I was listening last night to a speaker at my AA home group and heard him mention something that I’ve heard many times before. He made mention to how there is “us”, meaning alcoholics and addicts, and “them”, meaning all others.
My experience is drastically different from that viewpoint. For most of my life I have been more of an extrovert and have chosen to not be so “anonymous” about my addictions. In the midst of being so vocal about them, I have talked to many people who weren’t addicted to alcohol or drugs, but the majority of them were battling with some other dependency. I found too that most people didn’t like to label themselves as addicted to anything.
In my spiritual journey to get closer to God, I have come to realize that anything I found solace in and built a dependency around was simply because I was covering up an emptiness inside. In AA meetings this is often referred to as the “hole in the soul”. People share quite often about how alcohol or drugs filled that hole and numbed that emptiness. I can attest.
My emptiness began a young kid. I lived with an alcoholic mother and father who chose to point out flaws and imperfections instead of loving unconditionally. Pointing the finger was commonplace. And more than often, the blame for my parents problems was placed on either myself or my sister. When my mother died in 2005, I had to clean out my childhood home with my sister and we found many letters that we had written as young kids to our parents. Each of these said in some way that we were sorry for being bad kids, for their fighting, and for any pain we caused them. Yet my sister and I were not bad kids. We tried out best to show them how good we were. We both excelled in school, sports, after school activities, and even in the thoroughness of the chores that we were assigned to do.
In the eyes of an alcoholic or an addict, it’s never good enough. Something is always wrong. And I grew up with a very strong message that I wasn’t good enough.
To make matters worse, in trying to excel in my sport of choice, swimming, I ended up being molested by the diving coach. I was 12, he was in his 40’s. I had known from a very young age that I was attracted to men, prior to being molested. The molestation was my first sexual experience in my life sadly. I was never given a birds and the bees talk prior to that or after. Left to my own thinking, I found fantasy and self-gratification through which I relived being molested again and again. I thought it was normal what I had experienced and it had for a moment, made me feel good on some level as compared to the hole I normally felt inside.
Until the age of 17, I lived in my fantasy world alone. If I felt down I would go back to the fantasy world. If I felt up, I would go back to the fantasy world to try to feel even better. And then I discovered alcohol.
I had never had a drink before because I didn’t want to be like my parents. After a pivotal junior year in high school where I went from being an outcast and a loaner, to merging into the “in crowd”, I was invited to a party. After lying to my mother to get to that party, I was handed my first cup of beer. When I finished the first cup, the effect was amazing, even more so than the fantasy world I lived in on most days. So I had a second cup and then I blacked out and passed out and began a five year long run of alcohol and drug exploration.
Combine that deadly combination with picking up cigarettes during those years and I found myself smoking a pack of Newports while I drank or took some type of drug every day.
For awhile, it did was it was meant to do. It numbed me. It hid down all those years of loneliness. It hid down that “hole in the soul”. It quieted down the demons from being molested, abused, and picked on for most of my life. It covered up the fact that I was attracted more to men versus women. And it made me feel like I just didn’t care about anything that I would classify as painful. With any addiction or dependency though, eventually consumption grows more and more to get the same effect. Those terrible voices from deep down inside me were getting louder and louder no matter how much I was consuming of any of them. And one day I found myself not being able to quiet them down anymore and my life started to spiral out of control.
I hit my first major bottom on June 10th, 1995, the day before my 23rd birthday. I was sitting with my closest friend from college, Rob, at my apartment in Fairfax, VA watching TV. I had developed feelings for him and was using all those substances to cover that up. I had acted only a few times during my college years on my attraction to men, each of which was when I was in a complete state of inebriation of which I passed it off onto as the cause.
On this moment in my apartment, I was attempting to get closer to Rob while he attempted to move farther away. It spurred on an argument which led to me feeling that I was going to throw up. I went into the bathroom and got down on my knees and instead of hurling, I prayed. I had never really prayed before selflessly. God was always a genie type of God to me. God, I wish for this please. God, I wish for that please. In this moment, it was different.
“God, I can’t handle my life like this. I can’t handle all these feelings. I don’t want to be addicted to any of these things anymore. Please help me. Help me get beyond this. Help me become a better person.”
That was as close to the prayer as I remember. And God answered. I can only describe it as a spiritual awakening, but instantaneously, the desire to drink, do any type of drug, or smoke cigarettes went away. My sobriety date for all three is June 11th, 1995, my first full day without any of them.
