illustration of a wolf howling at a mountain

When Detox Is About Letting Go

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Eddie takes a drag, exhaling smoke from his nostrils the way a walrus might. Eddie kind of resembles a walrus. Or a bear. I’m leaning against a car beside a handlebar-moustached cane-dependent walrus who chain-smokes Marlboro Reds whilst belaying indomitable wisdom through a wheeze and cough that is loud enough to hear over his oldies coming from the car stereo. What questions do you ask a walrus?

“Have you heard the one about the wolves?”

“Wolves? What do you mean?

“OK. Hang on a second.”

He rotates his torso 45 degrees to lower the volume on his CD changer.

“A boy in a village wakes one morning and feels very strange, both happy and sad at the same time, mixed emotions of war and peace. He walks over to the other side of the village to see the medicine man. ‘Boy, why have you come to see me?’ The Shaman takes a long inhale from his pipe, waiting. ‘Shaman, I feel like I have two wolves inside of me. They are fighting. What does this mean?’ The Shaman exhales, resigning himself to his place of sage integrity within the village. ‘Boy, you have two wolves inside of you, there is no doubting that. One is the wolf of light, the other is the wolf of dark. They are fighting because they are hungry. You have to make a decision on which wolf you feed. If you starve the wolf of dark he’ll continue to gnaw at your insides as his hunger grows, but you’ll allow the wolf of light to grow into a powerful part of your spirit. Feed the wolf.”

7/2/16

My expectations, deterred away from the reality of living in the present — it was all fucked. Fucked. I would wake up in the morning, feeling all kinds of anxious, for seemingly no reason, and immediately seek self-medication as a means of escapism, to dull the anxiety, dull the pain of feeling absolute wretched emotions with the capacity to drag one down into deep, deep oblivion. No. That is not a good place to be. And I know that. With every fiber of my being. And yet, in the throes of abhorrence and avarice the tunnel vision is so deep, so fathomlessly black, that escape is out of the question. “Give up hope, all ye’ who dare to enter.”

~

It has only been three days in the program and I’ve made so many new friends; the family I’m forming here in detox and stabilization has been more than friendly, inviting of all credos, dual diagnoses and mentalities, fully cognizant of the individual crosses we have/had to bear coming into a program such as Michael’s House in the beautiful 100 degree desert heat of Palm Springs, California. Not more than 48 hours ago I was writing in agony (pun intended) and now I’m stepping off a plane in an unfamiliar place, jumping in the Intake Control and welcome wagon off into a different kind of episode, the next great… something. Everything moved fast. Or at least I was moving fast, fast, fast, unable to slow down the processes of an unquiet mind. The desert heat is the most intense I’ve felt since doing service work in Haiti’s arid clime in 2010, very similar to the nightly cool downs of Thailand that I worked in 2015. With that, I arrived at phase one of detox, peed in cups, blew breathalyzers, went through psych evals after psych evals, had dozens of blood vials drawn — once a week for four weeks, for lithium levels, is what they told me, albeit completely unnecessary and recommended testing is every three to six months — answering questions probing about my sordid past of substance abuse, manic episodes, suicide attempts, domestic violence, legal proceedings and brush-ins with the law, and of course, relationships, both successful and failed. Telling the story, my story, has been easier than expected, although anytime I lay down with my thoughts demons surge to the surface. Am I really that bad? Has it really come to this?

Even after yesterday, the day of my re-birth, I had started off the morning relatively positive, considering taking blood before sunrise, being the most popular newcomer to the detox center, meeting psychiatrists, therapists, med-doctors and nurses-in-training. The crew, my new family, even made me a card that had all the signatures, both staff and surrounding sober sallies sitting in a circle around me, filled with chicken-scratch messages of positivity, well-wishing, love, luck and sobriety for the future. That was the highlight. But the day got longer, as mid-summer days often do, and sometime after an actually halfway decent meal — my first full attempt at eating in two weeks — I crashed. All the attention had given me a retching feeling, which turned to lower realms of isolationism. Tortured. Alone. Loveless.

