I would like to share my story with you in the form of what I will call ‘Life’s Lessons’. Each entry entitled this way will focus on something I have learned along my journey. My hope is that you will find something in my story that you can relate to, or perhaps can relate to someone you know and care about. My story is one of grief, addiction, and disconnection. It’s an all too common story today.
My own addiction
I started smoking cigarettes at the age of 14. While I don’t remember the first time I tried smoking, I do remember the first pack I bought. I convinced a new acquaintance of mine to purchase a packet for me. The deal was that I would share them with him. He was several years older, and in my eyes, several ranks higher on the social ladder. I felt honoured that he would do me such a favour.
Have you ever felt like an outsider? Ever felt like you didn’t belong, didn’t fit in, or weren’t quite right somehow? Society tells us we need to behave a certain way, as do our family and friendship group. This was another attempt to fit in, and this particular attempt led me down a path of struggle to escape myself, through addiction and distraction.
I met this acquaintance at the local internet café, and for the next few years, I would spend my time either inside playing video games, or out the front smoking. I actually ended up employed there, which meant I was paid to play games and smoke out the front. At the time in my life, this deal seemed particularly sweet.
But I wasn’t happy. I had moments of relief – the first cigarette after a number of hours without is a good example – but something was missing. Something wasn’t quite right, and deep down these feelings festered and grew.
In typical teenage fashion, I was walking blindly down a road I believed I knew like the back of my hand.
There’s always a reason
Addiction, in it’s early stages, can be fun. It’s no accident that so many people end up addicted to all sorts of different things, from relatively harmless caffeine to life-destroying heroine. In the beginning, it feels good. It feels good to be a part of something, particularly when those involved are people you look up to (for whatever misguided reason). Addiction often starts as an exercise in social acceptance, like my example of smoking. Only when we take a step back, to see the addiction for what it is, what it means to us personally, can we see what we are suffering with: our own personal slavery. If you’d like to see the mechanics of addiction for yourself, this video had quite a good explanation.
It took me almost 15 years to work it out. I was trying to escape the inescapable: my own life. More specifically, my own pain. Pain was a large part of my life, but I refused to acknowledge it. I refused to give it the patience and compassion it needed. It’s taken until now for me to realize that the pain I felt was my own doing. I needed to learn a valuable lesson about letting go, and sitting with the discomfort. And knowing that’s OK. Once I realized this, it was easier to show compassion to myself. To show compassion to the darkness within me, that simply wanted to throw away the opportunity I had within this life.
It’s a great feeling to know that you have a choice in how you react. It’s empowering.
I still struggle with addiction. But in different ways. My addictions are much simpler, and generally result in brief obsessions. I tend to latch on to a new and interesting idea or hobby. The latest one for me has been hobby board games. I feel this is far healthier than the way things used to be, and my life is far less complicated and painful. My only real addiction now is to coffee.
And I’m ok with that.
Stephen is a budding counsellor, avid craft beer enthusiast, and part-time Buddhist. He enjoys hiking, connecting with nature, losing himself in deep conversation, and contributing to the Conscious Beginnings blog.