There’s so much negative news about active addiction and its consequences it helps to balance that out with stories of recovery. Most people don’t hear about addicts in recovery because it’s not news worthy. I’m always careful when talking about addiction recovery — I try to talk about realistic addiction recovery. Too many times, even when someone hears a story about addiction recovery it’s either too dramatic, too flowery or just too unrealistic. The person who hears these stories doesn’t believe them because they appear to be sensationalized — too many stories of wild escapades and not enough description of tortured mental and emotional states. There’s no need to dramatize stories of recovery. The point of the story is to show recovery is possible, although difficult and not always a neat story of tragedy to triumph.
All recovery stories have similarities, yet they’re all unique. Some young people used drugs only a short period of time, but it was enough for them to stop and choose a drug-free life. Some stories are about decades of drinking alcohol, opiate dependence or ups and downs of addictive cocaine use. Simply describing the use, the consequences and the eventually realization of addiction is enough to get a message across. I find it helpful, though, if a person describes their mental states at different stages of addiction.
To use alcoholism as an example, in the beginning a person doesn’t realize they’re susceptible to alcoholism and are in the early stages of alcoholism. No one wants to be an alcoholic — most people who start drinking alcohol just want to be like everyone else — drink and have a little fun, companionship and relaxation. If the drinking becomes heavier than most, it’s easy to justify it by saying you have a high tolerance — it’s even a bragging right to show you can hold your booze. Then when consequences happen, the advancing alcoholic blames stress, or tragic early events, or an overbearing spouse, or bad luck, or whatever. By this time alcohol is something that’s very important to the alcoholic. The alcoholic senses something’s wrong but tells himself he can handle it, that he’ll cut back.
Then comes the steady decline of breaking promises, shame, anger at losing control, fear of the chaos and regret for the broken relationships, free-floating anxiety that something awful is happening and not knowing what it is or how it will end. These are mental/emotional states that addicts go through in one form or another. This isn’t drama, it’s a realistic decline, a chronic brain disease that takes over a person’s life. It kills many addicts. Most addicts die a premature death due their addiction. The realistic addiction story is a story of hope — it’s a message that the addict doesn’t have to live a tortured life and die prematurely. Recovery can happen.