I have not used any illegal drugs personally – but I know many people who have. I have only used (or rather ‘misused’) alcohol when I was a teenager – and in my early 20s. However, the motivations for this sort of behaviour, when ‘stripped bare,’ are normally similar – and I know many people who do use drugs (especially marijuana) and I try to look into the mindset of why people do this.
In my spare time I do a lot of voluntary work in the criminal justice system. I first got into this when someone very close to me went to prison and I used to visit him regularly there. I picked up on a lot of the stories of other inmates who we’d see during the prison visits and I realised that most of them had followed just a few set life patterns that seemed to lead to prison. It is often quite easy when I read the reports on the individuals I work with in criminal rehab how they got into the situations they are in.
As I got more experienced in this volunteer work with the criminal justice system I noticed a few simple patterns emerging – most of the young offenders I meet fit into very distinct categories (which they themselves often cannot make out). They are too caught up in it all and because they are using various forms of ‘escapism’ (such as drugs, alcohol, uncontrolled behaviour, violence, etc) they don’t even realise what it is they are actually doing – or why they are doing it. This is quite common for all people – we often cannot step back far enough to see what we are doing and why we are doing it. Also, we get so used to it that even when we finally spot the patterns (which we always do, eventually) we cannot motivate ourselves to break these patterns. Usually, it’s only when we are older that we become more aware of what we are doing (or why we do it) and it is then that we reach a ‘crossing point’ or ‘tipping point.’ At that stage we must act relentlessly to change, even if we continually fail – we must never stop trying and we must never stop searching for new ways to make ourselves better. If we do let go we may never again be strong enough – or in a position where we can gather the strength needed to try again.
Every human being faces very similar battles with different ‘addictive’ or obsessive behaviours and the solution is always the same – regardless of the type of behaviour we are fighting. It is my firm belief that the chemical addiction of drugs or alcohol is actually much less limiting than the reasons why people resort to these patterns of behaviour. We do it because we want to leave our conscience behind for a while, we want to be free for a few hours, we want to feel like everything will be alright and we will get where we want to get. We also do it because we think we have gone too far already – in other words we think we’ve let ourselves down (or other people down) too many times to try to change. We think too much damage has been done for us to ever be ‘clean’ from the past. We think we are worse than most other people and we feel more comfortable around people who feel the same way about themselves as we do – and who resort to the same ‘comforts.’ It’s about burying one’s head in the sand.
Also, this type of behaviour is just habit. We may have outgrown it but it still feels like habit – we are used to doing it and without much thought we revert back to it without needing to think too much. We almost have to change our environment sometimes to break free from these ‘comfort zones,’ because familiar environments will stimulate the behaviour and reinforce it. Part of what I mean by “environment” is also the negative forces around us. We must surround ourselves with positive influences and we need to be constantly motivated and reminded of what we are doing (or trying to do). It may have taken 20 years to develop these ‘bad’ habits we want to be free of. It will take us a long time to get used to new positive habits. Drugs have side effects. As Addiction Rehab Blog shares, drugs can stay in your system for some time, and cause long-lasting effects. I often liken it to learning a martial art. It takes years before a martial art becomes part of you and before you always react to stressful situations according to your martial arts training. It has to be ‘wired’ into you. Your mindset needs to change – and on average that takes about 5 years – regardless of what behaviour you are trying to change. That does not mean you can’t try new ways successfully from the start. It just means you will need to constantly think about the changes and ‘train’ yourself consistently before you can do it without thinking anymore – before it becomes automatic.
It takes about 5 years to become a different person, to get used to unlearning the person you were before. This is similar in a new relationship, in a job, or in a sport – after 5 continuous years it becomes as if things were always this way, you think its normal. If you are to break a drug habit you have now (level with yourself and call it what it is, it’s a “drug habit”) then you must break from it now – and remain on the new path, without significant breaks, for 5 consecutive years. You will have learned new coping strategies during this time and your cellular/biological body will also have fully recycled its constituents – you will physically and mentally be a totally different person after 5 years.
