The Monkey Will ALWAYS Be On Your Back

by Bill Brenner on April 25, 2012

I’m standing at a bar in Boston with my wife and stepmom. They order wine and I order coffee. My stepmom beams and says something about how awesome it is that I beat my demons.

I appreciate the pride and the sentiment. But it’s also dangerous when someone tells a recovering addict that they’ve pulled the monkey off their back for good.

Mood music:

Here’s the thing about that monkey: You can smack him around, bloody him up and knock him out. But that little fucker is like Michael Myers from the Halloween movies. He won’t die.

Sometimes you can keep him knocked out for a long time, even years. But he always wakes up, ready to kick your ass right back to the compulsive habits that nearly destroyed you before.

That may sound a little dramatic. But it’s the truth, and recovering addicts can never be reminded of this enough.

Dr. Drew had a good segment on the subject last year, when he interviewed Nikki Sixx:

Sixx talked about his addictions and how he always has to be on guard. Dr. Drew followed that up with a line that rings so true: “Your disease is doing push ups right now.”

So painfully true.

I know that as a binge-eating addict following the 12 Steps of Recovery, I can relapse any second. That’s why I have to work my program every day.

But Sixx makes another point I can relate to: Even though he’s been sober for so many years, he still gets absorbed in addictive behavior all the time. The difference is that he gives in to the addiction of being creative. He’s just released his second book and second album with Sixx A.M. Motley Crue still tours and makes new music. He has four kids, a clothing line and so on. He’s always doing something.

I get the same way with my writing. That’s why I write something every day, whether it’s here or for the day job. I’m like a shark, either swimming or drowning. By extension, though I’ve learned to manage the most destructive elements of my OCD,I still let it run a little hot at times — sometimes on purpose. If it fuels creativity and what I create is useful to a few people, it’s worth it.

The danger is that I’ll slip my foot off the middle speed and let the creative urge overshadow things that are more important. I still fall prey to that habit.

And though it’s been well over three years since my last extended binge, my sobriety and abstinence has not been perfect. There have been times where I’ve gotten sloppy, realized it, and pulled back.

But the occasional sloppiness and full-on relapse will always be separated by a paper-thin wall.

I’ll have to keep aware of that until the day I die.

The monkey isn’t going anywhere. My job is to keep him tame most of the time.

Drawing by JUSTIN MCELROY (imaginarypeople26@yahoo.com). Click the photo to see more of his work.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

neglectedspace April 25, 2012 at 8:25 AM

Well put :)

Lorrie R. July 13, 2012 at 6:13 AM

So glad I found this website….it is quickly becoming one of my favorites!

Todd 'tojosan' Jordan November 18, 2012 at 8:28 AM

Folks who don’t have addictive behavior struggles can’t understand that it’s not a one time mood, funk, or illness(like a cold).

Fighting over emotional, eating, or alcohol addictions are all challenges. Sounds like you’re more self aware than most folks.

Best wishes,
Todd @tojosan

Sara February 5, 2013 at 6:00 AM

I agree – I feel this way about ocd (as well as over-eating and other things) – how it’s like a garden with weeds that grow so MUCH quicker than in a non-ocder’s garden. Even when we’ve got it all hacked down (or as much as possible) it needs an eye keeping on it as it can grow back in an instant/very quickly and with very little encouragement.

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