Demons. We all have them. Some are more vicious than others. Your demons are no more or less scary than mine, and vice versa. Some of us face the same demon day after day while others face the infrequent demon only when it decides to rear its ugly head. Let’s face it, demons are a part of our everyday life. Some people manage to conquer their demons through various means but others struggle in ways that we can never understand.
Take the teenage girl who was molested by a trusted family member. She may deal with this memory by simply not remembering. We can do that. We can repress a memory to the point that it never comes to the forefront of our thoughts. One day it might again, but for this girl, it’s her coping mechanism. There’s the grandfather who recognizes his Alzheimer’s is stealing his life and his memories. He copes by putting a bullet through his brain. His demon wins and his family loses but it was his way of quieting the evil voices that guide us sometimes. Right or wrong, these ways of doing battle are just a couple of the many options in the arsenals we use to deal with our troubles.
There is another method we sometimes choose, and for me and my world, it seems to be the easiest and most common. I know I’m guilty of it and I bet you all know someone else who is as well. I’m talking about the method of numbing our pain, of chemically suppressing our emotions so that the hurting, anger and anguish are just not dominant in our lives.
In my lifetime, I’ve had some pretty big demons consume my thoughts. Most of them came for a while and through some twist of fate or by God’s grace, I’ve managed to slay them all (almost). The wars were not won overnight but it was during the battles I fought that I faced the option of which direction my life would take. I drank and I partied and I drank and sometimes I even took a pill if it made me feel better. This may be a shocking confession to some of you. To others, not so much.
I need to clarify this just a little. I’m not a raging alcoholic, nor am I a needle between the toes drug addict. What I’m talking about is, those days, weeks or even months when the pain is too great to bear, I have been known to drink a bottle of wine or an enormous rum and Coke, just to help me sleep through it. Do you know that feeling? Those times when the voices in our heads are filing us with dread and self-doubt and no activity or distraction can shut them up. Those times when it seems our only alternative is to put them out. To sedate them. Hey, if I’m asleep, I’m not crying anymore, right? If I’m asleep, my heart doesn’t feel like it’s going to pound through my chest cavity and end up on the wall across the room. If I’m asleep, the memories that haunt me will simply fade to black.
These episodes have been very rare and I can only think of three periods in my life in which I resorted to this form of coping on a larger scale. There was one time in my early 30’s when it seemed that my life was falling apart and it was easier to spend my evenings in a drunken stupor than to deal with the realization of the mistakes I was making. The second episode came a few years later. This time I wasn’t dealing with my own demons. This time, I was struggling with the demons of others, with the helplessness that comes from watching someone you love being sucked lower and lower into the bowels of their own hell. When there was nothing left to do but watch the destruction, I chose to cope with months and months of binge drinking parties that left me with days of missing memories. The last time I turned to synthetic mood enhancers was the fall of 2005. This time was different though. My coping for this short period involved booze and prayer. I know, that’s a pretty strange combination but it’s what got me through. Lucky for me, this one worked itself out and everyone lived happily ever after.
There have been other times but these three are the most severe and significant examples. Some other ways that I’ve dealt with a bad day may have included the use of some prescription medication in a way other than for which it was prescribed. For the record, I have not illegally obtained any form of narcotic since my youth. Sorry, I just felt the need to put that out there. You never know who reads this blog. When I say that I’ve used pills to deal with a bad day, I mean that I may have taken a pain pill when I wasn’t in physical pain. Hey, mental pain is still pain, dammit.
I am very much aware of how dangerous my method of coping has been. I have lived on the slippery slope and managed to hang on for dear life. In every one of these instances I ran the very real risk of allowing my coping mechanism to actually become my new demon. I don’t know why this never happened. Maybe I was scared so straight at a very young age that my internal will just stopped it from becoming more than it was. Am I stronger than others who allow the drugs and alcohol to take over? No. I am absolutely not. Is my brain wired differently? Maybe. I have no idea why these episodes never became a bigger problem. I’m thankful and I contribute it to God’s grace, but I know there is more than that at play here. God gives us free will for a reason and my free will took a different path. That is all.
Every day I am faced with a reminder of the evil that is addiction. My life has been altered because of it. Other people’s lives are being affected daily because of it. The thing is, at this point in time, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Addiction almost cost me something dear, but thank God it did not. We beat it down. I say ‘we’ because I’m not sure the addiction could have been beaten by a single person. I believe that once the addiction was identified, it took the addict, the family, the doctors, lawyers, judges, therapists, and friends to beat this demon. Would it have been defeated if one of those people had not stood up to face it head on? I’m not sure, and I’m glad I don’t have to find out. The wake of destruction left by the addiction is still evident but it doesn’t matter anymore. I still get mad and have moments of weakness where I blame the addict and then I remember why the addict became an addict. That’s all it takes. A single moment to remember what pain was being numbed and it becomes easier to forgive.
If someone does lose their battle with the demon that is addiction, I pray they find the peace they seek. I will never judge them if they chose numbness over pain. I have no right to do that because it could easily be me. I believe that addiction is one of the ugliest monsters one can face. Addiction is real and it’s a problem that is devastating families and relationships every second. It hurts those who are addicted and it can destroy those who love them.
If you know someone who struggles with addiction, stop for a moment and think about how they got there. Did they begin using drugs or alcohol to stop a pain that never seems to end? Do they fight a demon we cannot see? Are they fighting alone because they want to fight alone, or is it because no one offered to help? Have offers to help fight the addition been made and rejected? Have you considered that it’s not the addition they need help fighting? Maybe it’s the dark, deeply buried secret they can’t seem to forget. Maybe they just need that one person to say they care. Why don’t you ask if you can help them? Ask if you can hold their hand or make a phone call or pay for a therapy session. Help them help themselves if they want it. Some do want it. Some need to be released from the addiction but it’s an impossible task until they are released from the demon that drove them there.
Addiction can be very quiet and may sit in a dark closet where no one can see it. It’s hard to do battle with an invisible demon, so ask them to reveal it to you so you can fight together. Invite them to lay their troubles down at your feet, at God’s feet, at their teacher’s or doctor’s feet. Maybe they just need someone to help them carry their cross if the burden is too much for them.
Do you know someone who is struggling and you are afraid to talk to them? Don’t be afraid, just do it. It may be the conversation that saves their life.