Perception is the Life and Death of Failure

Change your mind, change your life…

“Oh shit…shit! Shit!” I said to myself. Gripping my chest, I timidly dropped the syringe to the floor as I assessed the medical condition of the pale figure staring back at me in the mirror. That’s when the black and white spots appeared. This had happened before.

I knew it was coming and there was nothing to be done about it.

Nervously scanning the area for the softest place to land, I could hear the furious ravings of a man, lost in a cocaine psychosis, in the other room. We’ll refer to him as, “friend.” As I tried to gather my thoughts, I noticed my “friend’s” discourse was quickly being drowned out from the overpowering ring in my ears.

I was running out of time.

My legs were shaking, violently, as I gripped a door knob for support, making a wobbling attempt for my bed before it was too late. The freight train was bounding towards me and collision was imminent.

Moreover, I had unwisely locked my bedroom door in an attempt to keep my vengeful “friend” out of it long enough to devise a plausible explanation for the police, regarding the madness of his cocaine fueled 9-1-1 call. What had started as a simple disagreement on which flavor (vape) pods we were buying had escalated into spiteful attacks on each other’s character and, ultimately, concluded with me shoving him into a wall…allegedly.

My attention quickly shifted, from the indecipherable ranting of my “friend” and the plethora of incriminating evidence that littered our apartment, to staying conscious long enough to reach the bed.

I was about to have a cocaine seizure and I knew it.

Although this was not completely out of the norm, the timing could not have been any worse. Not only would I be unable to diffuse the manic and irrational behavior of a madman crazy enough to incriminate both of us, but I was going to be helplessly seizing out until I came to in handcuffs, best case scenario.

I was trying to stay optimistic.

Any more anxiety and I’d definitely “fish out” short of the bed.

I spent the last few moments preceding the seizure questioning how I’d gone from a year clean and a slightly excessive dose of codeine syrup to a death march towards my bed…in under 2 weeks.

Little did I know that it had nothing to do with the misuse of codeine syrup, but rather everything to do with my perception and the misinterpretation of the word “failure.”

Let’s rewind. A few weeks earlier, I had caught a vicious bug going around the office.

I was on my fifth day battling a terrible cold that left me with an agonizing sore throat and pressure headaches. The longer I was sick the more discouraged I became, thinking that it would NEVER go away.

Reasonable, I know!

I don’t do well when I’m sick. Having had enough I decided it was past time to go to the doctor. As I was waiting impatiently for the doctor’s return and, what would be, total disappointment with his assessment and a prescription of Ibuprofen 800, it occurred to me that codeine syrup would be more appropriate in this situation.

Given historical data, reasonable, I know!

When he presented the Ibuprofen option I objected and, informatively, qualified myself as a medical professional with a vast knowledge in pharmacology, assertively insisting that the Ibuprofen 800 was bullshit; alternatively suggesting that codeine syrup would be the best remedy in this instance.

He, hesitantly, agreed to my request and I left with a prescription of promethazine (codeine syrup).

As I perused the dosing instructions, I remember convincing myself that after a year clean I was, adequately, equipped for this and more responsible. “I can be trusted with a trivial task like ‘take as prescribed’,” I thought to myself, snickering with confidence.

I had over 365+ days to support this conclusion.

A confidence in my critical thinking and decision making had been established, so I took it as prescribed and moved on.

An hour later I recall thinking I didn’t like it and I wasn’t feeling anything. So, given my pharmacology experience, I made a unilateral decision and determined that the doctor had made an error on the dosing instructions.

Quadrupling the dose seemed appropriate.

Reasonable, I know!

See, I knew it was a slippery slope when I had inquired about it (syrup) but now it was too late, the expectation had been set. Assisting with my cold was only a secondary benefit to the primary motivator; obtaining the warmth and comfort that codeine syrup is known to offer.

When my expectation was not fulfilled, I felt cheated.

I didn’t perceive its effectiveness in terms of relieving the pain associated with my cold symptoms (which it did), but rather how short it fell providing that warmth and comfort I had expected.

The recollection of my sobriety and clean time entered the forefront of my mind followed, immediately, by the realization that my consecutive days of abstinence would be resetting and I would, once again, be starting at “day 1.” .

As the feelings of guilt and shame began to flood in, I concluded that I had “failed.”

Since I perceived “failure” in recovery as the loss of days abstinent it was, therefore, irreversible and permanent. Impulsively, I deduced that the only logical course of action was to say, “fuck it!” and fully immerse myself into what I had so long been deprived of.

Reasonable, I know!

