Addictions can throw one’s life into chaos, but a mindful recovery can reveal poignant lessons
As a recovering addict, people are always surprised to hear me say that I’ve always been an optimist. Everyone seems to think addiction comes from a place of darkness, and that’s not always the case.
Certainly, there’s a strong correlation between depression and addiction, but you do not have to be depressed to become an addict.
My journey to addiction
Here’s something else that may surprise you: My addiction was an accident.
I had a promising future when I was in high school, and then I was in a terrible car accident. I was so fortunate to walk away with my life, but I was left with a lot of pain.
I started using painkillers to feel better, and I soon needed more and more just to feel okay. Depression hit me like a ton of bricks whenever I couldn’t sustain my ‘high’. I had things to do, and I needed to feel okay.
I soon found myself in a place where I had nothing to do and my only motivation was to feel okay again. Drugs were the only thing in my life that dulled the physical and emotional pain I was feeling.
I didn’t know or care what I was doing to my body. But I would find out soon enough.
Many costs of addiction
Now that I’ve been sober for over a decade, I can barely count the things addiction has taken from me. Many are priceless and will never be recovered. Through addiction, you may lose relationships, jobs, opportunities and your entire life plan. The course of your life changes. And then there are overdoses that have taken too many great lives too soon. These are the costs of addiction you hear about fairly often.
It feels strange for me to say I expected those things, but they made sense to me. What I didn’t expect was how addiction would still be a part of my life so many years after recovery.
Unexpected long-term effects of addiction
If you were to meet me in person, you wouldn’t see my struggle. You may guess that I battled addiction in the past, but you’d see that I’m fine now…on the surface.
In truth, there are still a few things that affect me. These are the long-term effects of addiction, and they are now part of who I am.
- Complete abstinence – When you give up drugs and alcohol in recovery, it’s usually for good. Something as simple as a champagne toast can send a recovering addict into a relapse. So I abstain. Some people are okay with taking small sips or having one drink or two each year. It’s a very personal choice, but for me, the alcohol is not worth the risk.
- Social stigma – Whenever you abstain from alcohol, people notice. They may even ask you outright if you’re in recovery. It’s kind of a funny thing, but when you choose not to use this particular addictive substance, you feel judged. I’ve finally learned to deal with this one, but it definitely takes some adjustment. It helps to take a mocktail or ginger beer to social events. If it looks like you’re drinking alcohol, people tend not to pry.
- Aging – I’ve always known that really hard drugs will drastically age a person. I never planned on following that path, so I thought I’d be okay. But any addiction will take a toll on your overall health. Here are two things I’ve seen firsthand:
- Memory loss – While you’re using, it’s common to experience memory loss. This is especially true when you binge drink alcohol. But any substance of abuse will cause damage to the brain, which can lead to long-term memory problems. Now, I’m at an even or Alzheimer’s.
- Aging skin – I’ve never been a vain person, but I’ve recently noticed that I look about ten years older than my high school buddies. When my painkiller addiction got bad, I started smoking and drinking alcohol heavily. Liver damage caused by alcohol and drug abuse can make your body less efficient at getting rid of toxins, which can show through your skin.
My story may sound like one of doom and gloom, but remember, I’m an optimist. I chose to share the negative effects of addiction with you in hopes that you will not follow my path.
Today, I have embraced the many costs of addiction as lessons. I was rather naïve before this all happened, and I’m extremely self-aware now. Life is truly a journey. I wouldn’t wish my path on anyone, but I also wouldn’t change it for the world. If I hadn’t gone through addiction and recovery, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
To create your own path of self-discovery, I suggest becoming a student of life. Travel, meditate and explore your own weaknesses as often as you can. You won’t regret a thing.
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