Anatomy of a relapse part 6: liberation from addiction

On September 6, 2014, I made a choice that could have cost me my life. In this six part series, we’re journeying back to analyze how I slipped into a DXM relapse and what I did to self-stabilize and avert catastrophe.

This is the sixth and final part of a series.

Anatomy of a Relapse Part Six: Liberation from Addiction

On September 10, when that Robitussin packaging crumbled to ash, I knew with complete confidence that my life was new again.

Three-decade season of self-destruction, finished.

100%. Knew it. But still had to prove it.

That’s part of why Anatomy of a Relapse has stretched on for seven weeks.

Proving time.

A terse proclamation of being cured of addiction would fall on deaf ears.

After all, I’ve sworn numerous times before, to bid adieu to my vices.

Only to fall back to them again weeks later, or days. Hours. Minutes.

Chances are, you know someone who has broken their passionate vows to change, several times over.

Why should this be any different?

Thus, I told the whole story.

Losing grip, the relief of relapse, crying out for help, falling yet deeper, and finally crawling out from the hole.

How it all happened. What moved around inside my mind to promote loving ways of thinking, and therefore peaceful ways of being.

However, the story isn’t quite finished.

Zealous muse

For several days post-relapse, it was like a dam broke in my brain. Out gushed a rapid current of realizations that I felt compelled to write down.

I wrote as if possessed, pen frantically pressing into paper, urgency taking over.

Barely thought about the words. Words just came, and kept coming.

Some didn’t quite make it to the page before being knocked away and scattered to dust by other speeding freight trains of words.

An exhausting process, especially in my weakened physical state.

(My body took over a week to fully recover from that megaload of DXM.)

But, as a lover of writing, couldn’t ask for a grander gift than being saturated with and bombarded by inspiration.

Content of the writing ran the gamut:

Observations about my mind, epiphanies about relating to myself and others.

Methods for overcoming stubbornness and rigidness, which frequently have obstructed potential for applying new information. How Sorting My Mail Helped Me Grow Up was written during that time, as well as future posts in the same vein.

Techniques for getting beyond self-limiting thought patterns and beliefs. Some will be discussed below, others later (soon).

The nature of intuition. Seeing intuitive hunches as “best guesses” based on the data available, and discerning when more data is needed to strengthen intuition’s validity.

How to differentiate among different levels of self-talk (the “voices in my head”) in order to make decisions congruent with my values. And to identify, trust, and respect my own boundaries.


I don’t have the best track record of being aware of and respecting my own boundaries.

When I ate twenty more pills against the will of my desperate, pleading inner voice, I disregarded my boundaries. Limits, forsaken.

Something inside knew it was entirely too much. Very clearly, it told me.

But I pushed on, anyway, with intent and defiance.

My past overflows with similar tales.

Chucking my annoying conscience out the window. Smothering its face with a pillow, burying it in pills and vodka and pasta.

But why? Why hurt myself with such persistence? Numb myself? Hide from my conscience?

The answers are extraordinary dynamic, yet can be simplified for our purposes; much like the mechanisms of the human body are dazzlingly dynamic, but their basic features can be described with relative ease (♫ the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone ♫).

To gain further understanding, some Q & A:

Q: Why did I hurt myself?

A: I didn’t love myself. Much of the time, I hated myself. Like a bitter enemy.

Q: Why did I not love myself and often hate myself?

A: Here is a small sampling of the beliefs I’ve schlepped around since childhood:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I’m not lovable.
  • I’m not good at anything.
  • I’m clumsy and uncoordinated.
  • I don’t fit in.
  • When I am myself, I annoy and inconvenience people.
  • I’m fat and ugly.
  • I’ll never be happy.
  • I deserve to be miserable.

How can someone be comfortable in their own skin when they’re carrying all that noise around?

Q: Where did the beliefs come from?

A: As a child, I detrimentally interpreted the events in my life, and the way others interacted with me.

Humans are meaning-makers. Constantly interpreting events, adding meaning.

During our formational years, those interpretations and meanings become the basis for our default beliefs about ourselves.

For example, when I was four, my world was very much all about me.

Who else would it have been about? Everyone was there to serve me. Meet my needs. Clearly.

So, how might I have construed it when everyone didn’t cater to my every whim? When my mother and father, totally beyond reproach as far as I knew, did not show their love for me the way I wanted them to, 100% of the time?

