Every superhero needs a superpower.
And if superhero lore has taught us anything it is that superheroes often come across their superpower through adversity.
For much of their lives young heroes often suffer from being misunderstood.
They struggle while they are learning to harness their uncommon abilities and discover the potential of who they truly are.
I am here to suggest to you that your addiction is not your defect. It is not a sign of weakness. It should not bring you shame.
Your addiction is your superpower – you just need to learn to master it.
No matter what label you give addiction it is becoming abundantly clear that it does not exist in the substance; addiction exists in the human brain. The root of addiction is neurological, and it is not a “choice” any more than depression or anxiety or any other mental illness. Moreover, many of the human beings whose brains are hardwired to be susceptible to addiction are equally hardwired to have a host of incredible qualities. Many folks who overcome addiction become extremely successful athletes, scholars and leaders. Take a quick glance through history and you will see how many artists and philosophers often suffered from addiction. While this disease comes with a lot of challenges, it has also proven to come with a lot of benefits.
Need a modern, primary source?
Check out how the principal of Archway Academy describes her students. Archway is a recovery high school, and according to the staff at Archway, “Archway students are brilliant and sensitive, fearless and funny as hell. They are our future. And if we expect them to succeed—they will.)”
The students at Archway simply needed support. Once we give those with addiction the knowledge and skills that their brains demand our society can move forward with reframing the addiction narrative. Addiction is not simply an obstacle; rather, addiction can also be the opportunity to unlock potential.
Here are some things that folks can expect to experience if you have the addiction superpower:
Intelligence: Have you ever heard the stereotype that those with addiction are the irresponsible partiers? It’s fascinating how untrue it is. It’s actually your CEO, your stay-at-home mom with a lot of brain and a little too much time, your college professor, or a gifted young adult that is more likely to seek our refuge from life in drugs and alcohol. As for the age old question of: “Why don’t they just put it down?” It does not matter how logical, scientific, or formulaic your sober brain may be. Drugs “hijack” the brain of someone with a predisposition. It’s the same as someone with a peanut allergy.
Would you ask someone with a peanut allergy to just “will power through it?”
Yet for some reason society decided it was okay to do so to people with a brain allergy.
Creativity: Open a history book and this explains itself. Or you can even look for it in modern day and you’ll see the same thing. Kerouac, Poe, Burroughs, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Yeats, Hemingway, Ginsberg (these are only authors… and I could go on for pages). Artists are notorious for struggling with addiction because of how it affects their thinking. The past gives us a plethora of examples where creative genius and addiction run parallel in the brain.
Sensitivity: Needing to be numb is a common theme in addiction. Many therapists I’ve interviewed about this have explained it to me as, “Some people can live life on the surface, and addicts, they live life in the deep end of the pool.” Frequently, those with an addiction only know how to feel amplified emotions, and they don’t understand how others aren’t the same way. Outside substances can bring people with addiction and the rest of the world onto the same emotional plane.
Awareness: Another common trait of someone who has suffered or is suffering from addiction is to be acutely aware of the world around them — sometimes constantly and to a crippling extreme. We all live with a goal of self preservation. However, a detailed awareness of how little control we have over our own world’s can be pretty devastating. This is why AA’s ideas of a higher power, therapist’s ideas of exposure therapy, and meditation’s notions of serenity can be so beneficial to those with addiction.
And last but not least, my personal favorite:
Drive: An absolutely astounding amount of drive. Those with addiction can get stuff done. Anyone who observed the lives of people in recovery would see the high percentage of recovered folks who ended up over-achieving in school, work, and athletics. This is also not in a transfer-of-addiction way. Rather, many times those who have recovered from addiction come to find that when their minds are no longer filled with the obsessive thoughts from their addiction, their minds have a lot of room to fill up with genius ideas, achievable goals, and creativity. Take away the substances and you have a brain that can be shaped for a lot of success.
Those who work with or experience addiction often shared a very powerful message. People with addiction are not bad people. They are not weak. A human with an addiction struggles on a day to day basis in a battle against their own mind. However, those who have addiction are frequently able to use that same disease to accomplish amazing things. For more symbolism purposes — look at that disease as a fire. That fire sparks brilliance, it sparks passion, it sparks creativity, it sparks drive, it’s when it sparks a bit too much that it can burn out of control. That fire needs to be treated so it doesn’t burn the person up from the inside out. Luckily, with the right support network and the right training, anyone can learn how to channel that fire into more positive, powerful places. People who suffer from addiction don’t have a disease — they have the potential to have a superpower.
So my message to someone newly diagnosed with addiction, to someone who is confused about where they belong and who may not know exactly who he or she is any more:
“Since the discovery of their existence they have been regarded with fear, suspicion, often hatred. Across the planet, debate rages. Are they fighting for their share of the world or are they the next link in the evolutionary chain? Either way it is a historical fact: Sharing the world has never been humanity’s defining attribute.” – Professor Charles Xavier to the new students of the Xavier Institute.
Welcome to addiction. You might feel scared. You probably feel misunderstood. And if you’ve just enrolled, you’re probably not too happy to be here. But the good news is that there are people all over willing to give you support, and those people think you’re brilliant, not broken. Give it some time and you can take the qualities that are currently causing you to self-destruct and you can turn those qualities into your new superpower. And who knows…
Maybe one day you’ll save the world.
Maybe your superpower is exactly what humanity needs.