As addicts, one of our favorite things to do is to justify why we do what we do. We go to great lengths to find reasons to support the idea that we cannot help our condition. Some of us believe we are born into it, and it isn't our fault because we are victims. One of my favorite quitlit authors touts the idea that alcoholism is more about the chemical and less about the person. She says anyone who uses it is susceptible to addiction. While I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment, I struggle with it as well. Here is why. Throughout my sobriety, I have tried to understand how people can have such vastly different experiences while quitting addictions. I have heard stories of incredible strife and despair as well as stories of incredible success and triumph. The question that consistently and unwaveringly runs through my mind is why the vast differences?
Levels of Addiction?
I was talking with a fellow sober activist the other day and she said something that I have had a difficult time grasping. We were talking about our experiences and our future desires in working with the sober community. I mentioned my fascination with the idea of Easy Sobriety, and I hoped to pursue it further through writing. Her response was that my addiction was probably not as bad as others. She said, I probably didn't really have a problem and I was probably more of a sober curious person than anything. This would explain why sobriety was easier for you than for others, she said. I have to be honest in saying this offended me. How can someone who barely knows me dismiss my experience to that level? Up to that point, we had related on many levels, and I felt a strong connection with her through our shared experiences. With that said, the mere suggestion my sobriety was easy for me caused a need for her to diminish my experience. Why?
How, or more importantly, why would someone look at another's experience of addiction and believe their experience was less traumatic, less damaging, or less important than their own? Each person's 'level' of addiction is as bad as it needs to be to evoke a NEED for change in said person. Once a person knows they NEED to make a change, it does not matter from where that NEED arose; it only matters they feel and believe the need for change. I can only come up with one reason why someone would feel a need to diminish another's level of addiction, and I believe the reason is at the core of the common misperception that quitting addictions has to be excruciatingly difficult. The reason may be as simple as one experience directly conflicting with another, and this can be difficult to accept. If my experience is excruciatingly difficult and yours is not, then I have only two options to explain the difference. The first is to believe my experience was far more difficult than yours, and the second is to believe I did something wrong. Which do I choose? I choose the option that validates my experience.
Misery Loves Company
I have talked before about the idea that misery loves company. It is what we did while engaged in our addictions. We did not surround ourselves with physically and emotionally healthy people. No, we surrounded ourselves with people who did the same things we did and who, more than likely, had the same addictions we did. We did this because we didn't like the idea of someone looking down their noses at us over how much we drank. We didn't like the idea of having to hide our addictions. We didn't like the idea there were people out there who could drink responsibly, whatever that means. We didn't like the idea that we had a problem, so we surrounded ourselves with people who had the same problems. Misery loves company.
Sobriety is not much different. If we are struggling in our sobriety, do we want to hear about others who are not struggling? No. If we believe we are literally living day to day without drinking, do we want to hear there are people who don't even think about drinking anymore? No. If we are counting every single day as a reminder of our struggles, do we want to hear someone tell us they lost track? No. We want to hear about experiences that validate our own. We want to know we took the right path. We want to know we struggled for a good reason. We want to know we are not alone.
Does it Matter?
Here is the thing. We all struggled to the level we needed to struggle in order to come out victorious on the other side. It does not matter what our individual bottoms looked like or how far down the rabbit hole we found ourselves. The only thing that matters is our coming out on the other side. The only thing that matters is the community we have to support us along the way. The only thing that matters is the new choices we make to maintain our success. The only thing that matters is the support and help we offer others on their journey. The only thing that matters is the other side.
I talk a lot about how my experience has differed from many others. I talk about it, not to diminish anyone else's experience, but simply to share my own. I talk about it because I believe it is incredibly important to offer the possibility of an easier journey for those who are new to understanding their NEED to quit their addictions. I talk about it because I am thankful I did not begin my journey with the understanding that it was going to be excruciatingly difficult. I talk about it because I believe the reason my experience was different was I didn't think it had to be difficult. I talk about it because I believe anyone can control the difficulty of their journey if they first, know it is an option, and second, have an example of what that looks like. I am certainly not saying my experience or path was the right way, I am simply saying there are other experiences and paths out there from which to choose how to model your own. Open your mind and seek out the myriad of possibilities available to you before you begin walking your path. The path that works for you may be the path you least expect.
To be clear, my sober activist friend and I ended up having a great conversation and we are both going to appear on each other's podcasts. I don't want there to be a perception that her position on this matter negatively affected me or our relationship in any way. The reason I brought it up is simply that I feel this way of thinking is the foundation for what I believe to be a major contributor to the difficulty surrounding most people's sobriety. If you read my blog, you know my thoughts about perception and sobriety are nothing new, but I believe it is important enough to revisit them from time to time. In this case, I couldn't help but spend a little time talking about how the idea of perception plays a role in more than our own personal experiences. Our perceptions can positively or negatively affect other's experiences too.
Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, "I'm possible." - Audrey Hepburn