One of my most powerful memories is of my sister crying.
Now, it's important for me to tell you that I come from a very large family, and that over the course of our lives, I'd seen my sister cry many, many times. When you're all living under the same roof, you learn a lot about each other -- how to tolerate one another, how to love one another, and in some instances, how to keep secrets from one another.
But, what made this time different -- what burned this particular instance into my brain -- was the fact that she was standing in a dirty city street with traffic everywhere while flashing lights rioted against her tear-stained face as I was being loaded onto the ambulance after ODing on heroin and cocaine.
Now, it's also important for me to tell you that even though I would go on to survive that overdose, it would still be years before I'd stop drinking and using addictively.
And it was all because I'd never really gotten a handle on my beast.
And, it's funny, I can feel you rolling your eyes at this, but, the truth is, everybody has a beast. I mean, this isn't a concept that's exclusive to addicts and alcoholics. The beast is an entity that lives inside of everybody; it's your negative self-talk. It will create resentments in you, it will create judgements of other people, and it will create fear, it will create crisis -- in my work as a psychotherapist, I can tell you firsthand that I deal with people all the time who come to me and they turn little issues into huge, complicated problems -- because that's what the beast does. It doesn't matter if you're a "normie" (someone who doesn't have addiction issues) or an addict/alcoholic, chances are you have this thing inside you already and it is informing your decisions.
The difference between these two groupings (normies and addict/alcoholics) is that, if the addict/alcoholic listens to their beast and gets seduced by their beast, the addict/alcoholic, in order to deal with their beast, will go out and medicate themselves (whether its alcohol or heroin or weed or whatever). And they will medicate themselves to such an extent that they will lose control of their lives and, still, they will continue to use their "medication" to quiet the noise from the negative beast within.
The normie isn't quite so driven to self-destruction. Normies will usually tolerate their beast; they'll just live with it and put up with it. They will become depressed or try to repress it; they may have issues in relationships (maybe they're in a bad relationship and are afraid to end it), maybe they're in a job and they're scared to move onto another job, so they stay in that job and get depressed -- they're fear-based, but their beast doesn't allow them to grow. The normie, unlike the addict/alcoholic, isn't motivated to change. Many of them eventually do, but it isn't as if they've got a gun to their head.
When a normie gets seduced by their beast, they become unhappy and lead grey, dull, repetitive lives that are still punctuated by moments of joy and self-awareness.
When an addict/alcoholic gets seduced by their beast, they get loaded and they die.
Now, truth be told, I don't remember much about that night in the ambulance. I can tell you that the men who took care of me -- who kept shouting at me to hang in there, buddy, you're gonna be okay -- they did their jobs well, and I owe my life to them. It is a thankless job, I think, being a first responder, but if by some miracle the EMTs who rescued me are reading this missive, I want them to know -- on behalf of myself and my wife and my three beautiful children -- that I am very grateful to be alive today, and that I do not for one minute kid myself about how close I was to never experiencing any of this on that hot summer night.
And that's why I think most addict/alcoholics become grateful to be addict/alcoholics: It's because they've learned that they have to deal with their beast and work through all of the fear and the negative thinking and change it all if they are going to survive. And I can tell you firsthand that there's real freedom in that notion, but (more often than not) it's commensurate with the work: You get out of it what you put into it.
But, then, you get to reap the rewards.
The poet Maya Angelou says that we all come into this world trailing wisps of glory. She's not talking about any one group of people; she's talking about all of us. Everyone has greatness within them. But the beast? If your beast is anything like mine, it doesn't want you to live your dreams. The beast doesn't want you to be in a successful relationship. It doesn't want you to be the best you can be.
It doesn't want you to be what you were destined to be.
And so the challenge, then, is re-educating yourself and learning how not to listen to that voice that plays you out of pocket every time. And in my experience, nobody does that alone. It takes work to create a space where you can investigate the validity of the voices that motivate and inspire you -- and to transform those voices into voices that motivate and inspire you in a positive way. For the addict/alcoholic (again, in my experience) this is accomplished with treatment and the advent of a 12-step program. For the normie, many times it simply takes a round of good, old-fashioned therapy.
Because no one defeats their beast alone. Believe me, I've tried, And every time I've tried to do it alone, I've found myself in a jail cell or sitting in the back of a speeding ambulance breathing through a tube.
We decide how we want to live and we decide what we want from our lives. But that's only possible once we've made a conscious commitment to stop being human piñatas -- stop being victims -- and truly take responsibility for our lives and face our problems head-on; because it is then, and only then -- whether we're addict/alcoholics or normies -- that we can truly slay the beast within.
Howard C. Samuels, Psy.D., has been clean and sober for 28 years and is currently the Founder and CEO of The Hills Treatment Center.
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