Sometimes I write with a clear message in my mind, and the words just flow seamlessly. Other times, I kind of need to ramble… to let my mind wander and my fingers type… and just sort of see what I wind up with.
This is one of those times…
What Does Addiction Actually Look Like?
I am an addict.
I am a recovering addict.
No… I don’t like that one either; it still carries too many negative social connotations…
Let’s try this one:
I was born with an addictive personality.
That’s better, at least. It’s still kind of awkward, to open a post with those words… but the words are true.
Maybe it’s more appropriate, though, to just say that I tend to from habits (or routines) that easily lend themselves to addictive behavior.
I probably doesn’t really matter, though; I mean, the end result is essentially the same, now matter how you label the process that gets you there.
It’s… easy… for me to get addicted to a substance, an activity, a ritual – even a t.v. program.
(Even as I write this I’m thinking about the next time I’m going to binge on Pretty Little Liars… which in itself may not sound all that bad, but when a person chooses to push out reality for days on end, and instead watch sixteen hours worth of episodes per day because they need to escape an uncomfortable life situation… that is addictive behavior.)
Addiction Always Comes With a Price
I don’t often like the thing I become addicted to – or, rather, I don’t always like the price, that comes with the addiction. Things that bring me temporary relief… at the cost of my long-term well-being… or my physical or emotional health… or my ability to be fully present in my relationships with others… are never really worth the pain they bring into my life.
But addicts don’t think that far ahead when they’re feeding their addiction.
They only think about the pain they’re already feeling – and how their next fix will bring them even a moment of relief; whether that relief is real, or illusion. (And a lot of the time, they know it’s an illusion… but the need to escape from their pain is so strong, they will do it, even knowing that it doesn’t actually help them at all.)
It’s a difficult place to be in. And it’s a difficult subject to write about; to communicate to somebody who has never been there.
If you have never struggled with an addiction… or even a bad habit that you just couldn’t change no matter how many times you tried… well, then, take it from me: You do not want to know what you’re missing. It’s not worth the constant inner turmoil it will add into your life.
I have struggled with multiple addictions throughout my adult life.
In the Navy, I became heavily dependent on alcohol to get me through the times that we were in home port (and every time we were in a foreign port.) Lucky for me, when my enlistment ended, so did my drinking (more or less). For a few years afterward I would have occasional drinks with friends… but by the time I was thirty alcohol just made me tired anymore, and I just didn’t see the point in continuing with an activity that didn’t do anything for me but make me want to go to sleep.
As a teenager, I became addicted to cigarettes and to coffee (well, all beverages that contain caffeine – but coffee is the only one that I started drinking because my friends did it, and that, twenty-five years later, I’ll still drink but don’t actually enjoy.)
In early adulthood I also struggled with a pornography habit, that in my thirties rapidly escalated into a full blown addiction – one that’s supposed to be harder to escape from than heroin or heavy narcotics, and yet, once I understood what had led to my addiction, I was able to walk away from it completely in less than 48 hours.
In internet time (which is considerably faster than real life lol…), I’ve been free from the allure of pornography for eons! But in real life it’s just been a little over a month. And, although it was easy to walk away from – it’s been rather difficult to disabuse myself of all the various ways and means I used to employ, to hide from the pressures of life that used to consistently (and almost “magically”) overwhelm me, to the point that I felt I had to turn to pornography to escape from the pain and the pressure of living a life that deep down inside, in a place I did not want to acknowledge, I knew was a lie.
It’s Hard To Break Free From Addiction
… But once you are free, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever go back.
In a future post I may share in great detail what it felt like to experience those withdrawals… and how I managed to rise above every difficult moment as I struggled in those first weeks to simply make different choices, and to begin the process of reclaiming my integrity… but for now I’d like to move in a positive direction, and close this post out with a feeling and a message of hope…
That you can escape from the snares of addiction (I have successfully overcome two of the four: drinking and pornography… and as of this writing am struggling to put coffee and cigarettes behind me as well)…
It is difficult and it does take time… but there are signposts along the way, to uplift you and encourage you, and let you know that, “Hey, buddy, you’re doing it! You’ve still got some work ahead of you but you’re gonna be alright.”
I want to share one of those signposts with you; one that I didn’t recognize in the moment but actually had to look back on, after the moment had passed.