Am I not supposed to trust love? Or understand caring, compassion? Was it not just impassioned drinking and drugging driven by emotional irregulation, or was it self-medication, the vicious kind, that I’m unable to love myself, as much or more than others in relations, platonic, romantic, strange. A [polar] shift might look like crying or not crying when alone or in the company of said others, wearing the same shorts or same genial non-clothes day-to-day, week-to-week, occasional showering, forgetting to shave in conscious decisiveness, sleeping during the day, or as soon as I wake from dreary slumber late afternoon. What I wanted is for a star in the seventh quadrant of the outer nowhere to explode, wishing hopelessly for a release of some cosmic, dark energy that could bring my angels back to me, back into my arms. It may have not been anything I was doing, except for the actions I was not doing. These things, the letting go of angels, is an extremely frustrating, heart-breaking, maddening and what I would learn later, or might still have yet to learn, is just part of life’s great misdirect. As much as it sucks, falling up or flying down, I won’t kill myself over anyone else. Escape the pain, sure. Just for today. Let’s stop shooting ourselves in the foot; especially the right one “because we came in on the wrong one.”

7/3/16

Last night a (former) heroin addict told me I was the Buddha of Detox; a user of GHB and crystal methamphetamine told me I would change the world; a gap-toothed black woman fed me warm, forceful hugs telling me that I’m a “blessing in disguise.” From learning about alcoholics’ “pocket juice” to reaching a state of embrace, mild forms of acceptance, what some might even call “love” of a different brand, three days in a confined space with other “broken” individuals had given me some strength to stand up again. Music mindfulness, a practice I have been working on for the better part of 22 years relinquished fortitude, resilience in containing and controlling my racing, speed racer thoughts. Yes, I have been taking my meds, and no, I haven’t transcended yet to graduating out of rehab into the real world. Haven’t seen the outside world yet, actually, save for lab visits. But I do have a small fire lit in the belly of this beast, and this will burn those who cast their doubts down to the ground. I’m sure of that, at least. My fire had burnt down to embers, then coals, but at least it’s still burning.

At some determinate point in the future I’ll come to the conclusion that every day I can either grow stronger or weaker; every day the pain diminishes by a sliver, sliding off my subconscious to join the rest of the forgotten ice sheets on the thinning layers of my weeping heart. I was… I am, vulnerable. Perhaps I was careless. Thinking I could open Pandora’s black box of my “angels” and my demons to some beautiful beast of the emotional-affective romantic persuasion. But maybe that’s how it always has been, this way and manner of thinking the entire time. If she, whomever she may be at that moment, does not possess the wherewithal to wade with me into these turgid waters, that only goes to show that she would not have the strength nor tenacity to join me on a lifetime adventure together. Recovering the satellites is a lifelong venture. Mine alone.

The 7 a.m. nature walks help calm me, my moods and my madness ceasing fire just for the briefest of moments before the rosy red sun has yet to bud over the desert’s horizon line. Not too far away from our facility is a park: 30 minutes on the outside, after not leaving for the heavily-enforced 72 hour-requisite confinement, was truly a blessing. The word itself, as my definitions change, is operative and is not to be taken lightly, overthought or ignored. Blessed. Gratitude for the simple things. When was the last time you took yourself out for a walk? All the “angels” that had left me, or were leaving, don’t walk with me. At least for half an hour, each and every step is my own. My thoughts after walking out the front doors were something akin to “so this is what the outside world looks like… yeah, I remember.” The degree of separation invented by this detoxifying commune is a beautiful thing. Petting and feeding a toy pug became a moment of wonder; sitting and swinging on a swing set was a childhood revelation; stopping to smell the chocolate flowers (literally, the genus and species translates to “chocolate flower,” indigenous to the desert flora) was in of itself an act of astonishment. I took my time with every step. Every breath became slower, less hurried, more easy on the lungs without the consistent introduction of nicotine and secondhand menthol I had grown so accustomed to from the smoke pit. It was anything but enough.

Twenty minutes lingering in the back of our merry band of misfits. The sensations are visceral now, forgetting the Lamictal, forgetting whatever else was supplementing my pharmaceutical diet. For those 30 minutes I was only on the walk — not in my head. Not worrying about what I left behind, or what would lay before me on the roads to come. The detox, I am so quickly discovering, is not only defeating the poisons of the mind, or finding a way out — it is an ability, learned, practiced, to let it go. To let it all just go. I felt it. I feel it. I took it back in the van, to the facility and drank it in my tea by the pool writing these words, sweating bullets through the composition of this narrative, dripping toxins onto the pages, smearing ink on my calloused fingertips. Mindfulness. Being present. These things I could do. I was here because I had not yet gained the skill of letting it go — the relationships, the fractured episodes, the Passenger — letting it all go. Without all of that, them, in my head things are clearer, readable, permissible, possessing a greater ability to influence stability on what is a chemically-unstable conscience. I am realizing this now, that I control what things are in my control. Redundant, yes. Stay with me here. Everything else outside of my control is of impractical irrelevance. I cannot do anything about the things outside of my control, that almost always are left unresolved in a conflagration of anxieties, spirals of torturous depressions. That, as I am soon discovering, does not help things one bit. It does not encourage healthy behavior, or do anything for me and my emotions, my psyche. If I am truly to take this rocket up and out of this atmosphere, I have to leave all the dead weight on the ground. It was short of impossible before. Now? I am selfish, rightfully placing a priority on self-importance, and damned proud to be back in the fight. Never give up.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”– Anonymous

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure

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The Voice Within the Mind of Someone With an Addiction

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Addiction, didn’t know it was a problem until I couldn’t stop.

