I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.
One of the things that comes from creating a community and building relationships is that, inevitably, some of the community will fall on hard times. It’s true for all of us. None of us is immune to loss, trauma, shock, grief, illness, changing circumstances, betrayal or violence.
Ben and I are supporting someone right now who is a single parent. They are in the grip of addiction. They are not coping well, day-to-day. It’s a complicated situation, involving children and lots of moving parts. And it’s taking a lot of our time.
One of my friends asked me why I bothered. An addict is an addict, she said. Move on.
But that addict could be any of us.
This person trusted me enough to reach out. We can feel how the wise part of her is struggling with her circumstances, her choices, her addictions. Was she always an addict? No. She had some trauma in childhood, but was doing well as an adult. And then life threw her some massive curveballs including problems with a child’s health and the death of her partner to a sudden illness, and she just fell apart.
I don’t expect to be able to solve her current problems. It takes a village. But I can be the safety net. I can be the one who is thinking about her welfare and the welfare of her children, and talking to her about these things in her moments of lucidity. I can speak to her and her children and be the one they call when they are frightened or needing guidance or intervention. I can hold space for the mum to move from this space of addiction to one where she is open to receiving help. I can keep listening. I can keep loving her. I can offer guidance for when she is ready to hear it. Already we have had some small wins.
Most importantly, I can bear witness. I can bear witness to the truth of her current situation. I can bear witness to the person she was before a life trauma changed everything for her, and compounded all of the other traumas of her earlier years into one big burden too heavy to carry on her own. I can be there without judgement as she does her best to navigate this scary and dark place within herself, and in her life.
The time when we most need love is when we have lost that love for ourselves.
Addiction comes from trauma, circumstance and neurobiology. It’s not a character flaw. It’s often a slippery slope of needing to numb or distract ourselves, or to feel better – that then becomes a monster which takes over our lives.
Many of us have addictions. To work. To cleaning. To exercise. To pleasing others. To putting the needs of others before ourselves. To binge eating. To shopping. To self-criticism. So many ways in which we can escape or seek to control or cope. Some of these addictions are even seen as positive. It’s a funny old world we live in.
So many addictions start by chance. A choice made when we are in a period of instability. A decision not thought through. Peer pressure in a moment of weakness.
I remember coming home from hospital after my hysterectomy. I had lost my sight due to the toxic side-effects of drugs for a urinary tract infection. I was in pain, almost blind, and miserable. I had PTSD. And often I was alone for long periods of time. Doctors had prescribed me oxycontin for pain management. I didn’t take any for the first few weeks, but then, one afternoon at four pm I took a tablet, and it made me feel better.
The next day I was looking forward to four o’clock. I took my tablet, and I felt better.
The next day?
I was about to put that tablet in my mouth and I though, Shit, this is what the start of addiction looks like. I was thinking less about the pain, and more about the feel-good space. I had been counting down the hours until four o’clock. I put the pill away, and used breathing instead to manage my way through things.
My own addiction could have been as easy as taking that next pill.
I can still remember the feel-good state that flooded my body with that first pill. It sticks in my head. It was so easy…
Many addicts have told me they remember their first high or peak experience, and how they chase it ever after, but never find it again.
Addiction is a disease. Mental illness is a disease. Recovery is a winding road, with ups and downs, failures and wins. That’s normal. And it’s messy. These things deserve our compassion and understanding. Shaming and criticizing addicts is never helpful, and can close down communication and destroy trust. Helping hold space for, and talking about recovery is a better path, and more supportive.
All of us could be that person.
The person with an addiction.
All of us could be that person.
The person holding space for the recovery of the addict.
If you have an addiction, or suspect you might, I urge you to reach out and talk to someone. There are people who are trained to help, and who won’t judge. Help-lines or your family doctor could be a good place to start. For most of us, whether it’s addiction or some other life imbalance, it can take a breakdown before we get our breakthrough.
If you are in the orbit of someone with addiction? I hope you reach out for help and support too – in how to help the one you love, and in how to look after yourself. It can be a hard road, and you’ll need good boundaries. It’s entirely possible you may not be able to help, and that the path of your loved one will be a place where you can’t follow, and from where you can’t bring them back. But I understand that you’ll want to try.
Above all, I have learned that suffering finds all of us. You can never tell what a person is going through simply by how they appear on the outside. When it comes to healing, extending love, respect and grace to yourself and each other is a good place to start.
A tired but well-supported Nicole, who is sending you love, and wishing you well xx