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It’s time we get real about addiction. I’m not worried about what society tells you that you need to believe. I’m going to tell you the truth about addiction, and I’m qualified to do that because I was an addict. A doper and a soaker is what they called me. I popped pills and when that stopped working, I lost myself in the bottom of a bottle.
I came from a home that was broken at its core, with both parents in the home, but neither “there." My mother’s family is full of addicts and alcoholics for generations before and after my own. My father’s family history presents the same way. Both my mother and father came from broken homes and my father was an alcoholic. We lived in a small town in Florida through my formative years and though we stayed in Starke, we moved often. I didn’t have a ton of friends and wasn’t allowed to go to dances or parties. We were raised in a hellfire and brimstone preaching Southern Baptist Church and were required to be there any time the doors were open. My father’s health required that he be hospitalized for long periods of time while he was either recovering from his latest surgery or in rehab for his latest crisis brought on by his own addictions. My mother put my father first and we were left with whoever would take us at the time. It was during one of those times that I was sexually and physically abused. I was married young and wasn’t prepared to be a wife and after ten years, I cheated and found myself divorced and remarried to the man I cheated with. Five years later, I had three living children and one deceased. I had spent five years getting beaten daily and that was a mountain of a man. After he, or anyone else for that matter, refused to attend the funeral of my baby, I turned to drugs.
This is where you, as a society, feel really, REALLY, bad for me and excuse my addiction. It was understandable, right? I mean, come on people! I didn’t stand a chance with all the predisposition I had for addiction! Now that you’ve heard my super sad story, I’m going to get real very fast. I was an addict because I chose to be. Period. Addiction is NOT a disease. You are not a victim. It is a choice. It’s always been a choice. My parents weren’t horrible parents, they did what they could with what they had, and they didn’t do a bad job. Even if they had been horribly abusive or neglectful when I was a child, I’m here now and it is not an excuse.
I told you a super sad story and while it’s all true, there’s more to the story. It was the story I told myself, over and over, to excuse my behavior. I had demons breathing on the back of my neck, all the time. I swear, I didn’t mean to hurt anyone but myself, I just needed the pain to stop. The pain I was in had nothing to do with what happened to me as a child. The pain had to do with my choices. Each foolish decision led me to the next and before I knew it, I was popping up to sixty pills a day. My mother didn’t force pills down my throat and the sins of my father didn’t have to continue to run through my veins. I went to rehab the first time to shut everyone up, so they would leave me alone and I could get back to my drugs. I was high the entire time I was in rehab and by the time I left, they changed the rules in the facility because I had manipulated the entire population of residents to follow my behavior so that I could stay high. When I finally decided I had enough of living in my misery, I stopped. That was it. I went through the detoxification process on my own. It sucked. My body hurt, and my mind would not stop. For a solid two weeks, I fought every single day to not use. My brain told me I needed it and reminded me why I started to do it in the first place on a constant basis.
What I knew for sure was that I was NOT going to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous because I know what most addicts and alcoholics know, if you want to get high, any drug you could possibly want, you will find at those meetings. I sat in those meetings for a while in an attempt to help myself and I listened to people tell me that I was responsible for my sobriety, but I needed everyone in the room to keep it. They told me that I couldn’t resist alone. They told me I needed my neighbor to maintain my sobriety. I got to thinking about that and I knew if I had to count on the people in the room at that moment, I was never going to maintain sobriety. Most of the people in rehab and in those AA and NA meeting are there because they have been forced to be as part of a court order. They couldn’t care less about being sober and they certainly don’t care about your desire to get and stay clean. I made a different choice and stayed away from the meetings.
I knew to the depths of my soul that the friends I had at the time had my back. I KNEW that no matter what happened, they were ride or die. Then I went to jail. Thirty-two days without a phone call or visit and no money on my books. Wait. What? Where were all my homies? Everyone had caller ID and knew I was in jail. Why weren't they answering? Where did my hood go? I had fought for these people. I had put my own life in danger, numerous times, to help them out and then, just like that, they weren’t there. I got out of jail and turned my phone on and it started ringing immediately. I rejected that phone call. It was so hard to do that, even after spending time in jail with no word from any of them. I was heartbroken that I had to reject that call. The caller was a person I had spent every day of my life with for six years. Someone that just thirty two days prior I would have died for, but I had to reject the entire lifestyle, and everyone associated with it. I made a different choice and not only left the neighborhood, I left the neighbors behind.
Next, I had to deal with my demons. I had to deal with why I started using in the first place. I started to ask myself some questions about everything that was eating at my soul. I started thinking about forgiveness. At this point, I didn’t have anyone in my ear telling me I couldn’t do something. I didn’t have any support, but I didn’t have the attitudes of most people either. I’m going to clue you in on something. If you are living in the hood and you think your homies are down for you, I want you to go, right now, and succeed at something. Anything. Watch how many of your homies try to discourage you. Pay special attention to the “trip wire friends." Those are the few that want you to succeed so you can take them with you. They have laid the trip wire and are all in your face, keeping themselves full frame in your line of sight until they realize that you are making different choices. Things aren't what they used to be. You still believe in helping people out, but you've learned that you are in control of your life and your choices and you believe everyone is perfectly capable of doing the same. You won't accept excuses because you already know them all. They start to realize that you are going after your dreams and unless they are doing it for themselves, they will be in the same position in life until they die. They will smile in your face as you trip over the wire they laid in your path. The opposition isn’t to your success, mind you. The opposition is to their lack of motivation and self-worth. They will watch as you leave the projects because now that you aren’t spending all of your money or drugs, bail and attorney fees, you can afford to move “on the block." Now you are getting your life together. You have a job and a car, and a little money saved so you move out of the neighborhood and in to a better one. This is where it gets ugly folks. Now they have seen you do it. They know it can be done because you just did it and just the year before you were standing in the same spot and doing the same things your friends were doing.
