How do you grieve a substance like codeine? It’s a strange concept and when I first read about grieving as a normal part of recovery, I was surprised. But it makes so much sense. Have a look at this fascinating (5 minute) clip that explains how drugs don’t cause addiction – a lack of human connection does.
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety – it’s connection”
In my previous posts about my addiction I alluded to how it started. I see now that to move forward and to achieve recovery, I need to look back and find the missing pieces, find the holes that turned into chasms that I then desperately tried to fill with alcohol, drugs, sex, work and food. I tried to fill endless, bottomless pits with things that gave me instant gratification and kept the pain simmering and festering just beneath the surface, stopping it temporarily from showing its unspeakable face.
I think my addiction pathway started when I was four years old. My family and I lived overseas and we visited Australia which is where my mother and I were born. My parents decided to leave me with my grandparents in Australia while they returned overseas with my sisters to live. They figured that I would have a better education in Australia, and I certainly did. When I was six, my mother returned to Australia to take me back overseas to rejoin my family. She uprooted me from my life once again and separated me from my grandparents whom I was very close to. When we returned overseas, my parents were distant from us children and preoccupied with their academic careers and marital problems. We spent most of our time with our aunts and other relatives who raised us. I was used to being an only child who was spoiled with love and attention from my grandparents so it was hard readjusting to my new life where I was largely ignored by adults and suddenly responsible for myself. We moved around a lot too setting up and re-setting up home after home.
When I was nine, a natural disaster occurred unexpectedly, drastically changing our lives once more. With no forewarning or preparation, my mother, sisters and I returned to Australia without my father or my aunts. I didn’t get to say goodbye properly and I had no concept about what was happening. I was shocked, confused and devastated. My father never moved to Australia to be with us and I discovered much later that he already had another family overseas and he went to live with them instead. My mother lived in hope that he would come to be with us and she instilled this hope in our innocent hearts, always promising that he would come soon. I lived in a constant cycle of anticipation and disappointment. To add to the distress, my older sister was sent back overseas to be with my father due to problems with her citizenship and so I lost my closest ally. For two years she stayed there and I struggled to fill the role of the oldest sibling, taking care of my younger sisters on my own as my mother fell apart. She abused and neglected us horribly until finally when I was 15, she kicked me out of home and I was sent to live with an aunt and uncle. This in particular was the most devastating of all and I descended into a deep depression.
My childhood and adolescent years were filled with separations and losses that were never explained to me. At the time, I never knew why I was taken from people and placed with other people. I remember very clearly how even as a child, I felt an acute and overwhelming loss every time someone important left my life. I would write long letters to my family and grandparents telling them how much I missed them and I wrote stories of fantasy about how we would be together again. Only as an adult have I been able to look over these separations and losses to understand how they impacted me later; to see how my emotionally distant parents affected my sisters and I, and how the constant moving and instability impacted us. Only in recent years, have I been able to consciously face the abuse my mother perpetrated against us to see how incredibly damaging that was to our mental health, our self-esteem and to our adult lives.
My childhood and adolescent years were instilling a belief system deep into my psyche that would profoundly impact every single aspect of my life later on. I learned that adults who are meant to care, love and protect you, don’t. I learned that adults who are meant to be there for you consistently, aren’t. I learned that when you love someone, they leave. I learned that the people you love the most, hurt you the most. I learned that love and families and relationships are war zones to be navigated carefully and defensively. And from this, the implied, overarching lesson I learned was that there must be something inherently wrong with me as a person. That I was quite simply, unloveable.
Years of self reflection and therapy have helped me understand how my experiences manifested in adulthood. I became involved in an abusive relationship which lasted eight years. I allowed ‘friends’ to abuse me and to never say sorry. I couldn’t end toxic relationships, I couldn’t let go, the fear of losing a person no matter how much they hurt me was inconceivable. I forged an indestructible wall around myself and projected a cold and intimidating persona to everyone I didn’t know in order to protect myself. I forged a ‘perfect’ image of myself in terms of my academic and professional life, cultivating a reputation of being a perfectionist and high achiever, because this was the only way I could win love and approval from my parents. I closed myself off from developing meaningful relationships that required me to be vulnerable. I was defensive, aggressive and detached. I developed Bipolar II Disorder and spent years riding the waves of depression and mania and chaos without being aware of my condition.
And I developed addictions. When people and relationships represent fear and pain, something else has to take their place. Codeine has been my longest running addiction. When I think of codeine, it is with fondness, love, desire, dependence and reliance. It has been my friend, my constant companion, my comforter. When I felt sad, it soothed me. When I was lonely, it comforted me. When I was bored, it entertained me. When I needed a friend, it was always there. What I should’ve been looking for in people, I was looking for in codeine.
And that brings me back to grief. I have been astounded at the level of grief I have felt this past week at being forcibly separated from codeine due to new legislation preventing me from buying it. As I’ve written this post, I’ve had a new revelation – that perhaps this has been so hard because it has been a forced separation like so many that have been forced upon me throughout my life. I feel an overwhelming sadness whenever I think about not having codeine. I miss it so much, just like I would miss a person. I think about it with longing and wistfulness, wishing to be reunited with it, just like a person. I have cried so many times thinking about my loss. I am so inexplicably and irrevocably attached to it.
Addiction is so powerful. But so is knowledge. I am hoping that my knowledge is a match for the power of addiction. I hope that I can use my understanding of my life experiences and about addiction to overcome it successfully. “The opposite of addiction is connection”. Its time to start making some healthy connections and part with my dear, sweet, reliable and loving codeine.
Image by Fischer Twins on Unsplash