Overcoming Addiction, Abuse & Chasing the Dragon

To say that people abuse drugs/alcohol is stupid. Drugs/alcohol are inanimate objects. People and animals get abused. Inanimate objects do not get abused. Addicts and alcoholics find a place to hide that feels safe and liberating. Staying in that place leads to inevitable bondage and destruction.

The voice of addiction is like the worst peer pressure and temptation you’ve ever experienced times a hundred and it lives in your head 24/7. The only escape is escapism, which we take to unhealthy extremes. Ultimately the path toward freedom is the same as it was in the incredible film, Shawshank Redemption. We crawl on our hands and knees through a hundred yards of shit. It sucks, it hurts, it’s scary as hell and there is no other way.

Addiction is the polar opposite of freedom. Addiction is self administered betrayal. The seduction of Addiction operates in much the same way that abusive perpetrators seek to systematically break down and control their partners. It seduces us with its charm. It promises us that we’ll never be alone again, never hurt again. It’s a whirlwind of fun and excitement in the early stages of the relationship. Slowly, subtly, things change. What used to always feel good starts making us feel ill at ease. We notice one day that we don’t see old friends anymore and the only people we hang out with now are people just like us doing what we do. We start to feel trapped. We reason that we just need to change things up a bit. We tell ourselves that it’s not a problem. We dig deeper and deeper into denial because it used to be so good and want that feeling back. In addiction terms this is “chasing the dragon.”

The white lies we tell ourselves become darker. We rationalize and justify until all the lies feel like truth. The Voice of Addiction provides and feeds these lies. It tells us that nothing really bad will ever happen. It reminds us that it has done a lot for us and we’d be lost without it. It reminds us of how bad we felt before we met. It preys on our insecurities and every once in a while it gives us a painful reminder of how dependent we’ve become. By this point we’re hiding everything from the people who love us. We can maintain that for a while. The truth is a funny thing – it generally gets harder and harder to hide.

If you were a person known or suspected of living in an abusive situation, uninformed people would ask you stupid questions like, “Why don’t you just leave?” If you’re an addict they ask, “Why don’t you just cut down or quit?” By the time a person is hearing these questions they’ve generally asked themselves what it would take to leave (much better question) a hundred times. It takes too much and it hurts too bad and it’s always going to be easier in the short term to stay where we are. Without enormous support, without incredible resilience and resources, people tend to stay where they are and do what they do. I have no interest in judging that. It’s just what people seem to do. I am certainly not saying that Domestic Violence and Addiction are the same thing – I’m saying they have a lot in common.

“Face down in the dirt she said this doesn’t hurt. She said “I’ve finally had enough.” – Red Jumpsuit Apparatus “Face Down”

The Voice of addiction becomes increasingly tyrannical over its course. It demands more and more. Like an abusive partner it is never satisfied, nothing is ever good enough, and we never truly relax. The abuse our bodies, minds, and souls endure becomes increasingly damaging. The cost increases regularly. Many of us paid the ultimate price. Others of us found ourselves broken, defeated, and unable to continue living the lies.

So we make a plan to stop the insanity. We white knuckle our way through the fears and the shame and the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual pain. Most of us tried to make it out alone. Nearly all of us failed. Facing demons alone is something we’d never wish on loved ones but it’s often what we do. So we fight with ourselves and we feel like we’re crazy and even if we’ve left the oppressor (abuser or addiction) we still feel that we have to hide who we are and how we think and feel from others.

Most of us go back. Maybe we tell ourselves it’s only for a little while. Maybe we say we’ll only hang out on weekends. Maybe we’ll only do it long enough to prepare for our next move. Most of us fell into old patterns and when we go back we enjoy a brief honeymoon – then it’s back with a vengeance. It gets worse and worse. Some of us find it easier to leave again because we left before. Many of us find it harder as we feel defeated and ashamed. We label our past attempts failures. This is not the case. Every attempt matters and each effort is a step closer to freedom.

When I am able to provide the recovering addict or the abused survivor hope, I am honored. There is so much more that is needed and people tend to overlook the pragmatics of What It Takes. No one can make these journeys alone. If someone you love is seeking freedom from an abuser, an addiction, or both please impress upon them that they are NOT a burden, imposition, or inconvenience. Please extend an invitation to support them in every manner possible. Set clear boundaries about what you can and cannot do. Do not enable or support the person in doing unhealthy things, but let them know that you love them unconditionally and will accept them (who they are if not their choices) no matter what they choose.

Author’s note: It is not my intention in any way to compare survivors of domestic abuse with addicts or alcoholics. I see a strong similarity in the ways in which abusive adults (yes I know women can perpetrate violence too) operate and the ways in which addiction preys on its hosts. I also see the intense struggle for a person to leave an abusive relationship as having some similarities with the recovery process from addiction. I have naught but profound respect for the resilience shown by all who are beaten down and get back up. They/We are richly deserving of love and support. The overwhelming majority of the very best people I know are people who Got Back Up.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.