Once you give up on the idea of a future where your addiction is “manageable,” you must contemplate a future without the addiction in any form. The question then becomes, “Who am I without this?” The addiction has been such an integral part of your life that you have difficulty imagining what life could be, who you could be, without it.
This point was brought home to me last year. I was working with a woman who was trying to overcome a prescription drug addiction. Amy was in the phase of recovery where she was ready to accept the negatives of her addiction but fearful of what life would mean without it. During this time, she got a card from an old friend. She said they’d drifted apart because they no longer lived in the same state. Their correspondences, Amy told me, were usually a yearly holiday missive giving a personal and family update. The midyear card came as a surprise and contained a picture of the two of them that was more than thirty years old. Amy showed me the candid shot of a group of teenagers and asked if I could pick her out.
As I struggled to avoid embarrassment by choosing the wrong person, Amy said it was a picture of her church youth group getting ready to take off for a day hike. When I didn’t pick her out right away, she gratefully let me off the hook and pointed herself out. She lamented how far she’d come from that young, smiling teenage girl. “I can’t remember who I was,” Amy said, “and if I give this up, I can’t imagine who I’ll be.”
I believe this question of who you’ll be without your addiction is a common one. Addiction has the power to co-opt the person you are and change you into someone different, altering your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. The person you were becomes a faded, distant memory. You may look in a mirror and feel unsure of who you were, ashamed of who you are, and fearful of becoming anyone else.
I think people are fearful of giving up an addiction because they believe they will be in pain without it. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed in different ways, though rarely will they use the word pain. Instead, they say without their addiction, they will be frustrated or bored, anxious or afraid. They tell me the addiction, whatever it is, helps them overcome being depressed or angry. In the deepest throes of my overworking, my pain might have carried the name unsuccessful or failure.
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