(Let me give just a little context here… names have been left out because I don’t want anybody to read this story and make incorrect or unfair judgments or assumptions about the other person involved… I simply want to point out how a situation that would used to turn me to pornography, now has no such effect on me anymore… Not as a way to brag about my own successes – but to paint a picture for you, of what it can look like to be free from any addictive cycle…)
Anyway… I am a freelance writer.
(Even though I have no clients, and to date have made no money – but hey those are just minor details; and besides, “freelance” by definition means that I only work with people I want to work with, when I want to work with them, and so maybe I just don’t want to work with other people, or maybe I just don’t want to work at all, but as long as I’m in charge of my destiny that means I get to make the rules! Until my dad retires and forces me to give back my mom’s credit card… then I’m kind of done for. Hahaha…)
So, moving on then.
The Kind of Event That Would Used To Trigger Me
I’m active in a few freelance Facebook groups, and earlier this month one of the freelance coaches I follow (i.e. someone who coaches other freelancers to help them achieve their freelancing goals) sent an email out to all of his subscribers:
“Who wants me to find all their clients for them?”
And I read that and I’m like, “This guy! Right here! I want that!”
So there’s a link in the email, for his readers to click on and book a one-on-one phone call to get this awesome, exciting opportunity in motion. And I’m so excited I can hardly stand it! So I follow the link and there’s a 30 minute video to watch, wherein the coach explains how this whole process will work and who can benefit from him and the whole time I’m like “this is totally amazing and I can see how this would really help me to change the trajectory of my freelance business and if I had someone who could just help me get the clients I’m sure I could do/learn the work to keep the clients and oh buddy what a difference it would make in my life to actually have work and to not have to worry ever again about how will I ever be able to support myself financially and not have to think about who’s going to provide for me when mom and dad are no longer able to because if I had my own for sure clients then I would easily be able to provide for myself!”
In other words, it was a powerful video.
In the last minute or so, he says to click on the link below the video to fill out a short form and book on one-on-one phone call with him or another member of his team to find out if you qualify for this amazing service that he’s offering to only a limited number of people.
And I’m like, “Man I don’t even know if I qualify but this sounds way too good for me to not even try!”
So I jump on the computer so I can fill out the questionnaire… there are six short and easy steps to complete… but each one has one or two basic questions like, “How much money do you want to make a month?” “What kind of work do you want to do?” “How would meeting these goals change your future?” And I’m stoked!
Until I get to the final step… and it’s, “How much do you currently make in a month?” and “How much can you budget for direct, one-on-one coaching with me?”
And. I’m. Done. (With this opportunity; not with this coach.)
My honest answers to those last two questions land me squarely in the group of, “Man I really really really want your help but I just don’t have the funds.”
And this makes me a sad panda. (Wah Wah Waahhh.)
In the space of about one hour… I’ve gone from not even knowing this opportunity existed… to being mildly curious… to growing excitement… to believing this opportunity could change my LIFE… to seizing the day, and plunging head first into giving honest, detailed answers to the questionnaire, all the while thinking “man I really hope I qualify!”… to:
“Unfortunately we are not able to work together at this time.”
And wanting (for about ten minutes) to just curl up into a ball… and cry.
(And honestly even as I write this post, the memory of that moment still stings… but it doesn’t do me any good to stay hung up in disappointment… plus, that’s not the “takeaway” that I want you to take away. Oooohhh, did you see how I did that? Few writers can slip something like that right into their blog posts and feel good about it hahaha….)
So here is the take away:
When You Realize You’re NOT Triggered, That’s When You’re On Your Way to Freedom
This whole process of reading the email, following the link, watching the video, completing the questionnaire, and getting the “rejection slip” at the end… took me roughly one hour?
And in that one hour, I experienced a full range of powerful, and even volatile emotion.
I faced the (insignificant today but two months ago would’ve sent me into a tailspin) challenge of watching the video on my phone, starting the questionnaire on my phone and then realizing I’d need to go upstairs and jump onto my computer in order to complete it faster. I pushed through the fear, and allowed the excitement and anticipation of finding out if I “qualified” to compel me to finish the questionnaire!
