Split: Before Addiction, and Everything After

I have to admit that I am one of the more fortunate ones to have the privilege to look back in hindsight in regards to my life. The more time passes, the more realizations I come to, and the more I recognize the person I don’t want to become again.

I think, like most addict survivors, we have come to the conclusion that our lives are fragmented. Many parts have manifested different modes of personalities generated as armour due to moments of crises and survival.

Particularly, if I had to completely minimalize my life, in order to form a cohesive structure, I would say that my life is split into two halves: the before and during addiction (part 1), and post addiction (part 2).

I’ve combined pre-addiction in with ongoing addiction precisely because I believe they are inseperable; you cannot have one without the other. And I think for outsiders looking in, particularly those who have no experience with addiction nor know anyone with substance abuse problems, it is essential for them to understand that one event does not make an addict. It doesn’t take one shot of heroin to get you addicted. It takes years, and years of trying to feel marginally okay, of trying to feel normal, of trying to ease just a little part of yourself away from the pain that you feel in your everyday — it is this desperation that drives you to seek and find the cure in the very thing that is slowly destroying you, because you no longer know the difference.

And addiction is not just heroin. It’s any aspect of your life that you lose control over. Whether its shopping, craving other people’s approval, working or watching TV, I see many aspects of addiction in people everyday that they themselves are unaware of. Whatever urge that you have, that deadens rationality, logic and practical use of your time and health, so that you can feel that momentary glimpse of euphoria, is your own, personal addiction.

I have always likened addiction to a quote written by David Foster Wallace about depression. I will leave it here in its entirety as I will not do it justice otherwise:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing.

The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows.

Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant.

The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.

And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

David Foster Wallace

I think depression and addiction works in the same way that Wallace talks about falling out of a burning building as a better alternative to the steady pain of burning. The image is so effective because it is visible, it is tactile. What’s so deadly about depression and addiction is that it isolates the person in their pain because of its elusivity — how can we sympathize with a person in pain if it’s not something we can see, touch or feel?

If like me, you are lucky enough to survive this trauma, you are able to believe in yourself enough that you deserve the help, deserve the change you can inflict upon yourself, you will find it hard to recognize the person you have become during your addiction.

They’re not pretty. They’ve learned to survive on scraps of meat and have clawed and fought their loved ones into non-existence, anything – anything to keep the monster of addiction growing and feeding. The things I’ve done were the things I swore as a kid I would never do. And the funny thing about it is that, this worst thing – this thing that had seemed so apocalyptic when I was young and innocent and morality seemed so black and white and clear – while it was happening – suddenly seemed so small, so insignificant. The world kept turning, even while I was at my lowest, the world just kept right on going.

Everything that doesn’t have anything to do with making yourself feel alive, blurs into white noise when you’re addicted. Your life zeroes down to that singular thing, your only focus, your only motivation – everything else loses meaning.

Which is what makes hindsight so heart-breaking for those of us who wake up to the next phase of our lives. With sobriety, comes responsibility. For the rest of my life I will be atoning for the sins I made in the past. For the rest of my life, I will be manically trying to convince myself that I am a good person, that I was a bad person at a bad time in my life but given the same circumstances again – I will choose to do the right thing, I will not make the same mistake again.

The irony in this predicament is that I will not allow myself to be in the same situation ever again. It will be the death of me. So how can I ever prove to myself that I won’t make the same mistake twice?

How do we forgive ourselves for the monster that we became? And how do we prove to ourselves that, push comes to shove, this is not who we are?

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