If I wrote a science fiction movie, addiction would be a computer virus that infiltrates individual hard drives and adapts itself in a way to be almost undetectable by the general public. It would control the host’s body and subtly distort perception to protect itself from being discovered and eliminated. Most of all, it would reprogram the hard drive so that the host continues to feed it. It thrives on your drug of choice but any drug will do. The only way to stop the virus is to starve it.
This analogy explains why insane choices seem perfectly logical to us. And why our best plans on how to stop using have always failed.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had some variation of this conversation: “Patty, I’ve decided to get clean. I’m really doing it this time. I haven’t done any coke or had a drink since last week. I’m done this time, for real! It’s been almost a week and I feel great. It’s time that I get off my fat ass. I feel really motivated. I’m going to work out every day and I even hired a personal trainer three times a week to help keep me motivated. I also started an amazing diet – no sugar and no carbs. I gained so much weight from the booze I can’t stand to look at myself naked. I’m really kicking ass at work too. And I have this new boyfriend who’s totally supportive. I’m really going to get my life together. I know you’ve heard this before – but this time I mean it. I’m really committed this time.”
A couple weeks pass and when I ask how it’s going, I hear all about the boyfriend and the diet and some excuses about why it’s been hard to get to the gym every day but how they’ll do better next week. What I rarely hear is what they are doing to stay clean and sober. Some will start out this self-improvement regiment with 12 step meetings being part of the mix. Usually they are too focused on weight loss or making money and swear they have nothing against meetings but there’s not enough time. Since they aren’t even thinking about getting high, they aren’t worried.
It’s important to understand how the disease operates. Quite often our downfall is that we believe our own thinking is healthy and accurate. For years, we were baffled by how, regardless of our intentions, we always ended up using when we swore we wouldn’t. Imagine the disease has infiltrated our hard-drive, like a computer virus, and our thinking remains hostage until we weaken its hold on us by starving it. Until then, we lack the clarity to recognize when we are setting ourselves up for failure or relapse.
Staying clean has to be the top priority. If we use, the diet won’t fix us. The relationship won’t save us. If you’re like me and using is a full time job, when would you get to the gym? For most addicts, once they pick up, nothing else really matters.
My advice is to not take on too much too soon. Trust me, as you stay clean, you’ll have time to take on every facet of self-improvement. High school dropouts become doctors and couch potatoes become marathon runners. Anything’s possible with some clean time under your belt.
If you are getting clean and thinking now’s the perfect time to quit smoking, give up sugar, give up caffeine, cut down to 1000 calories a day and spend 2 hours a day at the gym then lock yourself up in your love nest – good luck. Don’t underestimate the ongoing effort and commitment you have to invest in early recovery. It’s like learning how to ride a bike without training wheels all over again. If you get hungry angry lonely or tired in the early days because of your diet, your exercise routine, your inability to jump off the hamster wheel,, life will feel like one big exhausting job and you’ll wonder why the hell you bother. This sort of thinking often leads to “I was happier when I was getting high”.
I believe in exercise. The key is taking a gradual approach to change in early recovery. Perfectionism is another downfall so put down the whip. An addict who plans on ten hours of exercise who only gets three will use this lack of discipline as a weapon for inner torment. The worse we feel about ourselves, the more we set ourselves up for relapse. Aim for a minimum of 45 minutes 3x a week to start. Walk instead of drive when you can. Even if you are kicking narcotics and feel like any movement will kill you, take a walk anyway. Scroll down to January’s blog posts for tips specific to anyone getting clean.
Begin to make healthier food choices. This is not the time to fast, go on a juice diet, eliminate carbs. Your body is already going through a lot. Add fruits and vegetables and limit fast food and sugar. Don’t be rigid. If you want ice cream or pizza, have it. The first couple weeks are going to be uncomfortable enough. It’s not the time to try to make up for years of McDonald’s fries. January’s posts also address diet for people getting clean or new to recovery.
Romance, sex, love, and companionship are wonderful things – in fact they can make us feel so right drugs don’t even enter our thoughts. But when there is trouble in paradise, getting high will be the first thing on our mind. Not to mention who wants the responsibility of being someone’s lifeboat in a relationship? Well, there are 12 step programs for those people too. A relationship is a relationship -not a substitute for recovery.
If you are thinking about getting clean or if you’re in early recovery, do yourself a favor and make staying clean your priority. Don’t let not living up to your unrealistic expectation of being perfect become an excuse to give up on everything.