The mental gymnastics of an addict

cognitive dissonance

the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.

I was walking with a friend the other day who was relaying a story about a time he was at Glastonbury music festival. A friend of his, who was also at the festival, had been diagnosed with a mental health issue. He had been prescribed medication and was also being tested for epilepsy. He had vowed to stay away from class A narcotics. He would just drink alcohol (irony) but news spread through the festival that Michael Jackson had died. On hearing this news, the individual announced that it would only be right to commemorate the king of pop by buying a single glove and some MDMA. Now it sounds ridiculous but I spent my life looking for excuses looking for reasons to drink alcohol. I scoured the day looking for reasons to be upset. Much like the youth of today seem to scour the internet looking for reasons to be offended. The excuses I have used to get drunk are, in the light of day, crazy. Yet seemed perfectly justifiable at the time. I was celebrated George Bests’ birthday by drinking one of his favourite drinks, vodka and lemonade… George Best was an alcoholic who, after a liver transplant, still died due to his addiction. Celebrating an alcoholics’ birthday with a drink is like injecting heroin to remember Jim Morrison. It’s insane but to the individual perfectly reasonable. Especially in the pursuit of excuses to use. 

The mental gymnastics I have performed to justify my past use of alcohol is, quite frankly, impressive. But also exhausting. Spending hours fluctuating between “I won’t drink today” whilst looking for a reason to drink, is debilitating. Anything. Any minor thing I could find to cling to and ruminate on for hours in the pub. If something major happened it was a blessing. I could replay the event for days, boring anyone within earshot to tears with the same story. My excuse to use. A triviality to most but I was keeping it alive by stoking the inner embers in my soul. Just to stop the search for another reason to drink on. 

It’s hard to leave that life behind. In the start, it’s like standing on a sinking ship with one foot in the life raft. Too fearful to jump. It is what I knew. The pursuit of chaos to justify the escape from said chaos. It is a whirlpool of destruction. In itself is addictive. Drama is addictive. Alcohol is addictive. The two seem to go hand in hand. 

But by spending all day looking for reasons to be unhappy I was very rarely happy. It is what I thought I deserved. Self-loathing fuelled the pursuit of misery. Happiness came with caveats is what I thought. Happiness was reserved for a certain few. I was not one of the lucky ones. Alcohol fuels this belief. It isn’t sitting in a bar laughing with friends. It is sitting alone crying and wondering when it will ever stop. It never seemed like it would. Until I leapt.

It didn’t happen overnight. Just by removing alcohol the inner machinations didn’t disappear. AA calls it the “ism”. I call it temptation. The pursuit of excuses was hardwired. It was a system reboot I needed it was a rebuild. A bit at a time. One area of life at a time. First, get a grip on alcohol, cut it out and sweat it out. Next, start the inner work. Filling time with pursuits that I had always wanted. Reaching out. Meditating. Exercising. Rebuilding bridges. Eventually, I started to see/hear/notice the siren call of alcohol. “Play the tape forward,” is up there with the best advice I have been given:

“I am stressed at work, I think I will have a drink to help me calm down” 

Will you still be stressed tomorrow?

“Well yes, but I won’t for tonight!”

So is alcohol removing the problem or the symptom?

“Well it won’t take the stress away forever I would have to do something about that or drink every day… OH SHIT”

*Drop mic & take a bow*

Alcohol was the medicine for the problem. Yet, many of the problems I had searched out. Some were legit. Life is hard sometimes. But it doesn’t solve the problem. Just delays the pain. I self-medicated a mental health problem for more than a decade. After alcohol had stopped doing what it was supposed to do I was let to pick up the pieces. The problem remained. Magnified because I had been ignoring it for so long. I still don’t like dealing with life but I can do it better than I ever could whilst drinking. I still fuck up. I am still human but I am present. I have also stopped searching for reasons to be unhappy. I can get dragged into obsessive news watching. COVID and the war in Ukraine have been big wins for the news but big losses for people. And that obsessive behaviour fuels my anxiety. Now I realise that by not doing it I don’t need to search for an escape from the feeling it conjures up inside. 

I searched for chaos and then used alcohol to find peace. It wasn’t until I stopped looking for reasons to drink that I no longer needed to. It sounds so obvious. And so simple but it is difficult to see the right path to walk whilst amidst the chaos. Life is fast. Technology fuels our addiction to chaos. Social media fuels self-loathing and inferiority. We are bombarded with advertisements and temptation. People piss us off. Life doesn’t go our way. But it isn’t what happens to us it is how we react. I ran to the bar with every minor excuse I could find. I hid in the bottle to escape illusions. Once I dropped the search for excuses the reasons to escape diminished. Eventually, I realised I’d been fuelling my destruction.

Charlie

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