What do you do for comfort? I mean, when the proverbial [stuff] hits the fan, what is your go-to person, thing, or activity that helps get you through it? Everyone has their thing, and some people have more than one “thing”. My go-to comfort has changed over the years. As a very young child, I had a teddy bear that was given to me when I was born. When I would wake up with one of my terrifying nightmares, or hear one of my Dad’s drunken tirades, I would squeeze him so tight and I swear he would talk to me and calm me down. I brought that bear everywhere, and I still have it to this day. It’s tattered and worn, but he’s been with me through everything.
As a teenager, I found my comfort in the woods. We moved to a house in the country, and there was a beautiful spot a couple hundred yards behind my house where you could sit down on a semi-flat rock by an actual babbling brook. Being there, hearing the water running and leaves rustling in the wind, was incredibly soothing no matter what problems I was facing.
In my later teen years it became more difficult to soothe my racing mind. Like many of my peers, I started dabbling with alcohol and pot in high school. Contrary to what you might be thinking, in those early days I didn’t drink or do drugs to quiet my mind or find comfort. The main reason I drank and smoked pot in my teens was because I liked the way they made me feel. I liked the altered state of consciousness. I liked who I was when partying, and it seemed people liked me better too.
I was never a quiet girl once I got to know you. I have one of those voices that gets attention wherever I am, without even trying. But I was quite shy and self-conscious around people I didn’t know. And I was very anxious around boys. When partying, I became more outgoing and funnier; and I wasn’t afraid to talk to anyone, even guys.
So in the beginning I used drugs and alcohol to have fun. During that time for comfort I turned to running and working out. I preferred running on country roads. I also loved to swim. I felt safe and comforted in the water. To this day, being by water still comforts me. Whether it’s a river, stream, lake, or ocean; being next to it, in it, or on it soothes me more than almost anything else in the world.
As I got a bit older, I could feel life getting more stressful and complicated. I wasn’t a very good student so college became instantly stressful. My parents were finally splitting up after years in an unhappy marriage, and I began to get into some trouble. I remember a day when I first turned to alcohol to try to make myself feel better. And that was when my substance use escalated. Alcohol and drugs went from being something I enjoyed doing, to something I felt I needed for comfort. I set aside my other comforts: running and working out became drudgery to me. I stopped swimming, and suddenly walking in the woods or sitting by a stream or river or going to the beach took too much effort.
I began seeking comfort in different things; food, alcohol, pot, and pills. I also developed a deep love for music, but as my love for music grew, so did my love for substance use. Soon the only place I went for comfort was getting high and drunk. And for a long time I believed it was working, in spite of failing out of college my junior year; and in spite of the health problems I began experiencing, and the people that were leaving me. With each negative experience and consequence of my substance use, I turned to more alcohol and drugs. It was what I wanted, what I believed I needed, and what I felt like I had to do.
I had watched my father do the same thing for many years. He’d come home angry and mean. He would have my mother make him a drink; he called it his ‘toddy for the body’. It was nothing special, just whiskey and ice, but to me it was a magical elixir. As he would take his first sip, he would visibly soften a bit. Sometimes he would even make jokes and tease us. And all the tension and angst in the room would dissipate, at least for a short time. If he drank more than a few, his mood would change again, and he would get hostile and abusive to whomever was nearby. But I lived for those good days, when he only had a few.
Dad went to AA when I was 9, and “got sober”. And happy-go-lucky, buzzing Dad went away for good. Without alcohol, all we ever saw was serious, tense, angry, and hostile Dad. This only reinforced in my own mind the magical powers of alcohol as a soothing agent. Without alcohol, Dad never seemed happy at home.
We develop our comforts from so many things; from our families, our culture, the media, and our surrounding environment. We form these beliefs about them, based on our experiences, and then oftentimes as we seek comfort with certain activities we’ve learned, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We believe we will be comforted by the thing, place, or activity and so we are. And if that is true, it means that literally anything can provide comfort. All you have to do is believe that it will.
But what happens when the activity you seek for comfort, stops working? What happens when it seems to become the thing that adds to your stress and angst? Most people then move on to find a different activity, much like I moved on from hugging my teddy bear when I was 5 to walking in the woods. When people don’t move on from heavy substance use, we call that an addiction, and there is this belief that it’s different from any other behavior we seek out for comfort. It is believed that it is a strange disease that requires treatment and support group meetings, and in some cases medication to combat.
The Truth, A Look at the Research
When you look at the largest epidemiological studies that have been done on addiction, you find that the vast majority actually do move on from heavy substance use when that stops working for them. The truth is as a function of age, more than 90% of people get over their addictions and most do so without ever stepping foot in a meeting or treatment program. Surprising isn’t it. I know, I was surprised when I looked at the research too.
I realized in my early 20’s that alcohol and drugs were no longer providing me with the comfort I was seeking, and I decided to stop and see if I could find something that would be more effective. Today, it’s music, talking to my few close friends, walking down a country road, and being by the water.
If you find yourself seeking comfort from substances, and your life feels out of control, you may not need treatment to find your way out. You may just need the right information, and to allow for the possibility that you can be happier doing something else.
If you or someone you love are ready to break free from the addiction and recovery cycle, and you are seeking a non-12 step program, call us at 888-424-2626.
For more information about The Freedom Model go to TheFreedomModel.org
Michelle Dunbar is the co-author of The Freedom Model for Addictions: Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap and The Freedom Model for the Family. She is the Executive Director of the Saint Jude Retreat. If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use problem, there is an empowering solution that has proven to be three times more effective than addiction treatment and twelve times more effective than 12 step meetings. Go to www.TheFreedomModel.org for more information or call 888-424-2626.
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