Real Addict vs. Imaginary Addict?

[Throwback Thursday — Originally published March 2014]

I’ve had several people tell me I’m “not really an addict” in the past few weeks. Some were strangers, others were old friends, a few were barely acquaintances, and one was a very close family member. And their reasoning? Because NA did not work for me; because I don’t work the traditional 12 steps and have pursued my recovery along a different route.

I’ve been to meetings. I used to go frequently with a very close friend, who now is incredibly involved and attributes ‘the rooms’ with saving her life. And, I couldn’t be happier for her. I wholeheartedly agree that NA was the right course for her. I have said before that is it a tried and true system that has saved many lives. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m simply saying it isn’t right for everyone. And that is okay.

I have been to a few different regular meetings. In one, I felt like I was surrounded by people who only went because they were court-ordered to, or because they thought they could trick the people around them into believing they were clean. Most of them had 24 hours or less, every single week. I’m not bashing them–the thought that I am no better than the active addict, and someone with 20 years is no better than me, is one in which I firmly believe. We are all addicts, but we are not all the same.

In another meeting, I simply wasn’t comfortable. Everyone was too into their recovery. So, in one, people didn’t take it seriously enough. In another, they took it too seriously. I finally found one I loved. Nothing felt wrong, but, it didn’t exactly feel right, either. It still wasn’t for me.

You see, when I was involved with NA, I was consumed with finding meetings, going to meetings, counting days, working the steps, finding a sponsor, hoping to one day be a sponsor, being there for others, worrying about if I would speak and what I would say, talking to everyone in my life about meetings, finding my higher power. My addiction was no longer taking over my life, but my recovery from said addiction was.

I relapsed. And this time, when I had had enough, I decided to stop letting heroin run my life. I didn’t want being on heroin, or being free of heroin, to run my life; I wanted my life to run my life. And for some, focusing intensely on the 12 steps is their life, and that’s great if it works for them. It did not work for me.

So the last time I stopped using, I did not count days. I did not work the steps, or try to find meetings, or worry about saving others, or anything like that. I lived. I went back to school and I played with my son. I started wearing shorts for the first time since I was a kid. I made art, I wrote, I joined clubs, I started my own charity. Sometimes, I just laid on the couch and watched TV. But I did not think “today is [insert number] days clean!” I did not rush around trying to make a meeting on time. I cannot tell you how long it’s been since the last time I stuck a needle in my arm, and I am more proud of that than anything else.

Because it doesn’t matter anymore. My life, here and now, matters. And my life just doesn’t have the room or the time for meetings, or steps, or higher powers. Which, and I cannot stress this enough, is okay. It’s okay for the people who participate in NA to do so. It’s okay for the people on methadone to participate in medication assisted treatment. It’s okay for some people to simply participate in their lives. It’s okay to simply not use. Whatever recovery works for you, work it right back.

We must not forget that we are all different. We are all addicts, but we are also individuals. Our commonality is our disease. That does not mean the disease affects us the same, or that we need the same treatment. We should be helping each other to find what works for us, and supporting each other in whatever process that might be.

So before you tell me I’m not a real addict, explain to me just what a real addict is. Is it only someone who benefits from The Big Book? Am I not real? Do I not breathe and drink and eat, think and feel?

Did I not rob, cheat, steal, hurt, and do whatever I had to for my next fix? Did I not wake up every morning, sick, calling people I hadn’t spoken to in years, trying to come up with a good reason they should give me money? Did I not put on my sexiest clothes and walk around the casinos offering men a good time? Did I not scar and blow out my veins, locked in a bathroom somewhere, dripping with blood, cursing my warped needle? Did I not look over my shoulder everywhere I went, terrified the cops would somehow know what I was up to? Did I not try to distract my son in another room so he wouldn’t see the cruel reality of our lives? Did my best friend not throw water on and slap me because he thought I was dead? Did I not endure days of physical agony, only to endure months more of mental anguish? Did I not call my mother, crying, telling her she had to take my son because I was unfit? Do I not still owe my old landlord $4,000?

Please, tell me, how am I not real? What did I not do correctly to fit your standard of a real addict? Because believe me, when those things play back in my head, they are not my imagination. They happened. And they did not happen because I was a mild, part-time drug user. I did not risk losing every single thing in my life simply because I thought it was fun. I did it because my brain, like yours, is an addicted one.

The only difference is that my heart isn’t in it anymore.  I don’t want to put my heart into something I’ve left behind.

This does not mean I do not have cravings. This does not mean I do not know my addiction will be with me for the rest of my life, and I have to live accordingly. But instead of replacing my obsession of heroin with an obsession of not being on heroin, I’m replacing it with life–life outside of the addict’s world.

I would think you would be happy for me. I would think that you, not only as an addict, but as a human being, would recognize how hurtful your words can be, especially to someone who is in such an important stage in their life. I love you, I really do, and I commend you for diving into your recovery with such ferocity, and doing what works for you. But just because something different works for me, does not make me imaginary.

I am here. I was there, in those bad times. I will continue to be there, but I refuse to live there anymore.


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27 thoughts on “Real Addict vs. Imaginary Addict?

  1. Really eloquent! As someone who also believes there are many paths to growth, I applaud you. Although I benefit from the steps, I always try to make it clear in my writing that I don’t think they are the only way. They are just a structure that facilitates a certain type of self-transformation. This transformation is what beats the demon of addiction, but there is more than one way for it to happen. I’m glad you have found yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! (I apologize for the delayed response, I was still a beginner when you commented; now I am trying to make it a point to respond to all comments.)

