Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

Don’t Think, Just Jump

It’s a fact.  Addiction is a disease of both body and mind.  It’s a mixture of physical need and an overwhelming mental obsession.  This is precisely why most people struggle desperately to free themselves from it.  I’m no exception.

Like many others, I hit an inevitable cross-road not once, but twice.  I came to a point where I had to choose between getting help or continue on not breathing a sober breath and years later, barely eating enough to stay alive.  In both cases, I was hanging on by a thread mentally, emotionally and physically.

I tried many times to stop the addictive behavior on my own.  But after decades of drinking like I did and not fueling my system properly, my body reacted rather unfavorably to the abrupt removal of alcohol and sudden increase of food.  What exactly happened to me is further explained in the book I’m writing, but suffice it to say, neither experience was one I have any intention of reliving.   I knew, based on practical experience, I needed medical supervision to physically heal.

Mentally, I was completely incapable of formulating a plan that didn’t include having alcohol every day and robotically checking the scale to assure a specific number appeared.  I had to have alcohol.  I had to see that number.  I was terrified to think what would happen if I didn’t.

For those who have not gone through any type of recovery, it’s very difficult to understand the mental obsession part of addiction, so here’s an analogy.

When I was a little girl I could not wait to jump off the highest diving board at our local swimming pool.   However before I could, like everyone else, I had to reach a certain level of swimming ability. For days on end I worked toward meeting that requirement.  Although the two lower diving boards were fun to jump from, I really wanted a shot at that high dive.  I remember looking up at it from the water’s edge, thinking it didn’t seem high at all.  I just couldn’t wait to get up there.

When I was finally given that golden approval, I heard the angels sing.  I rode my bike as fast as I could to the pool, patiently waited in line, and when it was my turn, I scurried up the ladder and down to the end of the board.  And then I froze.  My heart was racing.  I was paralyzed in fear as I looked down.  It seemed as if suddenly the distance between the board and the water had increased ten-fold.  I turned around and in the blink of an eye, made my way back down the ladder.  I felt like such a chicken.

I couldn’t image what happened and why I freaked out.  I had wanted this so badly but since I was not a quitter, I kept trying.  Each day I’d arrive at the pool telling myself that would be the day I’d leap off that board.  I’d stand in line, wait my turn, make my way up the ladder, walk to the edge of the board, panic, and scurry back down the ladder as fast as I could.   This went on for days. I couldn’t understand why I wanted to jump but couldn’t.

What I didn’t consider was, while I stood in line waiting my turn, I was obsessively thinking.  I kept watching everyone else ahead of me make their way to the board’s edge and become terrified.  Without realizing it, I was projecting what was to come for me.  I was engaging in a game of mental ping-pong with one side I saying, “Oh for God’s sake, just jump!” and the other side saying, “NO!  You’ll get hurt!”

Then one day there wasn’t a line.  I was able to climb right up the ladder.  I walked straight to the edge of the board, and with one brave deep breath, I jumped.

I didn’t have time to think, I just jumped.

When I hit the water, I felt free.  I felt free from all that self-messaging about it being too scary and I’d be hurt.  In that moment, I taught myself that what challenges me will set me free and when I circumvent fear I’ll remain stuck.

This is exactly what happened when I came to that cross-road in my addiction. I had to discontinue thinking about what would or could happen.  I had to shut down all attempts to rationalize why I’d be better off living just as I was.  I ended that ping-pong conversation in my head, picked up the phone and asked for help.

I stopped thinking and jumped.  I was finally free.

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