My guest Annie Grace started drinking when she moved to New York at age 26 and became the youngest VP in a foreign exchange company. Her boss took her aside and made it clear that deals are done in the pub and at the bar. Annie did not fully understand the perils of alcohol, and did not even realise that alcohol was addictive at this point. So, as you would expect she started out drinking a glass of wine; fast forward 10 years and she was up to two bottles a night. After the alcohol, Annie transferred to smoking marijuana, because it was “healthier”. She would smoke marijuana, thirty minutes later she would feel down and therefore want to do it again, this lead to her smoking constantly throughout the day.
”This was properly the darkest point for me in addictionAnnie Grace
Q. How would you define addiction?
”As doing something you no longer want to be doing and feeling like the choice to do it was out of my controlAnnie Grace
Annie described alcohol as being an anesthetic that numbs the pain you feel. This includes emotional pain because the alcohol slows down your neurons and the rate at which they fire, in turn, this slows down your thinking. This means if one glass of wine does not work you can just keep drinking until you literally can’t think straight (or walk straight for that matter).
”I think that addiction is probably one of the saddest and most painful human conditions because it consumes the human being alive and it deceives the human being to think they are in control.Annie Grace
I like to compare this train of thought to what I call ‘the frog’ analogy. If you put a frog in cold water and slowly raise the temperature of the water the frog does not notice. Therefore when it gets too hot it does not think to jump out and will eventually die. The problem is we get caught in this trap and become so dependent on a drug that makes you never really coherent enough to stop the cycle. For the frog, the temperature is increasing and for you, it is nearly impossible to gain the perspective you need.
Annie teaches us that even when you do eventually gain some perspective the cravings consume you. Your body feels so uncomfortable from the withdrawals it makes using the drug almost biologically instinctive. Annie likens the cravings to the beating of a drum that is so loud and right next to your ear. The only way to make it stop is to “use the drug which will relieve the cravings but put you right back in “prison”. In this prison, you are isolated from your family and friends and you feel lonely.
”You are between a rock and a hard place. Either you are dealing with this horrible craving or you’re trapped in a place where your brain is just numbed and it does not feel good and therefore all your joy is stolen from the experience.Annie Grace
Luckily for us, we are not a frog but a human and can develop the understanding to raise our awareness around addiction with things like this podcast (which is like giving the Frog a thermometer). We have the ability to develop understanding around addiction and how it works. We can learn how the brain works and how to deal with the cravings. This then allows us to loosen the grip addiction has on us. This is where rehab can be useful, it gives us enough time not using so that we can start to gain enough presence of mind and perspective to see the changes that need to be made. If you use after rehab and relapse (which is perfectly common and ok) you may start to realise the temperature of the water is increasing. Like taking the frog out of the water and putting it back in, the frog then recognises the temperature of the water has increased.
Q. How do we then deal with the things we drank to forget?
”It’s one of the most beautiful gifts of overcoming addiction and a terrifying thing because we don’t believe (especially when we have been using a substance for so long) we can deal with what we drank to forget.Annie Grace
The trouble is we usually think we are worthless, addicts have low self-worth. Therefore making us not strong enough to deal with the storms of our past. But when you stop drinking or using you are almost forced to look at your demons (or you’re likely to use another drug as the replacement). So Annie lets us in on her solution.
”You are forced to realise that it is going to be scary and it’s going to be hard but you can do it! You are a human being and just by being a human you have a brain that is infinitely more powerful than any computer, you have an ability for love and compassion and joy that you have just lost touch with.Annie Grace
One thing both Annie and I found useful in overcoming some of our addictions was to read self-help books and educate ourselves about addiction, to go to therapy and to attend the relevant groups and seminars to help you grow. I remember one of my mentors once said to me “the strongest trees grow in the strongest winds, not the best soil”. Which always reminds me that all the pain I have been through only increases my ability to withstand more.
”Don’t cry to quit! You already in pain, you already hurt! Get a reward from it!Eric Thomas