You will lose any hangers-on at this point. They won’t call you because they are terrified of you asking what they are doing to make their life better. I made a different choice and won’t accept excuses as to why you can’t do the same thing.
If you are currently in an addiction, I want to talk directly to you. You are mad at me right now, because I’ve told you that your addiction is not a disease, it a choice that you have brought on yourself. “But Phoenixx!!" you shout at me, “I didn’t have a choice! It runs in my family! Addiction IS a disease!” To that, I answer, what a load of crap. You’ve been indoctrinated to believe that you don’t have control. You have listened to people tell you that addiction is a disease and beyond your control and I am telling you that you are the only one in control. Calling it a disease is defeatist at its core. This has not been forced upon you. You didn’t wake up in the morning and get diagnosed with cancer. You choose, with every drink, every hit, every bump, every pill you swallow, to be a part of that life. It is hard to face your demons. It is hard to forgive people for what they have done to you. It’s hard to admit that you make bad choices and need to learn to make new ones. It’s hard to admit that you hurt your family. It's terrible to realize what you have done to your children. It was horrible, whatever you went through. I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve it and even if whatever you are hanging on to was all your fault and nobody else can be blamed, take the blame and forgive yourself. There is nothing you can do about what has been done. There is nothing you can do about the father that walked out on you. There is nothing you can do about the abuse you suffered as a child. The only thing you can do is forgive. Really forgive, and that starts with yourself. You MUST forgive yourself. You screwed up. It’s over and you cannot change it. When I started to go through this part of the process, my brain was still telling me that until whoever had hurt me apologized, I could never forgive them. Here is reality, their apology will not take away what happened to you. They did what they did, and they are responsible for that upon their judgement. When you allow that stuff to keep eating at you, they are still hurting you. You are going through hell to find that next hit and they are sleeping peacefully at night. Let it go. When you let it go and forgive, you win. You have become mightier than whatever hurt you. Little victories like that lead to self-confidence. If you can win that time, you can win the next. Once you realize winning is possible, you want more of it. You will start chasing that win like you chase that drug or drink.
I am not telling you not to go to rehab or for a medical detox. If you feel you are going to need it, don't be ashamed to go! If you decide to go to rehab, go with the understanding that you will not accept any form of medication that is not life-saving. You may require some blood pressure medication for the first few days, especially if you are an alcoholic, and I encourage the use of it. What you don’t want is to replace one addiction for another. You don’t need a pill to get over opioid use, you need to feel what it has done to your body. You need to be sick. You need to sweat it out. You need your muscles to cramp. You need that memory. You can do it. You just have to make a different choice. Your brain will start to focus on chasing that next win instead of that next hit, but it all starts with YOUR choices.
If you are the loved one of an addict, I want to talk to you now. It isn’t your fault. Unless you are tying off and popping a rig in your loved one yourself, stop blaming yourself. Please stop shaming your addicted loved one. They know they are messing up. They aren’t really angry with you, they are ashamed, and anger is an easy emotion. Here is where I need to get real with you. If you are giving the addict in your life a place to sleep, food to eat, clothes to wear, money or rides, stop it. Right this second. Tough love is the only way to go. This is a choice they have made for themselves and you don’t own responsibility. You don’t owe them anything but the truth. The truth is that an addict will not stop until they are tired. Make them tired faster. If the addict in your life wants to cause chaos, they can do that elsewhere. I don’t want to hear “I can’t throw my child/brother/cousin/friend out in the street! What would I do if something happened to them?” First, yes, you can put them out. Open the door and tell them to leave. Don’t argue. Don’t be baited in to you feeling like the bad guy by entertaining anything your addicted loved one has to say about it. Don’t take them to a friend’s house or the bus stop. Don’t give them any money to leave your home with. Trust me when I tell you, they are addicts and addicts are creative and incredibly resourceful. They will make choices from that point forward that you have absolutely no control over. Make them tired, don’t make them ashamed. Explain the only acceptable contact is them calling to say they are in rehab. You heard me right. Don’t even entertain taking them to rehab. When they are truly tired and want to get clean, they will do it for themselves. Doing anything less than taking the hard road is killing your loved one. I understand that you aren’t buying their drugs, but the truth is, you are. Allowing them a place to sleep is freeing up money that they are using to fund their bad choices. Giving them a ride saves them from paying a friend or a taxi, which is great because an extra ten dollars always helps when buying drugs. Please stop it. You can’t save the addict in your life. Listen to me. You cannot save that person. They have to save themselves.
This entire nation is addicted to something. Some of you wake up in the morning, grab a cigarette, a cup of coffee and social media. If you miss any of those things, your day just isn’t right and doing without the cigarettes and coffee with find someone with hell to pay. We all have something we are dealing with. Our lives are going to be filled with troubles that aren't our choosing. We are going to have to deal with those things because they will be forced upon us, and we add to them by our choices. Make a different choice. You are not sick! You are unmotivated and have no self-worth. I heard a story that went something like this: I have a brand new one-hundred-dollar bill, do you want it? Of course, you do. What about a one-hundred-dollar bill that I found in the gutter? Do you want that one? You do? But, it’s dirty and frayed at the edges! You would still take it though, right? Why? It's simple, really. Someone, somewhere, assigned that piece of paper a value. That value is equal to one hundred American dollars. If I used a permanent marker to write, “I have decided this bill is worth one penny," on that one-hundred-dollar bill, does it change the value? No. It doesn’t. Your creator assigned your value. No person can take that from you. You are worth your wins. Make a different choice.