“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
– Joseph Campbell
I recall vividly how much I feared going into rehab or
getting into recovery would totally end my days of “having fun.” Looking back at that fear, I realize it was primarily based on my not wanting to let go of my “old ways.” But what I was so clearly not recognizing back then was: a) my addiction to alcohol and drugs had already (much earlier) robbed me of any “fun” I’d previously had while drinking and using; and b) I was actually clueless about what recovery from addiction held in store for me.
What follows importantly from both of those points is something I’ve learned to be the truth: I cannot keep my “old ways” and expect a new life to emerge. In other words, if I want freedom from active addiction, if I do not want to be enslaved by the obsession and compulsion to drink or use drugs every day, if I want to feel better about myself, have caring, loving relations with others, be a positively contributing member of my community, and have my ability to have fun restored—i.e., if I truly desire a transformation in my life—I must make 180-degree changes to how I was thinking and acting.
My old way of thinking was self-centered to the max. And devious. Dishonest. Always strategizing. Constantly looking for ways and means to get more of whatever it was I wanted (usually alcohol or drugs, but sex, attention, power could all be temporary substitutes). I had no thought about others’ desires or needs. Instead, I saw people, even my family and friends, in terms of what I could get from them, how I could “get over on them” or what I needed to hide from them in order to continue getting intoxicated as often as I possibly could. Being completely selfish, I was also very often close-minded, believing it was “my way or the highway,” ignoring the wishes, pleas or suggestions of anyone.
My time in recovery has clearly demonstrated to me there are many onerous problems associated with that addicted way of thinking — not the least of which being it would very often got me into trouble. Family members and friends were turned off by my self-centeredness, wouldn’t trust me, and ultimately stayed away from me. With my warped thinking, I broke the law whenever it suited me, got caught numerous times, had to face significant consequences — in my case, multiple jail sentences, the end of a long-term relationship, and being permanently kicked out of the house.
That old way of thinking also made me believe I was worth next to nothing, and therefore I deemed it was “fine” to isolate myself from others or associate with drunks or drug dealers.
And that ties into my old way of acting, which also turns out to have been totally self-centered: I went to any lengths to get alcohol or drugs into my system each day. I’d lie, cheat, or steal to accomplish what I’d be seeking to achieve. Another high. And then another. And then another. I’d do anything, including crossing any moral boundary or ignoring any core value I’d held, to get what I wanted. Every single day.
Once I surrendered “my way” and got into recovery, though, I quickly learned—from people who were in treatment and 12 Steps fellowships, from addictions counselors and from reading books about addiction—there are many healthy alternatives to self-centered thinking and acting. I began replacing my old ways by practicing principles like honesty, open-mindedness and the willingness to consider others’ points of view or suggestions, especially regarding the “how to” of recovery (since clearly I did not know a thing about getting and staying clean and sober). And I learned I didn’t need to escape from or numb my feelings, that being authentic and in touch with my true emotions brought me more in touch with both my true self and others.
I was also told I didn’t have to do any of it perfectly or forever, just to the best of my ability and one day at a time. I’m grateful beyond words to all of those who showed me how to replace my old ways with thinking and action that would lead me into a new way of life of freedom and, yes, ever-growing opportunities for fun.