But this ‘relearning period’ is crucial because you will automatically develop new coping strategies – whether or not you choose to – whenever you make such big changes. So have control over the process and decide in advance what you will choose as coping strategies. Often these coping strategies become ‘mini obsessions’ – we need to be careful what we become obsessed with. Exercise is often a good alternative to take on when making massive life changes – but this must be done carefully. If you do too much exercise your body breaks down, because it fails to cope. Once this happens you get frustrated, you feel like a failure and, more importantly, you have nowhere to turn to in order to curb your obsessions. This is possibly more dangerous than the original situation you were trying to avert.
Choose your coping mechanism carefully. Drugs are very addictive, but that’s because of the behaviours they represent – as much as it’s about the substances themselves. Most obsessive behaviours we engage in give exactly the same end results – a biological chemical response within the body which gives us a feeling of satisfaction. Exercise does this, drugs do this, anger does this – love also does this. Everything we do leads, eventually, to a chemical reaction – a release of endorphins and ‘natural drugs’ within our bloodstream – and a feeling of security, escape, relaxation, peace, or extreme happiness. Choose how you will feed this – we all need it but we need to control how we get it – because if we use self-demeaning methods to get satisfaction we will feel worse about ourselves whenever we are in our ‘true’ or ‘natural’ (sober/clean) state. When it’s hard to look yourself in the eye you lose control of how you deal with stress, because you lose faith in yourself. But that’s where the solution actually lies – in being ‘alone’ with yourself, with nowhere to hide. I also mean this literally – solitude can be important because part of negative behaviour may involve never being alone (always being around people and activities that comfort us, or accept us in the state we are – and that do not pressure us to better ourselves). We need solitude from those stresses to think on our own and to face our feelings honestly.
The solution is to beak old habits by metaphorically ‘stripping yourself naked’ – leaving yourself emotionally bare and unprotected from whatever it is that you are ‘trying to escape’ through your destructive or obsessive behaviours – and let that dread or dislike of your ‘truth’ shame you, scare you – or in any other way drive you towant to change. The drugs give you a break from this shame and allow you to think things are not too bad – they allow you to contextualise a situation which your ‘true self’ will never accept as being “okay.” By breaking from the drugs and behaviours you are forced to contend with your ‘demons’ face to face.
This exposure brings a danger, though. The danger of this ‘exposure’ is twofold. As mentioned earlier, you may choose a new way of coping with this pressure which is still destructive – and that’s no good either. The other possibility is that years of cocooning yourself behind substance misuse will have weakened you so much that you simply cannot take the exposure of being ‘left bare,’ with nowhere to hide – and that can cause a psychological breakdown (usually a form of severe, acute mental illness which removes you from normal society and requires medical and/or hospital treatment). When people break down they may not ever be the same again – some never fully recover (or many will take years to regain their perspective on things and their confidence). You may have seen this happen to people around you. Many people even think drugs have caused people to develop mental illness because people who are progressing towards these illnesses often resort to drugs to try and relieve the mental pressure (as their minds ‘cave in’). It’s not usually the drugs, however, which caused the problem (which is why many people who also use the same drugs never have similar mental problems). The drug misuse is often only a ‘symptom’ of trying to cope with a deteriorating mental situation.
I still say it’s worth stripping oneself bare to resolve negative behaviours – even at the risk of a breakdown – because it’s better to ‘face the fire’ than to live in suspended animation until you eventually cave in anyway, at a later date. If a breakdown is coming no negative behaviour will put it off indefinitely – it will only give you a ‘stay of execution’ until a later date.
I’ve rambled a bit here, but I hope it makes a little sense. If we choose a strategy ourselves and then face up to our ‘demons’ we have a fighting chance of resolving them. If we leave ourselves to fate – who knows just how bad things will eventually get? And the worst part is the not knowing – and having no control. It’s really about taking control, it’s not easy and it may well be a lifelong battle. Be a ‘soldier’ and go down fighting, rather than being a coward and waiting to be ‘flushed out’ and ‘exposed.’ We can all change, we all have a battle of some sort to fight – regardless of who we are – and we all have the opportunity to dare to be great and to reveal our ‘true selves.’ The person you were born as, who may have been tainted and corrupted by the world around himself/herself – but still exists deep down in all of us – is fighting to be freed again.
I can only wish you all the best in your battle for personal advancement and change (whatever that battle is) – as, no doubt, we all wish for all God’s good people here on Earth…