A Simple Reason to Be Grateful for Addiction

It started with a breath, a simple inhale/exchange that would inspire in me a greater sense of clarity and confidence of purpose than I could ever remember experiencing. This was the one, single breath that made me grateful for all my addictions.

It was early afternoon, mid-autumn. The skies were clear and blue, the leaves golden, the air soft, mild and unobtrusive; the kind of air you’d barely know was there if you weren’t making a solid effort to pay attention to it.

I was making a solid effort.

I was out for a walk, my footsteps following an aimless trail of dead leaves, scattered across the pavement in a patchwork of bronze and amber. My mind followed the flow of my thoughts, just watching as they rushed, then floated, then rushed again. I just watched, like a man stood on the bank of a stream, watching it flow, an audience of one for my own inner monologue.

I never worry too much where those thoughts go. Eventually, whether it’s in a moment, a few hours, or -during the dark times- a lot longer, they always go back to one simple, recurring thought:

Life is so much better today than it ever was before

It started getting better four years ago, when I finally admitted I was losing the violent battle to curtail my drinking, threw in the towel, and asked for help.

It got better still, earlier this year, when I finally decided to stop poisoning and choking myself with cigarettes.

I’d spent most of the year trying, and failing, and trying again, to quit smoking. This time however, as I walked along among that bronze and amber patchwork of dead leaves, something just felt different.

It had been 49 days since I’d smoked my last cigarette. Prior to that, I’d touched cigarettes for a total of only 10 days in the past four months. I was feeling good. I could start to enjoy my life. I could breath. Yes, I could breath.

So I did.

Life Tastes Good

I drew that fresh, beautifully soft, clean air deep into my lungs. With it, I drew it all that wonderful clarity, confidence, consciousness, and peace.

This was certainly not unobtrusive, barely noticeable air. This was in your face — in your lungs- air. This was life, and it tasted good.

I exhaled, and out went confusion, tension, low self-esteem and a certain sense of inner-chaos.

In that one breath, I instantly became grateful for all my addictions, not just the smoking, but the drinking too.

Grateful Just for the Moment

I felt grateful for having just that one moment, on that one single day, of being free from the mental, physical, and emotional pain of my addictions, but also -and this is where things start getting crazy- I felt an enormous sense of gratitude for having ever been addicted in the first place.

Wait, wasn’t my addiction filthy, vile, fully of misery, governed by chaos and riddled with self-loathing? Wasn’t my addiction crippling, painful, abjectly disgusting? Wasn’t living in active addiction the worst, most terrible time I’ve ever experienced in my life?

Yep.

So, what on earth do I have to be grateful for? In short, everything.

You see, in my moment of clarity, it occurred to me that if I had never smoked, I would likely have never noticed how good it feels to do something as simple as breathing in clean, fresh air.

Look, I’m not saying that people have never smoked at all never get to appreciate the sheer joy of breathing in clean fresh air. I’m merely stating a simple fact, which is this:

I know me, and I know that had I never smoked, I would likely have always taken fresh air for granted, barely noticed it, certainly never appreciated it.

Because I had experienced the pain and misery of being addicted to cigarettes, I was now able to develop a much deeper appreciation of -and sense of gratitude for- the simple gift of fresh air.

Feels Like Living

What troubles me now as I write this, is that even if I spent the rest of today going over this same point, I would never find quite the right combination of words which would so perfectly do justice to the awesome feeling of drawing clean air instead of toxic smoke.

It feels like freedom. It feels like liberation. Above all else, it feels like living.

OK, so that’s the nicotine addiction accounted for and -hopefully- explained, but surely I can’t be grateful for something so horrid and soul-destroying. Surely there’s no gratitude to be found in a past that was spent in a losing battle against my own inner-demons? Surely there’s nothing to be grateful for about worrying my parents half to death, losing a beautiful wife and a beautiful home by the river? Surely there’s nothing to reason to be grateful about a past spent living in fear, about the trembling, the terror, nor about the sheer horror of being awake which would only be subdued by the nightmares of sleep?

Yes, there is. In fact, there’s an awful lot to be grateful for.

Again, this all comes down to how much better my life is before I got sober, and about how I know, deep down, that I would not appreciate life as much as I do now if I hadn’t drunk myself to the point of oblivion four years ago.