Addiction, relief entwined with pain that leaves my body in shock.

Addiction, the reality I know must be faced, but feel too scared so ignore.

Addiction, something I want to escape but the experience of which I enjoy.

Addiction, bathes me in shame and guilt yet boldly I participate.

Addiction, stealing my future with each aspect of stability it deteriorates.

Addiction, sending my mind into a cocktail of grief, anxiety and relief.

Addiction, hating its nature but wanting to feel it simultaneously.

Addiction, a reminder of why as a person I never feel strong.

Addiction, opening the doors to the depression, a reminder how I only do wrong.

Addiction, as it laughs at me while I accept failure and disgrace.

Addiction, has me locked away while it dangles the key in my face.

Addiction, feeling so lonely, not knowing who to tell or who will understand.

Addiction, wanting to take control, for my mind to obey the right command.

Addiction, feeling filthy inside, wanting to wash away the vulnerability.

Addiction, feeling ashamed, like shame holds a permanent place within me.

Addiction, knowing what’s wrong conflicted by temptation masquerading as right.

Addiction, trying to find the strength to get up, get clean and fight.

Addiction, fighting a battle to give myself the chance I know I deserve.

Addiction, knowing no matter how I feel I will always have self-worth.

***
No matter what anyone is going through I pray you never give up, because giving up in times of grief and pain is giving up on joy and happiness.

“I can do all things through him that gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Let's Talk About Self-Medicating

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Let’s talk about a topic that is very taboo and the cause of a lot of guilt and shame in the mental health community: self-medicating. Substance abuse is unfortunately very common, especially among those with an untreated mental illness. This doesn’t make it OK, but we need to acknowledge it happens if we’re actually going to deal with it.

The fact is, many people with a mental illness choose to self-medicate. Sometimes you get to the point where you can’t take the mental, emotional and even physical pain anymore and you reach out for anything that can help. Some choices are more destructive than others. Since mental illness can cause irrational feelings, these decisions can be irrational and can cause significant harm in the long run. This can also lead to or influence destructive and fatal behaviors including self-harm and suicide.

Unfortunately, many healthcare providers make the situation worse by shaming their patients when they open up about this topic. Not only does this not help, it causes further shame and can continue the ruthless cycle of self-medicating, guilt, shame and more self-medicating. Poor reactions can also teach people to hide it, which is something those of us with a mental illness may already struggle with. We need to be more open, not more closed off. We need providers who can have the delicate balance of empathy, understanding and willingness to help someone struggling with self-medication.

On this topic, I can speak from experience. I’ve had providers who weren’t helpful at all. Shame and guilt are horrible motivators. Since I have depression and experience suicidal thoughts, the last thing I need is someone to help me feel even more guilty and shameful. I need help getting out of the destructive spiral, not someone to push me further down into it.

The political focus regarding substance abuse is often on the substance itself, but in reality, it is only a symptom of a much deeper issue. If we want to address substance abuse in the mental health community, we need to first deal with the mental health problems that lead to it. Without proper access to mental health services and providers, we are setting people up for failure. I’m very fortunate to have a support system, but many people don’t have that luxury. Just think of how many lives and families could be spared with access to quality help.

If this is a topic all too real for you, I hope you know you’re not alone. Help is available and you don’t have to hide it. There is a better way. Find a doctor and therapist you can trust and tackle the problem head on. We’re all in this together.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.

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How I Fought the Fear of Sobriety and Won

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The fear. Can you imagine living a life fearing everything and everyone? You fear socializing with people, you’re afraid people won’t accept you, you fear that you will never amount to anything, you fear success, but you also fear failure…

It can be a hard scenario to put yourself into, and it can even be difficult to wrap your brain around, but this is how someone with an active addiction feels. Many people who live with addictions get high because they love the feeling. However, many get high to mask all of the fears listed above. From personal experience, I can say I know what it is like to be handcuffed to my disease and afraid to do anything about it.

