“Do you know that this is the longest I’ve been clean for? I absolutely hate it!” read the text on my phone from a friend, late one night when I was struggling to fall asleep.
I had lost count of the number of days we had spent in a national lockdown, and while everyone was keeping themselves sane by making variants of coffee and signing up to be the next master chef, my friend was fighting hard to survive without his daily dose of marijuana.
The next morning I walked into the kitchen to find the countertop covered with numerous packets of tobacco. With grotesque pictures of cancerous organs on the packets which was the standard warning issued by the manufacturers, I lost my appetite as I touched them.
“Are we having tobacco for breakfast today?” I asked my sister, as she walked into the kitchen behind me.
She rolled her eyes at me, and we both shook our heads in defeat. Our grandad was addicted to chewing tobacco and since the lockdown had begun, he had been sourcing tobacco from different people and places, his mind working overtime to procure his precious packets of happiness.
* * *
Growing up I had always wondered how people could rely on various substances as a source of their sanity. I had grown up as a passive smoker all my life, with my dad who went through cigarettes as if they were as important as drinking water or breathing air. We never spoke about it openly, he never told us why he smoked or why he couldn’t kick the habit. All we knew that he managed all his stress and anger issues by keeping a cigarette between his lips.
What I did realize when I lost my husband a couple of months into our marriage was that our primary response to any form of loss or pain in our lives is to inflict harm onto ourselves.
Whether its by drinking all night with friends to numb your senses, or by losing yourself in ringlets of smoke, or by sitting in front of the TV while binge eating till your heart feels better, or by pushing yourself physically and getting a revenge body, all these are forms of punishing yourself for whatever has gone wrong in your life.
For me, the only way I could find myself coping was to throw myself into work with a vengeance in the name of productivity, and to push my body to its limits by working out long hours every day, as if my toned body was any amount of compensation for losing my husband.
Had I been exercising to increase my stamina, or to feel more healthy, it would have been a step in the right direction.
But to keep myself away from drugs and alcohol, I was pushing my body into the other extreme direction.
* * *
During my seemingly short life, I have seen first hand what an over-reliance on substances can do to a person’s life.
I have seen my grandad slowly lose his appetite for normal food over the years and substitute it with chewing tobacco all day long. I have seen my dad’s smoke intake rise drastically each time he feels a little extra stress. I have seen my father in law being controlled by alcohol every night that his son lay in the ICU fighting for his own life. I have seen my husband smoke up for breakfast and dinner every single day, to increase his productivity at work as part of chasing a big promotion.
There have been times when I have wondered if I should take the easy way out and just pick up a cigarette or smoke a joint to help me sleep through the night. But each time the temptation has come before me, I’ve thought about all the people who are no longer in control of their lives, because they are being controlled by the substances they are putting into their bodies.
There are times in life when we have to choose between what is right and what is easy.
And to choose what is right may seem like the toughest thing, but in the long run, it will yield a more positive life.
We are already abusing our bodies on a daily basis in ways that we are oblivious to. Diseases like obesity, chronic diabetes, high blood pressure, irregular heart beats have now become a part of our life. The birth of viruses time and again which attack our bodies are proof that we need stronger immune systems, now more than ever.
Our lungs are charred, our livers are lined with fat and grease, our minds are filled with anxiety and stress as a result of our lifestyle and our reliance on processed foods.
We have no time to work out or indulge in activities which allow our minds to relax. In the name of relaxation and releasing stress, we resort to too many bottles of wine, too many puffs of a joint and staying up all night staring at our screens.
It feels good, doesn’t it? To let go of all the horrible things in the world, to let go of all the pain in your heart?
I felt liberated too, in the moments where I got drunk with my friends more times than was required, or when my colleague offered me a smoke one day after my husband passed away, and I felt a hard tug toward the cigarette. I knew that I could defend anything I did because I had just lost my husband! Anything that I did to justify the pain wouldn’t be wrong.
But I was stronger than that. I was stronger than the substances calling out to me.
* * *
I called a friend that night to keep me company, and we ended up spending time over dinner. We shared a comforting bowl of pasta and had a glass of wine each. There was sorrow in my eyes that night, more sorrow than my friend had ever seen. And each day after that, as I struggled to rebuild a new life for myself, there would be days where I would fight the urge to succumb to the pain and give myself up to easier ways of dealing with it all.
But I wouldn’t.
And to my surprise, life has started looking brighter for me with each passing day. It’s an uphill battle to climb the mountain of grief everyday, but each day that I come out on top of it, my life feels a little bit more rewarding. Each time I feel like I’m falling apart, I ask for help. And it’s made all the difference in the world.
Each time you feel you cannot survive without that drink or without the nicotine firing up your neurons, take a step back and remind yourself that you’re in control of your life, not anything else.
Ask for help.
Think about the people who love you and wouldn’t want to lose you to substance abuse.
And slowly, you will come out on the brighter side of it.
Previously published on “Change Becomes You”, a Medium publication.
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