I am, first and foremost, a process addict – otherwise known as a behavioral addict. Behavioral addictions include over-eating, sex & love, shopping, gaming, and overuse of technology. Behavioral addictions cause the same changes in the brain as drugs and alcohol.
My father was a process addict, too. His illness cast a shadow over my childhood – a shadow compounded by my own blooming sickness. I suffered immensely for the first twenty-three years of my life.
In the beginning, my desire to escape reality manifested in a benign way. I was a voracious reader, with my nose always stuck in a book. When I hit middle school, however, I developed an addiction to the internet, followed shortly thereafter by the compulsive need to pursue toxic, destructive, and abusive relationships. The ways in which I related to food and shopping were not healthy, either. By the time I turned twenty, I was drowning in debt.
When my compulsive behaviors weren’t doing the trick, I turned to alcohol and drugs. It was never about “having fun”. I remember taking Oxycontin in High School solely because I wanted to be unconscious; I didn’t want to feel and I didn’t particularly care about whether or not I woke up.
I was exposed to recovery for the first time when I was eighteen or nineteen. Two of my closest college friends were busted for selling drugs. I started attending meetings with one of them “for support”. Even though I didn’t think I had a problem, the meetings started to change my life.
Unfortunately, it took a few more years before I was ready to completely surrender. I thought I was too young – a view that was reinforced by some of the people around me. My problems, in their view, were just part of a phase I would eventually outgrow.
They say that when the seed of recovery has been planted you are never the same again. This was true for me. I was willing to stop smoking pot, but giving up the alcohol took more time. Luckily, I continued to maintain a connection to recovery meetings, even as I clung to my right to drink. I eventually heard what I needed to hear. One lady said that I could “get off the elevator at any time”, which essentially meant that I would reach the bottom when I stopped digging. Another person said that “swapping addictions is like switching seats on the Titanic”. These messages saved my life.
Once I managed to establish a firm foundation of sobriety, I was able to confront the seriousness of my behavioral addiction and leave toxic and abusive relationships behind for good.
Today, I don’t waste a lot of energy wondering whether or not I am a “real” alcoholic or addict, even when confronted by naysayers. I know I have this disorder. Even if I wasn’t one hundred percent confident, I would rather live a beautiful life in recovery than roll the dice over a flimsy “what-if”.
My message to those who are still suffering is that you are never too young (or old) to get sober and behavior abstaining. Stop questioning whether or not you are “really” an alcoholic or addict. People who don’t have a problem don’t have this internal dialogue. If you are questioning it, the mere question should be a red flag. The doubt is just another sinister and subtle vessel this disorder will use to kill you. When you get help, you surrender to win. It’s counterintuitive, but it works.
Today, I have well over nine years of continuous sobriety. Recovery has blessed me with a life that is better than anything I could have constructed on my own. I am part of an incredible tribe of people. I am happily married and my marriage is loving and healthy. I was also recently offered my dream job. Your passions truly can translate into a career. (Never let anyone tell you otherwise!) While I love to travel – and I took my first airplane ride in recovery – I have been given a life from which I don’t need a vacation. The heights you can reach are limitless, as long as you are willing to keep working on yourself. I can’t wait to see what happens next.