Earlier today, I was asked a question that I’ve been asked a dozen times before –
Once an addict, always an addict … is that true?
Based on the specific use of “addict,” then yes, that is absolutely true. You see, an addict is someone whose brain has been wired to be addicted to a substance or activity. While we shouldn’t let any one aspect of ourselves be a complete definition, it is important to remember that there are some things that will not naturally change. For example, getting colored contacts will not change the fact that my eyes are blue. Nor does dying my hair change the fact that I’m a blonde. Similarly, no longer using / restricting calories / drinking does not change the fact that I’m an addict.
For me, the most important reason to recognize this truth is for personal accountability. There is danger in trying to see myself as recovered. The moment I stop seeing my addictions as potential problems is the moment that they will all creep back into my life. Think of it like driving a car. You’re driving down a two-lane road and you see no cars in sight. It’s becoming a nice, quiet drive because you’re the only one on the road. After a while, since there have continuously been no cars, you stop paying as close attention. Sure, you glance to make sure you’re staying on the road … but even staying in between the lines doesn’t seem as important because it’s not like you’re going to hit anyone. So you start paying more attention to the scenery, the incoming texts on your phone, and … BOOM. You hit an oncoming eighteen-wheeler as it came just over a hill. You never saw it coming because you thought you had no reason to pay attention. Addictions can be just as deadly and deserve just as much attention. No matter how many coping skills you have, you also have to be mindful of the potential screw ups so that you know when to use those coping skills.
There’s another side to this, though, that seems to cause confusion in the “once an addict” statement. A huge fact to remember is that being an addict does not equate to being a user. I may be an addict but I am currently sober. Once a user, always a user? Definitely NOT true.
Cut yourself some slack and remember that addiction is a part of who you are – and THAT’S OKAY. Read that again. Yes, it is okay to be an addict. There is nothing inherently wrong with you. It’s all in how you deal with it. It is not okay to act on your addiction … but once you recognize that the addiction itself isn’t going away, it’s a hell of a lot easier to win that fight every single day.