The garden of Numb: Control and addiction

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left, stuffing feelings.

Bert speaking:)

I’m an addict.

Technically, I suppose, you’d call me a polyaddict, since I’ve had many addictions in my time.

They came in two flavors: substances and behaviors. 

The substances included food and tobacco.  (Sugar’s my drug of choice.  In grade school I ate it by the spoonful.  I also drank maple syrup.  In grad school I smoked a pipe until cumulus clouds formed in my office and my tongue morphed into raw hamburger).

The behaviors include watching television (an alternate reality where I spent most of ages twelve through eighteen), reading books (the alternate reality I still find preferable much of the time), and writing (in my thirties and forties I carried a spiral notebook everywhere with me, compulsively filling page after page whenever I felt confused or stressed out or scared.  Apparently I felt that way often; there are thirty-one spirals stacked in a corner of my garage).

I’m addicted to work, too.  Can’t write intelligently about that, though, since I’m still in denial.

Anyway, these were the main paths I followed to what Steve calls the Garden of Numb.  

Steve, explain your view of addiction.

Addicts are people who can’t handle feelings.

Usually it’s because they never learned to as kids.  Usually because their parents never taught them.  Usually because they couldn’t teach them, because their parents never taught them.  (Usually.)

In any case, being unable to handle feelings is uncomfortable, since feelings tend to keep coming.  So the kid naturally starts looking around for something to make the damn things go away.  

To escape a jungle of unwanted, disagreeable feelings by entering the Garden of Numb. 

Drugs and alcohol are the most obvious paths to the garden, but anything that alters your mood can be turned into an addiction.  

And though some are more dangerous than others, in the end each addiction is the same as all the others, because each has the same goal: to give the addict control over emotional life.  

Which is why when I’m asked “What does control have to do with addiction?” I reply: “Everything.” 

Because finally every addiction is an addiction to control.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I love the Garden of Numb.  Great place to visit. 

Yes.  Necessary, even.  We all need (and deserve) vacations.   The world can be a frightening and painful place, and living a human life is no picnic.

The problem comes, of course, when you find you can’t live outside the garden. 

Right.  Which is what happened to me with each of my addictions. 

My eating and smoking and tv-watching and reading and scribbling took on  lives of their own.  Each stopped being something I was doing and became something that was doing me.   I lost control of my need for control.

At which point I had to revisit my relationship with feelings. 

 Made friends with them, you mean.

Well, no.   Not sure I’ve done that yet.  But I sure had to stop being scared of them.   

Which meant learning (and then relearning) the function of feelings, to see them as feedback about what was happening inside.  And then to learn (and relearn) healthier ways of processing or digesting that feedback — mainly by identifying and expressing what I felt — instead of trying to make it go away.

I’m still working on all this.   

And, I hope, so are you. 

It’s what we each have to learn.  We’re all control addicts.   If you’re human and breathing, there’s no avoiding it.

And recovery from this addiction involves hard work.   It means overcoming emotional constipation, facing scary feelings, and learning alternatives to control. 

The work’s worth it, though, because the alternative is worse. 

Since living in Numb isn’t really living at all.

Want more?

For other views of addiction:

Check out Breaking the cycles — Changing the conversations, where I occasionally guest post, and where Lisa Frederiksen employs “21st century brain and addiction-related research to change how we talk about, treat and/or prevent alcohol and drug abuse, underage drinking, alcoholism, drug addiction, dual diagnosis, DUIs and secondhand drinking/drugging (SHDD).”

Lisa’s also the author of two valuable books: If you loved me you’d stop: What you really need to know when your loved one drinks too much, and Loved one in treatment? Now what!

Also look at Bill White ‘s website chipur, whose mission is “to provide powerful and effective relief and healing resources – and hope – to those enduring a mood and/or anxiety disorder(s),” and which offers a free weekly newsletter. 

Bill writes,  “We’ve all been dealt a hand.  Some are seemingly excellent. And some – well – perceptually not so hot.  But that’s just the way it is, and all of us have to play our cards the best we can as we move forward.  Recovery and healing are truly a matter of personal choice.  And when the decision is made to assertively move ahead, all of the strength and insight you’ll need to come out on top will be right at your fingertips.”

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10 responses to “The garden of Numb: Control and addiction

  • nelle smith

    Thanks for the posts.

  • Susan

    Garden of Numb. I like that. I had a slew of mind numbing actions. Reading, TV, Exercise, a whole lot of drugs and alcohol, then back to TV and sleep the 1st yr of sobriety . Feelings…happy, creepy feelings. Years of sobriety and I’m much better now but the control issues manifest in so many strange ways. I used to laugh at my “control freak” friends, lovers, etc. I relate now. Thanks for your posts.

  • john

    So Burt, what your saying is we are all the same? (to some degree)well if that is true that makes me feel better. I have gone through most of my life thinking I am different when it came to my feelings, so I know that garden really well, now that I have met you, you have made me see that I am not to much different than most other people, I also like what susan had to say and can certainly identify with her, I really enjoy reading your post Thanks Burt !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    And this post makes me think of all the people in my life who have judged me and put me down my whole life for my alcoholism and drug addiction, and since I have found “sobriety” (some may say clean time) I am able to look at those same people and see how really fu@#ed up THEY are.

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, John. Bert likes to say there are only two kinds of people: addicts in recovery and addicts in denial. Bert’s a bit of a cynic, though. 🙂

  • fritzfreud

    Thanks, Susan. Thanks also for for reporting your own visits to the garden. There haven’t been many comments on the Garden of Numb post, and Bert was starting to feel like the only junkie monkey out there. 🙂

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  • Ron

    “The Garden of Numb”…this is the perfect descriptor and title! Drugs & alcohol were never the problem, they were the solution. They instantaneously brought me to my favorite spot, The garden of Numb, and there I could manifest the meaningless thoughts and fictitious feelings that most appealed to me or even better, just avoid them entirely, thereby attaining true numbness. It was just a matter of time until my #1 solution became my #1 problem…full blown drug addiction and the full package of living hell, shame, guilt, inferiority and all the other good stuff that comes along with it…

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