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Understanding the Misunderstood – Drug Addiction

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I am going to start this article off with a story of addiction from an anonymous person, the person does not want their name shared, but I appreciate them for sharing it and letting me use it. I hope this story will help people understand what drug addiction is like. The person gave me their story and I have personified the drugs in this story to make it more relatable.

“I once met a girl named Lory on a trip to the pharmacy. The first time I was with her, I thought to myself that I want her with me all the time, I want to feel the emotions I feel when I’m with her, she instantly filled the void in me that I had been trying to fill, she calmed me down when I was distressed or thinking too much. I was instantly in love. But when she was gone, it felt like the void in me had grown bigger, I couldn’t live without her. I would make excuses to be with her, I would go out of my way to be with her. Because when I was with her, I was always happy, I never felt the emptiness I felt when I was without her, and I never felt like my thoughts were consuming me when she was with me. But then even that wasn’t enough to fill the void and stop my thoughts, I needed to be with her all the time. I got into a relationship with her and we lived together, we went everywhere together. But eventually, it was as if I had gotten used to it and she wasn’t bringing the happiness she used to bring, so we got married and I moved in with her family, the Benzos, not for free though, the Benzos made me pay rent. I absolutely loved the benzos, we bonded straight away and I went everywhere with them, I never left them alone, and they seemingly loved me back, they always called to me to be with them, and I couldn’t stop myself because I loved all of them, when it felt like my world was collapsing, like the world was against me, the Benzos got me through those situations, and they never let me down, I was always happy with them and felt like nothing can hurt me.
One day the benzos introduced me to a friend, his name was Oxy, we instantly became best friends, he bought me so much joy and happiness, and all my worries went out the window when I hung out with him. But we were friends who could only meet in the nighttime. I continued living with the Benzos, but I had become so strongly attached to them, that I needed more and more of them to feel the same way I felt at first. Oxy would visit us at night and those were the most beautiful nights of my life, and I knew that Oxy was the friend I always needed, he brought happiness and warmth to me.
Eventually the Benzos and Lory stopped bringing me happiness, no matter how much I was around them, but they continued to fill the void in me and slow my thoughts down. I started hanging out with Oxy more and more. My whole existence, my soul had become a black hole by that time, I had fully become the void that was too difficult to fill now.
I was running out of money to pay the rent to the Benzos, the rent that filled that void.
I started to lose hope and convinced the Benzos, including Lory, and Oxy to get rid of me and let me fade away because I felt like a disappointment and a parasite, I had lost hope. I had become completely empty and nothing could fill that but Oxy, but I was only able to be with him at night, so what was the point. They agreed and came at me with everything they had, they severely wounded me and almost succeeded in killing me, but I survived somehow.
I woke up in the hospital and the Benzos and Oxy weren’t there, not even Lory, they had abandoned me, but my real family was, the one I had forgotten about, as I was so attached to the Benzos and Oxy. My real family made sure that the Benzos and Oxy didn’t come back to me. I longed to be with them again so they could fill the void in me, but I had realized that they were bad for me, they made me their slave without me even realizing it. It’s been a few months separated from them, but they still call me every day and tell me how much they love me and how much happiness they can give me, and sometimes I almost am convinced, but then I realize what they had done with me, unknowingly. Sometimes when I feel empty and the jungle in my mind is running wild, I call them, I long to be with them, but I know if I go back to them, the same will happen as it did last time. I’ve realized that only I can fill the void in me, no one else.It’s going to be extremely difficult to fill it, but it’s only up to me to do it.” – Anonymous Person

I think of the drug world like this, there are three categories: 1. there are addicts; 2. people who drink or do drugs sometimes for fun, I like to call them the people in the in-between, they are neither dependent nor are they sober they are in the middle; 3. then there are those that have always been sober. The last two categories are so judgemental of addicts, they don’t want to be open-minded about what is really going on. Drugs aren’t the issue, the issue is what they are using drugs to solve. The root cause is the issue, not the drugs, the drugs are an escape from the issue, but it makes the issue even larger. Many addicts say that if they aren’t on drugs, they will probably take their own life because they do not know or don’t have the resources to be able to cope with their issues healthily.

