Moving forward with an addiction

How do you overcome an addiction? How do you approach a friend or family member about their addiction? What exactly is an addiction? I spoke to recovering cocaine and alcohol addict, Lauren Windle, who provided me with her insightful personal experience about how she tackled and escaped the cycle of addiction.

As an adolescent, Lauren admits that she was not a very happy person. She struggled with people, and she struggled with friendships. ‘I felt like the world had been given a rule book and I must have gone to the toilet during that bit’, she jokes. However alongside her loneliness and feeling of invisibleness, Lauren carried big dreams. She had achieved a degree in neuroscience, held a passion for mixology and was open to the many different jobs she thought she wanted. With an interest in events, Lauren ended up landing a job in hospitality, which involved entertaining clients at various nightlife venues in an industry where it was largely accepted to drink, party and take drugs.

Lauren’s addiction to cocaine and alcohol dictated her day-to-day life. Focusing primarily on numbing things out in whatever way possible, she distanced herself from friends and family, and surrounded herself with people who took as many drugs as she did, as they wouldn’t question her actions. During her addiction she held down her job in hospitality, but suggests that this may have given friends and family a false impression of the misery encompassing her life. An unstable mood and back-to-back binging of drugs and drink became daily life for Lauren, even up until 6am alone in her home.

‘It’s funny because before I got myself into that situation I just thought people were weak. I thought that people who were depressed just wanted to stand out a bit and I thought people who were addicted just needed to get their self together. But really, once you get stuck in that cycle, when you know you’re doing something damaging to yourself but you just don’t know how to get out of it, it’s horrific,’ Lauren explains when I ask why addiction is such a struggle to overcome. She goes on to describe addiction like being trapped in a prison and that she would not wish it on anyone. There was desperation in seeing other people living life normally and thinking that she could be like that, she could have breakfast without being drunk every morning. She could experience what other people are experiencing, yet that kind of life felt just out of reach. Will power was not something she had to help her, because when sucked into the spiral of addiction, her goals and what she wanted to fight for became skewed.

Often the addict will not even realise, or want to accept that they are struggling with an addiction. Lauren reveals to me that she didn’t think she was an alcoholic until she was 6 months clean. While she felt comfortable identifying as a drug addict, she didn’t think she had a drink problem. When asked to give up all mind-altering substances including alcohol as part of her recovery for drug addiction, she did so begrudgingly. It was only when she stepped back and reflected on different situations in her life that she realised the situations where she had caused the most pain and damage to herself as well as other people had been when drinking alcohol.

‘Addiction is everywhere – it’s incredibly hard to spot because people don’t know what they are looking for, people think an alcoholic is a homeless guy on the street, someone who is drinking a bottle of beer or whisky out of a paper bag or somebody who wakes up in the morning and has vodka with their breakfast.’ Of course, these are stereotypes. A painted picture of addiction can be much more diverse and not at all what people expect. Addiction is about how you feel towards a substance, a feeling or perhaps even an object, and how you use them. Most people would agree drinking alcohol 3 time a week without being drunk is fine, however if you are drinking to numb out your feelings, you may not be able to stop drinking 3 times a week if you needed to. This is an addiction. It is common for people to apply arbitrary amounts to drinking alcohol such as, ‘I only drink alcohol when in a social situation that makes me feel anxious’, ‘I only take drugs on a Saturday’ or, ‘I only smoke socially’. These statements blind people to the fact that actually, they are trapped, and would likely feel a craving if they were in one of those situations but could not access the substance.

Alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, whilst being the most well known addictive substances are not the only things people can become addicted to. You can be addicted to virtually anything. There are addictions that people can find harder to understand such as sex and love addiction or co-dependency because they involve the complexity of human interaction and relationships. Lauren challenges anyone who is in a relationship or sexually active to read through characteristics of sex and love addiction and not identify with a single one. In this sense, we all have unhealthy characteristics when it comes to addiction, yet that is not to say every person is an addict. It becomes an addiction when it detracts from your life, takes away from your relationship and if you use it as a tool rather than facing reality. If this is the case you must ask yourself if what you think you are addicted to is something you can walk away from, and if you can’t then it is more serious.

Lauren emphasises how invaluable an addict reaching out to other people for support can be to pull them out of the addictive cycle. If you are worried about someone close to you who you think may have an addiction, it is important to understand that a lot of people carry around guilt about their issue. They think it is their responsibility, however it is a mental health problem and recognising it as that rather than a flaw in who they are as a person can help them see addiction as something that can be tackled. Lauren recommends choosing a moment whereby the addict is most deceptible, such as (if they area drink taker) when they are hungover to approach them and provide your help. Although this may sound uncomfortable, it is the best moment because they will be tapped into their negative emotions and possible consequences of their actions. As with any mental health problem, you should make it clear that you care about them and that even though you will be there no matter what, they also have to learn to help themselves.

‘If anyone goes into recovery because of someone else, it just doesn’t work. I’ve seen people come into recovery because their kids have been taken away by social services and that is such a huge motivation to get clean and stop drinking. However if that’s their only motivation then those people relapse because they’re not doing it for themselves. Even something like losing your children isn’t enough, it has to be something deep rooted in them, they have to be ready’. Lauren doesn’t think it is very helpful to refer to herself as a ‘recovered’ drug addict or alcoholic because whilst she is in a much stronger position now, she isn’t taking that for granted. The idea with recovery is that once you go into recovery, you are always recovering. To ensure she doesn’t fall back into her old lifestyle, Lauren has a 12-step process that helps negotiate different circumstances and allows her to work out a system to live life in a healthy way. Along with repeating her 12 steps 3 times now, she helps other addicts come through addiction, which she says is like medicine because it reminds her of where she has been and why she doesn’t want to go back there. Having broken the cycle of addiction, Lauren did an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) 2 years into sobriety, then walked into a new job at national newspaper, ‘The Sun’ soon after. She now works for ‘Fabulous Magazine’, is running a half marathon and helps recovering addicts. Although she is nothing like she wanted to be when she was younger, Lauren wouldn’t change it for the world.

Words by Bethany McAtee. This article was first posted on thestagsurrey.co.uk on April 22, 2018.