I’m an alcoholic in recovery. I drank excessively because of the effect alcohol had on my mind and on my mood. I do not take mind- or mood-changing drugs unless I need them. I take anesthesia during surgery. I take pain killers after surgery. I do not have depression, bi-polar disorder, an anxiety disorder, or any other reason to take mind or mood altering drugs.
I have a fear of flying and I’ve had it for around 25 years. During that time I’ve flown lots, but not much lately. Over the last 16 years I flew in 1994, 2002, and yesterday.
I believe, for myself, that taking a drug to face my fear would put me in danger. Before I got sober, I relapsed chronically, meaning that after making a decision to give up alcohol, I drank. I love the feeling drugs and alcohol give me. I chased that feeling closer and closer to absolute ruin and death. I experimented with drinking just a little, drinking just a while, drinking not at all. I am not able to manage my drinking.
Once, in the past, I bought a book about phobias and worked on my fear with some success. Then I moved, and basically lost my reason to fly frequently.
A few months ago, I agreed to fly to Hawaii, a distance of about 5000 miles. I began to work on my fear of flying again, but I also made a conscious effort to talk to lots of people about it, and to consider drugs.
If I took a drug in this situation, I would not consider it a ‘slip’ and I would not say that I had given up my sobriety. I have to say that most of the people I talked to, in and out of AA, some who knew about my alcoholism and some who didn’t know – most people suggested drugs, or at least said that in my situation, they would take drugs.
I gave birth to two children, one using (or failing to use) the Lamaze method of child birth and one using Bradley. The Bradley method was much better for me, and I used my interpretation of that philosophy to work on lessening my fear.
I took time just about every day to watch videos that had been taken from planes to get used to the sights and the sounds. I collected meditations about and prayers and quotes about fear and studied them and meditated on them. I spent time consciously relaxing my body as a response to mental stress and anxiety. Up until about a month ago, I considered the pros and cons of taking a drug.
I was surprised by how many people in the program thought a drug was a good idea. I thought that maybe my anti-drug stance had to do with the time and place I got sober. But I even talked to people who had gotten sober in my time and in my place, and they didn’t have the same attitude that I do.
Two things helped me turn the corner and decide. One, someone suggested to me that I give myself a deadline to decide, so that each day before it and each day after it I didn’t have to wrestle with the decision. Finally, someone let me pretty much talk about it almost exclusively, asking good questions but not changing the subject or shutting me down, for somewhere over an hour. During that conversation, when I articulated pretty much all my thoughts about the matter, and it became obvious to me that I should not take a drug for this flight. I decided then (though it wasn’t actually decision day) that I would do without this time, and if it was a disaster, I would reconsider for next time.
It occurred to me during this process that times have changed. When I was an adolescent, and when I went crazy with drinking and lying and cutting myself among other things, the school and my mother tried to get me to cooperate with therapy, but no one suggested drugging me. I’ve since known other adolescents who have acted out the same ways I did, and they often had three classes of heavy drugs thrown at them to see what would stick. I’ve known teenagers who have harmed themselves and they have been hospitalized and given an anti-seizure mood-stabilizing drug, an anti-depressant, and an anti-psychotic. Then, if they cooperated with treatment, these drugs would be changed and lowered over time to see what was really doing what.
I’m not saying that is the wrong approach, and I have no doubt that it has saved the lives of kids who would otherwise have suffered further and engaged in more dangerous behavior. In my case, before the drug-em days, I found alcohol and then along with that a program of recovery that worked for me and that didn’t include drugs. I understand that many people my age were not as fortunate as I was, and that their outcomes weren’t as good as mine, and that drugs that are now available and more often given could have saved them.
That’s not my story, though. For now I’m sticking to my understanding of myself that drugs endanger me, no matter how necessary they are. I believe for myself that I have to be very vigilant, only take what is vitally necessary, and get off of them as soon as it’s safely possible.
Honestly, flying to Hawaii and back was very difficult for me. My doing it represents many hours spent in unpleasant preparation. There were times during the flights that I felt I couldn’t take the fear or the reality. It was not comfortable or pleasant and if they ever invent a way that I could just not experience it, and still get where I want to go, I’ll be right there – unconscious flying and safe cigarettes would be two wishes the genie could grant me.
Also honestly, it breaks my heart a little that I bypassed the chance for a legal high.
Now if I had taken a drug, and not endangered my sobriety (NO guarantees there), I would not have grown in my ability to tolerate and overcome things. That is one of the seminal (influencing the development of future events: a seminal artist; seminal ideas) ideas of my sobriety – that by the fact of being sober, over time, I come to do life better and better. Although I don’t know what will happen if I’m fortunate enough to experience a next time, I know that I’m stronger and even more likely to succeed than this time.
Sobriety (for me) brings all reasonable things into the realm of possibility.