By Guest Blogger, Kim Williams
Kim Williams is a father, husband, business executive, author, and a former ordained minister in long-term recovery from substance use disorder. This series of “Ask an Addict” is offered in hopes of helping to remove the stigma of addiction and promote the reality of recovery. #WeDoRecover #FacesAndVoicesOfRecovery
In preparation for this series, I sent an email to several colleagues, friends and family members asking them, “If you could ask a recovering addict any question, what would you ask?” The following are their first four questions and my responses. Stay tuned in the coming months for more questions and answers.
1. How does addiction start?
I am always curious about how addiction starts. I’ve never felt addicted to anything, so it’s foreign to me. But, on the other hand, my father’s family is filled with addicts (drugs and alcohol). I always thought, genetically, I would be predisposed. So, I was always careful to watch my intake and what I was willing to experiment with. Why does it not work the same for others?
Let me try to position this response by first restating the question. In short, I think you are asking, “What makes an addict different from ‘normal’ people when it comes to being able to control, or ‘watch’ their use of drugs/alcohol?”
That is an often-debated question. I can’t speak from a medical or psychological perspective (other than repeating the things I have read from experts in those fields). Instead, let me tell you what I experience as the difference.
I find that taking substances that alter my mind or mood sends me, rather quickly, into an obsessive and compulsive mode. Using drugs or alcohol, or ‘using’ (as many addicts refer to this), provides a period of relief, sometimes euphoria that sedates the pain or discomfort of living. I live with a sort of internal dis-ease that I can only describe as feeling off, wrong, even fearful, and the using covered that up – at least in part – for a while. The challenge is that once the drugged state wears off, there is a return of this dis-ease, and my strong response is to find that relief again.
The main difference between addicts/alcoholics and ‘normal’ people is that we have never learned to cope with our feelings of discomfort very well, and the relief from that discomfort is powerful. We crave more when it fades. It seems that ‘normal’ folks experience relief from those uncomfortable feelings when using substances but somehow aren’t as compelled to repeat the escape through drug/alcohol use. Why? I don’t know. Some say that those with a propensity for addiction feel things more intensely. Some say we are more sensitive to both the discomfort and the relief that using drugs and alcohol provides. Whatever the reason, I am better served by staying away from the substances and practicing other coping methods.
Want to know more? Dive deeper into the statistics here.
2. What moved you to take action on facing your addiction?
Was it a single event or a series of events? Some specific realization?
In recovery, we often speak of reaching our bottom – that point at which we have had enough and are ready to do whatever it takes to stop. My bottom did happen on the heels of a specific event. I was arrested and subsequently defrocked of my ordained ministry credentials. But that event itself wasn’t what moved me to seek change – it was merely the opportunity. It was a process, over a period, that led me to my decision to seek recovery.
I was miserable using and had tried to stop several times but was unable. I was afraid to ask for help, fearful of being judged, losing my job, family, friends, and ordination. But I had reached a point where I really couldn’t fight it anymore, and I gave up. One day I remember looking in the mirror and knowing I needed to stop. I looked myself in the eye and uttered the addict’s prayer, “Fuck it.” Soon after that, my drug use accelerated rapidly and took me to the point where I had little left to lose. I guess you could say my addiction progressed and removed the obstacles to my recovery, and it was there that I found my beginning.
3. Do you still feel like an addict?
Do you still feel like an addict in recovery, or have you moved past that, and it’s just part of your history now? How long is the process of getting clean, or does it vary for everyone?
I am 22 years in recovery. That means it has been 22 years since I have used any mind or mood-altering substances, including alcohol. A passage in a recovery text states, “An addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use and find a new way of life.” This one sentence describes my journey very well.
For me, it took about 90 days to begin to get some relief from the obsession to use, but the urges would still come and go. Sometime in the first year, I noticed that the desire to use had become very sporadic. Over more time, that desire has left me. I have spent a good deal of time and utilized the support of many people to maintain my recovery (sometimes called clean time or sobriety). Part of that has been to learn how to deal with the feelings that kept me using, adapt new coping methods, and then turn those new behaviors into habits.
Interestingly, we refer to addiction as having a ‘drug habit.’ The solution is, in part, to replace that habit with healthier ones. These new habits were unnatural to me or at least were unfamiliar. Do I still feel like an addict? In the sense of having an obsession or compulsion to use or a physical dependency on substances, I don’t feel like an addict. In the sense of continuing to live with the limitations, I’ve chosen to manage my addiction, yes. However, I am an addict in long-term recovery, which is something that more people need to know is possible! I have found a “new way of life,” and it is meaningful and productive.
Learn more here.
4. Has addiction shaped your life?
How do you think your addiction has shaped your post-addiction life? How has it impacted you and your relationships with family and friends?
I’ve regularly told people that my addiction is a true blessing. I have benefited from my addiction. Weird, I know. Why and how? I happen to be a person who feels things intensely, and prior to my recovery, I lacked the knowledge and practice of coping with those intense, uncomfortable feelings. Learning how to live a new way of life is hard work, long-term work, deep interpersonal work. I do not believe I would have never committed myself to do that work but for the alternative – the consequences of my active addiction. The ends of undeterred addiction are usually some forms of jails, institutions, and death. Understanding these consequences is a powerful motivator!
As far as my relationships are concerned, some of them suffered irreparable damage. That loss is real, understandable, and regrettable. Still, many of my relationships today with family and friends are thriving. I am better equipped to build deep and meaningful relationships. Although my actions during active addiction destroyed a lot of trust, in the situations where I have had a second chance, I found much of that trust restored. That feels like a blessing to me.
Need help? There’s a hotline.
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