As addicts, our perception and persecution of ourselves is far worse than anyone else can lay on us. We think that how we see ourselves and our addiction past is surely how everyone else must see us and we try to minimize that perceived negativity with excuses and explanations. Trying to make sense of the addiction and bring understanding to the people around you though is a futile effort. Why? It took about 2 years for me to find the answer.
During the years of my active addiction, I told a great many lies. I learned how to talk my way out of anything and make things that were a big deal seem trivial. I got used to looking over my shoulder and hiding myself, my drugs, and the truth. My addiction became my way of life and I learned the necessary traits and behaviors that would allow me to function in it.
As I went through treatment, I learned that my addicted self was an uncaring, disrespectful person. I kept trying to reconcile that person with the one I knew before the addiction and finally concluded that I would never be as good as I once was. I was broken due to addiction and it was impossible to ever be whole again. Even though I could deal with this painful conclusion, I didn’t want other people to see that I was broken or not good enough.
That’s why I had the need to let people know why I started using drugs. I needed them to see it wasn’t really technically my fault. If I could just tell them my story, they would understand and see I really was the same person they had always known. I needed them to see I was a whole person— strong and confident.
So I started pitching the same story to everyone. It was the true story of a young female soldier in a man’s army who fell in love and got married too young. Her husband was impossible to please, and she was pursuing a graduate degree with two babies and no help. That would be too much for anyone to balance alone, wouldn’t it?
The understanding that none of that mattered finally came when I met up with a good friend that I hadn’t seen in several years. After getting reacquainted she asked how I had been and what I was up to. I briefly explained I had been addicted to opiates and had gone through treatment and then launched into my rehearsed story as if on autopilot.
However, as I talked I noticed that she became increasingly uninterested and I began to hear myself for the first time. I was making myself a victim, as though I had no choice because my life was so hard. She didn’t care about why I became addicted to opiates. I began thinking of the people I had shared my story with. What was their reaction? I realized not a single one of them ever said they understood. They listened but never commented on my hardship. Once I was placated by telling the story, I would wait for a response and everyone seemed to just ask the same simple question, “So, how are you now?”
Why didn’t they care about the “how” it happened? They didn’t care because it made absolutely no difference. Whether I woke up and decided to become an addict, or I used opiates as an escape and became an addict, the end result was the same. I became an addict. The only important question was what have I done about it? They wanted to see what I was doing with my life now in the aftermath of the destruction I caused. What came before was of no interest.
I found strength and freedom in this revelation. It changed the perception I had of myself. Before I thought that when I looked in other people’s eyes that they were thinking, “What a shame, you had it all together once.” I didn’t think I would ever regain my status as a strong authoritative woman in their minds again, or that they wanted me there.
However, by taking full responsibility I gained respect and even admiration in front of my peers. Today, if questions arise about my addiction arise, I no longer feel the need to explain why it happened. Instead, I talk about what I learned from the experience and how grateful I am to have come so far since then.
I stand before the world proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. Who I am today is not the person I was before the addiction but, in fact, the person I am because of the addiction.