A near death experience will humble you.
I didn’t choose to overdose. I simply ingested the amount of drugs I thought would sufficiently anesthetize me from the emotions I was feeling in the moment.
I spent four days in the hospital. Multiple doctors asked me afterward if I had done it on purpose, if I was having suicidal thoughts. I assured them all I did not, because it was true. I had a chance to bounce back, but I kept on drinking and using as soon as I had been released. I had no respect for the chemicals I was putting in my body. I had no inkling of how close I’d come to death’s door. I didn’t care.
My experience of alcohol, drugs, misuse, abuse, addiction and physical dependence has always revolved around catastrophe and desperation. An innocent good time gone horribly wrong. A party at one person’s house suddenly transformed into a 3-day vacation from life resulting in panic and chaos afterwards. And no matter how bad things got, a complete unwillingness to stop. There were no in-betweens or burning bush experiences for me. I rocked it until the wheels fell off and kept going.
By contrast, sobriety seems to be the new “movement du jour” these days – and I welcome it. What I don’t welcome is the blanket assertion of some within the movement that because they chose to stop (as in, their biology had not yet betrayed them), everyone should be able to do likewise. You are powerful! Simply follow my 5 step plan to a new you!
It’s classic human nature. Experience X was like this for me, therefore it must be like this for everyone else. In the context of recovery, I’ve seen 12-steppers do it to newcomers, saying things like “you may as well just go get drunk right now if you don’t follow this program!” A sort-of twisted reverse psychology wrapped in a backhanded insult that suggests their own way of life is threatened. New school sobriety’s response is just equal and opposite.
And there is no middle ground. You are either utterly desperate and destitute and you better do work (or else), or you’re an appropriately dressed uptown someone who found enlightenment and walked away from “Substance D” cold turkey.
Being of sound mind and body at last, I get it. I feel like the sky is the limit some days and love the life I have today. But I also remember that at one point in time I had become a slave to the brutal changes I’d wrought in my own biology. Addiction is biological. Once your midbrain is hijacked to the point where self-preservation is disregarded, you are no longer in control. You are not powerful. It’s terrifying to me to think of it, and has made me cautious in a way that I’ve never been.
I did not simply wake up one morning and say to my mirror image, “Dear god these bags under my eyes make me look ten years older.” I didn’t roll over in bed and realize I was hungover (again) and say “Goddamn it, I’m late for work. Time for a change!” Being a musician and DJ certainly didn’t help. You’re surrounded constantly by enablers of all kinds.
Some people were able to do that, however – stop themselves before it was too late and right the ship. I hold no resentment toward such people, and wish I could’ve been one of them. In meetings, they are derogatorily referred to as “high-bottom addicts.” A kind of caste system within recovery. The new school sobriety movement adds yet another caste, one that seemingly looks down on anyone who applies the word “recovery” or “sobriety” to themselves – simply because they’d been able to hold onto their dignity and some of their social status after giving up their vices.
We desperately want to keep up appearances in this country. Our clothes must be “fabulous” – not so dressy that we appear uptight (“Today was a jeans and t-shirt day!”), not so casual that we couldn’t run the board meeting. Thanks to the democratization of technology, our selfies can and must be flawless. But not too flawless. Sterile like a pharmaceutical commercial but not so much that you can’t have a slight inkling of hipster chic. I’m edgy, dammit! *Snap!* Lord knows the power of dysfunction and codependence in American families have long lent themselves to secrecy and denial.
But addiction – the kind I dealt with in my own life – is messy. It is ugly and hard to Photoshop away, especially when you pass out drunk standing at a bus stop (this guy). For its part, the recovery community does itself no favors by forcing the “school of hard knocks” approach, an outdated idea of anonymity as social bullwark, and a rejection of 80 years of scientific method. As long as we continue to shoegaze, we’ll continue suffering from terminal uniqueness and miss the world turning.
When I was living in an Oxford House my first few months in recovery, I came home one day and began to pontificate on all my difficulties as newcomers sometimes do. Somewhere in the discussion I referred to myself as a “hard luck case,” which a housemate took issue with. “Jon G,” he said, “you a good dude, and I know that you been through some pretty bad shit from your view. But you ain’t no hard-luck case. I’ve seen hard luck cases, people with nothing, people running in the streets with no clothes and no food. You ain’t no hard-luck case.” So even my experience wasn’t the be-all end-all of rock-bottom. I had unconsciously created a caste for myself, and was judging everyone I thought was beneath me. It was a hard pill to swallow.
Addiction is a broad spectrum, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. For me, addiction will always be a desperate matter. My behavior took me to extremes that by any metric were beyond the pale. Quantifiably, measurably, there will never be a good justification for me to put drugs and alcohol in my body again. Sure, it’s still technically a “choice” for me to do so – in the way that it’s a “choice” for me to drive my car off a bridge.
Some people had a choice in when they gave up their vices. But having a choice doesn’t mean you have power. True power is knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and then honestly building on that framework. True power is also being humbled enough to understand that judging someone else’s experience through the lens of your own is futile.