Between the stunted mental and emotional growth of early-age substance abuse and the general naiveness of the world around me, these were some hard lessons to learn in active addiction.
1. Not Everyone Thinks and Behaves as You Do
One of the dumbest rationalizations I made while getting high with other people with substance abuse disorders was that they wouldn’t steal from me because I didn’t steal. Well, let me tell you. They stole everything from me, right down to my underwear.
It was a difficult lesson. I remember having a complete feeling of shock course throughout my body when I returned to the flop house I was in and discovered all my belongings were gone. My heart sped up, and my brain raced rampantly with dismay.
At this point in my active addiction, I managed to get a job at Denny’s (don’t ask me how) and had paid to turn the water on and a month of rent. My naiveness believed this earned me the respect of not coming home after work to an empty room. I was wrong. My trust and faith in people have never recovered.
2. Don’t Say You’ll “Never” Do Something
Don’t even invite that attention onto yourself by speaking harsh words into existence. Don’t challenge the universe because she will step up and play, and it’s a game you want no part of, trust me.
I remember saying and believing I would “never” steal. Then, it evolved into I would “never” start stealing from someone I knew. Finally, I was pawning my dad’s tools and selling my grandmother’s diamond for much less than it was worth to tide me over for ten minutes before it was time to chase another bag.
3. Don’t Be So Quick to Judge Others
Remember what I said about not saying never? Toss in a side of judgment, and you’ll find yourself among the least of these. There are different layers to meth (clear) and heroin (dark) addiction, and judgment is part of the circle.
People who do “clear” alone don’t care for people who do “dark.” And vice versa. They accuse one group of being viler than the other regarding morality. Next, there are the “smokers” and the “shooters.”
The smokers look down on the shooters, likely to help justify their own vice as being less gruesome, despite their same destruction. Still, I remember using that silly “never” word while blowing clouds. But it was not long before I was hiding in bathrooms with a needle and spoon.
4. There’s Always Further to Fall
Oh, baby, every day is rock bottom, so stop waiting to hit the ground. If you had asked me in sobriety what my rock bottom would be, I’d answer abandoning my daughter. However, in active addiction, that was only the beginning.
Next, rock bottom was if I missed her birthday. And the “bottom” continued to be fleeting while I continued to fall farther into darkness and despair. Fortunately, my father and stepmother voluntarily cared for her, and we were reunited without legal issues after I got clean.
5. You Can Cause People the Same Pain Others Caused You
Speaking of abandonment, my mother abandoned me. It’s a horrifying reality that abuse, neglect, and abandonment cycles repeat throughout family generations. It’s tragic when it doesn’t stop with you.
After having a terrible childhood, mainly left to my own devices, between chores and abuse, you would believe I would do better by my daughter. But I didn’t. I neglected and abandoned her to chase the dragon. Addiction is a terrible disease.
Now, navigating her teen years, I hope and pray the cycle ends with her. My deepest regret is knowing the pain and confusion I caused her as a child, especially after experiencing that pain when my mother left me. The “how could I do this?” stays with you.
6. Your Story Is Too Common
One of the hardest pills to swallow in active addiction was that your story was not unique. It always started with a car accident, sports injury, or a back claim through LNI—the doctor suggested opioids to manage the pain, and the prescription writes itself.
Understanding that your story isn’t unique, while the details are your own, is a motivating mentality to overcome being the victim of your circumstances. It’s tragic unraveling the reality that so many others have experienced your traumas and shared your pain. While that was a lesson for recovery, I find it comforting here.
7. God Never Abandons You
I often felt alone in the dark corners of my addiction, but God repeatedly showed me otherwise. I remember screaming out and cursing at God as I pounded on my steering wheel, begging him to please help me hit a vein.
Can you imagine? I was so desperate not to be dope sick that I begged the Lord to help me die under the pretense of “getting well.”
I’ll never forget one night being so sick I thought I would surely die and asked Jesus to hold me. Right? I know that sounds strange and foolish to many, but I was in hell.
When you’re in withdrawal, you’ll do anything not to feel that way. It’s why your bikes and tools go missing from patios and sheds. These people are dying and desperate and, in their intoxicated minds, “trying to survive.”
Again, I cried literally and figuratively to Jesus and asked him to hold me so I could sleep. I felt a peace fall over me and somehow slept after being up for hours writhing in agony. He’s not a magic genie, but I was comforted that night.
8. Willpower Is Not Enough
The number of times I threw drugs away is unreal. I can’t even guestimate how many times I took a bottle of pills and flushed them down the toilet. My doctor prescribed opioids for over five years and continued upping my daily numbers.
Sheer willpower isn’t enough. You need a place to get clean, a support system, a sober network, and a relapse prevention plan. Returning to the who and what you know is the number one way to return to what you were doing. Find another way.
9. Opioid Withdrawals Are Hell
Look no further than the needle and spoon if you’re searching for fire and brimstone. Heroin withdrawal is hell on earth. The physical torment, mental anguish, and spiritual destruction impose a prison of your demise, and it feels inescapable.
Physically, it’s unbearable. Physical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, chills, goosebumps, sweats, bone pain, diarrhea, insomnia, muscle cramps, and spasms. The twitch every 30 seconds in my left shoulder was torture. It prevented sleep.
I’ll never forget seven days after my last shot of heroin. I woke up to my elbow involuntarily convulsing into the wall. It hurt badly with that funny bone tickle that’s not so funny. By morning, my sheets had wrapped around me like I was in the center of a tornado. And I woke up on the floor.
Mentally, you’re the worst human being on the planet. There’s no immediate forgiveness of self because the weight of what you’ve done to others only begins to settle in those echoing chambers of your mind.
Despite that heaviness, you’re mind incessantly taunts you with the thought of getting high again—just one more time.
Spiritually, the battle is brewing. The guilt, the shame, the torment of what you’ve done to yourself and others fight the devil on your shoulder, reminding you what a worthless, hollow nobody you’ve become. It’s hell, and statistically, the devil wins.
It’s a vicious cycle that repeats until you’re ready to walk through the flames.
Helpful Reading: 7 Remarkable Benefits of Prayer Journaling in Recovery
10. Recovery Is a Choice
Addiction is a disease, but recovery is a choice. And you have to choose it every day. Unfortunately, while in active addiction, I didn’t witness recovery. But I felt it in myself—the gnawing pit in my stomach and constant chatter in my head. It was either choosing life or embracing death. And I didn’t want to die.
No one else can decide for you. And the work is all yours too. Walking through the flames instead of standing at the center as they consumed me was what I chose to do. It’s painful, and it scars you. But once you make it through, the season of healing rain begins to soothe your wounds. There is still work ahead of you, but doing it sober is healing.
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This post was originally published and syndicated on Sober Healing.
Elizabeth Ervin is the owner of Sober Healing. She is a freelance writer passionate about opioid recovery and has celebrated breaking free since 09-27-2013. She advocates for mental health awareness and encourages others to embrace healing, recovery, and spirituality.