Friday, October 20, 2017

Judgement and Changing the Stigma of Addiction

I remember starting a diary when I was about 8 years old. Admittedly most of my entries comprised of my food consumption for the day (ah the life before drama and stress). As I got older my entries were much more honest and forthcoming. Many things I confided in writing, I never told my parents or friends in person. I enjoy having a blog because it keeps a certain lvel of privacy while at the same time baring my soul

So here it is. I am in love with an alcoholic. I can feel the judgement already. And I can also understand why. For those of you who are aware of my personal life over the past couple of years, you will know that I dated someone very seriously, who I did not know at the time had a drinking problem. I was very much in love with him by the time I understood the magnitude of the situation and you can't really just "unlove" someone. So I tried to stick it out. But after a few months I quickly realized that I could not fix him, and I couldn't just "love" him until he was better.

I made the very painful choice of stepping away from the relationship and spent September 2016-March 2017 focussing just on myself. During those eight months I decided to become a yoga teacher. Something that I truly believe changed my life and my outlook on many things. During the program many aspects of human health were discussed, including mental health and addiction. I should preface this with the fact that prior to meeting S I had no prior experience with addiction. Amidst all the group discussions and sharing of personal stories, I came to realize that all the women in my yoga teacher training group had been touched by addiction in some form, and how prevalent the problem is - particularly alcoholism.

I realized many things during my eight months while learning to be a yoga teacher - namely that I can be an incredibly judgemental and critical bitch - towards myself but also at others. When it came to S addiction I had a very black and white mindset. "Why doesn't he just stop?" "Doesn't he understand that all the negative things in his life are a result of alcohol?" "If he truly cared about me, he would stop drinking.". All of which I discovered is complete and utter bullshit, and contributes to the stigma of addiction.

 No one wants to become an addict. They are not supid or weak. Most addictions are the result of trauma, an incredibly painful experience. Humans have a natural aversion to pain, we want to feel pleasure. Unfortunately for most addicts, they don't have healthy coping skills, or good roles models in their lives (many have parents who are addicts) and result to the "quick-fix" method to numb the pain, to not have to feel. It is a temporary solution that unfortunately quickly becomes a pattern. because they don't have any other alernative. Addicts are not weak, often they succumb to addiction after being strong for too long. Many have anxiety or depression or other mental health issues. By drinking or taking other substances it silences their minds and gives temporary relief to their thoughts.

Many addicts (particularly alcoholics) also suffer from low self-esteem which also helps fuel the cycle of addiction. They feel bad about themselves, that they aren't worth anything, so they use. Then they feel guilty for using, berate themselves again, and use to forget and block out what they have done. Repeat. This cycle of addiction also tends to run through families/generations.

That being said, the brain is very malleable.  Some habtis and thought patterns are useful, so that we automatically do things without thinking; brushing out teeth, driving our car, etc. It's the unhealthy patterns that are created in the mind that are much more detrimental to our healh.vNo one becomes an addict overnight. It takes years of thought patterns and habits to create "grooves of the mind", but the same can be said for reshaping the way our brain thinks and the way we act. As much as we can think our way into something, we can also "rewire" our brain to think our way out of it. This of course takes time. The brain controls everything, so mental health is of the most importance.

Since meeting S this has became very evident. When our relationship ended in 2016, he sought help. He attended a month long in-patient program, attended AA meetings on a weekly basis, started addictions counselling and even spent a month in rehab in Northern Ontario. He has been an alcoholic for roughly 5 years, so it will likely take that amount of time before he is fully on the road to recovery. Despite all the work he's done, he still has occasional slip-ups. This i now acknowledge is to be expected and not something he should be berated for. It's like someone who is on a diet and accidently has a cheat day. Does that one cheat day erase all the good choices they've made? Of course not, but it's how they get back on track after a relapse that is the most crucial.

I never stopped loving S. I tried to delete him out of my life - unfriended him on Facebook, deleted his cell number out of my phone, and trash-talked him at every chance I got (which I now realize was to convince myself that I was right and he was a "terrible" person for doing this to me.) But despite my efforts, I couldn't stop thinking about him. I would send him emails every one in a while and he would respond. I would get angry and emotional and sever contact again. I reached out to him again on a more permanant basis in March 2017. I could see he had been making much more effort in his quest for sobriety and I found myself falling in love with him all over again. It was like the S I dated at the beginning of our relatioship.

We are currently seeing each other long-distance and he is looking at moving into a sober-living facility for a year. We have talked about a future together, but right now his mental health and sobriety is top priority. Nothing can come before that. Without your mental health you have nothing. So judge S for being an alcoholic. And judge me for choosing to stand by him. Feel free to judge me when you're perfect.

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