Does anyone remember the Scorsese film “After Hours”? At the start of the film Griffin Dunne watches his last $20 bill float out a cab window and it is a catalyst for a night of chaos in downtown 1980s New York City. Every scene builds with chaos and insanity and a colorful cast of menacing weirdos. To the average audience it probably seemed like a high-stress falling down a rabbit hole Alice in Wonderland but to people who’ve lived with addiction it’s more like watching “chaos-lite”.
In case you ever forget what life was really like in active addiction, listen to the stories being recounted by people who are newly sober. The events taking place and the cast of characters usually falls somewhere between the epic Dante’s Inferno and Monty Python – and this is recounting twenty four hours or less. They’re recounting only one story from one of many hundred days spent living on the edge. The stories that come out of these experiences are riveting. They easily rival the big screen. They have it all – drama, action, comedy. In the telling (and the spirit-saving grace of irony) hilarity helps to make the pain bearable. For anyone who has lived it through this lens, it is like living life at a distance. To survive, we learn to detach.
I call this “my life as a movie” storytelling. Almost all emotional context is missing from these stories. Although they are personal, they sound like re-telling a movie recently viewed. It is common among addicts. The unreality life takes on under the influence. The more unbelievable things get, the better the story.
I have to admit that I was pretty entertained by the craziness of my life when I was getting high. Drugs exposed me to people and situations that kept me amused and curious. For a while, the unfolding story brought me as much pleasure as the high. Life felt epic. Managing crisis after crisis was a challenge and I was good at living by my wits.
The progression, like addiction, is that the pain usurps the pleasure and the entertainment value is lost. Instead of hilarious characters, you discover yourself surrounded by people you don’t care about and who definitely don’t care about you. It’s more evidence of being trapped by the lonely prison of addiction.
When you get clean and start attracting attention for your storytelling it can kick up bizarre feelings. On one hand, what you lived through and laugh at was really painful but you will start to miss it. Life clean may feel uncreative and uninspiring. The transition can be painful for people who found twisted pleasure and ridiculousness in pain. Getting clean may feel like going from Technicolor to black and white.
What is happening is that your current story is becoming more complex. Now there is an emotional life that accompanies you throughout each day. It may feel difficult at first and your head will romanticize the past as being more “care-free”. Find some humor in this – maybe you’re confusing “care-free” with “pain-free” which was not the case. Our distorted perceptions can amuse us while we land back into reality if we let them. Adjusting to new circumstances takes time. Find people in recovery to seek out new experiences.
I think it’s important for people who relish chaos and living by their wits to discover activities or hobbies they can become passionate about. You can have big experiences and be clean and sober. Trust me, there will be plenty to laugh at.
Maybe what you need is to challenge yourself physically or intellectually. Facing yourself and your fears clean is a challenge that should not be under-estimated. You can’t go from living a completely external existence to living a completely internal one. Stay engaged because you can’t afford to lose interest in your own life. Get involved in your fellowship, do service in your community, create friendships, find out what floats your boat and dive into the stream of things. The worst thing you can do if you are an adventure seeker is to dial your life down to a low frequency. Community is where you will find the laughter.
Not everyone found personal thrills from living on the edge during active addiction. They may not relate to this blog however the recovery advice stands alone. Passion, fulfillment and a sense of purpose will enrich everyone’s personal recovery.
Eventually traveling the road of recovery you’ll discover that the thrill of drama and chaos becomes less attractive. You’ll make choices that enhance inner peace without losing your personal edge. There will be no need to push the envelop all the time. This process happens naturally so don’t bother trying to rush it. Stay in the recovery game and change happens.
Published with permission from Patty Powers