Imagine the Colorado River, slowly carving what we know as the Grand Canyon into the desert of the Southeastern United States. The cliffs of the Canyon being so dangerous and steep. I was with my brother and we had quite a scare one year at the Grand Canyon, but that is a different story. Let’s just say I fell into the Canyon and I wanted to get out. Now imagine the river is heroin addiction flowing through my brain and the canyon is literally forming, deeper and deeper and longer and longer in my brain. The more we use drugs the deeper and steeper the canyon gets which is why addiction is a progressive disease. The drugs really make these tracks on our brains, as we make tracks on our arms. I always seemed to fall back into the same using patterns and dosage amounts that I was using when I quit and that all happened pretty quickly after a relapse. It takes 6 months to a year of no drugs for the brain to start healing THE GRAND CANYON that we made with drugs in our brain. It takes about two years for the brain to really start to heal and that is only the beginning. I have to be constantly working at my recovery or my addiction might try to take advantage of that. Being deep in the canyon obviously makes fighting to get out of our addiction that much harder. When we are within our addiction it is much easier to stay down and use drugs than it is to stand up face the cliffs of our obsession.
Explaining the obsession finally came out in a way that made sense after I had been talking to some friends that I was close to from before 2008, when everything started to go really down hill, and of course they had lots of questions for me. I welcome all questions all the time of course and a lot of the time, I will get the, I don’t want to upset you or don’t get mad for asking…
I am not going to get mad, and I enjoy sharing because it helps everyone understand better, and I am learning more about myself everyday so it is just all about growth. But in trying to verbalize the overwhelmingness of the obsession I realised that it was harder than I thought to explain. Imagine waking up everyday and having only One thing on your mind. Being focused on something like lunch during your work day is not what I am talking about. This One thing doesn’t allow anyone or anything to come before it. Until we take care of that one thing, we pretty much are useless. Won’t be able to think about anything else, do anything else, care about anything else, until that one thing is taken care of. I explained to my friend why it was impossible to make plans, or commit to doing anything because how can I plan a day if I have no idea when or even if I will be able to take care of this one thing. Sometimes I might have spent all day taking care of that one thing just for it not to be good enough to tame it fully. This one thing did not take any days off, it didn’t care if we had school, had to work, a birthday, christmas, it took no days off. The stress of trying to hide this One thing plus control leads us back to it anyway so it really becomes an everyday all day cycle because even if the one thing is handled intermittently the next day is still right around the corner and there is no stopping it or delaying it. That One thing is our obsession with our drug of choice. Our obsession was never satisfied even after we thought we satisfied it and it was an everyday cycle and explaining how the obsession works is the hardest part because people can’t grasp the concept of just having one thing on your mind, life actually one, not a fake, all I can think about is tacos. Type shit. We are not the same.
Going back to the Grand Canyon analogy which is actually pretty great because while using the concept of the steep cliffs and visual presence that it brings, it shows the complexity it takes for us to battle our addiction. Then to add to the analogy, imagine the heroin river of addiction is meandering through our lives while the river hits rapids and rough waters and there is no way we are going to get clean while we are battling the addiction, trying to hide the addiction, and dealing with life. Then lets say, we even get a break from life for a few minutes during a slow part of the river, or lets say a week in detox.
This, it would seem, would be the time to pull ourselves up away from the river and back to the top of the canyon. Easier said than done because after 18 years of drinking, drugging and hard drugging, my Canyon was almost at the Point Of No Return. Having the time after detox, our break from the river, really did nothing for the long term issues that our brains deal with after being wired around drugs for too long. Everyone expects that we are just fixed all of a sudden because we have been separated from the drugs for a week, or two, or a month.
Literally even if we are able to get a week to go to detox, as soon as we are done we are expected to go right back to our lives and just have a group meeting and that is supposed to fix everything. Not only has the drug created this Canyon in our brains so deep that its seemingly impossible to get out of, we have to deal with the continuous stressors of life as well as imagine along the edge of the cliffs are all of our triggers and as we close in on maybe making some progress in getting out of the canyon, these triggers keep hitting us in the face as we are trying to find our way out.
Fresh off of detox my main triggers that would get me to use would be:
- People not believing that I am actually clean
- Accused of using or being high
- Being Berated for my previous behavior
- Triggers can be any, PEOPLE, PLACEs, or THINGS
- Guilt and Shame after 2012 for what happened to MJ (read “Pink Diary)
- If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem
- “It’s not personal, its business.” (Listen to Episode 6)
Those really were some of the easiest excuses to use. My main trigger was always there, the obsession, though no matter what I did it doesn’t go away until it is either fed or lifted. Triggers are different for everyone. The obsession is very much the same. It is the basis for the canyon analogy, the obsession that our brains put on these drugs is unreal and the obsession is so overwhelming and powerful that no other thoughts can even enter our minds, and it is even irritating to think about something else and until we take care of the obsession by using. We literally drive ourselves insane because we do not want to do more drugs but the only thing that will shut off our obsessed brain is the drugs.
