So far I've quit weed, booze, blow, cigarettes, dairy, red meat, porn—and I'm not done yet.
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This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
“New year, new me” is one of those lies we tell ourselves like “my parents did the best they could’’ or “wearing sweatpants in public is acceptable.” I should know, because I usually made it to about January 9 before I was up to my neck in deep-fried ice cream covered in Jack Daniels with my new gym membership on fire in a paper shredder. But I’ve learned that beating an addiction is not impossible. In 2009, I was a 240-pound, alcoholic cocaine addict who lived in my mom’s basement. I fully expected my addictions to kill me before I turned 30. And they almost did.
In 2015, I drank heavily nearly every day and had a cocaine relapse after going two years without it. I smoked weed every day. I also did Oxycontin, MDMA, magic mushrooms, and—considering what dealers are known to cut drugs with—probably a fair bit of battery acid too. In between, I was drinking five cups of coffee and going through a pack of smokes to keep me standing. Add in a McDonald’s meal with a side of porn before I’d call it a night, all paid for with credit cards. In December of that year, I was diagnosed with my second bout of pancreatitis one week before my 29 birthday. Since that day, two years ago, I haven’t had a single drink. After some relapses, I haven’t done hard drugs in over a year.
Nine months ago, I started a podcast called Alex Wood Quits Everything, which has seen me also quit weed, caffeine, biting my nails, cigarettes, red meat, dairy, porn, credit cards, and gossip. The last three items on my list for the podcast are sugar, social media, and my smartphone. I’ve learned through my experiences and interviewing drug, food, shopping, porn, gambling, cigarette, and anger addicts for my podcast that everyone’s path to quitting an addiction is different. The advice I have to offer is simply what has worked for me. My hope for anyone reading this is that they can take something from that.
The first addiction I ever quit was cocaine. I was 22 years old. I had been doing coke recreationally (which is a hilarious term for drug use—it sounds like I was in a bowling league where we do cocaine) for a few years. I was asked to perform at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal—a dream come true for any Canadian comedian. It lit a fire under me to reach for the stars and throw off the shackles of my… OK, that didn’t happen. It lit a fire under aluminum foil, and I reached for cocaine to try freebasing it. Over the next few months, I spent every dime I had on cocaine. As it turns out, cocaine costs more than a few dimes. So I also racked up a $1,100 debt to a drug dealer. One night, I ended up throwing up on-stage from withdrawal sickness, and a week later my nose exploded with blood right before I was to go on-stage. It felt like I was in the last 25 minutes of the movie Blow if Johnny Depp lived with his mom and never got laid.
I went cold turkey. I borrowed money from a friend to pay off the dealer because I was pretty attached to my unbroken legs. I didn’t leave my mom’s basement for over a month and cried myself to sleep every single night. I contemplated suicide. I had felt nothing but emptiness and depression for that entire time. Until one day, Miley Cyrus saved me. I had just got out of the shower and heard a beautiful guitar riff coming from the other room where I had left the television on. It immediately made me feel good. Wearing only a towel, I hurried into the room to see what angels had brought me this sweet gift. When I saw Miley Cyrus singing “Party in the USA” on the television, I burst into laughter. It was the first time I had laughed in over a month. When I realized I was in a towel laughing hysterically at a Miley Cyrus music video, it made me laugh harder. It was the first time I felt like I might be OK. I wish it was someone cooler like Kanye West or Lou Reed, but we play the cards we’re dealt. I went two years without cocaine after that day before relapsing for an entire summer. Then I relapsed again in 2015 at a strip club in Montreal.
That year, 2015, was one to forget, and I can't remember it anyway. I drank almost every day. I relapsed on cocaine. I did MDMA so much that I actually started liking house music. I took more mushrooms than Super Mario. I ate so much pizza that the pizza place next door actually named a pizza after me (to be honest, still kind of proud of that one). I would have put my penis inside of a toaster oven if I thought it would make me forget about my ex-girlfriend. If there weren’t any household appliances at my disposal, I would settle for porn. I was a mess. In May of that year, I was diagnosed with pancreatitis. I was given a month of antibiotics and told to quit drinking for a year at least. I thought my zero years of med school stacked up well against my doctor’s education, so I quit for a month instead. I would be diagnosed with pancreatitis again in December of that year. A trip to the emergency room with an alcohol withdrawal seizure would finally get through to me that I needed a change (and a change of underwear because I pissed my pants).
Once I decided that I really did want to quit drugs and alcohol for good this time, my first step was to get motivated. My primary motivation was my health and to transform my life for the better. I was sick and tired of being hungover, of being flat broke, and of hurting my family. I realized that my whole life revolved around my addictions. Every decision I made was based on how it would affect getting my fixes.
