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Break Up With Drugs and Begin Your Life

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. I’m here to give you those reminders, or at least the ones that worked for me when I quit.

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In this article

I wasn’t just addicted to drugs; I loved the way they made me feel. It took effort to imagine life without them.

Content warning: This piece includes descriptions of opioid use disorder and thought processes, as experienced by the author, as well as pejorative terms for drug users she identified with.

I couldn’t picture happiness without drugs.

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 who were 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, or ending up in the hospital /the gutter/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 like he directed. But all that came to mind was a handful of pills, a baggie of pills, a little makeup bag full of powders and pills … you get the idea. At that time, I wasn’t ready to hear his message.

When I quit drugs, I thought I would never love again.

Getting sober was the hardest breakup I’ve ever gone through. We don’t talk about that much. About how itchy and uncomfortable in my own skin 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! Let’s never talk about the time you were gone,” they seem to say.

Quitting drugs is much like any other 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 had become all you could think about 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, to imagine a life beyond them. It takes a dash of wild dreaming. Let’s look at some lies I held onto even in early sobriety that made my recovery harder, and some big ideas to bring to the forefront of your brain to start thinking about, dreaming about, a good life outside of drugs:

Lie: Drugs bring me a wild feeling of brilliance in this world like I have never known.

Big Idea: Drugs trigger certain parts of your brain that make you feel great things. But 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 an artificial high, even one that lies and tells you it’s a solution instead of a problem.

When you’re lost in the buzzy, feel-good chemical brain world of drugs, it can take a little imagination to remember the real world and why it’s important to you. But do remember it. It’s here waiting every time your supply dwindles. It’s full of people and music, art and sunrises, pets that you cuddle, shows that you binge, books that you love. Relationships that sustain you. This world can feel so, so good.

Lie: 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.

Lie: Nothing will make me as happy, buzzy, confident, interested, or excited as drugs.

Big Idea: Nothing will leave you as dope-sick, broke, jail-bound, and wrecked as drugs. But if you give your brain some time to heal, and you can feel all sorts of wild good feelings in sobriety. (And to be honest, wild bad ones, too. We’re only human.) 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 that are in store after them? Drugs hijack the brain chemicals that will work for you naturally. You just need to give them time to recover, without drugs messing them up.

Lie: This [drug user, fringe member of society, insert stereotype here] 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, to 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 so 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.



Kali Lux is a consumer marketing leader with a focus on healthcare and wellness. She has over a decade of experience in building and operating metrics-driven brand, demand generation, and customer experience teams. A founding member of Workit Health’s team and a person in recovery herself, she’s passionate about fighting stigma and developing strategies that allow more people access to quality treatment at the moment they’re ready for help.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. Workit Health, Inc. and its affiliated professional entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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