Early Addiction Recovery: How My Cat Was Better than a Boyfriend
Cats and addiction? What’s the connection?
Well, the main point of this article is that my relationship with my cat was MUCH HEALTHIER and MUCH MORE THERAPUETIC than a human relationship with a member of the opposite sex. It might seem a far fetch, but I write this to help you … the person who’s struggling. Or, maybe you’ll forward this article to someone that you know.
The reality is that addiction is endemic to American culture. We all know someone affected by addiction. In fact, some advocacy groups estimate the nearly one in three American families are directly affected. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that in 2016, an estimated 21.0 million people aged 12 or older needed treatment for addiction.
How Do People “Recover”?
So, now that we’ve established that there is a need for treatment…what does treatment usually look like? Well, every path is different. And while I can really only speak from my experience, I have done research into the subject. People recover from addiction in many ways. You can:
- Attend an inpatient rehab for 30-90+ days.
- Attend outpatient programs that meet many times per week.
- Attend support groups.
- Cut back on your drinking or drug use a little at a time.
- Look into medicines to help you quit strong drugs.
- Talk with a psychotherapist or licensed counselor.
Whatever the path…just do something.
What Addiction Feels Like
Personally, my addiction was relatively mild. I was drinking and blacking out, mainly because I couldn’t smoke weed. One addiction feeds into the other, you see.
These related addictions started as a way to feel good. I was looking not just to escape reality, but to find a way to feel accepted. In my case, the pattern started with people…to feel good, I looked to men for approval. Then, this evolved into a relationship with psychoactive substances.
Too much information? Well, I believe that sharing embarrassing things from the past can help others. And while I won’t get into the details of the sloppy past, I do want to describe what it felt like. I would definitely characterize my addicted self as:
- Emotionally immature
Based on the sharing I’ve heard in 12 step meetings, I’m not alone in this.
But You Get to Start Over
The good news?
Addiction treatment helps you change.
Not just your drug use. But…everything!!! Your world view changes. Your beliefs. Your thoughts. Everything. For me, I become aware of the old patterns and had to establish new ones. And one of the main changes that came from this inner transformation was a new sense of self-esteem. A self-esteem that blossomed in my relationship with my cat.
How a Cat Changed My Life
So, enter the cat.
“Prince” came into my life when I moved from halfway house into a rental house. God, that cat was a life changer. I loved him right away. He was neutered and shy…but came into his own. In our two years of co-habitation, he started bringing dead birds and lizards to the front door step, presents that endeared him to me.
Life circumstances separated us two years after we found one another. I moved with my now-husband to Macedonia, in SE Europe. And he found a home with my mentor, in Key West, FL. But the season we spent together changed us both…for the better!
Perhaps you are thinking of adopting a cat. Maybe you’re new to recovery…and are wondering why you shouldn’t jump into a relationship. Well, here’s how my cat was better than a boyfriend for me. I hope that it can help you, too!
Lesson #1: Real Responsibility
I was a high functioning alcoholic and pothead. However, the reality was that I could take responsibility or leave it. I was committed only when I want to be. I started to develop twisted thinking to make excuses for when I missed work, dates with friends, or volunteer obligations.
In the first years of addiction recovery, my cat taught me what it means to follow through. I couldn’t skip a meal. I couldn’t leave him on his own for a night. For the entire time that Prince was in my care, I had to care about him. That might sound obvious, but someone who’s drinking to blackout has stopped caring about others. So, caring for him kept me connected.
Additionally, the weight of responsibility for my cat anchored me. And the responsibility I felt for was really training for becoming a mother. Caring for my cat helped me evolve from a young person to an adult.
Lesson #2: Selflessness
Sharing space with a cat requires that you care for something other than yourself. There are some experts who theorize that alcohol and drug addiction is fed by self-pity. The idea is that when we isolate, go inside, and feel sorry for ourselves … substances make the ego-self stronger. We isolate and blame and things get all messy.
Animals are living beings that stop the loop of self-centeredness. Cats require regular care. My cat needed not only food, but attention and love. When I was focusing on his needs, I forgot about my own small worries and troubles. Additionally, Prince’s need for my presence brought me out of myself and into the moment. What a relief!
So, thinking about something other than myself was a win-win.
Lesson #3: Joy is Spontaneous
We’re all cat lovers here. I don’t need to say much about how cat bring joy into our lives. But I’ll relate my experience.
I started to look forward to waking up just to see my cat. It may sound crazy to other people, but I know you know what I’m talking about. In my short spiral downward into addiction, I had lost the joy of living. When you only feel good because of a drug…how do you feel motivated to do anything???
In contrast, my cat’s eyes were alive with life. They were a reminder that life is beautiful. And with that beauty came celebration. Like when he would greet me at the door or when he would curl up on my lap as I read a book. Is there anything better than a cat loving you?
Rather than seeking euphoria, I came to learn that joy comes as the result of “good living”. Just doing the right thing, being responsible, thinking of others…these actions bring on the joy. Joy is spontaneous. It comes from nowhere.
Lesson #4: It’s OK to be Yourself
Are you OK with yourself? Really, do you love yourself?
Knowing that you are deeply loved is incredibly healing.
This powerful lesson – learned through companionship with another being – is critical to finding our place in the world. To connect with our mission. To feel oneness instead of separateness.
I’ll be honest with you. I still haven’t totally “accepted” myself. I carry some deep held beliefs that I am not “enough”. But the white cat with the yellow eyes, Prince, he totally accepted me. He loved me. Just for being me. And that’s more than a human could have ever done in that moment.
So, those are the main lessons I learned from my cat. Maybe you have some, too? Or, maybe you have a story to share about addiction? I’d love to hear from you. Drop a line in the comments box. I’ll try to get back with you personally ASAP!
Thank you so much to Lee Weber of AddictionBlog.org for sharing her story here. We hope it inspires you to consider getting a cat to help in your recovery process.