Addiction, Another World
(This is another blog post on addiction and may help non-addicts understand the many-layered world of addiction, a world I once inhabited and continue to recover from. Because addiction is an equal-opportunity emotional and physical derailment, I purposely shift between the pronouns, “he” and “she” to avoid the impression that men have a monopoly on the world of addiction).
My drug of choice was booze. But the behavior and emotional patterns I exhibited could apply to all addicts. Each addiction obviously has its own uniqueness, but, in working with cross-addicted individuals, I have found many of the emotional and psychological traits to be the same.
Fatal Accidents, Willful Suicides, Self-Loathing, Credit Cards
I recently heard a woman share her grief over a friend who had fatally overdosed. The jury is still out on whether her friend may have been mixing toxic dosages of meds, adding an alcohol chaser to his drugs, or using a deadly combination of drugs prescribed by two or three different doctors.
In the enclosed worlds of addiction, the difference between an accident and a willful suicidal dosage of meds becomes pretty moot. Logic and reason are left penniless at the door of trying to figure any this out. Addiction, as so many of us know, has its own set of rules.
I do know, however, that addiction, initially, has an energizing allure. It can give a rush, a faux sense of invulnerability, even invincibility. It can “transport” the active addict into the realm of transcendence, otherworldliness, free from responsibility, free from care, free from inhibitions.
And for some of us, our addictions breathe on the deadly oxygen of our self-loathing. Anyone inside of this group often sets up an imaginary masochistic dialog with themselves, “I’ll show you how worthless, fat, and ugly you really are” and then proceeds to down another shot of vodka, a pint of ice cream, to search the internet for porn or another sex partner.
Or, if there is any credit left on an addict’s six or seven credit cards, he may decide to go out and buy a thousand dollars of clothes just to counter the demons of worthlessness wandering around in his head.
Relief, Fatalism, Sympathy, the Battle Against Compulsion
So, addiction can give us some kind of relief and transcendence, it can be another form of masochistic self-loathing, or it can be an escape.
And then there’s the “what’s-the-use” crowd—just lost a job; the rent is two months behind; there’s no money in the checking or savings to pay for child support; a partner has found somebody else and wants to break up; the unpaid parking tickets can no longer fit in a desk drawer; the oncologist has just given a final verdict.
These are all the convenient excuses, the rationalizations for going deeper into an addiction. They often become the fatalistic, last-straw reasons that addicts give themselves to justify their addictions and to gain momentary sympathy from friends and family.
Sympathy. Yes, addicts often thrive on sympathy, for it allows them to build up emotional support points, to win some time to work the system, to find caretakers, to search out victims. In the throes of addiction, addicts are always looking for windows of opportunity, often a dramatic moment where they, again, become the center of a crisis in order to be rescued one more time.
It would be redundant to say that an addiction is driven by habit. But repetitious behavior sinks into our psyche so deeply that it becomes the norm, not the exception. Breaking the habit of one’s addiction constantly competes with the internalized feeling that the “absence” of a beer, a needle, a joint—or the initial feelings we get from them—is abnormal.
We don’t just “miss” the drink (a romantic, even sentimental notion similar to missing a friend), we are in a battle to fight against the compulsion to engage ourselves, just one last time, into the allure of the total package that comes with the drug or the booze. And the known, even if it’s painful, is far more comfortable than the unknown.
Collateral Damage, Inaccessibility, Emotional Invisbility
Addiction, of course, affects our families, our relationships, and, in many cases, our jobs. When an addict is not emotionally accessible because of the addiction, she is more apt to go to that special place in her head to escape that annoying baby-rattle of reality that she has to face every day. No matter where she is in her normal family life, she would rather be somewhere else—at a bar, in a crack house, at work (if we are workaholics), on the internet, searching for food in the refrigerator.
For most addicts, every form of responsibility, commitment, or transparency is an intrusion. The kids are too demanding, a wife wants to sit down and talk just when an addict is watching a favorite movie, a therapist asks an addict what she is feeling when she just wants to vent about her boss’s passive aggressiveness. The normal world of openness, honesty, being present becomes the enemy, the attacker, the unwanted relative, the trespasser.
And there will often come a point in a substance abuser’s life when the world will begin to look like it wants to trap, to harass, to control, to smother, to destroy, to win. Too often, the real world, in an addict’s mind, becomes the alien to thwart, hide from, to escape.
Love is Not Enough
Loving an addict or an alcoholic is risky business. Whatever the drug of choice, the addict often has a sense that love is not real. In some instances, he may feel that the normal world really can’t understand the depth of his suffering and therefore has not earned the right to love him.
On the flip side, an addict often uses the other person to get her needs met. She is often inclined to believe that doing something for her is automatically a sign of love. Reciprocation, of course, is more than likely a nuisance.
The addict who feels worthless, on the other hand, will often act achingly belligerent, demanding to be paid attention to. This attitude of privilege is a cover, a mask, a defense against finding out the real sense of insignificance many addicts feel.
In most cases, when an addict reaches a bottom, nothing, not even love, can compete with the addiction. It becomes a unilateral race to self-destruction. Nothing else matters but the race.