• David Sales

Oxygen Mask

I am okay. Today everything is okay.

I have mentioned often in my writing that I take more time in the mornings than I ever have. It is a time for myself, a time to recognize where I am, and a time to think about the day ahead. It's peaceful and slow - two things I haven't experienced much in my life.

Sitting quietly this morning, the realization that I am ok, that today everything is ok, allowed me to feel that I have changed. It is a good change. Accepting that ok is good enough for today, feels oddly strange, as for so long I never felt that way ever. At least not when I was sober. I had reached the point mentally that the only few minutes of any day when I felt ok was when I was able to have those first few drinks. The rest of the time was frankly nightmarish, awful, and filled with constant thoughts of suicide.

I haven't really written about my dependence on alcohol and what it did for me, at least not in depth. I think people sometimes have a difficult time understanding why addicts do what they do and if one hasn't experienced that type of dependence, it is probably impossible to truly get it. All I can tell you is that the drug, the drink, the addictive act is serving an important purpose for us and the destruction it causes seems worth anything while trapped in it. It becomes as important to survival as air - primal, animalistic, and powerful.

Inside every human being there exists this mechanism of basic instinct. We are wired to survive. It is the most powerfully natural instinct we possess as human beings, and when the addict's mind and body reaches a point of ultimate dependence, we will survive at all costs.

For those who may think this is slightly over dramatic, perhaps just a choice we are making, I can only offer a different perspective. It depends which stage one is at. Once detoxed, sober, and free from physical dependence, we again have the ability to chose. That is when the recovery can begin, but not before. At least in my case.

What is that like? Very hard to explain, however, the best way to try to get a sense of it is to attempt a small test, if you are willing.

Try holding your breath for 5 minutes. Experience what happens over the course of that small amount of time. 5 minutes is not that long... until you can't breathe. As the seconds go by, time slows to a painful pace, the panic and fear increases, and the heart pounds faster. Soon the body begins to react and eventually, from deep within the oldest part of your brain will come that primal, uncontrollable need to gasp for air. That 5 minutes is what it is like without the substance for a dependent addict.

Do addicts scheme, steal, lie, and cheat in order to get the substance? Of course they do. If you were trapped in a room without air and other people had oxygen masks, I guarantee at some point you would do anything to get one of those masks. Addicts spend every hour of every day seeking an oxygen mask. It is as terrifyingly simple as that.

I spent 7 days in the hospital under going the withdrawal protocol for alcoholism. In my case, trying to detox on my own would likely have been fatal. What some people don't know, is that withdrawal from alcohol dependence can kill you without medical supervision. It is the only substance that carries that risk. Having experienced what I have, I would never let anyone with a physical dependence on booze to stop cold turkey as there is a big difference between alcohol dependency and a problem with drinking.

When I was released from the hospital, the next few weeks were filled with anxiety and pain. Often it would be so bad that I would have to have my sister just sit with me, hold my hand, and help me catch my breath. I am very lucky to have had someone to do that for me. Many do not. I would at times pace back and forth for hours. In the second week home, I travel to Vancouver and there was a point one day, that I walked up and down the same block for hours, waiting for the feelings of panic to go away. The sounds of the cars, the people, and the ever present din of the city seemed so amplified it hurt my ears. At the height of it, I felt like I was suffocating, being buried alive by world around me, and that I might just jump in front of the next bus rather than die without air. It was awful and felt like it would never pass.

That was nearly 7 months ago. That is not my life today. I survived my alcoholism, at least for today, and I am very aware that it could have ended much differently for me. Unfortunately it ends much differently for an alarming number of people each day. Good people. People with much to offer our world. Loving people. Sick people. People like me. Lost people trapped in that constant search for a simple oxygen mask - the only type of oxygen they know.

It makes me very sad when I think of the many human beings I have met who couldn't find their way out of that wilderness of dependence. They were people who never planned on being there, never dreamed as a little child that they would be an addict, and never thought they would die with a bottle beside them, a needle in their arm, or a pipe in their hand. They were children like me... and children like you.

I am grateful for some of what has happened to me. It is often hard to find gratitude in life ravished by addiction, but on a morning like today, I can. I am glad that I understand addiction and have gained deep empathy for those who currently find themselves living that dark primal existence. I am thankful that I can think of the good people that our recovery community has lost and remember them as beautiful human beings first and foremost. I will often just think of them when they were just children, innocent and hopeful. Most of us were.

When I do this, I feel a different kind of love in my heart and it is ok. Today everything is ok.

My life is changing everyday. I cry a lot, but sometimes I smile now, and at times even laugh a little. A simple morning of feeling that I am ok without alcohol is a giant leap for Davekind. My oxygen is coming from a different place now and this oxygen doesn't have side effects.

I always ask you to be kind out there. Today, I ask you to be kind to everyone, especially the addict. When you look at them and wonder why... remember to hold your breath to remind yourself what it must feel like to not have air to breathe.

Much love to anyone reading this.


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