I have a confession to make: For most of my teenage years I was addicted.
I was going to finish that sentence with “…to alcohol” but as I’ll explain later, I don’t believe that’s true. Even though it definitely looked like it from an outside perspective.
Every time I played a gig it was one bottle of whiskey before the gig, one during, and one after. Every time I went out, we had a couple of bottles of wine before. Then we split a bottle of rum in the car, screaming along to our favorite bands from the 90s. Then we bought a second one for the party. Which would be finished in an hour. Just like our money. So we’d get started with the budget options, like liqueurs. And when there was nothing left, I’d play bar bets for cocktails or shots (which -as any good bar bet goes- I would always win).
This happened every Friday and Saturday.
It also happened most Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. At one point I had an improvised cocktail bar in my bedroom that became our breakfast.
It’s not that I had a problem or something. I just really loved booze. And any other drug for that matter. I would use anything I could get my hands on just to experience that side of life. I must’ve tried every combination of drugs that existed. But it always stayed fun. It never felt like compulsive behavior. It just felt like my life was one never-ending party. Maybe that’s why I play in a band named Wasted 24/7. I don’t know. I honestly can’t remember who came up with that name or when.
When my parents or teachers told me I needed to be careful about my drug use, I would always dismiss the comments because I was sure it wasn’t a problem.
Maybe other people had drinking problems, but not me. I was very good at it. I sometimes had hangover problems, yes. But they’d be over as soon as I continued with my not-a-drinking-problem. Time for another day filled with nothing but pure, unadulterated fun ?
But let’s take a step back and look at all that fun from a third person’s perspective:
From between the ages of 15-21, I only remember the most “memorable” and intense events. Most of it is simply too hazy. There are people I know I’ve been close friends with for a certain period in my life, but I don’t have any memory of specific moments I spent with them.
Even though I knew I could stop whenever I wanted, it’s pretty clear I was always looking for the next thing to dull my mind. When I had no money at all anymore, I would turn to Nutmeg.
It’s probably the cheapest drug in the world: 1 dollar in your local supermarket for a dose that’s enough to keep you high for more than a week. It’s also deadly and has several nasty side effects. But hey, it keeps the party going, right? ?
Discovering What’s Already Obvious to Everyone Else
In my early twenties I grew out of the daily drug use. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t addicted anymore. From time to time I’d still go on massive alcohol binges that more than made up for all the days I “skipped”.
I still didn’t think there was a problem though.
…until I quit drinking. For which I had 99 reasons, but being addicted wasn’t one.
And in those first weeks / months, I noticed something funny. Some days, I’d get the urge to go out and party or drink. And I’d come up with all kinds of justifications why it was an okay thing to do.
But I chose to stay disciplined. I didn’t give into that feeling. And this is what happened: I started craving other things instantly. Like smoking weed, or drinking coffee, or having a booty call.
It became a predictable pattern. Every time I didn’t drink when I normally would have, I went through the same list of cravings in the same order. And if I didn’t give in to any of the cravings on the list, the list became longer. Interestingly, it would even start to contain stuff I normally don’t even like. Like smoking cigarettes or eating junk food.
So that’s when I discovered that addiction is not caused by the substance.
Things like alcoholism are most often labeled as a disease, but observing this in myself, I found out it was most likely a symptom.
Yes, I could quit alcohol cold turkey and be fine with it when the detox period was over. But that didn’t cure the addiction. I was on the verge of become a sex addict or becoming a coffee addict. Because the real disease was the root of the addiction. Alcohol was just a useful tool for the addiction to use. And now that I didn’t make it available anymore, that same addiction was looking for something new.
So I decided to figure out what the root was: I stayed in bed for a couple of days, while I removed all external stimuli. No TV, no music, no Facebook. I was hell-bent on figuring out what the cause was.
And sure enough, my mind went through the same list again. Alcohol, weed, coffee, sex, cigarettes, junk food, television, other drugs.
And when it was done with the “bad stuff”, it even started to include a lot of seemingly healthy habits like running, reading, hanging with friends or eating healthy food.
