There is a theory floating around in many sober circles that we stop growing emotionally, or maturing, when we start using, and that we are stuck at that maturity level until we address the addiction. I don’t take this theory at face value, at least not to the extent that it is simply laid out there as scientific fact by many in the recovery community. An informal investigation, on the internet, doesn’t produce much scientific substance either. “Do you stop growing when… you sneeze? Was the first autofill that popped up today during my search for some hard evidence. One has to click on that. The answer is unsurprisingly, and overwhelmingly, NO. Neither is there any evidence that supports a sneeze means someone is gossiping about you, or that a sneeze stops your heart. My search was digressing though so before I went too far down the rabbit hole I refined my search to, “Do you stop growing emotionally, or maturing, when you start using alcohol or drugs.” This produced better results, but again, nothing concrete, but there it was, in many online forums, websites, and blogs and that is hard to ignore.
There are considerable differences, in my opinion, between spreading unexperienced narratives and spreading narratives of experience, but science has standing precedent in both approaches. The theory that substance use stunts emotional growth falls into the latter narrative. I hear, over and over again, from people who have had experience with addiction, that substance use did inhibit their growth, or the growth of a loved one. So it appears, in the least, there exists a mountain of evidence that could be qualitatively measured to support this.
My personal experience is that my own growth was stunted from my addiction. I would disagree with the theory in that I wasn’t stuck at the emotional development of a 14 or 15-year-old (have you talked to one recently), but nevertheless I stopped growing as person. It would be a lie to claim that from 14, to about 25, I didn’t grow, and that drugs and alcohol weren’t an integral part of that experience. Drugs and alcohol were an interconnected part of that time in my life. The opening of my eyes to a world where my limited, preconceived, learned notions of the world were laid bare. That truth, objectively, wasn’t something that could be taught, it had to be learned and that untruths, didn’t always have an equal and opposite truth.
I’m not sure that if I had chosen a different lifestyle in my twenties I would have broken free from the chains of the narrow worldview, that exists for many, where right and wrong are clearly labeled, and where there is a defined, religious, sexual, political, and gendered path in which you must travel down. What I do know, is that at some point I failed myself, and the ruminations that I had been encouraging with my use, I was now trying to silence with my use. It seems like such a contradiction to try and silence that which you spend years trying to discover, but yet that was me at 30. Drinking so that I did not have to deal with many of the hard realities I had come to realize: that ignorance was running amuck in the world, that love was much harder to come by than hate, that maybe the human condition was plagued to repeat itself, endlessly, with the same outcome. Wash, rinse, dirty, repeat. I was tired and being stuck there, in that place, where I was trying to use something that I had thought worked once, was pushing me towards exhaustion.
The years I spent in this deep, addictive, and exhaustive stage in my life completely stopped my personal growth, and to the extent that I used alcohol to deal with my feelings, I have to agree that I was stuck emotionally. Hindsight is a gift. Not a bright flashy, wrapped in a bow type of gift, but the kind you open and look at later when you get home, and realize this tool is going to really come in useful. I look back at all the times I chose the bottle over facing my problems and it is evident I had chosen not to grow. Sometimes, well let’s be honest, most of the time, it’s just easier that way. Growth is hard and to borrow a common platitude, nothing great in life comes easy. It is draining to show up every day and face the world’s problems and to challenge your own preconceived notions on life, but to live a full life you better be doing it, because there aren’t any do overs. You should not be the same person at 30, as you were at 20, and at 40 many of the notions you had at 30 should have evolved or been left behind. One of the great things about personal growth is that it can be exponential. It is not a game of simple sums. Having a growth mindset is a real and tangable benefit to your life. The evidence is there that simply believing you can grow, increases your ability to do such. The work you put in today has the potential to reap benefits that will be hard to measure in the future, but be assured if you don’t notice the benefits, you will certainly notice the obstruction, from not putting in the effort. I look back now and can see the many opportunities I missed for growth. I spent a lot of time climbing a ladder, that I had hoped would take me to a place with a better view, only to find out I was climbing out of the hole and I was arriving back to where I had started. What I believed had been the catalyst to provocation for an awakening self, had in fact, been the exact thing that kept me captive. It no longer is. I have broken free and the view is pretty damn nice. My drinking didn’t necessarily make me a lesser person, but it did prevent me from learning fully, from loving fully, from listening fully, and from growing fully. It no longer has that power over me and I am growing again.