Even when the last question said, “How much can you budget?” and I knew I had to answer honestly, “Um… well… nothing. #Oopsie.” I still had the courage, and the excitement, and the self-confidence to know that regardless of qualifying for this opportunity – I believe in my ability as a freelance writer.
(Now, to tie this back into addiction. Sorry not sorry but there may be triggers ahead; sometimes it’s unavoidable…)
Earlier this year I would have been incapable of experiencing such high levels of wonder, of excitement, of hope, of courage, of honesty, of belief, of rejection, and of flat out, utter despondency… without having interrupted the process (probably more than once) to use pornography as a means of trying to “temper my emotions.” I don’t know any easier way to say that…
While I was in the addiction, I would have caved in the face of so many strong feelings. And I would have believed that I was “protecting” myself from emotional suffering.
But I went through the whole process in less than an hour… from step A to step B to step C all the way to “Oh that sucks. I feel sad that I don’t qualify but I’ll just keep on keepin’ on and be on the lookout for the next opportunity, whatever it may be and wherever it might come from…”
And it wasn’t until after the fact… that I caught myself thinking,
“A month ago this experience would have made me want pornography.”
And yet, on the day this experience actually happened… no desire at all.
How You Respond In Those Moments Is Critical
Let me be totally clear:
Having one difficult experience, and realizing that one experience did not compel me to feed that addiction… does not mean I’m “cured.” It does not mean all the hard work is done. It does not mean it’s time to stop praying, or learning new habits, or making healthier choices, or going to counseling to fully comprehend what draws me to addictive behavior to begin with…
But it does mean… that I don’t have to go through every day, constantly on the lookout, always worried about “which trigger will be the one to trip me up?” That I don’t have to stay trapped in the memory of the thing that I used to do but that no longer controls me or limits me or says anything at all about who I am today.
That I can step fully and freely into a future where ultimately I won’t think about it at all, beyond the occasional “oh, yeah, I used to do that… thank goodness I don’t do it anymore.”
And that I don’t have to feel worried about being controlled by this addiction for the rest of my life.
And that mindset doesn’t happen overnight. In fact in the early stages of withdrawal you might not believe it will happen at all. I felt like I would live the rest of my days trapped in a waking nightmare filled with memories of all the wrong choices I had made over the decades, and that the images in my mind would forever stand between me and healthy and happy interpersonal relationships with women (well, with any human being, but pornography in particular really alters how one interacts with women).
But those horrible, scary thoughts and feelings that even though you’ve quit, you’ll never truly be free…
Those are temporary.
If you’re patient enough, they will fade. And one day… you will have a real life experience, that will take you on an emotional roller coaster (of limited duration, though), and it’ll be exciting! And it’ll be scary. And it may or may not end in total and complete ego annihilation!!! (Lol…)
But it won’t matter. Because you will have grown to a point where you intrinsically understand… that life just happens like that sometimes. (Spoiler: Life actually happens like that all the time… we just usually don’t notice because t.v. and Netflix have some really good programming to keep us distracted…)
Different Choices, Over Time, Will Lead to Different Results
Really, this is true of any behavior or thought pattern, but it’s really important for addicts and friends and families of addicts to understand… that real and lasting change requires real, consistent effort.
It is highly unlikely that you will just wake up one morning and be “done” with an addiction!
But… if you’re patient, and persistent, and you’re willing to let go of what you can, and to sit with what you must, and to rearrange what remains, into a new and healthier outlook on your life and your journey and your self-worth… you will have those moments.
And that. Is when. You will know… That. You. Are. Free. That this particular past addiction will never control you again.
And no matter how long it takes, or how difficult the road ahead may appear…
That feeling is amaze-balls. And it’s there, waiting for you.
You won’t get there overnight. It won’t happen without struggle, and failure, and disappointment. You probably won’t get it right the first time… or the second… or maybe not even the tenth…
But… if you can learn to just be aware of situations or events that trigger your addiction… if you can recognize that you do have a choice, in each of the early steps of the addiction cycle… if you can even just occasionally choose not to give in to the addiction, but instead to just sit for a minute with the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that the addiction is supposed to “protect” you from…
Over time you can unravel addictive thought patterns, beliefs, and behaviors. And if you’re patient with yourself, and willing to be and to feel truly vulnerable… you can learn that you actually don’t need the addiction in your life… and, in fact… you never did.