I wasn’t born addicted to drugs and alcohol. I rewired my brain to become that way. So I thought it stood to reason that if I rewired my brain into this mess, I could rewire it out of it. You have to believe that you can, too. Personally, I looked to inspirational figures to give me motivation. Think of Terry Fox: He ran a marathon every single day for 143 days—with cancer, on one leg. At first, he wasn’t getting the donations or attention for his cause as he had hoped. But he kept running every single day. He’s now remembered as a Canadian icon, with over $650 million dollars raised for cancer in his name. He was a human, just like you and me. If he can do that, you can quit something that’s hurting you.
Now that I was thinking positively, it was time to put that motivation into action. The first thing I did was tell my family and friends. For a control freak like myself, it was important for me to recognize I couldn’t do this on my own. I was going to need their support. Control is also a concept I had to get a firmer grasp on. I had to learn how to control myself and my reactions to the things that happened to me. January 1, 2016, was a big moment for me. I was 12 days off of alcohol. I made it through the shakes, delirium tremens, my birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve without drinking. Then I lost my wallet on the subway.
I was consumed with rage and had planned to grab a drink as soon as I could. That’s when I had an epiphany that if I went and got drunk my wallet would still be lost. I would just be drunk with a lost wallet. It was a huge moment in my recovery and one that I still remind myself of constantly. Drinking, getting high, overeating, or smoking won’t make my problems go away. It may temporarily numb the pain or anger of something bad happening to me, but then I’m left the next day with the same problems and a hangover. Only I can make my problems go away. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning how to play the tape out.
Playing the tape out means when you have a craving for the vice you want to quit; don’t get stuck in the craving part of thinking about it. Continue past that to how you will feel after you have done it. I learned to do this when I quit cocaine (the first time). I realized when I had a craving my only thought would be, It would feel so good to get high. I was fighting against a mounting tidal wave of these thoughts before one day I simply thought, What happens after I get high? Sure, it would feel good to get high, but it means I also spent money when I already owed a drug dealer $1,100. The high wouldn’t last very long. And then I’d be left feeling guilty and depressed.
Everything I had learned about addiction gave me an idea last year: I would quit the rest of my negative addictions and make a podcast about it. Quitting porn is the one I’ve been asked about the most. When people asked me if I was addicted to porn, and I said yes, I could read a look on their face like, “This guy must masturbate at weird times and weirder places.” It’s been oddly rewarding. It’s made sex even more pleasurable. I’m even more connected now, and I’m not picturing my partner as a naughty librarian who also happens to be dating my father. I probably only masturbate two times a week now—far healthier than my previous number, which more closely resembled an NBA player’s average points per game.
Quitting dairy and red meat really made me realize that food can be just like a drug. I will use it to celebrate, I will use it to numb pain, I will use it when I’m bored, and I will spend money I should be using in better ways on it. Season four of Narcos could be set in a Pizza Hut, and I would be just as invested. I’ve also learned that vegans aren’t deluding themselves when they mention recipes that are just as good as the real thing. I used to think they had the credibility of Nigerian princes who needed your credit card info to give you a huge amount of cash. But my girlfriend just made me dairy-free chicken alfredo sauce last night, and it was the best I’ve ever had. Email me your credit card info, and I’ll give you the recipe.
The last thing I realized is I shouldn’t be afraid to fail. Relapsing is part of addiction. The key is to not let your moments of weakness erase all of your hard work. If you were driving somewhere and you got off at the wrong exit, you wouldn’t give up on going to your destination. “I made a wrong turn, so time to turn the car off, throw the keys out the window, take off my clothes, and take a hot shit in the backseat because I now live in this car.” That obviously sounds ridiculous. So think of your addiction in the same way. I came back stronger after every relapse.
Since sobriety, I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been physically and mentally. I paid off my credit card debt, and I have a savings account for the first time since my Hulk Hogan piggy bank. I’m in love, and it’s far and away the best relationship of my life. I’m a better listener, friend, brother, and son. My career has found new life, and after eight long years, I was asked to perform at Just for Laughs again this past summer for Kevin Hart’s LOL Network.
Quitting addiction can sometimes feel easy and other times feel impossible. I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded. For instance, I’m writing this on day three off sugar, and the withdrawal is making me a tiny bit angry. I know it’s difficult, but you can quit your addiction in 2018. If it ever seems too hard, or you stumble and relapse, have faith in yourself. You have more strength inside of you then you know, you just have to dig down deep to get it. And if all else fails, just throw on some Miley.
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