Lately, I’ve been thinking about addiction as it applies to my life. I’ve read what others said about addiction – causes and effects and I thought about what I’ve read in relation to how I’ve lived my life. I never would have thought that I would say that I am addicted to anything. I’ve never been drunk in my life and I’ve never used what are referred to as ‘recreational drugs’. I’ve always tried so hard to be in control of my life so I would never engage in any activity that gave the control away to some chemical. I even quit smoking over 30 years ago. Oh, I’ve overeaten when I’ve felt lonely or rejected or stressed out. But that’s it – feel lousy or confused or hurt and go to food because it tastes good in the moment even if I feel disgusted with myself after the fact for indulging. And even if nothing changes. Yet I would never have felt that I was addicted.
In these last few weeks, as events have unfolded in my life and I’ve found myself reacting without conscious thought in old ways all based around fear of not measuring up, not acting like a reasoned adult, not being able to control my emotional rants, expecting to be let down or shunned, expecting to be berated by others for my behaviour – behaviour which, even as I am engaged in it, I am embarrassed by, I have finally called my behaviour what it is. And as I’ve defaulted to old responses – feel hurt or whatever and go to food – I’ve finally admitted to myself that I’m addicted. I’m addicted to the feeling – I call it ‘drama’ – the expectation, the response, the reaction inside myself.
Weird, but it’s an old acquaintance – one well known and oddly comforting. My addiction is my engagement in compulsive behaviour or compulsive substance use [food], despite the harmful consequences to my individual physical or mental health. I know that addiction can be applied not only to drug use or alcoholism but also to things like compulsive shopping, overeating and the like. And if I didn’t overeat, I’ve shopped. Better to spend money than add on the pounds. And I’ve collected stuff and cluttered up my life thanks to my addiction.
I have so many of the classic hallmarks of addiction: what feels like little control sometimes over my behavior, preoccupation with that behavior and yet continuing it despite the consequences – immediate short-term reward followed by delayed long-term costs. For me, the depth of my addiction has increased as my body continually adapts to my behaviour and the feelings created by it so that, eventually, I’ve required increasingly larger ‘doses’ of that feeling. Whenever I’ve strived to reduce or discontinue the behaviour [for whatever reason] I’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms: anxiety, irritability, intense cravings, nausea, headaches, cold sweats, and feeling confused or scared. I’ve come to think that I’m unable to stop my responses in the moment because I’ve felt that I would do actual damage to myself if I did. Part of me seems to watch what starts to happen and think, “Here it comes again. Now that it’s started, I can’t stop it. Better to get away from everyone until it runs its course.”
And I know that lately I’ve started to examine every action and reaction that I engage in and that I’ve started to think that I’m addicted to everything I choose to do. Play computer games and surf the ‘net’ so that I won’t sit in front of the boob tube mindlessly playing with the remote, inhale books, start something new [writing, singing, drawing, taking more and more courses] only to find that I need a bigger ‘fix’ and so, drop one activity for another. You name it of the things that I have chosen or that I’m choosing now, and I know that I can question each one – “Why am I doing this? What’s the payoff for me? Why am I continuing to do this? Is this just another form of addictive behaviour?”
I’ve set up such a wonderful double bind because I question everything and wonder if I’m addicted to what I’m choosing to do in the moment. And as I write this, I wonder if setting things up in my life so that I am always caught between a rock and a hard place is also just another form of addiction.
As I have sifted through all of this and felt waves of response and emotion move up and through me, I know that what lies beneath my addiction is searching for safety and choosing any activity or response that would keep me safe from being hurt in any way – physically or emotionally. I have said to myself and others that I don’t like feeling isolated and yet I seek isolation for in isolation lies safety [or so I have thought]. And I’ve become very proficient at using whatever tools come to hand to keep myself isolated from others. The most obvious one has been to remove myself physically from them. And I know that I have used my size and my intelligence, my wit and sarcasm, my loudness and temper, and even my tears to keep myself separated from others.
As I write this, I know that I have come to understand this all at some level several times in the past and I know that I have never understood it all in this way. And in considering myself as addicted, no matter how uncomfortable that feels to acknowledge that out loud and outside of myself, I also recognize that the journey to self-discovery is never done.
And, eureka!, I feel safer for the knowing. And I know that understanding all of this brings me closer to the I AM that I AM.