A Personal Journey Through Addiction & Mental Health

addiction mental health story six

Part Six

10-minute read time.

For most of my life, if not for my entire life up to this recovery journey, everything was for, and about…me. Me, me, and more me. That was it. No matter what, I always thought of what I could get out of situations, how I would benefit, what I would be owed, and how I would feel. It was a rare occurrence that I would actually bring the thoughts, feelings, or opinions of others into the equation. If I didn’t benefit, I wanted no part of it. I was selfish as hell, but never realized how selfish I was, or how that selfishness affected others. 

Truth be told, I was oblivious to the depth and weight of living this way. I thought this was normal human behaviour, and that life was “me against the world” in every regard. It is no wonder I started and continued to live based on a “better than” or “less than” axis. When we see ourselves at the centre of the world, of course we gauge each experience and interaction from that point of view. We have to see where we benefit, or where we don’t, and why. Then we adjust, make sure we accommodate for the next time, and move forward. That is how I navigated life. 

It wasn’t that I did not care about how others felt, I did, I just never took the time to see things from their perspective. I would assume I knew best and either made some justification for why I needed to do what I did, minimized what happened or was going to happen, deny that it happened at all, or blame something or someone else. As long as I won, felt good, or got what I wanted, I could roll the consequences off my back and move on. 

No wonder I never felt true connection with most of the people in my life! I was always so damn focused on myself that I didn’t have the capability to truly connect with others. I never allowed myself to be vulnerable with people because I was always worried that the vulnerabilities would be used against me in the future. Needless to say, I felt alone in this world, and very “different”. 

Turns out that the difference I felt from those around me came from within. When we are so selfish in our words, thoughts, and actions, we separate ourselves from the connectedness and humanness of others. We don’t see each other as imperfect individuals all trying to make the best of our lives, together. There is no faith in something bigger than us, and feel we the need to control everything possible in order for us to get our way. We, and only we, are the beginning and the end of everything that happens to us, so we better manipulate and figure out how to get what we want. It wasn’t until I entered into recovery, and specifically the 12 Step fellowships, that I began to look at, and notice, the complete self-centredness of my being. 

The 12 Steps

First off I will say that I know that there are many avenues for recovery, and each individual is responsible for finding what recovery means and looks like to them, but a foundational piece of my recovery was, and continues to be, the 12 Step program. I understand that it does not work for some people, and I will be the first one to say that that is okay, but there is something in them for me that is unparalleled. 

My first rodeo with the 12 Step meetings was back when I was 25 years old. I used them as a way to get people off my back. As long as I could say “I’m going to ___”, the pressure from everyone would subside. I would come home with the monthly sobriety chips, and all would be well. Mission accomplished. 

Truth is, I could never get past the word “God” – a word that is peppered throughout the literature and on the walls. The meetings themselves take place in church halls or basements, and everything screamed “cult” or religious society. It was off-putting for an egotistic and self-centred person like me. I wasn’t “that bad”. “Those people may need a place like this, but I certainly don’t.”” Look at the success in my life, clearly I know what I am doing.” I didn’t need God – I WAS God. I lasted a whopping 3 months, and didn’t go back for 5 years. Needless to say, I also continued to relapse.

I walked back into the rooms at the age of 30. The only reason I went back was because I was forced to by the treatment centre I attending. I was apprehensive at first, but had the pleasure of being surrounded by some incredible people that attended them with me, and taught me about them.

Four nights per week we went to these meetings. They were quite enjoyable because these meetings were the few times we got to leave the treatment centre and interact with other folks in the community. Over time, they started to grow on me, and I began to drop the walls of contempt. 

When you really look, the 12 Steps are quite simple. They are a therapeutic process, just like you get at a psychologists, written by a group of people in the 1930’s. Yes, the language from its texts can be hard to decipher sometimes, but I personally love the old school feel of them. They cut straight to the point – no bullshit, no pussyfooting around. This is what you have to do, this is why, and this is how. That’s it. Plain, simple, methodical – but difficult. 

In very simple terms – 

  • admit absolutely that whatever substance or behaviour you are addicted to has you in a spot in which you cannot manage and need assistance; 
  • have faith that something outside of yourself can help you with this problem (because clearly we have not been able to help ourselves out of it); 
  • reach out for help when you need help; 
  • sort through your past and discuss all the trauma, chaos, resentment, and damage that has accumulated within. You do this with another person of your choosing (sponsor); 
  • see what attitudes, beliefs, and attributes you have that are keeping you stuck; 
  • change your way of being, and fix the things you have broken; 
  • continue to look at your thoughts, actions and words, and make corrections when necessary; 
  • practice mindfulness and stillness to stay spiritually balanced and present; 
  • and finally, get outside of yourself and help others. 

Mind you, there is more to them than this, but, in a very short and brief summary, this is what the 12 Steps are all about (I will be writing about each individual step next). If you have ever been to therapy, your sessions will look more or less like this. It isn’t so scary when you see them through that lens. 

I was explained this same thing once, and that is why I wanted to share it here. In the beginning, I was so caught up in the language and the religious connotation of it all I could not see past it. That was my excuse to not go any further. 

Fellowship

Over time, as I gained respect for the Steps and for the community, I understood its power more and more. Being surrounded by a group of people that are all in the same boat as me makes me feel like I am not so unique. In addiction, we are isolated, disconnected, and stuck in our heads. In the rooms of a fellowship, it is the complete opposite. We talk about what happened, how it happened, and the painful emotions that come with those events, but most importantly, we share the solutions to these problems, and how to live a better life. 

In the rooms it’s not about how much money you have, the clothes you are wearing, the car you drive, the successful career you have built. That stuff means literally nothing. It’s not about how beautiful your partner is, how many likes you have on Instagram, or how many friends you have. Age, race, and class are practically non-existent. The only thing people care about is what you are struggling with today, and what we (not I) are going to do about it.

It’s about keeping an open-mind, being honest, showing humility, and having an unwavering willingness to help wherever you can. Show up and share your experience, in hopes of helping someone else who might be facing the same challenge. It’s about being of service to our fellow human and trying to make the community a better place, one day at a time. 

It goes without saying that the continued management of my addiction has been heavily influenced by active participation in my recovery. The 12 Steps are a large piece of that, and one I look forward to continuing for my lifetime.

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