A belief formed:

I’m not good enough. I’m not lovable.

My dad having a long day, needing to relax instead of play with me:

I’m not worth Dad’s time. Probably not worth anyone’s time.

Mom, having a headache, telling me to quiet down:

Mom thinks I am annoying.

When I was seven years old, at bedtime, I peered out my bedroom window, down into the yard.

My mother, father, and brother were outside together. Looked like great fun.

Called out the window, expressed interest in joining them.

Was told to stay put, that it was bedtime.

I was furious.

Punched the window, shattering it. Felt less valued than my brother.

After all, he was outside with Mom and Dad. I wasn’t.

Surely, my parents loved him more than they loved me.


I’m less important than my brother.

Oh, and I didn’t actually mean to hit the glass.

Was aiming for the wall.


I’m clumsy and uncoordinated.

Then, I grew into an adult with an inferiority complex, and often avoided activities that required balance and coordination because I thought myself an oaf.

Those beliefs started early. Lingered, controlling my life in unseen ways.

How about you?

Which childhood events might you have misinterpreted, resulting in long-term detrimental beliefs about yourself?

Q: So what can be done about this “baggage?”

A: Good question.

I can think of two methods.

One is to systematically identify and change the beliefs, thereby resulting in negating the barriers that stand between you and loving yourself.

The Mind-Made Prison by Mateo Tabatabai is a fabulous instruction manual for accomplishing this.

As for me, I stumbled into a back door. Loved myself first.

Then, it came naturally and easily to identify and alter destructive and limiting beliefs. Love transforms everything.

Q: But how did I start loving myself?

A: Let’s review:

1. During my final DXM trip, the chemical probably downshifted my brain wave frequencies to theta, thereby producing permeability in my subconscious.

2. At the theta level, I sympathized with my own brokenness, and remembered the message of Love Yourself like Your Life Depends On It.

With the window of my subconsciousness open, I said to myself (and meant it!): I love myself, I love myself, I love myself…

This resulted in a deep re-wiring of my subconscious perception of myself.

If the Andrew Hicks who didn’t love himself poisoned his body, then what might change for the Andrew Hicks who loves himself deeply and completely?

3. At the climax of my final trip, I realized on every level of my being that my obsession with DXM was, from the very beginning, based on delusions and self-hindering beliefs.

Those factors combined for a powerful dual-whammy:

a) I had absolutely no reason (and henceforth no curiosity or motivation) to wreck myself with DXM anymore.

b) I loved myself so deeply, couldn’t fathom hurting myself anymore.

Would never wish destruction on those I love, and I finally stand in their ranks!

The self-love transformed me from the inside out, immediately.

My boundaries were crystal clear to me. Respecting them, nearly effortless.

When tired, rest. When thirsty, drink. Hungry, eat. When my stomach is full, stop!

Put sustaining, energizing nourishment into my body. Don’t pollute mind and body.

Spend time with friends, make time for family. Make time for me, too. No excuses.

(Not exactly rocket science, is it?)

Couldn’t have disrespected my boundaries if I tried.

But I didn’t try.

Because I had just this super-massive crush on myself.

Binge-eating and gulping down alcohol seemed ludicrous. Couldn’t imagine doing it.

Which was a breath of the freshest air imaginable.

But occasionally, a familiar fear set in.

Fear of being sucked back into the vortex.

Could it be another false happy ending? Like a horror movie, where the nemesis comes back for a shocking kill?

On many occasions before, I’d been convinced of my freedom from dependency, depression, and inner enmity.

Almost as many times, that enmity came back. Like Michael Myers, just wouldn’t stay dead.

As the pattern repeated with a maddening rhythm, times of peace were overshadowed by the fear that darkness was just using its vacation time. It would be back. It always came back.

Learned to expect it. In my mind, the cycle was out of my hands.

But this time around, I loved myself enough to see through my own malarkey.

The fear set in, but I stared it down.

Square in the eyes.

(It wasn’t used to that. It might have blushed.)

Looking fear in the face, I realized:

Before, whenever I felt afraid of losing grip, I looked for signs to verify my downfall.

I’d think:

“Woke up in a bad mood today. Must be slipping.”


“I feel so irritable and judgmental today. Surely, I am falling into a rut.”