      I fully believe the 12 steps work for some. And I am very happy for them. My only problem is when people tell me it’s the ONLY way. I’m living proof that it is not. If you’re interested, look out for another post coming soon about how horrible people with addictions are to each other (recovered vs recovering vs active vs NA vs methadone vs suboxone, and so many others) when we should all be supporting each other.


  2. Well said. I got sober at 22. I constantly hear how I was too young to have had a real problem. Lol. From my experience the only people who aren’t “real addicts” are people who question another person’s addiction. It’s the only way I know someone could really question whether someone else really has a problem. Those of us that have survived it, know exactly what it feels like to be a real addict. I don’t need to compare my bottom to anyone else’s. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about my history of substance abuse or recovery. I remember the moment that I decided I wanted to live more than I didn’t care if I died.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! (Sorry for the delayed response.)

      I’ve never heard the “you’re too young” argument, I think that’s ridiculous! I’ve been working on a post about how we should all be supporting each other instead of fighting each other, look out for it if you’re interested.

      I also checked out your blog and am unsure as to exactly what you’re going through, but I did raise my son’s father’s two oldest children when their mother abandoned them, and now I’m not allowed contact, so I can imagine the pain you’re going through. Your blog is amazing, I hope it will help you heal.


    • I’ve heard the “too young” argument (but not quite towards an addiction, though). I think that programs like NA are just that, programs. They are put there to help which works for some people and for others, it doesn’t. It is not the god forsaken truth but just a tool, like most things in life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes! There is no one treatment for addiction, NA is only one of them. Sadly, most people IN NA don’t see it that way.

        And the “too young” argument is crap, in my opinion. I’m living proof that you can fall in love, be an addict, etc. etc. at a young age.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi, well done. I am the same as you, a real person who had a terrifyingly real issue. I too cannot do 12 step stuff, but would never put it down because of the living friends I have from it. I also must say, I am a novelist, and I really like your clear, honest prose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much! (Sorry for the incredibly delayed response.)

      I think NA/AA/the steps can be amazing, for certain people. I am beyond happy for my friends who are bettering their lives through it. My problem comes when members of NA put me down because I’m not doing it the same way they are. I do think that is a problem, and makes it seem cult-like. But I think individuals should do whatever works for them.

      And also thank you so much for the writing compliment. As my main goal is to become a novelist, I often tend to think I’m not good enough. Nothing will stop me, though!


  4. Wow, really powerful message. I think it comes down to something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. When we adopt any kind of belief system, including the twelve steps, we have to ask ourselves one very important question. Am I trying to improve the quality of life, or am I looking for a community to belong to? For a lot of people, it begins and ends with the latter. And as you emphasized, that’s ok if it works for them. Sometimes belonging to a community can in fact improve the quality of life. Humans are social creatures after all. But it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you want out of life and whether what you are doing is in fact helping you accomplish that. Which it seems like you’ve pulled off quite effectively.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I completely agree with you — we all want different things, and we will all find our happiness along a different route. I just hope some day we will all be able to support people whose paths are different than our own.


  5. It’s time I started doing some digging. To say that I believe that this is a GREAT spot to start with is an understatement where I sit.

    Kudos to you for finding what works for you. Kudos to you for standing your ground and not letting the naysayers, no matter who they may be, try to diminish your experiences nor your resolve to be better than you were. Kudos for your brutal honesty in the face of potential ridicule from the masses.

    Thanks for sharing. *Fist pound*

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m happy you started here as well — while I don’t keep my addiction hidden, many newcomers don’t realize it and I’d rather them know from the start than be shocked.

      Thank you very much! Ridicule does not bother me. Someone has to speak out =]

      I encourage you to dig some more — I haven’t really been able to voice too many opinions or write about my deeply personal life while participating in Writing101, but don’t fret, controversial topics will reemerge soon!


  6. I am constantly impressed by your self awareness, willingness to critically assess your life choices and ability to focus and make changes. Kudos to you!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I don’t know how many times I have been told that I was not an alcoholic because I didn’t fit the stereotypical look of one. Good job for focusing on yourself. We may not all look like addicts but we certainly fight the same demons.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There’s never a shortage of people who’ll tell you that your experience isn’t real and/or that whatever ails you can be cured by doing yoga, eating organic, avoiding gluten, etc., etc., etc. Part of recovery is learning to shut their voices out of your head. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut them out of your life, at least for a while. There’s a lot about addiction (and plenty of other things) that science doesn’t know. Science usually knows what it doesn’t know, but this is not true of most people who think they know your experience better than you do. You know what works for you. Keep doing it till it doesn’t work so well, then try something else.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am having a hard time not clicking like on every comment response to this post. As you so often do, you wrote from where my head lives/ I have had people repeatedly tell me that because I have real medical issues resulting in severe chronic pain that I can’t REALLY be an opiate addict.

    I find this premise as ridiculous as saying, “Oh you have asthma? Well then, there’s absolutely now way you can be a diabetic.” Sometimes people have to struggle with two shitty situations simultaneously. Sometimes more. It’s just an example of how unfair and random bad things can be.

    Love and positive thoughts to you, Tempest. I hope the memoirs (and your current everyday life) are progressing well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is absolutely as ridiculous as saying that! It pains me that most of the judgement I see comes from addicts themselves. We should all be helping each other, not hurting.

      Thank you! The memoir isn’t really coming along — I’ve hit a lull and am taking a break, but school just started and is keeping me busy!


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