The Illusion

By Ken Wells - 01/14/2023


Series Three: Blog Ninety

Can’t get enough of what I really don’t want that almost works”-Anonymous

This conundrum is a stumbling block for every addict. The devastating aftermath of an act out comes with a great price. Accumulation of exhaustion over time disrupts focus. Everyday stress that comes from work, financial and relationship pressure skews the view and contorts the focus of program. You begin to distance your thoughts and actions from community support. Isolation becomes an inviting alternative to the irritation of having to make healthy choices in the presence of everyday headaches. Growing discomfort invades like a late afternoon shadow and closes in like a vice grip. Daily tasks spiked with anticipation and adrenaline toward completion give way to flat white-bread mundane moments of existence. Peggy Lee sings “Is this all there is?” The junkie worm answers “Hell, yeah, now’s the time to disappear and embrace the warm escape of addiction behavior”. 

The insanity of it all is that it almost works! The addictive mind shift is powerful! From being uptight with extreme irritation, immediately you feel ecstatic relief! Like going from a hurricane wind to the eye of the storm, suddenly you are at peace and feel reprieve from the constant pressure to be sober.

Ahh, if it would just last a little longer! But, it doesn’t, even after you try to tease it out and make it last, you know the hangover is coming both physically and emotionally. Nirvana disappears and the isolation that felt warm is now cold. Your body aches and your head pounds. The loneliness and emptiness that you tried to escape with the addictive hit is now far more intense than before. You face an either/or choice: go back and re-engage the fundamentals of sobriety or stumble down the rabbit hole and jones it one more time! Far too many addicts do it one more time!

Addicts struggle to be at ease in their own skin. Of course, this experience is not unique to just addicts. Yet, for many, there is an inward urge to be somewhere else than where they are. Once they get to the next place they become antsy with discomfort wishing they were elsewhere. The experience is insatiable and never ending. Triggered with melancholy an addict looks back at how things used to be. You reflect on an old relationship that has soured or past experiences that in truth you didn’t enjoy at the time, anyway. Yet, your mind pulls you back and you long for a time that you never liked in the first place. It also pulls you forward. If it’s winter you long for spring. If it’s summer you long for the log on fire that winter brings. It’s always somewhere else other than where you are.  

Addicts also struggle with unrelenting self-criticism. It’s the—shoulda’coulda’—and—I never measure up—syndrome. An addict’s mind can become monkey-brained. Thoughts are endless—I’m too withdrawn—should be more family oriented—ought to be eating better, exercising more—more productive in my work—looking too old—should be more happy—more busy—less busy—more happy—get the Steps done—god damn it why am I not more at peace—by the way when are the promises ever going to come true for me! An addict’s brain can be a relentless barrage of should do’s and ought to be’s that drives self-conscious insanity.

Here are a few considerations to think about.

  1. Life is an illusion. The present is all there is. Make peace with it. In early recovery, every time I thought someone had the peace that I longed for, I discovered how miserable and defective they were in some aspect of their life. It was a bummer! My sponsor seemed poise with perspective. I thought highly of him. I found out he was having an affair while doling out gems of recovery wisdom to me. What a letdown! I would work hard to achieve 1 month/6 months and then one year plus of sobriety and upon achievement wonder what’s next. And so it was in every life experience and achievement. Sometimes I would worry about the past—what should have happened and never did. I would ruminate about how I ought to be different. I would worry about things I said or did that I can’t take back or correct. I would try to be somewhere else than where I am. I have a tendency to think that everybody else is enjoying a good time, experiencing closeness and bonding with others and not me. As a young boy, I did not have close friends or a girlfriend and felt really isolated and lonely. I used to think everyone else in my class was out having fun on Friday nights, driving up and down main street with their friends, laughing and listening to their favorite rock n roll songs. It was an illusion then as it is now. The present is the only thing that is real! Everything else is illusion! In this moment you can be alive, choose peace, experience happiness and fulfillment. You can draw the circle around you and include yourself and not be dominated with loneliness in this present moment. Making peace with your reality requires that you understand the illusions that are presented in life.
  2. Acceptance is magic! Acceptance doesn’t mean things cannot change or you must give up and not improve your lot in life. It does suggest a surrender to the present experience in life. It means no more running away from uncomfortable feelings. Acceptance tames the monkey brain that tells you that you ought to be this or that. It says “I am ok and love who I am just the way I am”. You give yourself permission to be self-conscious, irritable, ill at ease, impatient, sad and lonely. Acceptance helps you recognize that all these feelings of discomfort will pass as will all the feelings of exhilaration. Life is a mixture of bitter and sweet, success and failure, highs and lows. There is a certain circadian rhythm to all of life. When you accept and surrender to the commonplace that exists for all including the famed and the unfortunate you discover your own personal brilliance.
  3. Resilience is often lost or underrated. It is nice to hear stories of those who once destroyed their life and then resurrected themselves with successful recovery. Going to a speaker’s meeting and listening to “before and after” stories remind me of “testimony meetings” in the fundamental evangelical churches I grew up in. There is always a certain amount of bullshit mixed in with the hope of glory. The reality is that there are few addicts in recovery who do not either relapse or lapse into destructive and hurtful behavior during their recovery journey. Testimonies that reflect resilience are generously received by those who seriously engage a roadmap to recovery. So you woke in the morning and snapped at your partner with cutting invective that was inexcusable. Rather than hide, minimize or ignore, it is helpful to simply recognize that you “f***d up and need to own it and make amends. When you deny your behavior or try to image manage, it not only sets you up for further lapse and even relapse, it creates a credibility gap with your support community. The road to recovery is circuitous. It requires humility to incorporate resilience and compassion for self and others. Resilience dispels the illusions of life and emblazons authentic and genuine recovery. 

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