How Could I Have Done What I Did? (And How to Get Out of This Mess)

Suspended? Arrested? Caught cheating? Woke up in the Emergency Room after a super-binge?

“How did I get here?” you ask. Not just, “How did I end up in the Emergency Room?” You know that. But, “What cycle led me here?”

I definitely do not speak to you in judgment, but in compassion. We’ve all done things that we later regretted, to a greater or lesser degree. Many people have walked the path of despair, the path of embarrassment, shame, or disgrace.

And, if you’re like me, you don’t want to feel so out of control. You don’t want to let down those you love.

The one advantage to being here at the bottom of life is that you may be able to see what you couldn’t see before. You may be able to engage in self-reflection that will be life-saving.

Assuming that this bottom-of-the-rung-of-life status is due to some type of out-of-control activities and not to something that was done to you, there was probably some barrier or hurdle that you had to remove or weaken in order to enter an addictive space you never meant to enter.

Without even thinking about it, we all have certain barricades in our minds that protect us from total destruction. In fact, when therapy clients come to me seeking help with an addiction, there are usually more vices that they are not hooked on than on which they are. Their addiction to alcohol may be wrecking their life, but an assessment may reveal, for example, that they are not addicted to drugs, food, sex, gambling, cigarettes, shopping, etc. Why? Because there are barriers in their mind against overindulging in those things. But somehow the barrier to excessive drinking came down. What was that process that they went through that led to the out-of-control lifestyle they are now living? It can be helpful for them to see.

Barriers on the Outside

The first thing you had to do was convince yourself that you wouldn’t get caught.

No one will ever know. Who will it harm? These rules are ridiculous anyway.

On social media, we’ve all seen videos of crooks making fools of themselves while trying to pull off their caper. It’s not just that they didn’t plan very well, although that’s often the case. It’s that they have grown overly confident over time. They’re no longer conscious of what is obvious. It’s the same with an affair or an addiction. We think we’re slick as silk, but we don’t see the trail of evidence or the rings around our eyes that speak volumes.

In order to do this thing, you had to get over that external barrier. The lies to self and others.

But, something else.

Barriers on the Inside

This is the real barrier, isn’t it?


Overcoming your internal fear was how you convinced yourself that you could get away with it. Or that the effects of your actions wouldn’t wreck your body so much that you would no longer be able to work. Or that no one else would be harmed by your encounters — either because you would be sly or because their feelings do not matter. Maybe you reasoned that they had given you plenty of justification for your resentment.

And so, you overcame the barrier within.

Where do I go from here?

After you recognize the barriers you dismantled, you’re going to need to erect them again. In the language of the recovery movement, you must first deal with your own denial. What really happened? Who was harmed? What were the costs?

And what may never be the same again?

Why all the nagging questions? Such questions help us to begin the reinstitution of barriers. Once we survey the damage, we’re more ready to rebuild. Only then can we construct a barricade of determination not to go there again.

No plan? No way.

Very few people can walk the journey of recovery without a plan. Yes, there’s always the guy who says he threw away his cigarettes and never went back, but for most men and women, a strategy is required. No two plans look exactly alike, but almost all include companions for the journey. It is not a solo expedition. Partnership and accountability are needed.

The thing that holds me back.

Let me guess.

Apprehension? Willfulness? The prospect of giving up something that’s comforted you for a long time?

The journey goes much faster when you have a therapist to accompany you who specializes in your particular need and when you have a group to join with you.

The slang these days is, “Keep it 100.” Meaning, stay true to yourself. Be aligned with your values. Be real.

Authenticity. Dependability. Credibility. Good reasons to begin rebuilding. Good reasons to contact a skilled therapist. Good reasons to take the first step.

Not everything at once.

Just the first step.

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