You can see from my two previous posts on addiction that I wasn’t exactly the most confident, relaxed and honest person around when I was younger, even before I got into active addiction.
My extreme self-consciousness and shyness meant that the best thing to do would be to have kept a low profile, not drawing attention to myself in any way. So what did I do? I grew my hair long (that is long for the mid-sixties, which was anything below collar length) and, by the time I was 18, I was going around in purple or orange satin shirts, red trousers, and a woman’s fur coat, all of this topped off with a flat cap, just the outfit to make you feel invisible! I wish I had a photo of me in this getup, perhaps Steve has one in his vast collection.
It’s as though I wanted to be invisible but at the same time I craved attention. Just one of the contradictions which go into making a personality; and I believe I’m not alone in this, I think we all have all sorts of contradictions working away beneath the surface affecting our attitudes, beliefs and the way we interact with the rest of the world.
So what has this got to do with addiction? I’m not sure but I do know that, although I was very shy in interpersonal relations, I loved performing and alcohol in particular helped me to release that side of my personality. It also helped me to be less shy and more relaxed around other people, especially girls, who at the same time attracted me and also scared me to death.
I’ll now go on to talk about how those personality traits I listed in my previous posts linked to my drinking and drug use:
- Greediness is an easy one – I always wanted more. I was never able to take things in moderation. Give me a drink and I want another, and another, until I’m either falling unconscious or I’ve run out of alcohol, money or someone to scrounge it off. It’s still something I struggle with, not around alcohol and drugs but, for instance, books. If I read a book by someone I like I want all their books. The same with albums. The difference is that having too many books or CDs doesn’t cause me to fall over or get into fights or end up in police cells or psychiatric hospitals.
- Alcohol and drugs were a good, short term way of dealing with problems. Worried about money? Have a drink. Difficulties in talking to people? Take a few valium. I’m still not great at dealing with problems – for example I’m not good at taking things back to shops and complaining or in using the phone to deal with internet problems – but I’m a lot better than I was and usually deal with them in the end.
- Alcohol and drugs are just about the perfect form of instant gratification. If I was feeling particularly anxious, which was pretty much all the time, then a few drinks or some valium would change that in a few minutes. At least at first. That’s one of the problems with addiction, as time passed I needed more and more to get less and less until, in the end, I was just drinking and taking drugs to feel as least bad as possible. Again, as with other things, I’m better at delaying gratification, waiting for things rather than demanding them now.
- As to laziness, as I said in my first post on addiction, alcohol and drugs were the easier, softer way, at least until they became the harder, more painful way. What took me a long time to realise was that there aren’t any shortcuts; What I learned, through experience, was that to get from here to there you have to take it a step at a time – no cheating! Heck I sound like some sort of lifestyle guru. What I should say is that if I want to get from here to there I have to take it a step at a time; other people have their own modes of travel.
- Self obsession and selfishness seem to be somewhere at the heart of addiction. When I was in the middle of it everything was about me – my needs, my misery, my drugs. There was nothing left over for anybody else. That’s changed a lot. I can now put other people’s needs first, just like ordinary people!
- Alcohol and drugs were my way of dealing with feelings and emotions, have a drink and feel it all drift away – anxiety, fear, anger, although drinking would sometimes make my anger go out of control. But of course, as with other things, over time they worked less well and I needed more to try to get the same effect. It’s a case of diminishing returns. Again I’m much better now at dealing with my feelings. I’m still a worrier and I don’t think that will change, but I can deal with it without running to a bottle.
- Dishonesty was my way of life when I was in active addiction, dishonesty with myself and with everybody else. Lying and using people was what I did to make sure I got what I wanted, and I tried to hide what I was doing (the empty bottles hidden in cupboards or surreptitiously thrown under hedges) because, deep down, I was ashamed of what I had become. I’m pretty honest now, but most people seem to grow up pretty honest rather than having to discover it in their thirties like I did.
- Drugs always interested me because I wanted to feel new sensations, to experience new perceptions. Cannabis was a big one here and I didn’t have major problems with it, except I always wanted more. I think the biggest effect of cannabis was to change the way I heard music, it seemed to open the music up so that I could hear different levels of melody and rhythm. That’s probably why I’m a big fan of sixties psychedelia, the intricacy. I didn’t stop using cannabis because I had a huge problem with it, but rather because it didn’t seem to fit with the life I started living in recovery. I still enjoy new sensations (who doesn’t!) but they’re more mundane now – new books, new music, new films.
This has seemed a bit of a heavy post, full of angst and squalor! But looking back from this distance it can seem like I’m writing about another person. My life now is good, I have three children I’m very proud of, two lovely grandchildren, a wife I love and, all in all, lots of good things. And it’s simple really, all I have to do is not take drugs and try to be responsible for my life. Not a big deal really.