For the past two months, my life has felt unmanageable.
I’ve been crazy, messed up, mixed up, upside down, off the charts, not even knowing what side of the map I’m on.
To an outsider, it would probably look like I’m manic depressive; but the truth is, this is what addiction recovery looks like.
I wasn’t expecting things to go this way. It hasn’t been the recovery I was hoping for. It’s not, at all, what I had planned.
From early December until now, I have gone through multiple relapses into coffee, cigarettes, and pornography. Some for a day or two; some for an entire week.
Every time, I tell myself that this is the last time. But every time, I manage to allow myself to get sucked back in.
Here’s what happens – and why I now know that my current approach is destined to fail, time and time again:
I quit, for a while, and at first I feel committed to leaving the addiction behind me. I go through a couple days of mild withdrawals (compared to my initial withdrawal at the end of last year, anyway). I get over the fatigue, the headaches, the cravings, the mild depression… by telling myself that I am strong, that I am committed, that I don’t want those things anymore…
And then, reality sets in. And I discover that I don’t actually know how to function without the addiction to fall back on.
I know how to struggle… how to hate not feeding the addiction… how to feel discouraged, and lost, and hopeless…
And I know, from the past six months of going through this cycle…
That I can survive without the addiction.
But I haven’t learned – yet – how to “live,” how to prosper, and how to flourish, without the addiction.
So, the withdrawals pass. I’m once again “over” the physical dependency. I know that I don’t “have to have” the addiction.
And yet, mentally and emotionally, I’ve not made it beyond just resenting that I can’t have the addiction. And the thoughts and the feelings that come in the wake of that resentment, leave me wanting to stay in bed all day, to watch Netflix, to “wait” for the resentment to go away… to avoid dealing with the problems I used to rely on my addictions to help me avoid.
And, because I spend so much time after the withdrawal period just doing nothing… I end up with an impossible backlog of stuff that’s not getting done… and I let myself get overwhelmed, and go right back to the addiction, “temporarily; just until I can get a better handle on things.”
Initially, giving into the addiction gives me a mental, and emotional (and physical) boost. It gives me the stimulation, and the incentive, that alllows me to get out of bed and get stuff done.
However, within a matter of just a few hours, feeding the addiction makes me start to feel manic, frenzied, and like I’m pulling myself in a million different directions, all in an attempt to accomplish as much as I can in as short a timeframe as possible. I’m getting stuff done, though – so naturally I’m inclined to keep the addiction going for as long as I can.
It works, for about a day or two.
But then, my chronic pain kicks in, I’m sick to my stomach, I’m having real trouble getting to sleep, and before I know it I’ve lost the productivity, and am now splitting my time between feeding the addictions, and trying to manage the symptoms that come from feeding the addictions. This phase is usually pretty short-lived, as I quickly realize that the added pain, anxiety, and general mania the addiction adds to my life is not something I actually want… and I make the decision, again, to quit the addiction, and to (half-heartedly) “learn to live without it.”
So, good. Wanting to live my life free from addiction is good, and noble, and just. But, it doesn’t address the real problem, the real reason why I keep going back. The reason why I got addicted in the first place – a desire to avoid pain, or to avoid problems.
You see, the problems that I use my addictions to avoid are problems that in their own right cause me a great deal of pain. Pain that feels so intense, it makes me feel like there is no escaping it. Pain that, without my addictions, leaves me lying in bed for days on end, bingeing Netflix, trying to hide from reality.
Now, addiction doesn’t actually solve this pain. It doesn’t take it away; it doesn’t make it disappear – and it certainly doesn’t help me to move past the pain, to a life that is more manageable, more enjoyable, and more in line with my actual goals and values.
What it does do is mask the pain. Hide it. Cover it up. “Remove it” from my awareness.
Each one of my addictions – coffee, cigarettes, and pornography – distracts me from the pain I’m already trying to avoid, and focuses my energy and my attention on a different kind of pain: the pain of not giving in to the cravings.
Each one of my addictions gives me something that I can do, in moments of overwhelm, of worry, of doubt, or of fear, that dulls my ability to feel emotional pain, while at the same time, gives me a temporary, illusory feeling of relief, confidence, comfort, or satisfaction. Which enables me to avoid the pain I’m trying to avoid.
The problem is, whether I’m feeding my addictions or not, the pain is still there. And will be, until the day I die.
(I kid; I don’t really believe I’ll have to live with the pain until I die. It feels like that’s true sometimes, but intellectually, I know there are other, positive ways to actually treat the pain and make it either go away, or at least become pain that I can actually live with. It’s just… that takes a tremendous amount of effort, and it’s far easier – and quicker – to turn to the addiction for temporary relief, than it is to work through the problems for more lasting relief.)
But… the pain will always be there, until I learn to address it in a positive way, and develop the skills to let it go, and to overcome what I am able to overcome. And giving in to addiction is not a positive way to address the pain, nor is it likely to lead to the skills I need to let it go. Giving into addiction is simply the only way I’ve known for dealing with (aka hiding from) the pain.
So, when I relapse, it’s because I’m trying to avoid pain.
But, even when I’m committed to staying sober, I am still trying to avoid pain. Only now, I’m doing it without the aid of the addiction, to numb the pain that doesn’t ever go away by trying to avoid it…
Which basically tells me, that if I want to be permanently and totally free from addiction… I have to stop avoiding pain, and start addressing it and working through it. Which sounds really scary to an addict – but when all is said and done, I’m starting to believe there simply is no other way.