[ Side note: That is why it makes no sense to try to quit smoking by replacing the habit with a “good one” like eating apples. At best, you stop smoking but the root of your addiction is still there, looking for something new. Worst case, you are now addicted to sugar (or at least to food). Good job, buddy. Here’s another apple ? ]
But as I let all the cravings pass one by one, I still didn’t find the root of the addiction.
I now started filling my head with all kinds of thoughts: Fantasies, memories, irrelevant thing, grocery lists, ideas for songs, etc.
“Unbelievable”, I thought, “when there is nothing left for this addiction to be addicted to anymore, it just makes me addicted to my own thoughts.”
…which of course, was just another one of those sneaky thoughts for my addiction to feed on.
I stayed there for a couple of days to focus on the silence between those thoughts. Until the silence became longer and longer and finally the thoughts started to disappear.
Suddenly it all came to me. The intense pain and sadness I had tried to avoid facing all my life. The existential loneliness I felt. The disconnect from the rest of the world because I couldn’t understand how other people function. How there were people who had an intent which wasn’t loving. Who did bad things on purpose.
I couldn’t understand how people were able to abuse me as an innocent little kid. I could not for the life of me imagine doing something like that would be fun for anyone.
Or how cops did the same to me as a teenager because they enjoyed the position of “power” when I could clearly see the weakness and desperation in their eyes.
I couldn’t understand how those same cops let the bad guys who ganged up on me run free because they didn’t want to face them, then treated the victim like a tool that could help them incriminate people they wanted to pin something on, before they sent me off to the hospital by foot.
I couldn’t understand how everyone seemed so willing to turn themselves into robots, zombies and slaves, yet frowned upon anybody who actually tried to be an individual and differentiate themselves.
All my life, I had used everything I could find in my environment to run away from the things I could not understand or accept about the world. Most of all the fact that in a world full with billions of people, and in the middle of a loving circle of friends, I still felt lonely as fuck.
What Happens When You Face Your Demons
As I sat there and those feelings came up, I had no idea what to do about them. So I just sat with them for a while and allowed myself to really feel everything I had hidden from myself for most of my life. Sometimes I believed I couldn’t handle it anymore, but then I realized that was just another thought that I was having to run away from it. And you know what happened after I felt like that for the entire day?
Those things still did happen. The hole in my chest was still there. The feelings still inside me.
But I was perfectly fine. I didn’t die. The world didn’t end. And none of it had any relevance to my current situation.
All this time I had used up massive amounts of energy, money and drugs to run away from this big scary demon inside me, that actually didn’t even have the power to catch up with me or hurt me.
As stupid as it may sound, this made me feel peaceful for one of the first times in my life.
After it, “not drinking” was never a hard thing to do. I know a lot of people complain how hard it is to quit smoking or stop eating unhealthy food, etc. I think that’s because we are taught to look at such behavior in the wrong way.
The addiction is not the substance. The addiction is the act of running away.
So instead of focusing on just taking away the substance, focus on not running anymore.
Completely stand still for a few days. Find out what you are running from. And embrace it. After facing the real issue, it all becomes easier to bear.
How Common Is Addiction?
I know you might be reading all this and thinking “Cool story bro! But I’m not addicted.”
And you might even be right : – ) But how sure are you?
Because being sober, it looks to me like the majority of people on this planet are addicted to something. So it might be worth it to find out if you belong to that group or not. If you do, you can quit and become more free. If you don’t, you should have no problem with the following fun challenge:
For the next 30 days, pick one of the following:
• No television or Netflix
• No alcohol
• No porn or masturbation
• No meat or dairy
• No wheat
• No shopping.
• No processed sugars (including drinks)
• No complaining, ever
• No social media
• No seeking external validation (as in bragging about yourself or posting something to get likes / any kind of attention on Facebook or Instagram)
If you think you can’t do this for 30 days or if you immediately reject the idea as stupid, that’s an even bigger sign you should try it.
Think about it: If you’re not addicted, what’s there to lose besides 30 days of doing something you don’t need anyway?
On the other hand, what’s there to gain?
• More time
• More freedom
• Better health
• A memorable, interesting experience to remember or to talk about.
… and the approval of me and all the others you share your 30 day challenge with. Unless you picked the last one on the list of course. In that case, you’re on your own 😉