I have an addictive personality, which has led to poor habits that I have quit or tried to quit. Drinking alcohol, doing drugs, and smoking cigarettes are three habits I quit over time. Each time I tried to quit one of these habits I used the cold turkey method. It stuck for a while and then I was right back at it until the next try at going cold turkey.
I don’t really remember how old I was the first time I took a drink of alcohol. My Dad was a drinker and we always had a cabinet above the stove in the kitchen that was full of various bottles of alcohol, a drawer in the fridge full of Pabst Blue Ribbon or Old Style beer, and a second fridge in the garage that had a half barrel of beer in it. I remember drinking with friends beginning in 7th grade or so and that continued all through high school, college, and beyond. Drinking was not my poison of choice in later years, but was something I still continued to do when I was using drugs.
My exposure to drugs was limited to marijuana and hash until 1993. I knew people who used other drugs, but I was always too afraid to try them. My life turned upside down in 1993 and I was desperate to be anyone but me, and to get out of my own skin. I’m not going to share all the details of why at this point. What I will share is that my drug of choice became crack and I was hooked the very first time I used it. That drug took away all of the pain I had inside, along with every other emotion I was feeling and all the thoughts and fears I was consumed with about what was going on in my life at that time. As long as I was using, I didn’t have to think or feel and that was such an immense relief that I did anything I could to use as much as I could. Eventually, my use of this drug took away so much more – security, self-respect, jobs, homes, relationships, and even my children. I had a few periods of clean time where I was free from drugs and alcohol, but I was not free at all on the inside. I couldn’t stand myself and didn’t know how to believe that anyone else could stand me either. In the throes of addiction, I convinced myself that my children and the rest of my family were better off without me.
I spent some time in various treatment centers and put together small amounts of clean time from a couple weeks to several months. Eventually my drug use led me to incarceration where I stayed clean for 23 months, which was the longest I had been clean in years. I continued to stay clean for a couple more years after being released from incarceration, until I fooled myself once again into thinking I could have a “normal” relationship with someone who was still an active and abusive addict and didn’t see any reason to change. I had this idea that I could save him. I was doing so well and I thought I could save him and bring him along into this new life. Instead, he almost destroyed me and drug me straight back to the hell we lived in for so many years. He is the last person I used drugs with. Our addictions and our relationship was so bad at the end that I truly believe one of us would have killed the other if we had stayed together any longer.
Along the way, I was led to move to a new city, live with my younger sister, and get involved in Alcoholics Anonymous. I gained some clean time and some inner strength through going to AA meetings when my significant other was incarcerated for short periods here and there. I got a little stronger each time he was gone and was willing to settle for less abuse each time he was back. One day I made a decision that I deserved more and that I would rather be alone the rest of my life than settle for being hit one more time. He didn’t handle that news well and ended up incarcerated again and I sought help for myself on a mental, spiritual, and emotional level. So much ended for me with that one decision, but that end became the beginning of a life I had rarely even let myself dream about. I have worked in the same department for 5 years and moved from delivery technician, to customer service supervisor, to director. I met a wonderful man in recovery and we have been married for 3 1/2 years. I have my children back in my life, and have four amazing grandchildren who have never had to experience the pain caused by my addiction. I have true friendships based on heart connections and shared interests. It is truly a miracle that I can say, today I have been clean and sober for just under 8 1/2 years.
Quitting smoking didn’t happen until several years later. Smoking was harder for me to give up than the drugs because it didn’t cause pain and chaos in my life the way drugs did, and it’s legal! I never went to jail for smoking a cigarette. The difficulty with quitting smoking came from it being a part of everything I did for over 30 years. I smoked after eating, when I was driving, when I was talking on the phone, when I was feeling any emotion I didn’t want to feel, and when I was feeling emotions I loved to feel!
The first time I really quit for more than a day or simply because I didn’t have enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes was after delivering some medical equipment to a patient who was also on oxygen. I hadn’t had a cigarette for several hours and had no idea that I still smelled like a walking ashtray until she pointed that out to me. She pointed at the tubing in her nose and said, “You take heed deary. You better quit smoking or one day this will be you too.” I called my doctor right away and asked her to call in a prescription for Chantix, which was the latest drug out to help people quit smoking. I quit smoking then and stayed smoke-free for 13 months. My husband continued to smoke and I went back and forth between feeling bitter that he could smoke and I couldn’t and superior because I had quit and he couldn’t – neither of which were healthy attitudes. I had a fight with my husband after those 13 months and had the crazy idea that smoking a cigarette would make it all better and really show him, so I bought a pack of cigarettes and smoked again for the next month. I was so disgusted with myself that whole month for starting up again and I knew I didn’t want to see my family for Christmas and have them smell the ashtray smell on me again and know I failed, so I called my doctor and asked her for another prescription for Chantix. I quit again in December, 2011 and have not looked back. I have no desire to smoke again and no longer have any feelings of bitterness or superiority about any of it. The best part is that my husband quit a month or two after I did the second time so we enjoy a smoke-free home too.
Quitting various things in my life has not been painless or free of struggles. In fact, I think working through the pain and struggles without going back to whatever it was I had quit is what made each quit so significant and opened doors to new beginnings. In order to hold out my open hands to accept something new, I needed to be willing to uncurl my fingers and loosen the death grip I had on what I had known for so long. This was not done without fear, but I learned along the way that when the pain of where we are is greater than the fear of where we are going, we’ll go. That has most certainly been true in my experience and I am contemplating where else in my life I have the opportunity to loosen my grip, stretch out my hands, and be open to more new beginnings.