Addicted

(Bert speaking:)

I’m an addict.

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

They came in two flavors: substances and behaviors.

The substances included food and tobacco.  Sugar’s been my drug of choice since I was a kid.  In grade school I made white-bread-and-white-sugar sandwiches.  I drank maple and (when I could get it) chocolate syrup.  Halloween and Easter, the only times mom bought candy, left me in a hyperglycemic stupor.

Even now sugar can still trigger me.  Wave a York Peppermint Patty under my nose, I’ll follow you anywhere.

For a while I was addicted to pasta.  I’d mix it with vegetables and convince myself I was eating healthily.  The more stressed I felt, the more pasta I ate.  I was approaching Orson Welles proportions before I learned to beware of simple carbs.  But for most of my adult life there’s been too much of me.  

I did escape cigarettes.  But in grad school I smoked a pipe until cumulus clouds formed in my office, and my tongue morphed into raw hamburger, and other students made rude remarks when I went by.  

My addictive behaviors include

~ Watching television.  TV was the alternate reality where I hid out between ages twelve and eighteen, the years dad was drinking and my parents were divorcing and I was evolving a depressed view of life.

~ Reading books.  The alternate reality I still find preferable much of the time.  Books are great.  You can skim forward to see what happens next, reread parts you forgot or don’t understand, and skip over whole chapters if they’re confusing or uncomfortable.  Life should be more bookish.   

~ Writing.  In my thirties and forties I carried a series of cheap spiral notebooks with me everywhere, compulsively filling pages whenever I felt stressed, bewildered or scared.  I must have felt that way often, since  there are thirty-one spirals now gathering dust on the bottom shelf of a bookcase in my office.  I save them the way a veteran might save his dogtags.  But I never reread them.  That would be like dangling my toes in a cesspool.           

~ Working.  My current addiction.  Unfortunately I can’t write intelligently about it yet, since I’m still in denial.

These are just some of the trails I blazed to what Steve likes to call the Garden of Numb.

Steve, explain.

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 their parents never taught them.

This sort of ignorance is uncomfortable at best, painful at worst.  So early on the emotionally undereducated kid seeks ways to make feelings go away.  To escape a jungle of unwanted, disagreeable feelings by entering the Garden of Numb.

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

I believe everyone’s addicted to something.

And I believe, in the end, all addictions are the same.  Because they all share the same goal: to give the addict some control over emotional life.

That’s why when someone asks me, “What does control have to do with addiction?” I reply, “Everything.”

Because every addiction is an addiction to control.

But I love the Garden of Numb.  Such a great place to visit.

Yes.  The world can be painful and scary, and living a human life is no picnic.  We all need occasional vacations.

The problem comes 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.

In other words, I lost control of my need for control.

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

Make friends with them, you mean.

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

That meant learning (and then relearning) the function of feelings, which is to help us perceive and interpret experience — provide feedback about what’s happening inside. 

And then to learn (and relearn) healthier ways of processing or digesting that feedback — mainly by identifying and expressing what I felt to other people — instead of trying to make the feelings go away.

I’m still working on all this.

So are you, I hope.

Because it’s something we each have to learn.  Because we’re all control addicts.  If you’re human and you’re breathing there’s no avoiding it.

Recovery from any addiction requires courage and work.  It means facing scary feelings, overcoming the habit of self-constipation, and learning alternatives to control.   

But the work’s worth it.

Because the alternative is worse.

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

.

* * *

 

The problem is, like addiction, codependency is characterized by denial.

.

This means you may not even be aware that you’re codependent and are unwittingly teaching it to your children, despite your best intentions.

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The most preventative steps you can take are to improve your self-esteem and communication.

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Some of the main symptoms of codependency are:

  • Being overly focused on someone or something

  • Low self-esteem

  • Nonassertive communication

  • Denying or devaluing needs, feelings, and wants

  • Poor boundaries

  • A need for control

~ From Codependent children — What can parents do? by Darlene Lancer at BreakingTheCycles.com.

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6 responses to “Addicted

  • Mike

    In that case, the internet is an addiction and you are my dealer

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh (@treatmenttalk)

    I love your point that living numb is not way to live. When we are addicted we numb the pain in life as well as the joy.

    That being said it’s hard to read that “Usually it’s because they never learned to as kids. Usually because their parents never taught them. Usually because their parents never taught them.”

    I’m interpreting the quote as the parents are at fault for their child’s addiction. As the mother of a former addict, I’ve tried to convince myself that I didn’t cause the addiction. Naturally it’s a family disease and I have a role in the situation, but wondered if you could elaborate on that. Thank you.

    • Steve Hauptman

      hi Cathy,

      Sorry you read it that way. No, I don’t think anyone’s at fault.

      Family dysfunction does tend to pass from generation to generation, but usually this is due to an educational deficit — parents who didn’t learn X as kids and so can’t very well teach it to their kids. But I’m a parent too, and operate on the assumption that most parents love their kids and do the very best they can with what they know.

      When I talk about this with clients I point out it probably goes back a long ways, that we can never know where it began, and in any case, who cares? All that matters is ending the cycle now.

      best,
      ~ Steve

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh (@treatmenttalk)

    Thanks for clarifying. I agree that parents do the best they can. I feel that I did as well as I could at the time.

    I also know there are things I could have done better. For example, I was a single mom for awhile and my children were dealing with the divorce of their parents. They seemed to be doing well, and I assumed they were. But once they left the house for college, two of them went downhill very quickly.

    As I was thinking about my comment, I see where I did not give them an outlet, such as counseling, to understand and handle their feelings about the divorce. I had come from an intact family and didn’t realize the emotional consequences divorce has on children. This may have made a difference and it may not have, but as we all know, hindsight is always better.

    I also appreciate reading the symptoms of codependency. So true and well said. As the parent, it is important to understand our role in the addiction, to learn from it and then be able to forgive ourselves and move on. Thank you!

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