Mr. Atwater: I went into treatment for drugs and drinking about a year ago. I was in trouble for stealing from my neighbors and was tired of hurting my parents.
I came out and didn’t drink or use any hard drugs, but I smoked weed. I went to some 12-step meetings but mainly for friends. I started to drink again about a month later at a party and ended up getting in a fight, getting arrested and almost having my probation revoked.
I’m just finishing an intensive outpatient program, got a part-time job and am going to meetings again, this time clean. I still sometimes wish I could get high and sometimes really crave it. I also feel pretty bored and isolated when I know my friends are partying and I’m home playing video games by myself.
I don’t want to go back to my old life, but I don’t really like my new one. What do I do?
Dear Reader: You’re in the same boat as many kids who are trying to get sober and haven’t yet found the rewards of a sober lifestyle. Maybe you aren’t getting in trouble as much and it’s more peaceful at home, but the old excitement is missing.
The problem is the yearning for old excitement is actually your addiction talking to you, telling you peaceful is boring, kindness is for saps and being a good kid is actually for losers. Don’t listen to your disease.
It takes some very specific character assets to successfully make a positive change – patience, courage and perseverance. Addiction dislikes all of these assets and would prefer you to rely on impulsivity, self-centeredness and fear of not getting what you want. Working a 12-step program supports the character assets and quiets the addiction.
Cravings and missing the old life are a natural part of getting sober and staying that way. The antidote to both is to be honest with yourself and with your supporters about these feelings. Hiding them will strengthen them, but shining the light on them will make them shrink. As you share your struggles with fellow travelers in the program you attend, you will begin to understand a little more about friendship, and the loneliness will begin to disappear.
We live in an area rich with activities and support for sober young people. Ask around at any meeting you attend, and you’ll get an invite to the next event.
• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.