You can never fully understand something unless you experience it yourself, I myself have unfotrtunately experienced addiction, I was severely addicted to Benzodiazepines. Usually, addicts are trying to suppress inferior emotions, and help them fill the void in them. Many go through depression, anxiety, or PTSD from their childhood that just won’t leave them alone unless they are high. There are several other mental illnesses that people try to escape from. I will refer to these mental issues as the void. So when you walk past a homeless person on the streets who looks like they are probably on drugs, what do you think of them? Or what do you think about drug addicts in general? A large number of people, especially those that are very religious and/or conservative, think of them or even treat them like trash. They call them names like “junkies”, “parasites”, “trash”, etc. But that’s what you physically see, you can’t see what is going on in their heads. Just like many other things, drugs are a mechanism of escapism, but it is the ultimate form of escapism. There are many ways that people can be introduced to drugs. For some it’s just the environment they grew up in, some just want to experiment, and many people seek drugs because they have lost all hope and think that drugs are the only thing that can help them. But for millions, it starts with a doctor’s prescription, whether that be benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, etc) or opiate pain killers (such as oxycodone, morphine, codeine, etc). And many people don’t even realize how addictive these substances are because their thinking is “This is prescribed by the doctor, how could it harm me”, the truth is that it takes very little time to become dependent on these medications and they don’t even realize it. People with existing mental health issues are at a much higher risk to get addicted because they just want to escape their illness, and drugs are the ultimate escape, and they don’t see any other way, they feel so hopeless that they start to think that drugs are the only thing that will keep them alive, to fill that void in them, to slow down the constant barrage of negative thoughts. Drug Addiction is a disease, just like cancer, the longer you put treatment off and keep using, the more the damage to your brain and body in general, eventually many addicts unfortunately die. Even when an addict recovers and becomes sober, they are still at high risk of becoming an addict again, because they lack the self-control. 40-60% of all addicts relapse, because recovery and even life after recovery is extremely tough for them. The thought that they will never achieve that same level of happiness again, that just taking drugs will solve their problems and the temptation of that promised temporary happiness takes over and attacks their mind. That is why people say “Once an addict, always an addict”. There’s no in-between for them, and all they see around them are people living in the in-between, having fun with the same things that they themselves were addicted to. Seeing that for the first few times makes them long for that drug to be there with them, but eventually, the temptation decreases as they continue to recover and find other facets of life that they can be passionate about or enjoy without having consequences for their mental health and addiction.

Drug addicts become blind to their problems as they are always high or drunk, to suppress their inferior feelings, their issues, their pains and traumas. Addicts use drugs to fill the void in them, but what they don’t realize is, because they have gone blind, that in the background the drugs are making the void larger and larger, the drugs eat away at their mind, but the high of the drug blinds them from this. And the longer they take the drugs, the more of it they need to fill that void because it is just getting larger and larger. 

People think that shaming drug addicts, guilt-tripping them, and looking down on them will make them feel bad, and they might quit. NO, it doesn’t work like that, what really happens is that the addict will feel those emotions of guilt, and shame and that turns into self-hatred, and the only way they know how to cope is by using drugs because they don’t have the skills to cope without drugs. So what do they do? They keep using and use even more to suppress those feelings that others give them. So no you are doing the opposite of helping, just making life more difficult for an addict by making them feel even worse about themselves and their view of people. They begin to think that everyone is against them and that maybe they could be right to call them names, self-hatred grows, and the only solution they see is the drugs they are on.

