Facing Pain Clean

The site Healthzone of the Toronto Star newspaper published a compelling report on the struggle of Veronica and her fight to keep herself clean after years as a cocaine and alcohol addict.

She started doing coke to numb herself after her ex-fiancé died in a car crash. About that time, she says:

"There was a lot of pain, there was no closure ... The last thing I wanted to do was feel."

The first thought we have when we lose something and especially someone important in our lives is to keep out all the pain, and many people start using drugs, both legal and illegal, or develop some compulsion, like overeating, or buying compulsively in order to dull it. However, that's never the best solution.

Instead of losing touch with reality, we should try to focus our minds on something useful, that can bring some meaning back to our lives. Eventually, we'll find the strength to put it into perspective, and we'll be better fit to regard what happened reasonably, finding a place within ourselves to keep the good memories, and make room for the pain.

Further on, Veronica added:

"Nobody understands why people would want to hurt themselves like that, but they don't realize it's because of a lot of hurt and you don't know what to do with it. Nobody gives you a book on how to live life."

Besides the point raised above, there's the point that many people often don't know what to do with someone in pain. We live in a society that teaches that to feel (and especially react to) pain is shameful. So, in that context, we're not supposed to feel, and if we do, we're not supposed to show what we feel, and express it freely. When people do that, the first suggestion given is often "go see a psychologist", or "take that medicine", or even the cruel shallow brush-off "it'll go away".

Thing is, it doesn't go away! When you lose someone you love, or when you suffer a trauma, or become disabled, that is a big deep scar that will burn forever. The pain may subside in time, as we find other worries and responsibilities to fill our minds, however it will remain.

Those who are parents, relatives, partners, and friends of people who are living through such ordeals, must reach out to them, pay them more attention, respect their feelings, even if they seem exaggerated.

Is it a wonder that so many turn to drugs and other pain-killers, when they don't find support in those they love and trust, because these are too busy to really help them? And family and friends of addicts shouldn't expect rehab clinics and AA meetings to do their job for them, that is, to give full support to the addict, because those can only do so much. Strangers can't really give the love, attention and sympathy people in pain need.

Going on with her story, Veronica talks about one of the times when she gave in:

"I shouldn't have started drinking, but I was like, `I'm here and I've already screwed up and you can't screw up any further tonight as long as you stay here.'"

She sat on her bar stool, sipping away, thinking it was all right as long as Dave didn't know. "That stupid old stinking thinking came back."

After downing three cold ones, there was a break in the set and she and Dave went for a cigarette. But her slurred speech and glassy eyes gave it away. Dave gave her hell.

One of the first things you learn at the AA is that you can’t give in to the first drink. There’s no such thing as only taking a sip for an alcoholic. So if you're one, do your best not to give in.

"When I saw them stoned and the effects of the drugs on them, for some reason my brain was telling me`I want that feeling.' It's hard to just tell yourself `No.'"

When you’re doped, you can’t change things, you can’t improve or overcome them. If you lost someone, take it as a duty you owe him/her of living your life the best you can. If you lost a job, home, run up a great debt, only if you stay clean you can change that. You’re not helpless to put things right.

The comments of the readers are really helpful to give an insight in the process of overcoming addiction. I've selected these three:

I lost my job, my boyfriend and my apartment all in the space of a few weeks and in despair turned towards cocaine to try to feel better, even though it was a false feeling. This led to me not being able to find a decent new job, any decent friends or a place to live.

Luckily the Jean Tweed Treatment Centre in Toronto took me in and I lived there for a month getting help. I backslid afterwards but I've now been cocaine-free for 12 years after deciding to move to another city and making coke-free friends and meeting my beloved (non-drinking, non-drugging) husband. I now have a great job, great place to live, great family and great friends.

It CAN be done if addicts are given the chance to get proper treatment. I'm living proof.

- FH

Having been clean and sober for almost twenty years I can understand how easy it can be to fall back into old habits. When my son died a few years ago the urge to fall back was strong until I had a dream and my son's spirit talked me out of it.

I have a guardian Angel who looks out for me now since three years have passed since Logan died, he was ten years old. I miss him but I know that staying clean and sober is what he wants me to do. I promised him I would and will stay strong because of it.

I keep busy doing respite care work for disabled children and their families to keep my feet on the ground and give back to society for the mistakes I made.

- Mark-Alan Whittle

It took me many years of rehab and AA meetings, to finally achieve that elusive 1 year of sobriety. Now at 8yrs of being sober, I can actually have a tray of ice cubes in my freezer. Just the mere sound of the ice hitting the glass could start the insanity of addiction again in my early attempts to remain sober.

Cunning, baffling, powerful and very patient is this disease. A daily reprieve is all I can ask for. Being aware of all the subtle triggers is a necessity.

- Jolae

Best wishes to all those who face this terrible challenge, to their families and caregivers.

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