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.
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.
* * *
This means you may not even be aware that you’re codependent and are unwittingly teaching it to your children, despite your best intentions.
The most preventative steps you can take are to improve your self-esteem and communication.
Some of the main symptoms of codependency are:
Being overly focused on someone or something
Denying or devaluing needs, feelings, and wants
A need for control
~ From Codependent children — What can parents do? by Darlene Lancer at BreakingTheCycles.com.