Addiction is nothing new in my family. My grandmother struggled with nicotine addiction, ultimately succumbing to bone cancer at the relatively young age of 62. Where a large majority of her friends were preparing for their golden years, she was doling out painful goodbyes from a hospital bed.
She continued to smoke until her final day, even asking hospital staff to wheel her bed outside so that she could indulge the habit she maintained for well over forty years.
My own generation didn’t fare much better. Between the twelve of us, our vices covered everything from prescription drugs to video games, with some of us doing stints in jail; the lucky ones received preferable alternatives to jail, like rehabilitation centers. Though I never went to either one myself, it didn’t stop me from becoming an alcoholic, drinking a case-and-a-half a day at my worst.
Time would devolve into an incomprehensible haze and the party didn’t seem to have an end in sight…until I learned that I was going to be a father. This apparently was the catalyst that I needed to help me start fighting my addictions. In the time leading up to my son’s birth, I:
- Quit drinking cold turkey.
- Stopped using recreational marijuana.
- Began tobacco cessation.
- Found a full-time job to replace my minimum wage, part-time one.
- Started regularly cleaning my house.
However, this new journey was not without its obstacles. As time wore on, I would find myself at odds with those who I once considered my closest friends. As keeping my house clean was now a priority, I began to grow tired of finding vomit at the bottom of every trash can, having up to twenty people passed out on my living room floor on any given morning, and garbage strewn absolutely everywhere.
So what did they do to curb my hostility towards their slovenly behavior? Ignore it, laugh it off, or even worse, offer me more drugs and alcohol. Anything other than actually helping with my recovery.
Your Addict Buddies are Making it Worse
As many recovering addicts will tell you, continuing to associate with those who also abuse drugs or alcohol is one of the many reasons that people fail to overcome addiction, and I was no exception. With at least five friends and my live-in girlfriend who regularly used in our home, it’s no surprise that I continually relapsed throughout the remainder of the pregnancy and up until the day I left her; I’m just grateful that our son was born 100% healthy.
What made this different is that I made a conscientious choice to leave my former social circle behind and start fresh, which meant no more drinking or marijuana use. However, my previous attempts at smoking cessation had failed, shackling me to a debilitating two-to-three pack a day habit that I couldn’t seem to kick. It even continued into a new relationship with yet another addict, and it wasn’t long until I was right back into my old routine of excessive drinking and marijuana abuse. The sad part is that up until then, I had been clean from both for about 6 months.
A Constant Battle
Addiction is a tireless beast that will continue to resurface even years after you’ve stopped using. Who we choose to surround ourselves with can truly make or break us and even though I knew this from experience, I couldn’t help but wonder what it is about myself that continually attracts the “wrong crowd”?
In the interest of becoming a better person and father, I decided to look into my own mind for the answer and finally address my own mental health. By this point, I was:
- Overweight by 55 pounds.
- Smoking 2-3 packs a day.
- Drinking 6-8 beers a day.
- Hadn’t seen a doctor for a checkup in 5 years.
So yes, I was able to quit marijuana, but I was still smoking, drinking and eating way too much. It was time to fix my mind for good, so to that end, I decided to start exercising and set clear goals to help me get clean. My job started offering health insurance, so I got a policy and began regularly visiting my doctor.
So what happened after a year?
- I lost 55 pounds through exercise and dietary changes.
- I went from smoking to vaping to completely quitting nicotine 2 months ago.
- Traded my beer for water and green tea.
- My last doctor’s visit returned a clean bill of health.
I know it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse, but when we continually find ourselves returning to our addictions, we not only need to get away from those who encourage the behavior, but also address our own mental health above all else.
When I allowed myself to shift my priorities and shuck those from my life who didn’t agree or otherwise mesh well with these changes, all facets of my life started to fall into place. I now accept and love myself for who I truly am without drugs, and enjoy a renewed relationship with my son, who is a pretty awesome little guy it turns out.
For those who are struggling with addiction, I’d admonish you to seek support from non-enabling friends, family or social workers. However, all of the support in the world will be for naught if you don’t base your sobriety around your own well-being. Don’t do it for your child(ren), family or significant other, but rather, do it for you. If you place true value on your health and sobriety, the rest will fall into place.
Robert Conrad is a former Business student and manager who now uses his experiences to mentor at-risk youth. When he’s not trying to save the world, he’s usually taking a pizza break with his awesome son. You can follow him on Twitter.