I guess you could say addiction has been a constant throughout my life. I’m pretty sure it played a big part in my parents relationship breakdown. My father used marijuana as coping mechanism for many years before he transitioned into a woman later in life. Even though we only saw our dad on weekends, you could guarantee he would be smoking a spliff, he never smoked regular cigarettes. To be honest me and my brother were too young to fully grasp what was really going on, but I think we kinda knew it wasn’t ‘normal’, man I hate that word. Naive to the battles our own father was going through at the time, just as so to the ones I was yet to face. It wasn’t until me and my brother got older and started to reflect that we were able put the pieces of our childhood together and make sense of the past.
Growing up with a parent suffering from addiction is never easy, no matter what the substance is. Children of addicts are eight times more likely to develop an addiction. However if you are a child of an addict, this does not mean your fate is sealed. You must remember that you make your own choices and ultimately are in control of your own happiness. I know people that despite growing up with addicted parents have gone on to live fulfilling and substance free lives; so never feel like your past must determine your future. The reasons as to why some people become addicts while others do not are often debated: is it genes, environment or trauma? Well I believe it’s a combination of these things.
The American National Institute on Drug Abuse define addiction as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.” I believe this to be somewhat true. I think addiction is a disease in many ways and one that should be treat with compassion, if sufferers have any hope of overcoming it at all. Often society treats addicts as second-class citizens, I guess I was guilty of this at one point. I saw addicts as selfish, lazy and unreliable. Though this still may ring true it is not a definitive list of traits and I now know that people are capable of change – even those who have suffered addiction. This is why we must help to support, motivate and most of all love the addicts in our lives. Recognising addiction as disease helps non-addicts to see that although externally it may appear to be a self-indulgent act, internally for the user it is actually a deep psychological process that has often developed over a number of years. This is why it is usually so hard to break the cycle, learn new coping mechanisms and often why so relapse is so common. If we compare addiction with other life-threatening diseases, can you actually imagine saying any of these someone who is suffering? “this is your choice, it’s so selfish for you to have cancer!”, “can’t you see what your strokes are doing to everyone around you?”, “why can’t you just stop having heart attacks?” or “I don’t see you ever recovering from diabetes”. Nope, neither can I! Jeeez, these are all pretty shitty things to say to anybody who is ill, so why do we think it’s okay to speak to addicts like this?
In the TED Talk above Addiction, Parenting and Relationships expert Mandy Saligari talks about how addiction is more than substance abuse, she describes addiction as an act of self-harm often a consequence of low self-esteem. Living in active addiction you “persistently hurt yourself over and over again”, Saligari explains the importance of getting sober but also highlights how we must learn to love ourselves and live with gratitude in order to recover successfully without risk of relapse.
Saligari notes how it does not matter what substance one is addicted to – what actually matters is why would somebody seek something outside themselves in an attempt to fix how they feel? Particularly when it is to a disadvantage to the individual and their loved ones. Though I’m pretty sure that before somebody becomes an addict they never actually intend to become addicted. I know I never. I started drinking around the tender age of twelve and by the time I was thirteen I was a binge-drinker. I thought I was having the time of my life, but really I was just escaping. Despite seeing how alcohol had took it’s toll on some of my loved ones, the thought of me becoming an addict never really crossed my mind. I was just having fun. That would never be me.
I can’t think of a better analogy to describe addiction than The Pitcher Plant, described in Allen Carr’s book The Easy Way to Stop Drinking (2005), though it come to my attention when referenced in Annie Grace’s, This Naked Mind (2015).
The pitcher plant is a real plant, similar to the venus flytrap, it loves to eat bugs- particularly flies. It is shaped like a pitcher as the name suggests. Inside the pitcher is sweet, sticky nectar that is delicious and attracts flies in like bees to honey. They land on the lip of the plant, and soon begin to feast on this irresistible free meal, but remember ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. The fly blissfully enjoys the nectar until gravity takes place and the fly begins his slow descent deeper and deeper into the pitcher. Inside the pitcher are tiny hairs that only grow downwards – not ideal for a fly trying to escape the pitchers grasp. During the slow ride down the fly sees other flies at the bottom of the pitcher, the ones who didn’t make it. This fly knows he has wings so is sure that will never be him. The hapless fly continues to over-indulge in the sickly nectar despite being full until it is in fact him at the bottom of the pitcher. A place he never thought he would be.
We start drinking in our youth knowing all to well about the dangers of addiction. We see homeless people on our streets, possibly have alcoholics in the family or even know somebody who has died from alcohol related causes – yet we never picture that to be ourselves. The fact is addiction does not discriminate and it can affect any one of us.
Damn, I wish I knew then what I know now….
Despite growing up around marijuana I never had the urge to smoke throughout my youth. Alcohol was always my drug of choice. Booze was always easily accessible, or maybe it was just because my friends were doing it. Either way I loved it, I felt free and rebellious, which led to me being a binge drinker who would drink spirits in copious amounts for almost ten years starting from age thirteen. I went to university aged eighteen and discovered a whole new world of going out, taking drugs and most importantly escapism. I was in my element. The more drugs I tried the less appealing alcohol seemed to be. It never really hit the spot anymore. I was always trying to search for the next high. Taking so many drugs most nights we needed something for the comedown, after trying various different things in the end I realised there was nothing quite like weed. Quickly after using marijuana for the first time I was picking up more often and within about a year I was using on a daily basis.
In Professor Green’s recent BBC documentary Is It Time To Legalise Weed? Pro Green explores all arguments around legalising the drug in the UK. During the documentary he visits a Marijuana Anonymous meeting and one user describes her first time of using cannabis as “the relief of an alarm stopping after going off in the background for hours and hours”. I almost felt as if the words had been taken out of my mouth. Before my marijuana addiction I had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety; I often feel I use to cope with my mental health, though I understand that by smoking so heavily it will only make my symptoms worsen.
During university drugs definitely become a part of my identity, Mandy Saligari explains in Professor Green’s documentary that is a sign of psychological addiction. People begin to associate you with drugs and partying. It can be hard to break these links. In an attempt to overcome my addiction I self-referred into drug services. I admitted I had a problem and reached out for help. I started my blog to connect with others. I wanted to write, to be able to share my story and say there is no shame in addiction, or in mental illness. I would rather be associated with recovery than partying. I don’t care how many ‘failed’ attempts it takes me to get there because it isn’t failure if you don’t stop trying.
I am a completely different person to the girl I was in university. In-fact those who knew me there may not even recognise the person I am today. Now I would prefer a night in with a good book over a night on the town, I’m not a fan of overly loud people – I would probably hate my former self. I wish I could go back and give that girl a hug. I think I needed one at so many stages of my life, unfortunately it’s just something I was never really on the receiving end all too often. Though now I am aware that self-love and gratitude play a key role in recovery. So I just got to stick out this journey, I know it’s a long road but it’ll be sure as hell worth it!