I had an incredibly difficult time of it during my recovery. I was five months sober and taking the first baby steps on this lifelong journey. While in treatment, they told me about a magical “pink cloud” that many recovering addicts experience. It was the exciting introduction to a potentially new and fulfilling life away from alcohol and drugs. I found hope again after years of having misplaced it in active addiction, and I felt different, as if a switch had been turned on in my usually subdued and depressed mind. All of a sudden, I could see a future with possibilities.
But like anything you love in life – a car, a house, a job – the novelty wears off. The initial excitement gradually fades into a calmer emotion like gratitude or contentment. I started noticing that the excitement of recovery was being replaced with a sense of reality, and reality scared the hell out of me.
Things had starting to slide. A few of the old self-doubts started to creep into my daily activities, especially around my writing; and frustration set in. In early recovery, I decided to combine enhancing my writing skills with building a new career in a job I love. At the same time, I was learning more about this disease and sharing those insights with others in a similar predicament. Win, win!
The response from family and friends was incredible and gave me the encouragement to write more about my journey. I started to equate this new career to financial remuneration, and things weren’t happening quickly enough for me. I felt overwhelming worthlessness. I have two kids and was financially dependent on others; this was destroying my soul. I wanted to start supporting myself and my girls, and writing wasn’t accomplishing that as quickly as I would have liked.
My logical brain told me, Be calm. Your progress is great, and positive things are starting to happen. Keep doing what you are doing. Unfortunately, I was giving my addict brain more time on the microphone. That brain was saying, You’re not good enough. You’re wasting your time. People are being nice to humor you because they feel any negative comments could lead to a breakdown or relapse. Nobody wants that on their conscience. Your ex-wife is raising your kids on her own, and you contribute nothing to them. You are worthless, selfish and talentless. After a few days of this uncontrolled self-sabotage, I started using some of my old tricks to avoid these emotions. I didn’t have the strength or courage to face them.
Without a substance to numb the pain, I reverted to the next best thing – disconnection. If I could just get paid for my detachment skills, I would be a millionaire! I severed some of the emotional ties I had just started building. The first separation was with me – I took a pair of scissors to the fragile link I had begun developing between the real world and my feelings.
I found myself isolating more. I kept myself to myself and didn’t speak up about my feelings of despair. My cottage was my isolation cell. I left only to fulfill previously agreed-upon minor commitments. The very thought of even seeing my own daughters filled me with shame and guilt, so I began withdrawing from them, as well. A crushing fear of my emotions developed. I was gradually falling back into my hole where I had spent so many unhappy years. My self-pity became overwhelming. I couldn’t “just pull yourself together!”
As I withdrew more, my eating increased – once again, old addict behavior. My addict brain figured, You love that food. If you’re not planning on seeing people, then why should you care if you put on a few kilos? You’ve lost loads in the last few years, and you’re in early recovery. You can deal with weight loss in the future. But today you can feel guilt free about pigging out on whatever food you want. Of course, this didn’t come guilt free. In fact, the more my weight increased, the worse I felt, the less I cared and the more I ate.
The simplest responsibilities were once again filling me with terrifying and debilitating fear. It felt like everything was crashing down on me. I cried a lot, like a desperate, lost little child which, I suppose, is exactly what I was.
The promises of recovery felt empty and that also frightened me. I had started this journey with the knowledge that it would take time, even years. I would get there if I kept working the Steps, going to meetings and talking with people. I had slackened considerably on all three. I had even stopped building a relationship with my Higher Power.
What made my life 100 times worse was the chronic insomnia I was experiencing; in a week’s time, I had only slept about four hours. I tried everything – meditation, reading, breathing exercises – but without fail, as soon as I turned the lights off and tried to sleep, my inner child awoke full of incredible energy, wanting to play. I became fearful of bedtime, yet another fear to add to my ever-expanding list.
Although my behavior had similarities to the old Active Addiction Andy, there was one fundamental difference . . . awareness. This awareness gave me the courage to finally speak up at group session in front of my peers; everything came out. I knew this current dark path would lead to only one destination, and I was not going back there . . . no way! Everyone agreed that I had more work to do; I had to stop hitting myself with my emotional crowbar. I went into an aftercare program. I got back onto the recovery horse, got back to talking, being helped and getting back on the right track.
I learned that falling off the pink cloud is all part of the process. Painful days can be growth days. In order to make sense of my feelings and to find the courage to face them, I take what I have learned and share it with my counselors and my recovery community.
Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.
Patience isn’t a character trait with which addicts are generally blessed. In active addiction, I could escape from myself with a sniff of a line, a bottle of vodka or a joint and, hey, presto, be fixed. Everything in recovery is the opposite of that old quick fix, including not taking short cuts. This is a crucial time for me, a crossroads; and I am listening, sharing, being patient and learning my way through it. Just writing this and acknowledging my vulnerability helps. Speaking up demonstrates far more courage than keeping quiet and pretending everything is fine – this is starting to sink in. Believe it or not, people do care and can help.
Reach out today. It could save your life.
Andrew Sullivan is a recovering addict and freelance writer dedicated to raising global awareness of the disease of addiction. A divorced father of two, Andrew is an Englishman living in South Africa. He writes for numerous recovery-based media platforms across the world, including his own blog, conversationswithtrev.com.