When I quit drugs, I thought I would never love again.
Throughout my early twenties, I had a love affair with powders and dark warehouses. Loud beats and stuffy noses. A heady buzzy kind of love. A stay up for days, don’t come down, kind of love. A nod out while eating ice cream kind of love.
When I got to rehab, a counselor told me to close my eyes and imagine a wonderful feeling. A feeling I’d experienced as a small child. A brilliant sort of moment in my life. This man would bring a guitar to our group sessions, and play music for kids detoxing and nauseous, in ill-fitting sweatpants and dirty slippers. We didn’t want songs. We wanted a way to get high without getting arrested, trying to kill ourselves or other loved ones, ending up in the hospital or the gutter or a random stranger’s bed with no recollection of how we got there. This counselor with his guitar, he told me there was a lot of anger behind my smile.
I tried to close my eyes and imagine a brilliant, wonderful feeling. But all that came to me was a handful of pills, a baggie of pills, a little makeup bag full of powders and pills. You get the idea.
Getting sober was the hardest breakup I’ve ever gone through. We don’t talk about that much. About how itchy and uncomfortable I’d been since my childhood, and then I found one thing that worked to welcome me to the world like wading into a warm bath, and then that one thing stopped working for me, and brought my world toppling down with it, and brought my family down with me.
We don’t talk about how the drug war has created a culture of rebellion, a whole world of renegades fighting a battle between society and those it has shunned. And then the world wants us users to just stroll right back into the mainstream, like nothing ever happened. “You dropped out, you fell off the side of the world. But climb back on, and let’s not talk about the time you were gone.”
Quitting drugs is like any breakup. You’ve got to have your friends sit you down and tell you why that asshole wasn’t good for you, even when you can’t stop thinking about that one time you kissed in the rain and it felt like everything. You’ve got to have constant reminders, in those early times, of why something that became all you could think about moment to moment wasn’t good for you. You’ve got to remember that you can, and will, love again. I’m here to give you those reminders, or at least the ones that worked for me when I quit.
People talk about quitting as something that takes determination and willpower. It takes planning and logistics. Some say it takes god, or something like it. And okay, maybe it takes that stuff. But it also takes imagination. It takes the ability to look beyond a lover that has failed you but been, quite literally, intoxicating, and imagine a life beyond them. It takes a dash of wild dreaming. Let’s look at some myths I held onto in early sobriety, and how you can bring some big ideas to the forefront of your brain to start thinking about, dreaming about, a good life outside of drugs:
Myth: Drugs bring me a wild feeling of brilliance in this world like one I have never known.
Big Idea: Drugs trigger certain parts of your brain that make you feel great things. In this world, however, the one we live in, your life can be falling apart. You can forget to feed the kids or pets that you love. No drug makes you high forever. You will come down. You will come back to this world. And in this world, the wreckage drugs cause makes you feel like shit. Getting right in this world makes sense. It’s easier than chasing a high, even one that lies and tells you it’s a solution. It takes a little imagination to remember this world when you’re lost in the buzzy, feel good chemical brain world of drugs. But remember it. It’s here waiting every time your supply dwindles.
Myth: All those things I wanted when I was a kid, those forgotten wildest dreams, that I never went after? I’ll never be able to achieve those.
Big Idea: Getting sober lets you get clear-headed. Getting clear-headed lets you realize what you want to do with your life. It brings you the true rush. The big, wild, happy feelings my rehab counselor was talking about. Once you’ve been off drugs for a while, you’ll get some confidence under your belt. You can go after your big dreams. The stuff you have a passion for, that you dreamt of as a kid. This can be hard to remember if your self-esteem is shot from use. But it’s vital to remember. It’s something to live for, other than the next score.
Myth: Nothing will make me as happy, buzzy, confident, interested, or excited as drugs.
Big Idea: Nothing will also leave you as dope-sick, broke, jail-bound, and wrecked as drugs. Give your brain some time to heal, though, and you can feel all sorts of wild good feelings in sobriety. And wild bad ones too. You can embrace them all, instead of running on a hamster wheel of copping and using. Can you remember the good times before drugs? Or imagine the good ones after them? Drugs are hijacking the brain chemicals that will work for you naturally. You just need to give them time.
Myth: This (drug user, fringe member of society) is who I am.
Big Idea: When you were a kid, you weren’t a junkie. You weren’t attached to the identity of stoner or goth chick, you didn’t identify with a lifestyle of drug use or your friends more strongly than you identified with your brain cells screaming to survive. It’s our society that has done that to you. Giving up dope allows you to get to know yourself, begin a journey of self-exploration and discovery like you’re a newborn baby. What do you like to do? What can you, away from drugs, do to honor your interests? Have you ever nurtured yourself before? Have you thought yourself worthy of self-exploration?
We’ve all been through breakups. Kicking drugs will be the toughest breakup of your life. It was the toughest of mine. Addiction tears us down while telling us we need it more than anything else. It hurts us from head to toe, brain to family. It’s a full body breakup. A brain breakup.
This is why my rehab counselor’s message was so important, even if I couldn’t hear it then. I can hear it now. Remember happiness pre-dope. Believe it is possible in your life after drugs. This is a big ask, and it takes imagination. You found one love. You’ll find another, that doesn’t keep you up at night and doesn’t charge do much for its company. Dare to dream of what your world would look like, big and filled with what you’d do if you kicked the dope. And then, realize that dream is possible.