One of the major misconceptions out there about people in recovery is that we hate drinking and drugs. Au contraire! We simply learned that we can’t do it responsibly. The fact of the matter is that we would never have become addicted if it all hadn’t started off being incredibly fun.
If you hang around recovery circles, you’ll hear people say, “First it was fun, then it was fun with problems, then it was just problems.” We like that expression. We get that expression. We wanted to have a column which examines that expression. And so we reached out to the most prominent recovery bloggers, writers and advocates out there to ask them about their trudge down that road.
This week, our focus is on Robert.
What was drinking/using like when it was fun?
I have waited a long time for someone to ask me this question. First, I would like to briefly recount what life was like for me pre-alcohol and drugs. “Normal” is the first word that comes to mind when I think of life before alcohol and drugs; a close second might be “boring.”
Conversely, when I think of a word to describe life with drugs and alcohol, I would say the word “euphoric” would be a good description. Once I added drugs and alcohol to my daily regime, life was blissful.
What made my life euphoric was the feeling I got when I took a drink or a line of coke. Within seconds I felt I could weather any storm or conquer any challenge. Of course, this feeling was mythical, because minutes earlier I was a shy reserved guy who was hoping a woman would look my way in the dive bar I may have wandered into.
The reality of this artificial transformation never really occurred to me. All I focused on was the feeling I got from alcohol. As I sit here writing this, I can still remember that feeling of how great it was. With drugs and alcohol, the shy man turned into a more handsome, witty, sexy individual—and baby did I love being that guy.
There were other benefits to this transformation drugs and alcohol would avail; now, I was more popular and who doesn’t want to be more popular? Those that don’t transform themselves daily tend to look at you as this bigger-than-life character who lives life in the fast lane. This perception, of course, is again mythical because the truth is I was just a phony acting cool and dangerous. But, oh what a ride is was while it lasted. I can honestly say, in my mind, I was Errol Flynn, Johnny Deep and Brad Pitt all rolled into one. Drugs and alcohol allowed me to be any person I wanted to be even if it was only in my own head. If you were to see me in person, you could grasp just how insane I actually was on drugs and alcohol.
I thought I could be this bigger-than-life person forever; all I needed to do is drink alcohol and pop pills.
When and how did it become fun with problems?
The problems started when this seemingly suave new persona began to appear mundane to me. It was no longer good enough to be popular; I craved more. So I upped my game even further. Now, because I was not a millionaire or even a person of note, I began lying about who I was and all that I had done in life. I started telling stories and lies as if I really was some person worth listening to. Oh, how painful it is to write this and read my own words.
The irony here is that I have actually done many things in life: I have owned several businesses, including a bar and three video companies; I restored old Volkswagens and I co-owned four Quiznos franchises.
As the months and years went by I had totally lost my own Identity. To nearly every new person I met, I was someone different. I was addicted to being exciting and attractive to others and would say anything to elicit their positive response.
The biggest problem I faced was the amount of drugs and alcohol it took to maintain my alter ego. The drinks per day were climbing, and I was no longer very discriminate in my choice of drugs. To make matters worse, I was becoming sloppy. My job performance at work was becoming noticeably hindered. My friends were beginning to avoid me or pretend to tolerate me out of pity.
There was a time when I could get up in the morning, have my two shots and walk into any room of people and charm any man or woman. As the day would turn into night, I could keep going until the sun came up. It seemed as though nobody could see through my ruse. In my eyes, I appeared to be invincible with my false confidence.
Slowly but steadily people began to see the real me: a drunken, drug-addled liar who was completely undependable.
The slide was slow at first and almost went unnoticeable to me. When I did notice I just drank more.
What was it like when it was just problems?
Eventually, my life became nothing but problems. My magic elixir was no longer working as it had in the past. No matter how much I drank, there was nothing but a dull noise in my head. I had no true feelings for anything—not my friends, family, co-workers, job, nothing.
I viewed life from a hollow soul incapable of any meaningful human interaction. I couldn’t bear to look any person in the eye. I had never known the sort of real loneliness I was experiencing at this time in my life. My friends and family were no longer willing to accept my selfish behavior.
I felt I was at a crossroads in life. Long ago were the days of the dashing, charming drunk. Now, there was just a lonely disheveled man who had lost all connection to the universe. I posed a question to myself; if I stop drinking and go back, how can I possibly rectify all the damage I have wrought? Looking forward with my addiction seemed just as daunting. Of course, I pondered all of this with a bottle of vodka in my lap watching old Bob Newhart episodes on Hulu. Not that I wanted to watch Bob Newhart; I was just too drunk to figure out how to work my smart TV.
In my malaise one afternoon, I passed out on my bed. When I awoke, I grabbed my bottle of vodka and took three chugs. To my amazement, I felt the slightest bit of relief. It had been a long time since I had felt anything at all and this was good. Despite an ominous horizon, I made the decision right then to keep going with my old trusty friend. On reflection, I think I just wanted to end my life as peacefully as possible.
When and how did life become fun again?
It was in my third and last rehab that I began to feel alive again. Call it desperation, or the will to live; it doesn’t matter. The point is, I was able to locate a vital piece of my former self—my love of humanity. I have always loved people, all kinds of individuals. Drugs and alcohol had separated me from my true feelings and genuine connection to other humans.
In that last rehab, I met new people who knew nothing of my wicked past. These new people were welcoming, friendly, gracious and warm. The reason I felt this immediate connection with them is because they were talking to a real person: me.
Within the first week, I began to make friends based on real feeling and not an alcohol or drug-addled fog. I was now experiencing fun in life again. My personality blossomed, and I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The most important thing I learned in rehab was being myself is the best gift I can give myself.
After leaving rehab my life became better with each passing day. The best way I can describe this would be to imagine your life in black and white, no colors or joy anywhere; then image your life slowly becoming colored with each passing day. As time went by I couldn’t wait to wake up and see more color and feel more joy. Life was fun again, life was bright, life was noisy and exciting and I couldn’t get enough of it. All I had to do to enjoy all of this was be the most genuine version of myself.
Robert Apple is an active blogger for recovery and writes for SoberWorx, a website he co-owns.