A New Slant on Addiction: A Twisted Form of Self-Care?
It’s true that addiction is rampant in our society – and it only seems to be getting worse. Now, with the advent of such horrific drugs as fentanyl and carfentanyl, it’s much scarier to be an addict – or to be someone who loves an addict.
Addiction is a strange condition, one that many people have difficulty understanding. They wonder how anyone can be so self-sabotaging – and why they would take that risk of life and death, especially now when it’s so much easier to overdose. People who are grappling with a loved one who is entrenched in addictive behaviors definitely have to come to terms with their own lack of control – because the fact is that there is no way to make an addict stop using drugs – or any other kind of addiction.
None of us can force another person to do anything. We don’t have any real control over anyone other than ourselves. When we love an addict, all we can really do is set our boundaries, stop enabling, and try to make it more uncomfortable for them to continue their addictive behaviors. Enabling an addict is never a loving act – and the comfier we make it for addicts to continue their addiction, the longer they will, in most cases, do just that. And it is most often the loved ones who need to make the first move to stop enabling – because addicts won’t likely ask us to hold them accountable. In fact, the fewer boundaries and consequences we set for them, the longer their addiction will continue. As a loved one of an addict, if you think you may be in the throes of enabling – which can be an addictive behavior of its own – there is help available to you so you can stop hurting yourself and the addict you love.
When we can try to understand what is really behind the decision to be in active addiction of any kind, it might give us some perspective around why addicts are hurting themselves.
Rather than just seeing addiction as negative self-sabotage – which, of course, it is – we can also choose to understand that, as humans, our driving force is to find things that allow us to feel better. That is one of our major pursuits in this life. Advertisers who know this often cater to our sense of fear – of feeling pain, be it physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. As humans, we don’t want to feel pain, and will try to avoid that pretty much at all costs. And for many people, it is when fear of pain is present that addiction rears its head and gets hold of us.
I like to see addiction from as many angles as possible. I myself know it from a whole lot of perspectives. For example:
- I am an Addictions Therapist, and have professionally worked with addicts and their loved ones for over 25 years.
- In my private life, I am a loved one of people struggling with addictive behaviors.
- I myself am an addict in recovery, with over 30 years clean and sober.
The Things We Cannot Change
What I know today is that there are things I cannot change – as the Serenity Prayer so beautifully tells us. I absolutely can’t change a whole lot that comes up in my life – and neither can you. That used to really annoy me, and I believe that it was those feelings of powerless that led me to many negative places – such as developing Crohn’s Disease and drug addiction. My frustration and anger were literally eating me up alive, and I experienced a lot of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain for many years, to the point where I felt that life wasn’t worth living.
When I experienced feelings like that, I would try to soothe myself. That really was my goal, as it is for so many of us. But because I had no idea how to do that in any healthy ways, I turned to a number of addictive behaviors. My codependency in relationships knew no bounds. When a man was unfortunate enough to get tangled up with me, I would make his life miserable by trying to control him so he wouldn’t leave me. At that time, of course, I didn’t understand that I couldn’t control another person no matter how hard I tried, so this strategy never worked out particularly well.
I spent a lot of money I didn’t have because, for a few moments, it was fun to bring home all my new purchases. I could be happy for about a minute. But that minute felt better to me than never feeling happy at all, so I just did more and more of that until I was deeply in debt and maxed out on every credit card I had. I’ll never forget the day I watched my car being towed away, because I couldn’t keep up with my loan payments. Not a happy time.
For many years, I often felt physically sick as a result of my Crohn’s, and it took a long time to realize that I needed to feed myself with healthy food. Instead, I would eat things my body simply couldn’t process – and again, I’d feel happy while I was eating that hamburger and downing that chocolate shake – with fries and gravy thrown into the mix, of course. I remember during one of my hospital stays, just days before I was slated to have major abdominal surgery because my intestines were so damaged – a friend asked if he could bring me anything when he came to visit. I told him to bring me a Wendy’s burger, fries, and a frozen malt. The food was delicious – for the time it took to eat it, my taste buds were in heaven. Pain? What pain? And then, very soon after, all hell broke loose in my body, as I knew it would even while I was requesting that food and eating it. But it felt so soothing to me too – I was happy for that minute.
And I definitely used drugs to feel better. I don’t know that I explained it to myself in quite that way at the time. But feeling bad, in so many ways, was so hard! Valium helped calm me down, codeine and other opioids took some of the physical pain away – and pot, my favorite daily addiction, made me just not see or care that I had become one very hot mess.
At least I didn’t feel so bad – or so my denial would tell me. And my ‘comfort zone’ became a journey of how I could just help myself feel even better.
This is why it’s so difficult for many addicts to choose a sustained recovery. You see, early recovery for an addict of any kind is fraught with the very pain that we used our addictions to squash down. It takes a while before recovery doesn’t hurt any more. It takes a continued determination to stay the course, one day at a time, one foot in front of the other. Because, really – who wants to be in pain?
Two Types of Pain
But the way I see it, there are two kinds of pain. There is the pain that goes on and on, the pain that requires some sort of external and usually addictive behavior to block it out, even for that brief minute. That kind of pain never ends, it just goes on and on and on and on until we die – either from a drug overdose, alcohol poisoning, an accident caused by our substance misuse, violence of some sort, or by our own hand via suicide. Eventually, there is no way to ease that desperate pain that just goes on and on. There is no end to it.
That is exactly how addiction bites us on the butt – it can only go on for so long before something’s got to give.
The reality is that we can’t heal what we won’t allow ourselves to feel – we HAVE to feel it. We don’t have to get stuck in it for a long time, but we do need to feel it.-Candace Plattor
On the other hand, there is the pain that hurts, sometimes very badly for a while, but there’s a light at the end of that tunnel.
The truth, however, is that we have to ride that pain out, until we reach the end of it – and we have to make the choice to not stuff our feelings down. The reality is that we can’t heal what we won’t allow ourselves to feel – we HAVE to feel it. We don’t have to get stuck in it for a long time, but we do need to feel it. In fact, we need to get underneath the symptom of addiction in order to heal it once and for all.
So even though it does feel better, in the short run, for us to use some sort of addictive behavior – unless we’re willing to do the inner work it takes to grieve and heal, to cry our many tears and live to cry another day, we will continue to be in the throes of addiction.
And we’ll never know when the other shoe is going to drop – right on our head.
Time for Some Genuine Self-Care
Wouldn’t you rather respect yourself enough to practice the genuine kind of self-care that actually works? I want that for you – I want that for everyone who is challenged by addiction. And it can happen – I am living proof of that.
If you would like some help with your addiction – or if you love someone who may be close to being ready for that help – please reach out. When we choose active recovery, instead of staying stuck in active addiction, it’s as if the world opens up and provides the very people and situations we need.
Give it a try – and you’ll see what I mean!
Images Courtesy of iStock
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.