Posted by: innerpilgrimage | November 29, 2010

Tour Guide: Into The Wonderland of an Addict

Holiday Eating Season Countdown: 34 Days

      I think the hardest thing an addict has to deal with is the despair of our loved ones trying to understand how this happened to us. As an addict, I ask myself the same question: Why?

      There’s no real answer to it.
      The process of recovery is a lifelong one, lived daily. I will always be a love addict. I will always have the food addiction. I may be able to live outside of the affliction, but I will forever have that shadow over me. That’s the purpose of using the 12 Steps for me–I can live outside of the affliction on a daily basis.
      I guess I ought to start answering the questions that I ask myself, that I have heard “normal” people ask.
     
      Is there a cure?
     
      No.
      I will never be cured of my addictions. I can, however, live a life of recovery. To live a life of recovery means that I can, on a daily basis, use program to make the flare-ups of my addict mind be fewer and farther-between. It will look like a cure to an average person. I will be able to live and function normally in society, with emotional boundaries that come naturally to people. The difference is that mine are learned now, not learned as I grew up. The emotional security that a normal person takes for granted is fabricated through the process of changing my mental, spiritual, and physical self.
     
      How long will it take?
     
      Twenty-four hours.
      Now, that’s 24 hours at a time for the rest of my life, not 24 hours until I’m “cured”. Since there is no cure, just a life in recovery, I have to keep conscious of who I am and what I do today.
      In addiction, I live in the past or the future, not in today. I fret about the mistakes I have made, obsessing over them until they consume my thoughts. My behaviors reflect this–I am generally sullen, moody, and require alone time because I cannot function in the same time-space as a “normal” person. I cannot get past what happened, and I am constantly trying to find a way to change something which cannot be changed. I will always hit a wall when I do that. Always.
      I also live in the future, trying to set in stone something which is always changing. I try to force my will on situations which are in constant evolution. Even the things which appear to stay the same are changing moment by moment. Nothing is stationary. As Rush tells us in “Tom Sawyer”: Changes aren’t permanent, but change is.
      The place I can do real work on yesterday and on tomorrow is today. I have to grieve yesterday’s losses to let them finally rest in peace there. The lessons I learn through that grief process will be taken forward. With them, I affect my ability to function tomorrow sanely and outside of affliction. Even life tragedy–the loss of security, of family, of friends–can be taken in stride because I will be taking decisive action (and accepting the consequences) rather than reacting to it (and panicking over the resulting consequences).
      That is recovery.
     
      Why don’t you have the willpower to just stop eating/looking for approval?
     
      No idea. However, if I focus on that, I am not doing the work necessary to learn to live with it. That’s part of acceptance. I have to accept that the past cannot be changed, nor can I set up a concrete future for me. Life is always evolving, changing, moving forward. I am a being which exists in the fourth dimension–time. My life has a timeline, and it flows along it–with or without my input. I want to have input into my life, so I choose recovery.
      I accept I do not have the personal willpower to live outside of addiction and its symptoms–the affliction. Like Aretha sings, “I have a deeper love inside.” A normal person can attribute that willpower to themselves with no ill consequences. Well, I have found that by accessing a power greater than myself through me, I can emulate having a strong will. This Higher Power gives me unending strength and willpower to function mindfully in reality. It helps me grow mentally, physically, and spiritually. When I surrender (not submit!) to reality (ie., my Higher Power’s will for me, or my Higher Power), the affliction is swept aside and I am an active part of the reality I was passively existing in.
      To be part of reality, I have to consciously shift my mind toward it on a daily basis. My focus each morning (through prayer and meditation, through talking and listening to my Higher Power) is shifted into reality mode. I wake up every morning an addict. If I ignore that wellspring of personal strength, I will try to take stranglehold control of my life, your life, everyone’s life. If I turn toward it, I become aware of where and when I exist. I make empathetic decisions. I am useful today. I can actively choose to be the person I want to be–the naturally caring and giving person who also understands I need to take care of me, too.
     
      How do I help this person who is an addict?
     
      This is a point where our Serenity Prayer can come into use for anyone–addict or “normal”. No external force can change an addict. If it could, that “normal” love would have fixed it long before. This is something “normal” people have to understand, something that can be very hard when one does not understand how a person we love so dearly can be affected by something so heinous as addiction.
      As an addict, I understand that “normal” people don’t want to see me suffer. They want to help, to fix something they cannot understand. The problem is that I can easily become enmeshed with a person and start looking toward that person to fix me. And when that person fails because I am not fixing myself, too, I feel less security. I feel weaker, filled with more despair. I lose even more of that willpower the normal person has. And I turn to my addictions to comfort me, to remove the pain of yet another loss.
      So, what can a “normal” person do? Accept that this is a personal journey for the addict. Don’t smother the addict, who will become enmeshed and expect you to fix it for them. This is an internal journey to fill the void in one’s life that one tries to fill with a mundane addict substance (be it alcohol, food, drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, romantic “love”, approval, whatever). The addict has to take the journey alone.
      That said, if it affects a “normal” person so deeply, one does not have to sit on the sidelines. Join a codependency group and encourage the person to seek therapy and community through a group therapy situation–like a 12-Step program. The isolation is the first thing that needs to be resolved. The addict feels even more alone when the people around them do not share the affliction. By going to a therapeutic situation alone, that person can start the hard (but simple) work of exposing the truth.
      Addicts lie to everyone, especially ourselves. We don’t want to believe we’re sick. It’s terrifying to observe it from the outside; imagine, then, what it must feel like being mired in it! How much we want to deny it’s spread through us like a fast-moving malignant cancer. We are saturated with it, we cannot function within it, we cannot function without it. We feel alone and hopeless because we don’t have a community yet who understands us. We see “normal” and we reach for it, trying to emulate it. We fail because we do not have the important programming necessary to succeed (even in failure). We are missing that kernel of internal, personal security. So we throw up errors, patch where we can, and still find more errors waiting.
      And we despair.
     