This is the most twisted form of self-defeating behavior there is, and I paid for it. A day later I was sitting on top of my toilet, trying to breathe as the familiar thrill of a ferocious speedball coursed through my bloodstream to my heart.

For the record, that thing is a tank after the abuse I put it through…thanks for hanging in there champ!

After 2 weeks of reckless drug abuse, my last thought before succumbing to a cocaine seizure and hitting the floor was the curiosity of how it had gotten to this point.

Clearly it had started with the codeine syrup in one fashion or another. Whether the culprit of the mistake was the rationalization, acquisition, or abuse of the syrup could be debated for days.

I have come to know that we suffer from a self-sabotaging thought process and, therefore, I want to focus on the mistake itself. I want to examine how I perceived the consequences of my choice to abuse the prescription, how I justified my next decision, and the colossal flaw in the way I interpreted success and failure.

The codeine syrup was a mistake, not a “failure.”

Although I had legitimately made a conscious or unconscious decision to abuse the codeine syrup through a misguided rationalization process, it was only a mistake up until that point.

Yes, I would have to start my day count over again; but what kind of consequence is that other than one I assigned too much value to?

I had allowed the significance of my sobriety to become contingent upon the accumulation of consecutive days abstinent. This became of upmost importance and was the chief motivator in continuing on. It was an ideal that I mis-prioritized, disguising itself as some sort of measurement stick pertaining to self-worth; an insecurity of what others would think if I lost it.

The real “failure” was my inability to recognize that I had made a mistake and instead of doing the next right thing, parleyed it into a complete disaster which ultimately resulted in a situation where my “friend” found it necessary to call the police on me, despite self-incrimination, while I was succumbing to a cocaine seizure behind a locked bedroom door, effectively preventing any medical aid from rescuing me.

My “failure” was the ease in which I said, “Fuck it! What’s the use anyway!”

The only difference between success and failure is how you perceive them.

Things might have turned out much differently had I recognized the misuse of the codeine syrup as a mistake instead of a “failure.”

It was a moment in time that my perception was, ultimately, my worst enemy.

If I had acknowledged that this was a mistake and a momentary lapse in judgement, disengaged with a thought process that was “all or nothing,” and taken preventative action against my defective rationalization, I would have concluded that my decision to admit that it was merely a mistake, nothing more, would have been a “success.”

Had I only been honest with myself about the reality of what I was really up against, the implication of potential consequences, and certain doom that awaited me if I continued; had I not been so concerned with the number of days I had “lost” or allowed insecurity to become the baseline of my decision making and instead seen the bigger picture, this could have all been avoided.

I would have succeeded.

Side note: It’s not just addicts that are afflicted with this kind of self-destructive thinking. We have an entire population of people that say, “fuck it” when they make a mistake in their diet, exercise, career, commitments, or any other type of activity they fall short of a goal on or miss their target in.

“I accidentally ate a donut, so I might as well eat the whole box.

As a matter of fact, I might as well just give up on the diet altogether because I ‘failed’ anyway.”

Reasonable, I know!

Although I’m a few days late, in honor of overdose awareness day, I want to keep this geared towards addiction and would like to remind you, in case you’ve forgotten, that we are fighting an affliction whose sole purpose is to inflict as much suffering as possible and then, ultimately, terminate the host.

We are NOT on a valiant quest for an accumulation of days abstinent where success is determined by a numeric value.

This “all or nothing” philosophy has caused more chaos and tragically ended more lives of those afflicted with addiction than any other, in my opinion.

Consecutive days are important for showing the hopeless that there is hope and that it can be done, but don’t ever kid yourself or lose sight of the primary reasoning behind the bold trudge down the trying path of recovery.

This thing is trying to kill us!

We aren’t on a fucking crusade here.

Whether it’s a mistake we make in behavior or abstinence, it makes no difference. All that matters is that we cease getting caught up in the self-destructive internal ridicule that follows a mistake disguised as a failure. The amount of value you assign to a mistake and the next action you take is the difference between a successful learning experience and a “failure.”

Recovery is not a “win or lose, all or nothing” race to a finish line but, rather, a lifelong marathon of growth and learning in which the greatest odds of success are contingent upon our ability to properly distinguish the difference between a mistake and a failure. Those that come to an endurance race equipped with sprinting shoes burn out first.

Easy does it.

Don’t ever let pride or insecurity prevent you from stepping back up to that starting line. I can assure you, no one will ever be as hard on you as you are on yourself.

Don’t ever lose sight of our “why?”

We are, quite simply, trying to survive long enough to have an opportunity to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

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