Those observations validated the fear. Made it real.

Then I’d bumble about my day with a storm cloud above my head. Which, in turn, escalated my frenzy to gather evidence that I was, in “fact”, in a downward spiral.

And then, naturally, I’d slip.

But in the embrace of my own compassion in September 2014, terror lost its teeth.

I gathered evidence for stability. And found plenty!

I’d think:

“I woke up feeling foggy today, but it’s probably just because I have not yet eaten, hydrated, or gotten any fresh air. I’ll go do that now!”


“When I feel irritated, it is an opportunity for me to search within for the source of irritation, learn more about myself, and improve my way of thinking about and responding to problematic situations. Awesome!”

I acknowledged fear of slipping without validating it. Didn’t seek to prove it.

Instead, sought to prove and validate stability.

And that’s largely what kept me stable.

Another component

A couple weeks out from “ground zero” I had a long overdue appointment with a psychiatrist.

He diagnosed me with bipolar II, a mood-cycling condition that manifests in long spells of depression, with relatively brief intermissions of stability and hypomanic episodes.

Uh, yeah, story of my life.

Stabilizing the mood cycles is paramount to my recovery, because using drugs and alcohol – as well as gobbling up all the hot dogs in the cart – are my habitual, reliable methods of coping with the extreme ups and downs.

Hence, I committed to receptivity towards the doctor’s suggestions, even though I felt certain that my saga of self-destruction had concluded.

After all, I’ve been wrong before. Frequently, even.

Heeded his advice to take medication as an added safeguard.

So far, no regrets.

In fact, some say I’m doing remarkably well.

In the words of those closest to me

From my grandmother, whose roof shelters my head:

“Many days, you were a big grouch, and hard to live with. You rarely wanted to talk and discuss your problems. I would have been shocked to know the degree of darkness you were going through.

Now, I look forward to your happy smile every morning. It puts a song in my heart when I know you’re out and about having a good day and that you’ll come home with the same smile.

I saw glimpses, now and then, of the real you before, but now I get to see the real you all the time.”

My father:

“I have enjoyed the more frequent interactions and kindness you have demonstrated in the recent past. We’ve had nice talks that are really relevant, two-way conversations.”

And mother:

“…you are very much more patient and peaceful…the word that comes to mind when I see you is ‘bliss’…I feel so much more relaxed and at peace about things when you are stable. It makes me overjoyed to see you enjoying your job and seeming to enjoy your life lately. You have no idea what that does for me. I guess if I had to sum it up in one word…I would say the changes have made things peaceful.

…Oh, and I have had much less stomach problems.”

Last but never least, my girlfriend:

“Fifty or so odd days later Andrew is clean and healthy. Not to say I think he had 50 perfect days. Rather, I think he made healthy choices. I think he is capable of continuing to make healthy choices. I was terrified 50 days ago… Today I don’t feel scared for him or me. I think this path he is on could be the right one for him. And for the record: Andrew, I believe in you.”

(Why thank you, darling. I believe in you too.)

What next?

We’ve strolled through the shadowy underbelly of addiction together, learning to generate life-transforming understanding and conversation.

Next, we\’ll move on from introspection, and be called to action. There’s a world out there that could use some changing.

We’ll actively deconstruct misconceptions that make addiction mysterious, evasive, ghastly, and mean; and we’ll knock the stigma down a peg or three.

Together, we’ll consider questions like:

  • Is addiction truly a lifelong affliction?
  • Is it a disease? Are we truly powerless against it, like many would tell us?
  • What can we do to improve and strengthen our health care workers’ capacity to treat addiction?
  • What tools and methods can be used to empower individuals to take health into their own hands and claim responsibility for their choices?
  • How can we help those that we love who, despite their best efforts, can’t seem to stop destroying themselves?

The relapse is over. Liberated living begins now.

Remnants (epilogue)

Oh my hair grays
but my glow stays
All I love, unphased
All I nourish is saved
Oh, I feel it, it’s coming
Thrilling inside, expanding my heart
Touching my brain, tides of gratitude
Non-threateningly, the healed youth within
Enormous smile, shining eyes
And you’ll see me, freed from shackles
Devils absorbed
“Welcome home, son” you’ll say
and I shall rejoice
for the child you love is me

Also published on Medium.