Mornings Are The Best Part of My Day

There’s a quote I hear a lot lately, attributed to Dean Martin, in which he feels sorry for sober folk because they’ll never feel any better than they do in a morning.

Honestly, even if that were true, I’d be more than happy with it.

Most mornings these days, I wake up with a great sense of freedom. I wake up naturally, and know with 100% certainty that I’m not late for work because I’m self-employed and set my own hours. I lie there for a few moments, just appreciating the comfortable night’s sleep I had, and allowing myself to slowly come to terms with consciousness.

If I’m really on the ball, I even prepared my coffee maker the night before, so all I have to do, when I’m good and ready, is amble on into the kitchen, get the coffee going and flick on the radio. I listen to Classic FM at home. This may surprise friends more used to hearing me singing the praises of heavy metal bands like Metallica, but to me it’s a perfectly natural, perfectly perfect way to start the day.

When the coffee’s brewed, I usually spend the first hour drinking it whilst reading a book, writing in my journal, or doing -to be blunt about it- whatever the hell I want.

For me, this time is precious, it’s a chance to wake up properly, a chance to really become alert, and arrive at my laptop ready to work with a clear head and a sense of optimism.

Now, let’s compare this to what life used to be like when I drank.

Those mornings, I’d wake up late, in pain, lethargic, and miserable. Those mornings, the only thing I had to be grateful for was that I’d somehow survived the war I’d waged on myself the night before. Then came the rush, the oh-shit-I’m-late-for-work panic, the kind where you spray shoe polish under your armpits and brush your teeth with your girlfriend’s hair removal cream. In itself, this was bad enough, but have you ever tried doing that mad, panicked rush whilst in the agonising throes of a malicious hangover? Have you ever dealt with the rush of trying to get out the door in just enough time to save your job whilst dealing with a throbbing head, dehydration, and the sneaking suspicion that you spent the previous night’s blackout getting run over by a steam train?

If you have, you’ll hopefully appreciate why I’m so grateful that my mornings aren’t like that any more. If you haven’t, trust me, it’s horrible, especially when you realise that the physical hangover is the least of you worries.

Guilt, Shame, Remorse: The Knockout Blow

Waking up the morning after a drink was like being battered by a one-two assault. The first blow was that physical stuff; the headache, the occasional bit of vomiting, the general feeling of oh-my-God-kill me-now. The second, knockout blow was the realisation, the oh shit, I did THAT last night, I said THAT to THAT person, oh shit, if that’s the kind of stuff I REMEMBER, what the hell kind of chaos did I create that I’ve forgotten.

Those feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse were always infinity worse than the physical hangover, especially because they always lasted much longer. No amount of painkillers and vitamin C could ever shift guilt, shame, and remorse. Trust me, I gave it my best shot.

But here’s the thing, ladies and gentlemen, the sweet, beautiful thing that came to me in that sweet, beautiful breath of air a few days ago:

I needed those feelings, I needed to experience those horrible hungover mornings so that I can now appreciate the experience of waking up without them.

Yes, I appreciate that this probably sounds insane to some people, but then if you’d read this far, I’m going to hazard a guess that you’re one of the few people who has some idea what I’m talking about, right?

Right? Please tell me I’m right.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to already have this wonderful appreciation for the simple process of breathing in fresh air, perhaps you managed to cultivate an attitude of gratitude without first being sucked into the terrible nightmare of alcoholic drinking.

Truth be told, if I let think about it for too long, I start wishing I was one of you, that I could somehow have what I have today without going through what I went through, that the whole terrible thing never happened.

But it did happen, and even though I can do an infinite number of things right now to change my present situation and build my future, there’s literally not a single thing I can do to change the past. So, rather than live with that past as some sort of horrible, shameful source of regret, remorse and sorrow, I treat it as a stepping stone, I think of it with a sense of gratitude — gratitude because what I have today is amazing beyond words, and because what I have today is as a direct result of what I had to go through.

Sometimes, I think of it like this:

I had to experience the darkness to fully appreciate the light

Sometimes, I think that might be being a little over-dramatic about the whole thing, but what else would you expect from a guy who just wrote 2,000 words of gratitude about a single breath of air?