As I think about my life, I realize that I have had many addictions, things that have pulled me off course or served as an escape from a reality that was overwhelming me. Without healthy coping tools and a real understanding of who I wanted to be, certain activities and substances provided the ultimate temporary release.
How I came to realize I was an addict
Looking in the mirror is a hard thing to do when you no longer recognize the person looking back at you. The effects of addiction strike hard and, over time, become very apparent. However, the cause is not so easy to come by. I can tell you that for me, it was the effects that my actions had on others that began to point me to the realization that I had a problem. When my life began to crumble around me and those that once looked up to me disappeared, I began looking for answers.
I think that my issue with addiction started with an honorable desire to work hard and provide for my family. I seemed to have very little ability to turn myself off. I went 100 miles an hour, seven days a week in a very physical occupation with lots of responsibilities that pushed me way beyond my capabilities. This was when I began to notice that others around me in my industry turned to substances for escape. I figured if I just did a little I would be okay — and for a while I was. This was my way of staying sane in a crazy world, it was my coping mechanism.
On and off abuse of substances, combined with other addictive behaviors like running way too far, way too fast, have plagued me for over 20 years. I reached a point where I realized how much time addiction has and will steal from me. I could no longer sweep things under the rug. I needed to stop and reorganize my thoughts, actions and behaviors to get in line with being healthy once and for all.
Life lessons learned from my addictions
When I think about it, I could come up with hundreds of things I have learned from being an addict to one thing or another. However, in this article, I want to hit on the main areas that seemed to have the most impact for me.
Asking for help does not make you weak
For a long time, I thought that I could kick my addiction without outside help. I was always everyone’s problem solver but my own. I kept things hidden because if others saw this, I could not be a good example and help them. However, I have realized that none of us are walking through this life alone. Our journeys are all different, but we are connected just the same. People are put in our paths for a reason, and just as we can help others, we can also humble ourselves and be vulnerable asking for assistance when we need it. It is great to be needed, but we are no good to anyone else if we are a slave to something that turns us into a liability and a burden.
Time passes quickly
Life is a vapor, mist, a blip on the radar. The days pass quickly, quicker as we age. When I was caught in the midst of my work addiction, time seemed to pass in hyper mode. I looked around, and my kids were grown up, and the time that my addiction had stolen from me was also time stolen from them. I thought I was doing a good thing by providing. But without balance in my life, this good thing had become a bad thing. Never forget how fast time flies and remember, you can’t get it back.
Staying healthy takes work
Like time, health passes away if you don’t take care of yourself. I worked the equivalent in eighteen years of what a person does in his whole lifetime, and it landed me in the hospital twice with a heart attack. I didn’t eat right, abused substances and worked way too hard. I had no healthy way to release stress and felt the weight of the world on my back. Now, I look back and can say that being a good steward of one’s body is essential and how quickly addiction can warp that reality.
Addictions cost money
Feeding the inferno of an addiction ultimately costs a great deal of money. Whether it be the daily latte at your favorite coffee shop loaded with sugar, or alcohol, drugs or nicotine. Maybe it is not a whole lot spent at the time, but when you lose track of the time, you also seem to lose track of money. Five bucks here, ten here, it all adds up. I estimate that in 20 years I have given $200,000 or more to my addictions — and bad decisions that were connected to those addictions. When I think about how I could have invested that money or helped others, it makes me very sad.
Know who you are
I think not having a true identity led me to make some very poor decisions in my life. I was always the sponge — taking in all that everyone else was doing. I became like those around me to stay relevant in that crowd or family. Perhaps it was my search for a real family that led me to groups of people who wanted me and seemed to need me. It didn’t matter at the time if the “family” was healthy or not. Today I have a foundation as I have never had before and I am learning more and more about who I am. This knowledge, grounded in my faith, has made me a stronger person, able to withstand the prevailing winds.
You can exchange a bad habit for a good habit
Addiction often starts as a bad habit that spirals out of control. This was how it was for me anyway. When I came to a place of realization about this, I knew it was time to start exchanging my bad habits for good habits. I had to find ways to release stress and recharge without hurting myself. Research says it takes about 30 days for an activity to become a habit. For me, it was more like 60 days of really hard work to make the good habits stick and longer for the bad habits to go away. However, it is possible. I found that as long as I was engaged in the good habit, the bad habit had to work really hard to gain my attention.
There is hope
I want you to know that there is hope; your life is not over because of your addiction. The mind is a powerful tool and it is easy to convince yourself that you are never going to get the upper hand. Instead, find a source of inspiration, whatever that may be for you, and hang on. For me, I found hope in new friends, new relationships and the Lord.
The biggest thing I could share with you about my journey with addiction is that life will always be stressful and that bad habits are always waiting at the door to trip you up. However, the first step to getting better is to acknowledge that you are not where you need to be. I know that when I am surrounded by strong and healthy individuals, I do best. I know that when I am stressed, there are other things I can do besides turn to those things that harm me or others. Learn to talk, learn to feel, learn to love and learn to know yourself more and more each day.
— Rich Everfail