Having a drug obsessed brain is like needing something to drink when you are thirsty. Cant talk, dry mouth, lips sticking to your teeth, thirsty. But while your brain and thoughts are all about fixing your thirst issue. The solution you are told by everyone around you is to start telling yourself you aren’t thirsty. How ridiculous does that sound and instead of having a group of people keeping you in your Canyon, you need a group of people ready to pull you out. Right before you drink something after you work out next time. Dont. Just mess with the obsession for a little bit. Imagine. Being so thirsty and trying to talk yourself out of it. This is what it is like for us when we are struggling with our addiction and we are newly off drugs.
In the grand scheme of healing and treatment, we have to stop looking at drug treatment like a bandaid that is just a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Well addiction is not a temporary problem and a bandaid is not going to be enough. Addiction is a life threatening disease, we did not choose to become drug addicted human beings, we may have chosen to try drugs, but we never chose to live this life. That is where education needs to be implemented. Not one of my friends who struggles with drugs ever thought this would be their lives. We all have different stories for what leads us to using drugs. The reasons that we all kept using drugs, that reason is much more universal. Self Esteem.
Spending days and weeks sick in contemplation mode knowing what the right thing to do is but knowing the wrong way is easier. Getting clean from the drugs was hardly the main issue, I could stop using and I would make myself suffer through detox for a few days just to relapse after a few days clean because I literally was going insane from the obsession for heroin that my brain had. The obsession does not just lift because the drugs have been removed from our lives for a few days. The mental strain that these drugs put on the human brain is so detrimental to how we function on a day to day basis. Being “clean” from the drugs for a little while is not enough to heal our brains and the drug obsession is real.
Some times, I would be completely out of the physical sickness stage and be on the other side of the intense withdrawal but the obsession would be just overwhelming.I have gotten “clean” so many times that I actually have no clue how many times that I got clean from the drugs for a f. Getting clean was never really the hard part. I would force myself to detox for a few days just randomly and I would be completely useless for a few days but I would at least be off the drugs for a few days. It was such an obsession though in my mind and my thoughts were only focused on one thing so even after a few days of not using opiates, the obsession would just get greater and greater. Anyone who has ever been obsessed with anything knows that it is so hard to shut off the obsession. There were days that I just submitted to my addiction and that would go on for weeks or months at a time without even a thought of quitting. I keep trying to think of a good analogy for why it is so hard to stay clean from drugs once we do get a few days or even weeks clean.
Everyone looked at me like I was a failure or that I was not really trying because in their minds it should have been much easier to get clean than it has been. It literally took me 12 years of trying and failing to finally figure out a treatment plan that worked for me. I still have to work at my recovery everyday and I am always going to have to do that and that is ok with me. I really enjoy sharing my story to create awareness and I hope my transparency really helps others.
If we put half as much energy into our recovery as we did our addictions, there is no reason we can’t be successful. We used to jokingly say this but not it really could not be more true. It is common for people who struggle with addiction to have about average IQ but also have mental illness or childhood trauma/ abandonment issues that lead to their drug use. Take the drugs away and remove the obsession and there really is unlimited potential there.
I wish I had an exact timetable for when the obsession lifts or what makes that voice in our heads stop shouting that it needs drugs. For some people it happens quickly. I was not one of them, even when I had 16 months clean when my son was born, I still had reservations about using drugs. I always wanted to keep the option open to use if I ever needed to. It is never an option ever again but for 13 years it was the only way that I knew how to cope or deal with anything. The obsession has been lifted and now I use so many different coping mechanisms and process and handling things so much different and I am still continuing to grow that way.
It really is just a one track, one focus obsession and I would say that I would not wish being dope sick on even my worst enemy. But I would put myself through it every single day. It really does not make sense when I was able to step away from it all. The self destructive and high risk behavior occurs because I didn’t value myself. It is time to really embrace my life and fulfill my potential. Trying to explain the obsession of drugs has been one of the harder topics for me to explain. I hope anyone that is trying to understand why their loved one just can’t stop using drugs reads this and it helps them understand what we are going through. We do not want to be this way, but the longer we do damage to our spirit, body and mind with drugs, the deeper and stronger the obsession becomes and therefore harder to stop. Everyone is different but we no matter what treatment plan we choose for ourselves, a support group is a must. With the pandemic and the way some groups made me feel, I created a group online that anyone can be a part of to ask questions or get support whether it is for them or for a loved one who struggles with addiction. Someone is always available to talk from all over the world. We are in this together, and together. WE can destroy the stigma.
If you aren’t already a member check out the Facebook Group SoberSteveRecovery Or visit us on Instagram or watch my YouTube Channel. Please also check out the SoberSteveRecovery Podcast anywhere you listen to your Podcasts.