I wish I could say this was the end of my life as an addict. I titled this blog entry as “The Progression of Addictions” because that is what happened to me after this day. The alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes, were not my problem. My problem was all that pain inside. My childhood was filled with a ton of it and on top of that, I was not sure if I was bi-sexual or gay. Without those things to “calm me down” and “cope with my life”, I had two choices. I could bring it all to the surface and seek help through counseling and recovery support through 12 step meetings, or I could keep numbing myself through other dependencies. I chose the path that was easier for me back then. I found other dependencies. I wasn’t ready to face all that pain.
Over the next 16 years, while I never did pick up a drink or a drug again. And while I never went back to smoking a cigarette. I found that there were many other things I could do that would make me feel good for a moment and I chased them.
I got addicted to sex instantly and joined groups that made that seem acceptable.
I jumped into long term relationships to hide from the random sex and became codependent on each one of them until they no longer made me feel good and I would move on to the next.
I got addicted to seeking better jobs that might “fix me” and “make me happier” so I quit job after job citing something was wrong with each of them, and got subsequently re-hired at a higher paying one each time.
I found that caffeine gave me a buzz when I drank it and also enhanced my euphoria that went hand in hand with my sexual prowess. My consumption of high caffeinated coffees and sodas became astronomical.
As the money I earned increased with the higher paying jobs, so did my purchases. I bought every techno gadget that came out. I had to be the first to have it. I bought multiple cars, houses, designer clothes, shoes, and so much more.
I found gambling and grew dependent on buying lotto tickets, scratch tickets, and playing slot machines.
The internet rolled around, and I discovered free porn and online chatting. I would spend hours and hours until dawn rolled around engaging in it.
I made tons of friends and then tons of enemies and got addicted to geographical cures. I moved from place to place thinking I could hide from the past and just recreated the past wherever I went.
I travelled outside the country when the money came in greater to afford that and went from country to country, cruise to cruise, destination to destination, seeing some of the greatest things this world has to offer and yet I was miserable.
I bought a business, investing money in someone else’s dreams, and lost that business.
I chased after heterosexual men who were active in their own addictions and tried to fix them while I grew addicted to being around them.
I overate filling myself with so much food (especially desserts) and then went and worked out for hours on end to burn it off.
And eventually the spiritual pain I originally started with as a young child became mental pain as I chased addiction after addiction,which then became emotional pain as the abuse to myself from all the addictions and obsessions I had got worse, and one day as I mentioned in my last blog, it all cumulated into massive physical pain.
That is the progression of addictions. There was nothing that I could consume or do without becoming addicted to it. Each of those things I mentioned was a numbing agent to me. Something to cover up that emptiness within. Something that would hide the fact that I had done nothing important in my life. Something that would shadow over the truth that I was so selfish and self-centered and rarely helped another with any type of unconditional love.
I had no God at the center of my life. I was the center of my own life. And I acted accordingly as I saw fit and was destroying my life and this vessel my soul lives within as such. It was the physical pain that manifested that made me hit the worst bottom that I’ve ever hit in my life. And it made me slow down and look at what I did to myself. And that’s when I took action. When the pain was great enough to face all those demons that were there prior to me ever doing any type of dependency on anything in this life.
Over the past 9 months, by placing God first in my life, I have successfully stayed away from caffeine and any other stimulants, gambling, all toxic friendships that were surrounding my sex/love addictions and codependency, started eating much healthier and in much healthier portions, focused on healing as the only job to pursue, and learned how to like being with me alone.
My conclusion in all this is that with me being at the center of my own world, trying to find my own happiness, I found nothing but consumption of things that there never was enough of. Placing God first in my life on everything has led me down a path where I don’t want to be quickly stimulated by anything or anyone. For as high of highs that I’ve experienced in this life with so many different things, I too have experienced the worst low of lows. The rollercoaster hills were great in my life without God at the center. Today, it’s more like I’m on a kiddie coaster as my life smooths itself out and I continue to heal from all those wounds I endured since a child.
If you find yourself needing anything to “quiet the nerves” or “enhance your mood” on any given day whether it’s a drink, drug, sex, gambling, caffeine, chocolate, food in general, material good, trip away, or whatever it may be that you find a drive towards, you may want to look within and ask what you are covering up. I covered up my wounds for way too long and at 40 years old, I’m finally facing all of it and having God direct me from here on out.
Peace, Love, Light, and Joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson