In our addiction, we hear a lot of talk about our choices. We hear mostly about our bad decisions and often we hear a lot of condemnation for it. In most cases, it comes from Mom, Dad, a spouse, or our employer.
But what does it take to make good choices? Other people judge us for our addiction and for the things that we do to try to gain love and respect from others. To me, it felt like they took all the power away from my ability to make choices for myself. I was trapped in a world where everyone else told me what to do.
After finding recovery from my addictions, I've learned a few things about choices...and all of them have to do with learning how much power I have to choose my own path in life, my own destiny, and my own happiness. Nobody has the right or the ability to tell me what to do with my life. Here is how I proved them all wrong.
I can choose dignity, self-worth, and respect.
In my addiction, I chose to be around people who could understand my pain. We talked about the abuse we suffered as children, how bad relationships had left us controlled and even battered, and how we felt that there were very few good people left in this world. Being abused as a child, I felt that I had no control over my life situations, even as an adult. I didn't know what valuing myself meant, even though I thought I did. I was in one bad relationship after another, each one teaching me just how horrible people were. No one loved me or respected me the way I thought I deserved to be.
As I sought out help for myself and my addiction, I couldn't understand how people could care about me as much as they claimed to. I didn't feel like I was worth their time. Gradually, I came to love these people and accept their help. I began to see that many people are good people and just want to help those who have experienced pain as I had. I chose to associate myself with these people and realize that I had enormous value as a human being. I chose to see those who had hurt me as people who had been hurt themselves and became empathetic to their pain. While I chose to limit my interactions with those who had hurt me, I no longer allowed their actions to control my thoughts or feelings.
I can choose to be present and connected with others.
As the addiction epidemic in the United States becomes worse, more research is coming out about how our relationships with others affect our recovery. Us humans are relational beings, we need others around us to connect with us and to share our lives with. I had a terrible problem trusting others enough to allow them close to me emotionally. I held all my hurt and pain inside and I didn't share it with anyone. Meanwhile, I was bursting with hurt and living in agony. The drugs and alcohol eliminated that pain, quickly and completely. Numbing myself meant that I felt powerful and confident, and I didn't ever want that feeling to end.
While I worked on learning to live without drugs and alcohol, I met many people along the way that were consistently kind and supportive of me and my recovery. It took months for me to begin letting them see the real me, the me I thought no one would like. Even still, I sometimes fear that if I'm too honest with someone about who I am, they will reject me. Learning to trust others and overcome my fear has been difficult, but so worth it. I now choose to have people in my life that I trust completely with all my wild emotions and deep dark secrets. Some continue to be amazed by my story, while others share horrors of their past that I can't even imagine. But one thing always rings true, we share ourselves with each other, tell our stories, and laugh and cry together. I now feel more loved, connected, and accepted than I have ever felt in my life.
I can choose health.
Addiction left me with no interest in healthy lifestyle choices. I sat alone and isolated by myself as I numbed my pain with drugs and alcohol. I rarely felt hungry and when I did, the food I ate was certainly not anything that would be considered "healthy". For reasons unknown at the time, I struggled with a lot of stomach pain, especially when I ate. I also struggled with intense anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. I went to the doctor and had tests done for ulcers, Celiac Disease, Crohn's Disease, Diverticulitis, and more. All the tests came back negative, and I remained with the vague diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. There were meds for that, for depression, anxiety, heartburn, and a host of other maladies. Yet still, physically I felt awful. Emotionally I felt awful. I was a wreck.
Several months into my recovery and still feeling physically sick, I decided I'd had enough of it. I began researching what it meant to achieve health and I found a wealth of information that my doctors had never mentioned. I learned how beneficial it was to my health to eat the right foods, add a little exercise into my day, and sleep on a normal schedule. I began to feel so amazing - better than I had ever felt in my life! Working with my doctor, I was able to stop taking nearly every prescription medication that had been written for me. I simply had no idea how beneficial it would be for me to choose a healthier lifestyle. Everything improved from my energy level and emotional state to how well I slept at night.
I can choose a career where I follow my passions.
I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. As an addict, I found myself in my 30s and still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up...long after I was grown up. Sure, there were careers that interested me, but none that I had the self-discipline to work toward or go to school for. I had no passion for any type of work, I only sought things that sounded fun. Because of my lack of clarity on anything except my addiction, I bounced around from job to job until I got bored...or caught. And not one of the jobs I held was satisfying in the least.
What I was to discover in recovery was that there were people in careers that they loved. They were truly passionate about what they did, and they loved coming to work every day. As I gained more time in recovery, I saw that many of my newly clean and sober friends sought out careers in the addiction recovery field. I myself was soon to join them, having become passionate about helping people heal their relationships and stay sober once they went through a treatment program. I saw a need and I chose a place to fill that need within the community that I have become so passionate about. I feel fulfilled at the end of every day knowing I'm working toward a solution for people who still hurt deeply, just as I once did.
I can choose happiness.
The first time someone told me to choose happiness, I was utterly stunned. Did they not understand what it was like to struggle with addiction, anxiety, and depression? I can't just turn that stuff off like a switch, ya know. I can't just wake up tomorrow morning and be okay, let alone be happy. Did I want to choose happiness? Of course I did! I just didn't know how. Instead, I sat around with my drink in one hand and my pipe in the other, just waiting for it to happen. But it never did. It just kept getting worse.
It turns out that choosing to be happy didn't mean that I immediately made up my mind to be all better in a day. Rather, I had the choice to change all these little things, one by one, until eventually my anxiety, depression, and most of my physical pain faded away. Just as the promises of Alcoholics Anonymous state, I knew a new freedom and a new happiness. I wasn't bound by my addiction anymore, but I also was no longer enslaved by my fear.
I choose happiness over my addiction every day.
Life is amazing. Every day I grow a little bit more and learn more about myself. It wasn't easy, and it didn't happen overnight, instead it was a process of realizing that I had choices to make in my life. I had to learn about myself to know what I wanted. It took some time for me to realize that I had to make those choices, and that no one was going to make them for me. It was difficult at first, but the freedom I gained was more amazing than I could have ever imagined. Little by little, I made small choices that led to one huge change.
I've never experienced life like this before. And I never want to experience what life in addiction was like again.