Why Addiction Recovery Is Like a Game of Jenga

I find that certain quotes and readings really resonate with me lately. I’ve always been the sensitive one in the family — felt things more deeply, loved more passionately, been more emotional about pretty much everything. I recently I read this quote: “The more I find myself, the more people I lose.” It’s by Kushandwizdom, and after being diagnosed as a pathological gambler, having bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder (MDD) while still trying to deal with my fibromyalgia and chronic pain, this quote felt like it pretty much summed up my life over the past two years.

Why, you may ask, does this resonate with me? Well, here I was — a smart, well-educated, high-level corporate executive. I was social, fun to be around… the life of the party. Then all of a sudden, what my friends don’t know was I had this secret life — a life where I was a gambling addict, where I was gambling away my paycheck in one night, where I was still struggling with my recent divorce, and where I couldn’t handle the stress of my job anymore. I also didn’t leave my apartment anymore except to go to work, I cried all the time and my denial of friends’ invitations was not because I had other plans but rather because I didn’t have the energy to get dressed or shower, and I hadn’t even hit rock bottom. Not even close.

Fast-forward two years. Now you’re rebuilding your life and it’s like a game of Jenga. You pull one “bad” block out — perhaps the block which represents the addiction you’re fighting, and when you put that block back on top now it represents the GA meetings you’re going to. The object of the game is to keep the building straight and strong and your friends do the same; can they support you when you pull out that bad block, and support you when you make the changes in your life and put that new block on top? Can they be there when you need support? When you need someone to just listen and not judge? Sometimes they can’t, and the building falls right away; they didn’t sign up for this, they want their old friend, their “fun” friend. Maybe they don’t have the strength or endurance to rebuild, or maybe they were never meant to be part of the rebuilding team and that’s OK, this is just part of the journey. I’ve learned this, and truth be told it can be painful. However, then there are other friends who do help you rebuild, and the ones who stick around sometimes surprise you. Even if the team is small and even if the building wobbles many times and is shaky, it somehow continues to stand and even with all the cracks, the building can be built stronger than ever. It may take time and patience, but these are the people, the builders you want on your journey.

These last two years have meant a lot of self-exploration. It has meant a lot of visits to doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, addiction specialists, support groups etc. I have read self-help books, tried meditation, exercise, medication, you name it. I researched it or tried it. I have had to tell people I loved and cared about terrible things I’ve done or felt or wanted to do, but part of getting better is being honest with yourself first and then with those you love. If those people really love you, they will stay by your side and support you through your journey.

So I end this with another quote, this one spotted on lovethispic.com: “As we grow up, we realize it becomes less important to have more friends and more important to have real ones.”

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Thinkstock photo via Gajus

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