My friend’s statement caused me to wonder; and so, I reflected on the onset and the ending of my addiction to substances.
When I introduced myself to the Recovery Center groups, I told the story of 20 years of addictions that began in childhood. Being somewhat lighthearted, I referred to myself as a “serial addict.” Once someone thought I meant “cereal,” and everyone, including me, laughed. “But, there was a time,” I told them with a chuckle, “when I was addicted to eating Cheerios at bedtime.”
My first memories of addiction are of being ten and coming home from school with a headache. I told my mother, who was busy in the kitchen, and without even looking at me, she said, “Go take an aspirin.” The large green bottle, holding 500 aspirins, was on a low shelf in the linen closet. That first day I took one – without water – letting the bitter white pill melt inside my mouth. Although it caused ulcers on the roof of my mouth, there was something about the bitterness – and the rawness of the ulcers – that I really liked. The next day I came home from school with a headache and told my mother, who was again busy in the kitchen. She said, “Take an aspirin.” I took two. The next day I took three, then four; and finally, a handful. When my parents discovered my “habit,” they hid the aspirin bottle from me. Although I may have suffered from having to let go of aspirin as the saving grace that took away my pain, I do not remember suffering. What I remember happening next is coming home from school every day with a headache and eating a box of vanilla wafers or a large bag of M&Ms while watching television. As they became my substitute analgesic, I learned to change my practice for coping with pain. This marked the onset of twenty years of serial addiction that included substances (food, drugs, alcohol) and behaviors (exercise, spending, sex, work, relationships), using whatever was most readily available to ease my emotional, physical, and spiritual pain. All of these addictions grew out of a behavior pattern born in childhood and they were designed to help me cope with or deny unwanted thoughts and feelings.
Although some alcoholics and drug addicts admit to dual substance abuse, I thought my experience of serial addiction was unusual because others do not often describe their experience in this way. However, research in the early 2000s by the Division on Addictions at Harvard Medical School gave my experience a name: Addiction syndrome.
With assistance from my meditation practice, I realized that drinking alcohol was not good for me, and I stopped drinking. My serial addiction actually had made it easy to stop drinking; I simply moved onto to something else. I started smoking marijuana every day ~ bringing great joy into my life. This substance, literally, became my best friend. I got high every day until a psychiatrist gave me an article about the effects of marijuana on brain function and memory. She encouraged me to stop, to protect the wonderful job I had and the wonderful life I had created for myself. She said it was not good for me. This caused me to consider stopping. But what truly made me stop was a harrowing drive during a blizzard to buy pot from a friend’s brother who lived thirty miles away. When I decided to stop, it was sad (like losing a best friend is sad) but easy. I moved on to prescription sleeping medication – which the doctor told me was a harmless little drug. She neglected to mention that this benzodiazepine cocktail was highly addicting. My system seized onto this drug immediately and I embarked on a seven year journey as a prescription drug addict. I used this sleeping medication until it lost its effectiveness – I had to take higher and higher doses to get to sleep, and finally it just did not help. In February of 1986, after a deeply drugged, sleepless night, I caused a traffic accident on my groggy way to work. I never took another sleeping pill. Clearly, this was not good for me. Knowing this strengthened my resolve.