I’ve been questioned about my lack of happiness. Shouldn’t I, after 18 months without a drink, be experiencing some of the joys of recovery?
Eschewing a postmodern deconstruction of the definition of “happiness” – feel free to radically, relatively and tediously define it as you will – here are the reasons I think I’m not happy.
It’s a time thing. A friend told me that she doesn’t want to relapse, not because she doesn’t want to do year 1 over again, but because she doesn’t want to do year 2 again. Dan Smith refers to 18 months sober as a “dangerous time.” A mentor says, “Time takes time.” I haven’t done year 2 before and I would describe it, generally, as hellish, a different kind of hell from year 1. I’m probably as far along as I can get. At this time.
It’s a brain thing. I’ve messed up my mind. Anhedonia - the inability to feel pleasure – happens to abstinent alcohol and drug users. Anhedonia + relapse happens. How to treat a decreased ability to feel pleasure (happiness?) remains uncertain. Time will heal some of it. And I can think and regulate my way to accelerated improvement. But I can’t will myself to be happy any more than I could will myself to stop drinking.
It’s a human thing. I can’t say alcohol made me happy, but it gave me a complex experience of relief, release and comfort. It ceased my distress. I am never, ever to have that again. What alcohol did for me is now not being done. I am not the self I was. And addiction makes me long for what I used to have. I have to handle distress, loss, grief, longing, all at once. That’s just humanly hard. And it’s hard to feel humanly happy when one has to work that desperately hard.
It’s a life thing. Life happens. My divorce – my second – will be final this month. My mother died three years ago next month. Bamboo invades the foundations of my townhouse. Will it give me a surprise through the toilet next? Eh, life.
I’m trying. I think trying will eventually work. I’m not sure how to define “work,” but I expect to be happier in the future than I am now.
I’m trying different things. A gift of being in recovery and working against addiction with other people is their help becoming more aware more quickly of when I am doing the same things over and over again and getting the same unwanted results.
Recovery from addiction requires a person to to his or her own treatment team leader, working 24/7/365, to create and execute a customized, individualized treatment plan. I live in a small town with limited resources for addictions recovery. I’ve done my best to create days filled with treatment. Members of my recovery community give me feedback on my progress and create an intimate, expert Google. I can make queries and receive – given generously and plentifully without scolding or shaming – ways that have worked for others.
I am shoulder to shoulder with others. As a member of a recovery community and as a counselor working with other alcoholics and addicts, I spend my days sharing, working, talking, and listening with people who are also trying to be happier. Stopping drinking was too much for me alone; staying stopped feels like too much for me. And happiness?! Some seconds, minutes, hours, days, months – happiness is impossible. I’m not the only one on the job, though. Being a member of a community that intentionally seeks insights and understandings, and who gives and receives to each other intentionally, soothes, warms and inspires me.
I am doing my best to use my gifts. I have a sense that addiction to alcohol worked on me like an inner solvent. Parts of my self, my mind, my essence got dissolved forever. I am trying to exercise what’s left, however, and build it. I am trying to open my half heart to loving more, to feeling more compassion. In my work, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to know closely, not dozens or even a hundred people, but thousands. Hence, I know a lot about people. I approach learning as a scholar, not as a hobbyist, and I know a lot about a lot. I remember having a passion to delve, then distill. I can still read and study and synthesize large quantities of complex information into little blog posts and stick figure cartoons - a former student remembers and terms them “stickies” which is balm for my sore heart - even into processes for apps.
Yeah, so maybe I’m not as happy as I would like or others would like me to be. But, sheesh, I haven’t had a drink for 18 months. I think I’m doing all right.