What are addictions? The Merriam Webster dictionary explanation is:
1: the quality or state of being addicted 2: compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly: persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.
Well, with all due respect to Merriam Webster, it’s just not that clear cut. I was an active addict for nearly 25 years and have been in continuous recovery for 20 years, and what I’ve learned about this disease is that it can’t always be so neatly packaged.
Don’t get me wrong. Merriam Webster gets the general drift of what an addict will become once the disease is full blown. But it just isn’t so black and white. There are different stages where there is a lot of gray.
Let’s start with the early stages, where the addiction hasn’t necessarily manifested the consequences yet. The addict is in the grips of the disease, but doesn’t yet realize or acknowledge it.
I started drinking at the age of nine. Really, I was drinking before that, but I wasn’t buying my own drinks before nine. I was just sipping beer from my dad’s or uncle’s glass, or finishing off my mother’s or aunt’s highballs at family parties.
At nine years old, my friend and I could go to the corner bodega and buy a quart of beer and tell the man behind the counter it was for my friend’s dad. No questions were asked, since his dad was usually in the store several times a day buying quarts of beer. At that time, I could consume large quantities of beer, with an unusually tolerance for my age. I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms. But looking back, I can now see that from the very beginning, I was addicted.
I didn’t think about it all the time, and there weren’t any perceivable harmful effects, but what it did for me was something I couldn’t do on my own. The alcohol filled me up. It made me happier. I felt bigger and stronger. I felt more complete with it then I did without it. It filled a hole in me that nothing else did at that time in my life.
I think I qualified as being an addict in every way. My parents died of cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholism when I was 15. Before that, I experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse. I was drinking by nine, used heroin shortly thereafter…then pot, hallucinogens, cocaine and the list went on. By the time I was 18, I had tried every drug available at that time.
In the beginning, I thought I was just having fun and, truth be told, there was some fun. But later I realized that I was just trying to fill in the hole where the pain was.
To me, addicts are people who are not whole. Something is missing. They feel incomplete. They may not even be aware that they are trying to fill the emptiness. They try to plug the void by putting alcohol, drugs, etc., all kinds of substances into their bodies, or engaging in excessive shopping, sex and masturbation, gambling, etc. It’s all about looking for that rush…that feeling…a high to take you outside of yourself, so that you don’t have to feel lacking.
Why do addicts feel this way? There could be any number of reasons. Genetics, chemical imbalances, the environment they are brought up in, traumatic experiences, inability to deal in social settings and much more.
What happens if addicts don’t get help? I’m sure this won’t come as earth-shattering news to anyone, but addictions take a toll on the body and brain. In some cases, the environment in which an addict places him or herself, will affect the body and mind. It is said only about 10 percent of people with addictions get help. And only a fraction of those who seek help are able to achieve continuous abstinence.
Unfortunately, some treatment methods merely substitute one crutch for another. Other programs allow the addict privileges only after a period of abstinence, or they teach so-called “controlled” drinking.
I experimented with many ways stop my addictions. Once, I even went to an acupuncturist. This was in the early 80s. My wife at the time told me I had to do something about my drinking and drugging, and then handed me a newspaper ad that read, “Acupuncture Cures Addiction.”
After I told him my history, the doctor looked at me very seriously and said “You might need more help.” He did his thing, putting needles in my ear and in other places. But immediately afterward, I went downstairs to the bar and had a beer. So much for the “acupuncture cures addiction” theory.
For this recovered alcoholic, the 12-step support groups, as well as individual and group therapy, helped me recover from my addictions. But even in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the AA co-founders is quoted as saying, “If you can find another way to stop drinking, our hats are off to you.”
It’s also important to emphasize that the collective success rate of addicts who have gone to all the other programs combined does not equal the number of people who have been able to maintain consistent abstinence by following the 12-step programs.
Why is that? What is the difference? I can give you the answer in one word: Spirituality.
Spirituality enables an addict to rediscover himself, build a new relationship with a higher power, and help others.
I want to clarify that spirituality is not religion. Believe me I tried religion. I even became a monk for several years and had periods of abstinence. But in the end, religion couldn’t help this addict. I had to self-discover a God of my understanding, self-discover myself, and figure out how I affected others and how they affected me.
So, what are we to do with those who don’t want help? What about those who want help, but theiraddiction is stronger than their craving for abstinence?