It doesn’t take very long at all for someone to become dependent, then eventually addicted to drugs, especially for people with Mental Health issues. There is mental dependency, and there is physical dependency and addiction, and there is also psychological dependency and addiction. When someone who is dependent or addicted to a drug and they stop for a short while (sometimes a few hours, for some drugs a few days), they experience physical withdrawal which includes symptoms such as depression, panic attacks, anxiety, tremors, anger, lack of sleep, nausea, muscle and bone pain, seizures, and for some drugs like benzodiazepines and alcohol, death can be a result of acute withdrawals. This makes it very difficult for an addict to quit because the withdrawal phase feels like absolute hell being unleashed on them, and they can’t cope with it, some people can but it’s still extremely difficult. The ones that aren’t able to cope either relapse or give up on life, because they just can’t see anything good coming from their life. They’ve been trapped by the grip the drugs have on them. Psychological dependency or addiction is when the drug user is unable to stop themselves from using because they are stuck, they see drugs as their only solution, so they take risks, up doses, and use the drugs to fill the void. They stop caring about life, they just want their next fix, because they can’t live without it, life is hell for them without drugs because of how deep they have got into it, they are stuck deep in the mud, and can’t get out, so they sink deeper into the mud. Taking drugs is like taking a lot of happiness from the future and experiencing it all in a few hours, or for some drugs only minutes. The longer or heavier an addict uses, the more happiness they are taking from the future. So once they do make an attempt to stop, so much happiness has been taken from the future, so much damage has been done to the brain, and that void has consumed them, that it can take months or even years and years to regain that happiness, repair that brain damage and fill the void, which is why so many addicts relapse, it’s too much to handle, they just cannot find happiness in anything, even from activities they used to enjoy. They go into a state of severe depression, for some drugs anxiety skyrockets, panic attacks occur, and physical pain and discomfort, and they just can’t cope with all that, especially when they’ve already had the taste of the happiness drugs give you temporarily. It’s as if the drugs call to you, a direct line to your mind and say “take a line, it’ll be fine”, or “pop a pill and chill” or “feel the needle in your arm, to wave away past harms”. Often times addicts know their fate but they just can’t quit, they are stuck too deeply in the mud, and even though they know that their habit will eventually kill them, they stop caring about their own life. Drugs become the only part of their life that they keep together, the only thing on their mind is where they will get their next fix from, or how they will get the money because if they can’t get a fix, all hell will unleash on them mentally and physically. Many resort to crime to obtain money, these aren’t necessarily bad people, the drugs have completely who they are, and they aren’t in a sane state of mind. An addict will do things that they would normally never even consider doing. “So just a little taste and you know she got you, Can you hide away, can you hide away” – Mac Miller (RIP another victim of the disease that is drug addiction, and an amazing person that everyone loved, and he loved everyone. That right there is an example that most drug addicts aren’t bad people, they’re stuck in the mud and just keep sinking, just like Mac did).

Drugs will never teach you how to heal the pain you are trying to heal. Instead it will mask it really well, like putting a wild animal in a cage and putting a cloak over it. As time goes on, that animal is going to get bigger and stronger. Then you decide that you want to get off of drugs, so you take the cloak off and that problem you were trying to heal has just grown even larger and vicious. It will attack you with everything, and you’ll be very tempted to put that animal back into the cage and put a cloak over it. That’s why it’s important to slowly tame that animal. The cloak is off, you can see the animal called pain has grown a lot larger. If you let it out of the cage straight away, it will attack you when you are vulnerable. So tame that animal, Give it some light, slowly give it more freedom, but just enough so that you can control it. Taming that animal is extremely difficult, because by concealing it you never really figured ways to tame it while it was smaller, but now it’s gotten a lot larger. In Elliott Smith’s words you have “disconnected from the missing link”, you can’t solve the puzzle of your life when under the influence, because those puzzle pieces, that last link has been concealed, you can’t see it and don’t want to see it, because those drugs feel so amazing, you don’t see the point in stopping. Eventually drugs will become your life, the only part of life you’re keeping together, so you resort to different methods to obtain drugs, whether that be crime, doing acts you never would do under normal circumstances. That grip of drugs on the mind is strong, like a vice clamp. That animal is just waiting to be let loose and pounce on you. So take it slow, there’s no hurry. Hurrying it can just make the situation even worse.

I was listening to a song called “Let’s Get Lost” by the late Elliott Smith, the chorus says, “Burning every bridge that I cross, to find some beautiful place to get lost.” Even though the context of the song is somewhat the opposite to what I will say next, I was inspired to write an analogy for recovery from drug addiction when I heard the chorus. So this is to anyone who is reading this and is going through addiction or recovery, there is hope. The keyword is “natural” in this analogy by me.

