The Last Addiction

The Last Addiction

By Lucinda Lumiere 06/17/15

At this juncture, you might say to yourself: I have all this sober time and I have done everything right, so why am I still not happy?

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If you’re in recovery from a primary addiction, you may have discovered that once you “put the plug in the jug,” or “put down the grub,” or “detach with an ax” from a “qualifier” (or, like me, all of the above) you are still left with yourself. At this juncture, you might say to yourself: I have all this sober time and I have done everything right, so why am I still not happy?

I came in to the rooms of AA first as a teenager. At gunpoint, pretty much, from my mom. I was a crystal meth shooting, hep-C infected, mohawked hellion on death’s doorstop at the ripe old age of 15. Tough love in the guise of mandatory urine testing at home in our little Sunset district San Francisco apartment, and a compulsory 90–in-90 were administered by my sudden jail warden of a mom. She’d transformed from my best buddy to my executioner (or so I thought) rather rapidly—in direct proportion to my self-annihilating trajectory. 

From the gate, I knew I didn’t use normally. When I picked up drinking in freshman year of high school, I didn’t do it “socially,” but for obliteration. So my progression to IV drug use and an eight-day sleepless marathon that concluded on my 15th birthday were ample evidence that I had inherited the family disease. My mom (a recent divorcée in grad school for (what else) clinical psychology, diagnosed me and went into triage mode. 

Thankfully, I had the modicum of sense required to swallow the bitter pill (no pun intended) and recognize, at least intellectually, that I had a problem. Thus began my arduous recovery process—starting with a year “dry” in a confrontational state-run treatment facility, followed by relapse and another four years that led ultimately to heroin addiction. 

At 21, I finally “hit bottom” and got willing to go to any lengths. I went to a 28-day hospital program (finally my mom had insurance that would cover treatment). This was followed by a two-month stay in a halfway house, at the urging of the 28-day program’s staff, who were pretty sure I wouldn’t make it without more help. I graduated from the halfway house and started attending meetings. I was told pretty quickly that I had codependency issues—these led to my last one-day relapse on heroin when my still active boyfriend found a connection in the local AA clubhouse. I picked the heroin up one last time as I heard the passage verbatim in my head from the Big Book about how there would come a time when only my higher power could stop me from picking up—instead, I silently prayed I wouldn’t overdose. The next day, I went to a meeting and raised my hand as a newcomer. Since then, I have stayed sober. 

My first few years were spent changing everything. I was a newly sober college student, trying to blend in, and discovering that the feelings I had medicated were back. In spades. I did therapy, experienced my first anxiety attacks, and started binging on food. I had a blackout from a sugar binge so severe that I forgot where I parked my car, and spent an entire day looking for it in the city towing facility-only to find it a block from where I lived. I had no recollection of parking the car after eating a bunch of passed pastries at a catering gig. One for them, two for me. Enter Overeaters Anonymous, which led to ACOA  and then Al-Anon. 

I started having harrowing memories of childhood sexual abuse. I did more therapy and tried to breathe through the anxiety attacks. 

Miraculously, despite the host of almost crippling behaviors that seemed to pop up like the heads of a particularly vicious hydra, I graduated college with honors and started working in my chosen field, drama. Yes, really. I got hired by an equity theater company, toured Julius Caesar (ironically, to high schools) and started teaching theater to kids. I was living my dream, but was often paralyzed by anxiety and plagued by low self-esteem. I soldiered on, auditioning and working in restaurants in between gigs. I transferred all my feelings of trauma into the project of becoming a working actor and theater professional. I equated my worth with what I achieved (acting is such a great place to do that!), and wondered why I was so terrified of what I had chosen to do. I almost moved to LA with a lovely boyfriend to pursue my dream, but my crippling fears once again reared their ugly heads and I changed my mind after my boyfriend had changed schools to support me. We broke up. 

I moved to New York to “check it out” and never returned. I thought that here, I could try to get in to grad school. Instead, I got a job in a restaurant and did some off-off-Broadway theater. I interviewed for “straight jobs” at theater non-profits and publishing houses, but didn’t seem qualified enough for the pathetically low paying jobs that seemed to be the sole provenance of trust funders and ivy leaguers. Anxiety had escalated into depression and suicidal iteration. I was reading the letters of Vincent Van Gogh and identifying way too much. I told my mom that I was worried I was going to have a nervous breakdown. My biggest fear was that I would crack and end up wandering the streets of Harlem in my nightgown, not knowing who I was. My mother, God bless her, adopted her clinical tone and told me to start wearing dog tags, just in case.

Around this time, I met a guy in the rooms who became my main qualifier for Al-Anon. This relationship brought me to my knees and introduced me to the concept that I was my own problem. The madness and drama that transpired in this relationship (he spied on me through my window from the street after our second date, which I found oddly flattering) were a perfect smokescreen for me not to look at myself. I could fixate on his delusional paranoia and cycle through the abusive relationship rollercoaster while completely avoiding my own fears. 