Growing up, my number one fear was not being accepted. It was a completely irrational fear, because I always had tons of friends and a loving family who cared for me dearly. However, I never felt good enough for anyone, so I often put on an act. My act of choice? The class clown.

Clowning around was easy. I could always make people laugh, and doing it at other people’s expense made me feel good about myself. I was never serious, and this was the ultimate form of defense. Nobody could ever read me, because the second I was vulnerable, I would crack a joke, put on a fake smile and put on an act. No one could see that on the inside, I was broken, sad and lonely.

Growing up, I felt as if nobody understood me, that everyone around me received a golden textbook to life that explained how to be happy, how to live a normal life, how to maintain friendships and of course how to be a good person. Everyone is born with the ability to decipher between right and wrong, but in my case, I was a maestro in always picking wrong. It felt better than good. In my view, nobody liked the good kid and the bad kid got all of the attention. Again, this was me acting out of fear.

As I matured, I never fully grew out of this class clown/funny guy phase. Instead, I started getting high and I thought that it was the answer to all of my problems. I remember the first time I ever smoked weed. I was at camp with my two best friends at the time. We sat in the middle of woods smoking out of a disgusting bong that one of the kids had made out of a water bottle. Even though I was probably only 13 years old, I felt like I was fully ready for this experience. It seemed like getting high was the single most amazing thing that had ever happened to me. For the first time in my life, I felt my peers truly accepted me, my mind was clear from all fears and I finally felt at ease. I remember promising myself that this was my new way of life.

Unfortunately, my addictions quickly progressed. They went from smoking weed on the weekends to smoking weed every day, to binge drinking and to snorting whatever pill I could get my hands on. When I was intoxicated, my fears disappeared. But in the brief moments I was sober, my fears amplified by 1,000. As times got worse, so did my relationships (or lack thereof). I no longer cared for anyone or anything but myself and my needs. I thought these needs were simple, since the only thing I needed was any substance to make me escape from my own mind.

I finally reached a point in my life where the thing I feared the most was the one thing that was going to save my life: sobriety. Yes, this sounds like an irrational fear, but I think anyone with a drug addiction faced with this ultimatum can understand this fear. If I continued to use, I would most certainly end up in an institution, rehab, jail or worst of all dead. My fast-paced, high-risk, high-reward lifestyle was something I did not want to walk away from but I knew I had to if I wanted to live.

Why does someone fear sobriety? There are so many benefits from staying sober, but so many people who face addiction are unable to do it. Millions of excuses will fly out of an active user’s mouth about why he or she won’t get sober. These excuses include that I can’t afford the cost of rehab, I can’t live without my drugs, I can’t stay sober if all my friends are still using, I get sick when I don’t use, I have tried sobriety and “failed,” or what if I actually stayed sober? The fear of a life without drugs was horrifying to me, simply because it was untraveled territory.

I’ve had all of these fears. There’s also another fear that I didn’t list — I was afraid I’d never have fun again. Drugs and alcohol were my fun, my pastime and all I really did. So, the prospect of learning how to have fun without drugs seemed impossible. I knew that I was kidding myself, though. Getting high wasn’t ultimately fun, but was something I had to do in order to not feel sick. Once I built up a sober support group, it was really easy to have fun. I quickly realized that all of my fears were just that: fears, and not realities.

Getting sober at the age of 19 was difficult. Everything I knew revolved around getting high and I had the maturity of a 13-year-old. I had to face the cost of rehab and its treatment requirements. I had to learn how to grow up and become a productive member of society. At first, I thought my life was over. I wondered how in the world was I ever going to attend a social event that served liquor. I thought I had to avoid everything drinking or drug related, or else I would be toast.

This was not the case. As soon as I got some sobriety time under my belt and actively worked a 12-step program, I’ve found that I have freedom. This freedom allows me to do whatever I want. I’ve attended weddings, I’ve gone to bars, I’ve seen my favorite bands in concerts and I’ve even hung out with my old friends from my drug-using days. I just know that I can’t get high myself. What I thought was the cost of rehab was really the price I paid to earn my freedom.

Today, I only have one fear and it’s a very healthy one. I don’t fear what people think of me, or if I’m going to fail or succeed, or if the dope man has my favorite drug. The only thing I fear is relapsing. Early in my sobriety, I had this fear that I still hold on to today, nearly seven years later. I know I have an addictive brain and that using any sort of substance means I am most certainly signing my own death warrant. This healthy fear reminds me of who I am. As long as I hold on to it dearly, my life in sobriety will only continue to get better.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Ben Affleck's Facebook Post Takes the Shame Out of Mental Health Treatment

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Actor Ben Affleck has moved on from saving Gotham City as Batman to a feat equally as heroic – completing treatment for alcohol addiction. Affleck shared the news on Tuesday, in a post on Facebook, noting, “I have completed treatment for alcohol addiction; something I’ve dealt with in the past and will continue to confront.”

