes of life and a reminder that for me that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. I’m so glad to hear that this post resonates with you. I find myself inspired often by your work! :)

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  14. Hi Caroline, yes my story is a little like yours, except all this time I have been telling myself that I just have an addictive personality, not realising that we are all susceptible to this. I have resolved the majority of my addictions, and nowam more in control.

    I went through a very rough patch when a teenager. Finding that the attention I had been getting was actually sexual abuse, this came from several family members. I also had other things happening and next thing you know, I’m smoking drinking and taking on relationships with whoever, and whenever and it wasn’t pretty. In amongst that I think my body and mind had had enough and I became epileptic for a period of 4-5 years. I was being hospitalised and medication changing all the time because nothing seemed to work, at a final stage I was put into psychiatric care and was to be left there!

    I was told I could never be in my own again – ever, not be able to drive and to be classified as disabled! Anyhow, all that has been sorted and dealt with, I have no medication I don’t smoke and rarely drink and I’m not a nymphomaniac nor am I under any psychiatric care. The process was I long haul but I did it. When I look back at how I was, I am not impressed with myself. But now I have pulled through it I wonder why others can’t? I mean if I can get through that any one can.
    “The rest of my life is the best of my life”.

    Reply
    • Hi Sharon, thank you so much for sharing your incredible story and congratulations for turning your life around so beautifully. It’s my hope that stories like mine and yours will help others to undergo a similar transformation so again thank you so much for sharing!

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  15. This is a well thought out and written blog. Probably one of the best I’ve read so far on this site.

    I’ve had so many similar experiences to you, addiction to people, trying to find love, covering up my hurt from one relationship with another. And, the more I did that, the more I found myself drinking & using such heavy illegal drugs at much larger quantities.

    For 10 years I was a stimulate addict, and thought that it use to help me deal with my issues because they would play in my mind over and over again, slowly becoming less real than what they actually were, and then becoming delusional of the situations all together.

    For many more years, I labelled myself as the ‘victim’ of such things as bullying, sexual abuse, and being taken advantage of. Just, now I’m slowly becoming a different person, trying to face my issues head on, forgive those who I placed blame on (as placing blame on someone else makes them feel heavy and confused), speaking out more and being aware of what is really happening within me and around me.

    It has taken lots of courage to get to where I am today, but it couldn’t have been done without a concern friend sitting me down and having a very stern talk with me saying basically, that I need to wake up to what I’m doing to myself.

    I sometimes relapse from time to time, but every time, I pick myself back up, look back on where I allowed myself to relapse, what excuse I gave myself so I then I can see it when it arises again in the future and stop it in its tracks.

    Now days, I’m so thankful for my many years of darkness as I wouldn’t be the person that I am right now and continue to grow in to… And, I’m watching my journey as I go along and see how beautiful it is… even in the tough times!

    Reply
    • Hi Lucie, thanks so much for your positive feedback, I really appreciate it. Thank you also for being so open about your story and experiences with addiction and recovery – I’m glad you mentioned the relapsing because that happens to us all and it’s the getting back up that really counts. How wonderful that you can now see the beauty of your journey, that’s exactly how I feel. All the best for the future!

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  16. Hi Caroline,
    An inspiring tale.

    I do have a slightly different take though. I too have quit alcohol and nicotine after it almost ruined me. I am still clean. But sometimes, I feel that the real victory is being able to do something in moderation without it taking over your life. I am unable to do that. In a former life, i overdid alcohol and nicotine; today I am overdoing work and food. One craving substituted by another. I know I will never touch booze and cigarettes. But am I deaddicted? No. because at heart I am still an addict. I’ve just replaced the addiction.

    The day I am able to achieve real detachment from overdoing any particular activity, that is the day I can proclaim that I am no longer an addict.

    Having said that, I congratulate you on your journey back to life from rock-bottom and wish you all the very best of luck for your future ahead.

    Reply
    • Hi Virag, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I too, like you, still consider myself an addict, even though I have quit my vices, because I still have to look out for the ways in which I can overdo things like work and food. For me I guess the thing is that in finding the courage to quit my vices, I feel I’ve grown in so many other ways, finding peace and spirituality along the way for example. I honestly believe that had I never had to face addiction, I wouldn’t be as happy and fulfilled as I am now, so for this reason alone, I would choose my journey with addiction over an ability to be moderate any day of the week. Despite this I can totally appreciate where you are coming from and I too wish you all the best in your future!

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  17. I felt deeply touched by your words Caroline.
    When I was in my twenties I also struggle with different addictions in a society who doesn’t want to talk or heard about it, and with friendships who think that this is more than acceptable, they thought that was the normal way to live!?!.
    Now reading your words and looking back I realize how crazy and not right at all it was that.
    How difficult is to deal with the fact that you feel something is not right in your life, and the people that you are surrounded by, think that you are crazy because the “social drinker” is more than accepted, is the right way to be.
    I wish someone will find in your words the wisdom to see the world that is waiting for them out of that place, because life is really amazing out there.

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  18. Hi Joan, thanks so much for your lovely comment. You make a brilliant point when you say how normal society deems so many damaging and addictive behaviours like social drinking and how difficult this can make it for people to change. I totally agree, life IS amazing, thank you! :)

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  19. Thank you for sharing your story & being brave enough to tell your truth without shame. It’s shame that keeps too many addicts in isolation & self-loathing mode.
    I’m an ACOA, recovering addict w/ 9 yrs of clean time, & a psychotherapist working with many w/ various addictions. I feel grateful every day for this disease; as much as I despise it. Without it, I’m not sure I would’ve ever faced what lay beneath my using, found tools through the 12 steps to sit w/ feelings & get through the get through of life, stopped judging myself harshly & never feeling worthy enough, & being able to match my insides to my outsides.
    As I always tell my clients, we don’t have a drug or alcohol problem, we have a living problem; we use substances to cope w/ living. The 12 steps are a great way for everyone to live their lives & my gratitude for truth-tellers such as yourself, abounds.

    Reply
    • Hi Lise, thank you so much for lovely comment. I totally agree that it is shame that can keep people locked in a cycle of addiction. You describe pretty much how I feel about my own journey with addiction, I’m so grateful you took the time to share.

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