Thanks to a very loving higher power, after four and a half years, he finally dumped me, and I had to look at myself. This is when I got serious about Al-Anon. Al-Anon helped me to see that I was the problem, or rather, that my thinking was. Thanks to practicing its tools, I got a new career as a yoga teacher and even bought my own apartment. Then I met my husband. 

This relationship is my biggest teacher. I have once again chosen a partner who is volatile, temperamental, and verbally abusive. Confusingly, he is also very committed, loving, and willing to look at himself. There is no black and white in this situation, only a morass of grey. And not 50 sexy shades, just three or four. I continue to work my Al-Anon program, and realize once more that I am indeed responsible for my situation. I am not a victim. I am a volunteer. I can choose to be a participant in abuse or set boundaries and detach. This is all well and good, and seems to be working, one day at a time. Though we are in an alcoholic relationship, there is progress in that we are both willing to look at it and keep trying. We are going to start Chapter 9 meetings to address our relationship, a recovering context. 

So why am I still miserable? The answer lies within. I realize that I am addicted to negative thinking. I have become comfortable with crisis, dissatisfaction, and catastrophizing. I work hard at my creative endeavors, but easily lose confidence and faith at the smallest setbacks. I genuinely work hard and pursue my vision with courage, but still use rejection as a tool to bludgeon myself. These setbacks (which are truly part and parcel of a creative life) can take me down to a place of abject despair in short order, if I am not vigilant. Though I have achieved much (I am a published author, and have written two pilots and a play), I can wallow in despair and lose momentum at the drop of a hat. 

I have to ask myself if a life spent in recovery (I have been sober 26 years) is supposed to be a life of continuous repair, an endless “to-do” list of stopping up leaks in a dam. Is my life in recovery a template for continuous misery? Am I conditioned to always look at life as a series of “problems” that require a rigorous disciplined program of action to “fix?” 

What is the payoff for staying confused, depressed, and plagued by low self-esteem? Has the quest for some idealized notion of perfection become my last addiction? The Big Book of AA doesn’t promise an endless vista of cash, prizes and satiety. That is actually a pretty drug addict-based expectation, and one of the reasons I used to begin with. I wanted everything perfect, clean, and easy. I still do. In fact, the Promises only state that we will be free from worry and anxiety—what we call in yoga the mental afflictions—they say nothing whatsoever of financial insecurity actually being alleviated. It is the fortitude to deal with vicissitude that is promised in our program. 

When I was in crisis mode with my first Al-Anon qualifier, I went to a therapist who told me I make negative predictions. Here I had thought my problem was addiction, or choosing abusive men, or the anxiety, or the low self-esteem. Actually, it was that I chose to paint the beautiful empty room of reality a crappy wash of bilge brown. I simply felt safer and more comfortable living in a haze of despair. It enabled me to not take action or grow. And I still fight this tendency. It turns out that after all these years in recovery, I am still the piece of dookie the world revolves around if I don’t remain vigilant. 

Why is it so terrifying to feel good, and to embrace success? When I have received accolades and attention, I have brushed them off, internally angry that my “real” dreams are still in process. At one point, I wrote a well-received book and made a lot of TV appearances. I had to fight off the panic of my mental loop that told me I was a fraud and an impostor, that if they really knew who I was, they would kick me out of the building and rip up my contract. I have received beautiful fruits for my labors, but since they weren’t the mangoes I specifically requested, I pelted them back like a petulant infant. 

I am amused and somewhat astonished that my mind turned out to be my ultimate abusive relationship. I am my own qualifier. The good news is that I possess the key to freedom. And even better, the antidote is the same as it has always been—using the spiritual tools of the program. 

When I can sit still and be with myself in the inner chamber of the soul, I am afforded relief from the machine gun cacophony of my thoughts. Of course, part of the process of sitting and being still is witnessing the incessant chatter of the monkey mind. If you read the great philosophers and spiritual leaders, this seems to be the human condition, but those of us afflicted with addictive tendencies can’t live safely with it any more than we can live safely with righteous anger. In a way, we are under a survival imperative to practice spirituality more than a moral one. As the Big Book says, “the spiritual life is not a theory. We must live it.” 

The good news is that the cumulative result of all my time and labor in 12-step programs over the years has led to some very good habits. I already pray and meditate every day. I work with sponsees and attend meetings regularly. If, like Jack Nicholson, I experience the epiphany that this is indeed as good as it gets, then I have actually won the lottery after all. Because, you know what? In this moment, everything truly is perfect, and I will take that. One day at a time. 

Lucinda Lumiere is a pseudonym for a regular contributor to The Fix. She last wrote about her healthy addiction and her sober marriage.

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