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Kicking addiction: allowing discomfort is the secret to successful recovery

Challenging your preconceptions about beating addiction

You've given it a lot of thought. You know that your addiction is overwhelming your life and causing you a lot of problems. You really want to stop engaging in these self-defeating behaviours and have a better life. You're so sure you're ready, but…

"It's going to be so hard!", you tell yourself. "How am I going to get through the rough times without having that substance or behaviour to fall back on?"

The truth is, you're right -- it will be difficult. When we have been soothing ourselves with long-held, dysfunctional patterns, habits or addictions, we have developed a "comfort zone" for ourselves. This means that we have been comfortable using these behaviours, and we will have to learn all over again how to live without them.

For most people this takes some time, vigilance, commitment and yes – discomfort.

If you are at the point of feeling ready to stop your addictive behaviours, it is probably because you have already been living with the discomfort they have been causing in your life for a while now. But because there is also discomfort when we begin doing things a different way, even if the new way is healthier and better for us, most of us don't stop using these self-sabotaging behaviours until they have become truly problematic for us.

My experience with discomfort

I often think back to the time when I was coming off Valium. Although it was over 20 years ago, I still remember it vividly. Because of the many lessons I learned from that experience, I choose to retain the memory.

When I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in 1973, the doctors prescribed many different medications for me. One of these was Valium, which I took faithfully for many years just the way the doctor ordered.

Unfortunately, at that time, most physicians did not have as clear an understanding of either Crohn's Disease or of addiction as they do today and, looking back, I realize that I became addicted quite quickly.

Almost 15 years later I was still using Valium, as well as other prescription drugs and marijuana, on a daily basis, mostly to manage the physical pain I was experiencing as a result of my illness.

In the Spring of 1987, I finally made the decision to stop abusing these substances. I entered a residential detox centre in Vancouver and, like most people who are in that situation, I was feeling pretty miserable. Although there were several drugs I was detoxing from at the time, the one that I had the most trouble with was Valium.

It has been said that stopping Valium can be even worse than heroin withdrawal, and I had been using so much Valium for so many years that my withdrawal symptoms were brutal.

As the drug slowly left my system, I found that everything I had used that medication to prevent became turned around and exaggerated. I had taken Valium primarily to help me sleep and to ward off anxiety. During my withdrawal from it, I was virtually sleepless and extremely anxious most of the time.

The worst of these symptoms lasted for over a month and I often felt as if I was going crazy. As I look back on it, I'm amazed that I was able to get through it! But even then, as difficult as it was, I knew it was the right thing for me to be doing.

There was no question for me that I needed to stop abusing all mind-altering substances. I yearned to live a drug-free life. So even though what I was doing felt totally "wrong" both physically and mentally, I knew it was right.

I began to remind myself of that, and even developed a mantra that I repeated to myself many times a day. I would say to myself "This feels wrong, but it's right. It feels wrong, but it's right."

In this way, I was able to stay in the discomfort that my harsh withdrawal symptoms were causing me. I was basically giving myself permission to be comfortable with my discomfort.

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