Monday, February 27, 2012

Series: Addiction: Addict Versus Person

One of the most misunderstandings about an addict is the misconception that they are the same person. They are not. When you become an addict, you become two separate entities. One half of you is the same person you always were; the other half is the thing of nightmares. It is on this point where I agree that addiction becomes a mental disease; it is recognized as such and has been for some time. I am not here to argue or question the legitimacy of that recognition however and will leave that for others to discuss. I will tell you what I know; from experience.

When I first became an addict, I didn't know I was an addict. Worst than not knowing I was an addict was not truly knowing what an addict was. My preconception of homelessness and beggars was perhaps a contributing factor into my downward spiral; it provided ignorance. I cannot stress this enough, you do not need to be poor or homeless or downtrodden to be an addict; nor do you always end up there. Make no mistake, addiction is not an environmental condition, it is one of mental and emotional stresses that can arise from any situation depending on the individual. It is as a result of these stresses that provide opportunity, or even cause you to seek it, to become an addict. As of now, you are two people.

When you have a split personality, and make no mistake that is the only way to understand it if you have never been an addict; period. Make a note of that medical community. When I was in the deepest and darkest stage of my addiction, my addiction to crack, I would literally have conscious battles with my two selves. My true self of logic and rationality would try so hard to convince me of what I was doing but no matter how strong the reasoning or how valid the argument it was never any match to the addict who craved his escape. My own mental voice arguing with itself; because addiction is insanity.

When I was without my addiction, the times when I had drugs and alcohol, I was as much my true self externally as I could be. Addicts are the world's greatest actors and the world's greatest liars; until they've given up. Then they become as transparent as the wind; sadly most of those who really care for the person will be blind to what has just happened. They will continue to support and enable. We'll talk about that in another post as it is of the utmost importance to understand the people who suffer from addiction by proxy. When hope is lost the addict has become the dominant personality and the true self is but a tiny whisper of a voice, barely audible.

I have two sets of memories from that time in my life. Two different perspectives for everything I did and everything I went through. I can remember feeling arrogant and clever from smooth talking a drunken bar patron out of 40 dollars. I can remember an intense feeling of guilt and shame at the same time. It is a strange feeling, especially in retrospect, to be aware of two consciousnesses within one mind yet I swear to you today that that is how it truly is. 

The Old John
As John the Addict I was very prone to being a terrible example of a human being. I will refrain from identifying particular situations or events. Unfortunately there are some wrongs that are still trying to be righted and I live every day to do so. I can tell you quite honestly and brutally that I lied, manipulated, cheated, stole and misled some of the dearest people in the world to me and some of whom I don't even know there names which makes it all the worst. It is a guilt that I deal with internally and I am unsure exactly how, when or if I will ever truly come to terms with it. That guilt, that shame brings up the thing that anyone who has never been an addict can never truly understand no matter how deeply their empathy is rooted; though I am happy to report that there are some who are able to get very close (thanks to the staff from Addiction Services, 2nd Floor, Yarmouth Hospital).

That notion of guilt and shame is what the addict feeds on. Your true self comes to realize too late the recognition of being an addict; however the fear and embarrassment from the guilt and the shame give the addict strength over your true self. It dominates you and the fear becomes so great that your true self cries itself to sleep at night; your true self prays to God for mercy in death; your true self screams for help but is muzzled by the addict; your true self...starts to die.

My saving grace. That miracle of the universe which saved my true self almost killed us both. I have paid dearly and costly for that night. Though I have dealt with the guilt and shame of the incident long ago, it seems that the world has not yet decided to forgive me. On a late night in March, just after midnight, alone in my parents car and under the influence I lost consciousness and drove head on into a telephone pole. No other property was damaged; no other person was hurt. I do not question it, I am only thankful. Before we continue, to give you a little more insight, when I regained consciousness I saw police lights flashing and tried to start the car to drive away completely unaware my front end was wrapped around a pole. 

I have paid for that, but I would gladly have paid more for what I gained. That night I lost many things: I lost my license, I lost the trust of my family, I would later lose a job opportunity, I lost money, I lost a clean criminal record (there are two DUI charges on the books, one is a criminal offense and one is not;I am unsure of the reason for picking one over the other) and though all those things are things I have regained, re-payed or re-earned that which I lost that I am most thankful for was my fear. Somewhere in between the ambulance ride and the police ride from the hospital to the jail, my true self used the situation and exploited it the way my addict self had been exploited those around me.

That incident despite having ongoing consequences (a DUI on my permanent record), I am more grateful for that moment than you might be able to rationalize. When my true self was able to use that moment of confusion and regain control it provided perhaps the last opportunity I might have to be that one, individual person again (I had already been through the detox program once at this stage).

I was fortunate; far beyond most. I found the personal strength I needed and used the strength from my support network of family, friends, the wonderful staff from the clinic and the meetings I attended for some time after. I am blessed because I have survived what I have seen some literally die from. I am aware of this and I do not take myself nor those in life for granted at any time. Understand that my recovery, as successful as it has been is always ongoing. When your mind is stressed and taxed to the point that you literally are dealing with a second person (at least in the mind) you cannot undo that. You can control it to the point where it becomes but just the occasional, tiniest, incomprehensible garble of jargon in the recesses of your mind but it will always remain. It will even escape for brief moments and it is in those moments you are truly tested. It has been some time since I have been truly tested, but I remain ever vigilant.

Though I confess that three or four times through the year I do indulge with family or friends in some alcoholic drinks. I am aware of the danger of this and so are they. Though I feel in control during those times and can generally remain such, I would never dare do it without them on the off chance I lost control. Make no mistake, John the Addict is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole. I am determined to never endure what I put myself and others through ever; my story is to help those that are or those that are by proxy.

I have stated previously that I have dealt with my skeletons. I fear not the judgement of others because I have found forgiveness in the eyes of those I wronged and I have almost come to completely forgive myself. My errors are my own and I hide nothing. John the Addict is not John the Person.

High School Graduation - Age 26
John the Person is someone you would like to know. He is someone who can listen to what you are saying with an understanding and open-mind. John the Person is honest, even when it's going to hurt but does so with empathy and compassion to help you understand. John the Person is a unique and interesting individual who believes in the power of positivity and hope. John the Person is someone that will accept you in spite of any failures and shortcomings you may feel you have because he has understood his own. John the Person has come to understand that there is something to be learned from all people; that there is not only a second side to every story but as many stories as there are people involved. John the Person almost killed himself once; now he knows how to live.

I hope you have gained some helpful insight into the difference between the person and the addict. Most people, addicts and non-addicts, can never learn to separate the two; but they are two separate people, two separate personalities. To say that an addict is helpless is a static truth, it depends how deep into insanity they have traveled. This is very difficult to understand I'm sure and I assure you that I am quite sane (I've always been eccentric which is much different than crazy) but if you are an addict reading this; if you are an addict by proxy (someone suffering because of someone's addiction; again that will be its own post); or if you know someone that is you must realize this reality of addiction if you ever wish to help or get help. You must also realize this if you are seeking forgiveness or trying to give it.