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    Planet of Addiction

            Substance abuse destroys thousands of lives and families every year. When a family member has an addiction, it has as much impact on the family as if the member had cancer. The addiction becomes the central issue of the family, whether or not it’s members recognize it or not. And because there is such a stigma around substance abuse, the addict and all those affected are much less likely to seek help than if the afflicted member had a brain tumor. There is help out there, but many do not seek it.
             That reality is alarming, because it’s as painful to witness as a person having leukemia and not getting any sort of treatment for it, even if the treatment is holistic. The family members who love that cancer suffering individual benefit from some form of treatment as well, usually group and individual counseling, and many families undertake that. Much less so with addiction. All too often, the addict and those around them slowly develop very damaging and dysfunctional behaviors, attitudes, and thinking patterns without even realizing that it’s happening, or that there is help available. Denial runs rampant.
             I grew up with substance abuse in my family. I’ll leave it at that.
             I developed some very bad traits that I’ve spent a long time and a lot of effort to change. I will always have lots more to do. This is after all a lifelong journey I’ve committed myself to. But I’ve made progress.
            One of the defense mechanisms I developed, I’ve talked extensively about in this blog. My unconscious reaction to shut down during times of severe emotional stress saved my life when I was a kid. But it’s gotten in the way of intimacy as an adult. I don’t do that as much anymore, and practically never when I’m sad, but it’s something I’ll always have to be aware of. Something I’ll have to stay on top of, because it’s roots go deep.
             Anger has always been an issue for me, but much less so now. I’ve let go of enough of it to not have to carry a little of it with me constantly to feel safe. It can, and occasionally does, rear it’s head. But the head is much smaller, less ugly to me, and doesn’t breathe as hot a flame as it did before. But again, unless I stay conscious, I can revert to rage. But the longer I spend here, in this newer, not angry place, the easier it becomes.
             Hyper-vigilance was something else I automatically did. I was always scanning the room, the situation, the people, for possible trouble. This was mostly unconscious, but not completely. Growing up with a lot of tension and unpredictability, I developed this mechanism to feel safe, figuring that if I could spot trouble before it happened, I’d be better prepared to deal with it. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case, and all it did was raise my anxiety level and blood pressure. That’s probably why I started exercising as a teenager; to release some of that pent up anxiety.
              Turning to exercise as a way to release this stress and tension and anxiety that was constantly around in my family is a good example of the old “every cloud has a silver lining” cliche. I don’t know if I would have ever become so into fitness if I didn’t have all that stress in me, if I wasn’t a fat kid, or if I didn’t feel so insecure. The dividends that choice has paid, a choice driven by pain and discomfort, are priceless. So in my best moments, I don’t look at my past pain with contempt, but with a sense of gratitude for the gifts it’s given me. That’s still hard for me to do, but the healthier I get, the more able I am to have that perspective.           The last thing I want to do is sound preachy, but I feel an obligation to pass on what I’ve learned. If there’s been substance abuse in your family, you have somehow been affected. Exactly how is as varied as the people who have been touched by addiction, but there are patterns and traits that are somewhat universal. There’s help out there. Please go get it.
             Realizing that you’ve somehow been affected is the first step. That’s awareness. Figuring out how and what to do about it is next. That’s action. Finally, there’s learning to love yourself despite your flaws, and looking at all the events of your life as necessary contributions to who you are as a unique individual. That’s acceptance.
             Sometimes I can’t even get to awareness. I consider myself self aware, but I certainly don’t see everything, and I certainly don’t always see it right away. But eventually, if I stay at it, and I always do, I see it. I become aware. I become conscious. Once that happens, there is hope that I can change. There is hope that I can love myself unconditionally. Ultimately, that’s all I want. Because if I have that, I have my life. All of it. Every moment.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and kilo of Wrongs) Reserved.

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