The Bridge of recovery – by Danyaal Raza You have finally decided to make a change and attempt to cross the bridge of recovery from your distorted reality to the real world. It looks scary, it’s a narrow wooden bridge, and underneath is a raging river, and that distorted reality you live in seems so comfy, the first step onto the bridge is the most difficult, saying farewell to a world that you at that moment think is a friend and brought you comfort and happiness when no one or nothing else did. While you cross the bridge you will look back and see that the fake world you are leaving was lit by lightbulbs, it was all artificial, it wasn’t natural. And when you look forward to the real world there will be natural light from the sun, sometimes you will see darkness, but remember, nighttime is only a passing phase, the sun will always rise. Some of those nights seem to go on forever, and you will look back to the world lit with light bulbs and think “at least there’s light there” but remember, the lightbulbs will fuse and the light will start to fade and you will need more and more energy to keep the lightbulbs shining to power that light, but the lights will keep fusing, and it will get darker and darker, and eventually in an attempt to somehow power those lights back up, you will use too much energy, overpower the light bulbs and they will all fuse, leaving you in pitch-black darkness and you will fade away forever. But remember, the morning sun will eventually always rise naturally in the real world, and even in the nighttime, the sun doesn’t leave you, it shines light on the moon which will reflect some light on you, always leaving you with a glimmer of hope. While on the bridge, sometimes it will seem like the real world is blowing fierce winds at you, they make the bridge unsteady, storms will come and make that bridge slippery and shake violently, and it will scare you, you feel like you will be swept away by the raging river underneath, so you are tempted to run back to the fake, distorted reality lit by light bulbs, where everything is seemingly safe and comfortable, and it will call to you, it wants you back, but running back will either result in relapse, or slipping into the river below. Or you might even just give up and let the river sweep you away. But hold on tight, those stoppages will come where you just have to hold on tight and soldier through it, going back is not an option, and going forward can be dangerous as there is a chance you will slip into the river, stoppages are a part of the recovery. Always remember that the natural light will never fade. The closer you get to the real world, the more beauty you will see, yes you will see the evils and darkness, but there is natural beauty and light that won’t ever disappear, whereas the artificial light in the distorted world you lived in, will eventually fade away. And when you look back, you’ll see the artificial light become distant, it will still call to you, but the impact of that call will have less effect on your mind the closer you get to the real world. The real world can be scary, but there will always be hope. Then when you have finally crossed the bridge and ended the internal struggle of deciding what world you want to live in, burn that bridge so you can never go back. And once that bridge has burnt, all those light bulbs will fuse, and you will realize that all that energy powering the lightbulbs was actually coming from the real world, through the bridge. That light was artificial but was powered by natural sources. So, true happiness can only be attained naturally, not artificially, because the artificial will always fade away, the natural light that gives life, and hope, and even the artificial, will never fade away. Burn the bridge, never return, and get lost in this world that is filled with natural beauty. There is no artificial without natural, but natural is everlasting, artificial will never last long. The sun shines on the natural opium poppies that bring you artificial happiness. So burn that bridge, watch those artificial lights fuse and enter the beautiful, real-world, filled with opportunities to fill that void you were trying to fill with drugs.

Maybe that was a flawed analogy, but I think it was fitting, but then again, I won’t be able to truly understand the struggle as I have not experienced it.

So the next time you see an addict, don’t judge them and make them feel guilty or bad about themselves, have some empathy because there is a lot of pain behind those eyes, and they just can’t face it, it’s all too much. Many think about quitting, but the withdrawals are too much to cope with, so they just cannot get out of that vicious cycle of recovery and relapse. And to anyone that does take the bridge to recovery, I applaud you, I’m proud of you and you aren’t alone in the struggle. That large void is extremely difficult to fill, but once you have, there is nothing more satisfying in life than that. You have to go through discomfort to reach real comfort. That drug is like a friend to an addict, so recovery is a fond farewell to a friend, a friend that brought you so much happiness, but in the end, left you ruined. People who are committed to recovery might come off as stupid or crazy to some people, this is because they are fighting a war in their head, and sometimes that war may leak out of them, and that’s part of recovery, the craziness some may feel. But that damage will repair.

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