This is the second time the 44-year-old actor has publicly spoken about seeking treatment for alcohol addiction. The first was in 2001. This time, Affleck emphasized how in speaking up about getting help, he’s hoping others — including his children — will be empowered to do the same.

“I want to live life to the fullest and be the best father I can be,” Affleck wrote. “I want my kids to know there is no shame in getting help when you need it, and to be a source of strength for anyone out there who needs help but is afraid to take the first step. ”

Since Tuesday, Affleck’s post has been liked more than 128,000 times, with fans sharing their stories as well as praising the actor for his honesty.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

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Words of Wisdom I Found New Meaning In While Recovering From Addiction

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When I finally gave up drinking, I found myself researching a lot about addiction. Many questions lingered in my foggy mind. Where did I go wrong? Why did such a horrible disease happen to me?

After all, before I hit rock bottom, I’d spent 15 years in corrections, transitioning chemically addicted offenders out of prison. I was paid to construct their path to substance-free living. And lock them up when they failed. A paradoxical reality of stripping the freedom from those who couldn’t stay clean, all the while enslaving myself to the prison of an addicted mind.

During the first year of abstinence, I struggled with the pain I caused my family as well as regret for what I couldn’t change. I was thankful I wasn’t drinking and striving to build a meaningful life but spent many days focused on the brokenness of my past.

Then on a whim, I submitted my addiction story to an online recovery site. And quite unexpectedly, a timely glimpse of awareness shifted the focus of my life. While my story was appreciated, I was told their site focused on recovery, not the problems of addiction. Inquiries about my motivation to change and how my life was different today helped me realize I had spent enough energy draining out the nightmares of my past.

So began a journey of commitment toward true recovery, which I’ve found to be so much more than abstinence. Here’s what I’ve discovered, words of wisdom I’d heard before but never rang so true as now.

“To love others, we must first love ourselves.” — Leo Buscaglia

When I stopped drinking, I united with a forgotten passion that made it possible to believe I could like myself again. I discovered old journals from the most pivotal time of my life that bridged a connection to my younger self, where innocence and pain were deeply rooted. I began to write again, and this powerful energy fueled a passion to heal from the inside out. Hoping one day to grow brave and reach the ones still suffering in silence. I may not like part of my past, but as I begin to understand and accept it, I can use what I’ve learned to help others with compassion because I’ve had to love myself through the same painful process.

“Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” — Indira Gandhi

According to psychiatrist Dr. Gabor Maté, the root of all addiction is pain. Hurtful life events that leave us wounded and bitter. Becoming aware of this pain, we allow ourselves to explore forgiveness, a challenging and necessary component for growth. It’s a gift to find the freedom to forgive ourselves and others for our misfortunes. We can’t change the past. But learning and letting go are elements of bravery necessary to overcome and heal.

“We are all creatures of habit.” — Earl Nightingale

Recovery is so much more than no longer consuming our poison. It’s a lifestyle change that requires ongoing practice. If we think about how long it took to become our own worst enemy, we should give at least that much time becoming a better version of ourselves. Early in recovery, I relapsed when I found myself in an unexpected painful situation. I had yet to develop coping skills that would reroute the worn path leading me straight to the bottle. I now engage in activities that promote relaxation to calm my restless mind. A morning meditation, walk in nature and yoga are tools I am purposefully working into my daily schedule.

“It’s in giving that we receive.” — St. Francis of Assisi

The most dangerous place to exist in recovery is isolation. It’s important to stay outside our deeply entrenched negative minds and focus instead on what good our experience can bring to this world. Sharing our story, serving meals at a shelter or smiling at the next person who crosses our path ignites hope in ways we may never know. Everyone else has a story too. It is through our own pain that we understand others who still struggle. And by being the voice for those unable to speak, we receive a blessing of strength from those who will eventually listen.

So how is my life different today? My answer has changed from when I was first asked this question.

I no longer look back for too long. I see my life with an awareness of goodness that brings hope, not shame. I spend my days in gratitude for how far I’ve come. Some days aren’t easy, but I keep moving forward. Keeping my sights on the horizon, where possibilities exists, far from the prison of which I am no longer bound.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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