In the 12-step program, they tell you “it is a program of attraction, not promotion…be a power of example.” Lend a hand when you are asked for help. Even if you’re not asked, offer a hand. But don’t preach. Be compassionate and not cocky. I heard it said, that those still in the throes of their addictions are teachers for us…showing us where we could be if we were not sober.
This addict wanted more. I was told that once an addict, always an addict. I didn’t buy that; I wanted more. The 12-step program helped me discover myself, which allowed me to open up to more than what the 12-step program offered. Because I had so many traumatic experiences in my past, I needed more help than that which was provided by these wonderful support groups. I explored different types of spirituality…angels… shamans. I embraced the shadow side; always going further to find those blocks and old hurts, and then giving them up to The Divine. I discovered them, cried over them, embraced them, and then gave them back to Her, my Divine Mother.
I had to go back to all those things that caused me pain and confront all of it: the good, the bad and the ugly. I had to embrace all of it and come to the understanding that because of the things that happened to me, I became the person I am today. Part of embracing them was recognizing that even in those darkest times, there was a part of me receiving something to help me, maybe not right then, but later on. For instance, growing up in my family made me more independent at an earlier age than other children. It also gave me more awareness of others and their hurts. I became more sensitive to others.
Because of my drinking, I lived on the streets, and lost my family, my job and my home. I know what it is like to be homeless and to have nothing. This awareness enables me to cherish everything I have that much more. The sexual abuse I suffered allowed me to understand how it robs you of your childhood, and corrupts your way of thinking and feeling. I know what other sexually abused people are feeling and can identify with and help console them. I can help them see the difference between what is true and what is just their fear.
Once I became aware of my new-found empathy, I began to experience the trust that had been within me all along, just unacknowledged. There were also many layers of forgiveness that I had to sift through while working the 12-step programs and the different types of therapies. I was amazed at the level of acceptance that I was now relishing. I could see that others, even those in 12-step programs and in individual and group therapies, were still struggling with their pasts.
My goal is to help them see that everything that has happened to us is part of a greater Divine plan. And if they can’t grasp the bigger picture, I want to at least help them understand their pain from a new and different perspective that will enable them to find a new level of trust, forgiveness and acceptance.
Michael Hoare, D.D., is an author, minister and certified Angel Therapy Practitioner. Michael’s past life has been filled with challenges. He was born with a hole in his heart, was sexually abused during his early childhood, turned to alcohol and drugs for comfort, and ended up homeless in the New York City subway. In addition, Hoare has lost an unusually large number of loved ones to death: both parents by the time he was 16; his best friend 2 years later; and his fiancée died two weeks before their wedding date. Eleven months after his fiancée died, he learned that his daughter was battling cancer. Despite it all, and maybe because of it, Hoare can talk about his troubled past and how he came through it, thanks to a spiritual program called Ah-Man.Central to the Ah-Man experience is being able to forgive oneself and to forgive others for past misgivings. The experiences that Hoare, a recovering alcoholic, describes in his recently published book, “I Am Ah-Man,” are due in large part to the impulses of what Hoare terms “primordial man.” While Hoare admits that primordial man is not a bad guy, his actions are the result of instinct rather than the heart. Primordial feelings, he explains, include anger, fear, resentment, control, lust, jealousy, and suspiciousness.
To connect to Ah-Man, Hoare, a New York City native, had to change his habits and beliefs and ultimately surrender to them. That, he explains, is not an easy task. Why? Because both men and women, he says, are conditioned to conform to society’s expectations. For men, that may mean feeling the need to have the highest-paying jobs, purchase the largest homes, and maintain the lifestyles to match. For women, it could mean being just like men, and looking and acting a certain way, e.g., thin or sexy. But with trust, forgiveness and acceptance of ourselves, God and others, Hoare believes men and women can find a spiritual way of handling everyday life situations without getting sucked into them.
Through a series of seminars and one-to-one counseling sessions, Hoare teaches men and women to embrace the Ah-Man within them by creating a loving relationship with oneself, God and others; openness with other people; a sense of integrity; and the ability to communicate; all by incorporating trust, forgiveness and acceptance, thus allowing them to be whole.
Additional information on Ah-Man, as well information on upcoming retreats, can be found at www.ah-man.com.
The original article appeared at www.selfgrowth.com/.