Fear is one of the primary components of addiction. It would be difficult for any one person, in recovery or still active, to deny the role that fright has had in their life. It has been said on numerous occasions, by countless people, that when you strip away all the layers of an addict or alcoholic, what you find is fear. Underneath the anger, resentment, dishonesty, et al., you see a person who trembles at the thought of living another day with substances, or without drugs and alcohol.
Let’s be clear, people living with substance use disorders are not a bunch of scaredy-cats. You might even say that Fear, as it pertains to people struggling with addiction is more of a philosophical dilemma than the typical worries that the average human contends with from day to day. Existential angst may be a more fitting description of the addict’s condition. When a person can’t live with something while simultaneously being unable to live without it, it is a dilemma in the strictest sense of the word—a cruel paradox.
Many articles have touched upon the subject of fear and the part it plays with mental illness and how it can be a catalyst for addiction. With that in mind, getting to the roots of people’s unease, or “dis-ease” for that matter, is an integral component of addiction recovery. Ironically, people only learn this after they have made the courageous “fear-less” decision to ask for assistance and valiantly accept help. In a sense, those who go into treatment choose to resist against their fear, and ignore the chatter in their head that says, ‘you’re not worth it, you will fail, and think what you stand to lose?’
Creation In Spite of Addiction
If you are not in recovery or do not struggle with addiction, the question above may seem baffling. You may ask yourself, ‘what could a person caught in the grips of mental illness have to lose by choosing recovery?’ It’s a good question, and the answer may not be an obvious one, so perhaps you can keep an open mind for a time.
Please consider for a moment that not every person with a substance use disorder in need of treatment is in the final iteration of the disease. Most people who require treatment are somehow managing to hold things together, at least on the surface. Each day, countless active using addicts and alcoholics get up, and go through the same motions as “normal” people; a significant number of people living with mental illness are successful, talented, and in quite a few cases—famous. We probably do not have to run down the list of all well-respected artists, musicians, authors, and performers who are both actively using or are in recovery.
We can probably all agree that it’s possible to make some of your dreams come true despite drugs and alcohol dependence. In spite of the pain, heartache, guilt, and shame that comes with addiction, individuals can create a masterpiece using their preferred medium. One could even argue, and many have, that substance use is a form of muse that guides them toward creation. Whether such a suggestion is right or wrong is debatable, what is certain is that no matter what excuse people have for continuing use, the choice comes at a significant cost— often, the ultimate price.
Identity is Important to Everyone. Even in Recovery!
Years of drug and alcohol use shapes people in many ways. Those caught in the cycle of addiction often define themselves by their struggle, convinced that their fight while deadly, is beautiful. What’s more, since humans are prone to gauge who they Are by how they see themselves in the eyes of others, one can easily convince their self that giving up drugs and alcohol will result in people viewing them differently. We all strive for consistency in how people see us, the thought of people changing their view (even when it is for the better) can be too much to stomach.
Addiction becomes a part of people’s identity; therefore, the thought of abstaining is tantamount to sacrificing (real or imagined) who they Are in the name of health. If a person’s identity is inextricably bound to that which they create, it’s difficult to justify anything (recovery) that could jeopardize creation. There is a pervasive mindset among many people with alcohol or substance use disorders who create art; the idea that self-improvement will diminish their ability to create. The fear of losing that which one loves most keeps people rationalizing their behaviors. Fear justifies continued use, one might say to themself, ‘what good is recovery if I’m going to spend the rest of my days mourning the loss of Art?’ For such people, their passion is more valuable than a healthy existence.
So, does recovery hurt the ability to be original and authentic? The simplest answer, and the right answer is, NO! Sadly, many people never come to that determination because their life was cut short by the disease.
Does Recovery Kill Great Writing?
Those who find the strength to stand up to their disease and give recovery an honest chance, discover an exponentially more exceptional ability to create. Fear is a dominant force, but it is not all-powerful. Fear can convince people that they have the answers to questions without having to do any research. Being convinced of something without conducting a proper study, is to live in ignorance. The only way to know what is possible in recovery is to do the work; only by openly and honestly giving a program of healing a chance can you answer the lingering questions bound to your fear.
Saying that anything is possible in recovery may sound suspiciously catchy; that doesn’t make it any less accurate. Recently, an article appearing in The New York Time’s Magazine, set its sights on the topic of recovery affecting creativity. The article is adapted from Leslie Jamison’s “The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath,” to be published next month. Jamison is an author who has several years sober in recovery which, like many artists, struggles with fear. The piece covers many areas relevant to people in recovery and in-need-of recovery. Even if you are artistically inept, everyone can relate to fear.
Jamison’s adaptation can speak to anyone, regardless of artistic background; but, it is likely to resonate most with people who have a penchant for reading and writing. Please find time to read this article, if you have used up your free NYT online articles for the month, the mobile site should still work. Reading the piece might serve to allay the fears of people still teetering on the fence of recovery; it can show you that there is beauty in recovery, resisting doubt is a beautiful struggle. Hopefully, it inspires you to pick up the phone and reach out for help. Making the brave decision to resist fear and seek change could lead you to create your best work yet; naturally, there is only one way to find out, just as Leslie Jamison would discover.
During days spent in the archives and during the midnight hours of my own attempts to write, it was liberating to start questioning the ways I’d understood torment as a prerequisite to beauty. It was liberating to start imagining that there could be meaningful stories told about wreckage, sure, but also meaningful stories told about what it might mean to pull yourself out from under it: stories about showing up for work, for intimacy, for other people; stories about getting through ordinary days without drinking enough vodka to forget yourself entirely. The lie wasn’t that addiction could yield truth. The lie was that addiction had a monopoly on it.
It is hard work facing your feelings without the aid of alcohol and drugs. Early recovery is a difficult time for anyone, but what you will discover along the way will change your life for the better. Recovery is not an antidote for fear; it is a tool that allows you the ability to cope with and manage the state of being in healthy ways. Abstinence is the only absolute when it comes to healing, other than that, recovery isn't a trade-off. You will still be You when working a program, arguably an even better version of yourself.
If you are ready to face your fear and embrace changes in your life for the better, please contact PACE Recovery Center to begin a remarkable journey.