Life is hard. Life kicks you when you’re down, shoves your head in the dirt. Life punches you in the face and leaves you for dead. Life is brutal but, somehow we survive and sometimes, even thrive. Coping with life is an everyday event and, to me, it seems like our survival is based on the quality of our coping mechanisms. However, coping mechanisms aren’t always positive; addiction being one. Addictions rule a life like an evil dictator, starving for power, hungry for control. That’s what addictions really are: coping mechanisms that develop into tyrants, enslaving you mind to its will.
In my 21 years, I’ve had the unfortunate first-hand experience with the struggles and rehabilitations that accompany an addiction. The endless cycle of rehabilitation and relapse is not only depressing but demoralizing and aggravating. It leaves the addict’s friends and loved ones wondering why on earth this person won’t simply stop. The thing is, it’s not that simple. It’s not a matter of wont; it’s a matter of can’t. Addictions rewire the prefrontal cortex, the decision making center of the brain, rendering the addict incapable of making wise decisions. With the addiction continuing to call their name, begging for them to reenter its world, it’s nearly impossible for the addict to say no.
It’s not only the rewiring of the brain that causes people to relapse. Most of the time there is a strange comfort that an addiction brings. It will never betray you, never leave you and, for people like me, that’s more than I can say about my peers. My past is riddled with broken friendships, each and every one ending suddenly and surprisingly. I guess overnight I simply became undesirable, unwanted, and expendable. Talk about rejection. My busy high school schedule kept me sane and in constant motion so, I was unable to really understand the depression that seethed in my soul until I was 19, a college student, and lonely beyond my worst nightmares. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t handle it anymore. I needed to do something about it so, I started doing something that everyone swears will make you feel better: exercising.
At first, it helped and gave me purpose, drive, passion, and a friend (exercise itself). However, fast forward eight months, and I had become a scared, frail, emaciated girl limping to the gym with tears flooding my eyes. I cried because even though my mind was shutting down, my body ached and throbbed with the strength of a thousand pains, and my life lacked any meaning or purpose outside of the gym, I couldn’t stop. Friends, family, and even acquaintances voiced their concern and I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I know, I need to gain weight.” I tried to stop. I really did but, I continued to return to my one true friend: exercise. I sauntered through life like a zombie, devoid of a heartbeat, devoid of a mind, devoid of a life. I knew all of these things yet, I still couldn’t stop.
Some people may be thinking, isn’t exercise good for you? There are worse things you could be addicted to. This is far from true. An addiction is an addiction. It controls your life. My entire world was exercise while a junkie’s drugs. Friends disappear, vanish. The only purpose of life is to acquire the next fix. Soon enough, the drug, exercise, gambling, alcohol, sex, food loses its effects at low doses and an increase is not only desired but required. The brain is still rewired and wise decisions are a thing of the distant past. Addiction is addiction. It’s not a good thing, no matter the addiction.
The recovery process for any addiction is extremely similar. Quit. Realize what the addiction does for you. Learn the reason you developed an addiction in the first place. Understand triggers. Avoid said triggers. Relapse and repeat. The process is long and demoralizing but, treatment is the blessing that I never wished for and, its exactly what I needed; I’m forever grateful for it. I learned more about myself, who the real Rachel Rapier is, in those few months than I had in my entire life. I’ve been bullied, alienated, picked apart and laughed at. I’ve been cut out of my best friend’s lives in 6th, 8th, 10th, and 11th grade for no apparent reason, left to rot alone in solitude. Unwanted, unloved, annoying, weird, expendable. Those were the words I used to describe myself while a depression grew in the void that should be occupied by love and friendships. After my freshman year of college, the depressive tumor expanded beyond its capacity and erupted with a tsunami of misery. Life was no longer pleasurable, bearable, or livable. Drowning in a sea of sickening sorrow, I flung my arms in search of something to keep me afloat. Addiction threw me a life raft and welcomed me with open arms. How could I say no?
I didn’t choose to have an addiction. I didn’t wake up in the morning and say, “I’m going to be addicted to exercise.” I didn’t choose it, just like cancer patients don’t choose it. That stupid rat and cocaine water study misinforms the general public, leading them to believe addictions are a choice, that only the most wretched of beings are addicts. However, a study that people don’t hear about may unlock the key to not only understanding but treating addictions. There is regular water and cocaine water but, multiple rats scurry around together in a large, friendly cage. Want to guess what water these rats choose? Regular. But, how is that? Let’s be honest here, if I were stuck in a cage, all by myself, with nothing to do but choose between regular water and cocaine laced water, I would probably choose the water with some coke in it. It’d make a lonely life a lot more bearable.
Addictions develop as coping mechanisms. They develop to help the addict survive in a world that has done them wrong, that has kicked them while they’re down, that has left the abandoned on the side of the road. But, maybe we can save our depressed friends, our bullied peers, our alienated mates. Johann Hari put it best, “the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” We don’t get mad at someone for having cancer so, why get mad at someone that has depression or an addiction? Addicts need to know that if they kick their addiction, leave their one true friend in the dust, they’ll have someone in their corner, cheering them on. The scar of dejection left after the end of any kind of relationship, be it boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, family member, addiction, or anything that’s ever brought comfort to your life, is nearly impossible to overcome without someone to be with you while you cry into an empty pint of vanilla ice cream. Humans beings not only desire and crave love, they need it. We all need love. We all need someone there for us. Our addicted friends need someone to love them, to care and, if we love them, talk with them, care for them, in the future, that rat won’t have to choose between addiction and loneliness again.
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By: Rachel Rapier, AiT Contributor