     
      The greatest gift of recovery is hope. We gain hope that first time we walk into a room and we realize we are not alone in our thinking. Not only do we meet others who think like us, we see that they are living outside the affliction! How amazing is that, to go into a room filled with rock-bottom despair and meet people who have lived outside of the affliction for days, weeks, months . . . even years! They think like us, and they appear pretty normal to us. They can talk about the elephant in the room, and they even figured out how to take theirs outside.
      A person I talked to yesterday (outside of meeting) gave me a great analogy that is sticking with me. When we first enter the rooms, we’re dealing with a giant mountain gorilla. We try to fight it, and it kicks our ass. Over time, that gorilla becomes an ever-present spider monkey, and we can deal with it down when it starts causing problems. That monkey will never entirely leave us, but it’s not the gorilla any more. We live in awareness that we’ve got a monkey on our shoulder, and it stays small and manageable. Now, anyone who’s dealt with exotic animals knows it takes specialized training to handle even a small monkey. That’s what the 12 Steps does–it gets the spider monkey out of the gorilla suit and onto our shoulders. It trains us to manage the addiction which we have fought for years. It makes the affliction a small part of our lives–not the center of it.
      I guess in all this wordiness, I should come up with a quick synopsis:
     
     
Can addiction be cured?

      No.

How long will it take to fix this?

      The rest of my life, one day at a time.

Why can’t you just use a little self-control or willpower?

      Somewhere in my life, something broke and I never learned personal security. My thinking followed a new path based on a foundation of lack of personal security. As I grew on the new path, my personal willpower (rooted in personal security) did not evolve because that foundation was not there. I turned toward external fixes (addictive substances) for an internal problem (a lack of personal security). I don’t and never will think like a “normal” person. I will never have that foundation that others naturally grew into. That is why I will always be an addict–my core beliefs are rooted in that lack of personal security.

How can I help the person I love who is suffering so awfully?

      Encourage the addict to seek like-minded community in recovery alone. If you’re there as a non-addict, the rigorous honesty necessary for recovery can’t happen. Don’t blame yourself. Seek codependent groups to learn more about how to live with an active or a recovering addict. Accept it is a lifelong process, that there is no cure. Be understanding during the process–the addict may turn back to the addiction under stress, but they also can get back into recovery that same day. Don’t enmesh yourself and try to fix it for them–it hasn’t worked yet and will never work. Don’t criticize mistakes, which will leave the addict circling around it and focused on that past mistake. We don’t learn from our mistakes in addiction; we do in recovery. And the pain of helplessness to change our mistakes leaves us turning toward our numbing agent to relieve us of that intense pain.

      A few non-addict (well, not the group’s focus addiction) people came to group to support the people they loved who were in addiction yesterday. I had to force myself to open up to them, fearful that they were judging me. But I did it for the addicts in the room. I accepted that I faced judgment and had to do it bravely to help the person I empathized with. That. Sucked.
      I talked after meeting with one of them, and admitted part of my past in an effort to comfort that person. It was hard to admit my far past (which could easily become my present) in order to give this person hope that there is a future outside of the addiction. Because I experienced what the addict had experienced, personally, I knew my story would help–even if I was being judged or talked about outside of meeting. This person was brave enough to come into the room and disclose, and I had hope to give.
      That threw me completely, however. The pastry case at the coffee house which had bothered me only a little was a fantasy landscape I had to avert my eyes from. I did have something which I knew was not a problem. I ate it abstinently, and I enjoyed it somewhat-abstinently . . . but I had to be mindful of each bite while I was eating it to avoid scarfing it up and going back for more. Luckily, I had empathetic people around me, and my soul got its nourishment so I could eat somewhat out-of-compulsion (entirely out of compulsion would have been not eating it at all, knowing I was emotionally distraught). But it was painful.
     
     
      Recent events have led me to believe that I need to connect with my SLAA sponsor and work Steps One through Three. In both programs, I need to do a Step Four. I am finding myself more and more in the love addiction compulsion, and it is scaring me.
      When I am in the love addiction, it’s like I am a completely different person. Manic, manipulative. That sense of literally dropping my natural self off and picking up this vain seductress costume occurs. I tack on the sex addiction part of my admission because of the face of my addiction. This is terrifying to admit, but I want this rigorous honesty out there, in case someone else sees it and is helped by it:
     
      I crave approval from external sources. I don’t turn to women because they’re competition. For that non-sexualized comfort zone, I turn to gay men. We aren’t in competition because the men who would go for me would not go for them; the men who would go for them would not go for me. Though the lines get blurred when active bisexuality gets mixed in, I somehow have a swift shut-off toward bi men. They slide into the “gay” category.
      This tells me immediately that this is sexualized, because a bisexual looking for a committed love can find it in either sex because they’re seeking a soul–not the vessel. However, a bisexual looking for a good time will make it clear. And that’s when the shut-off occurs. Too risky.
      Twisted addict thinking that straight men aren’t risky comes into play. There’s a huge denial factor involved–both in that I am looking for “friendship” (using manipulation and vain sexuality? Puh-lease, Jess!), and that the man could potentially be the cure to all my ills (I do Distressed Damsel very well . . . it’s the primary net I cast when seeking approval).
      I then lie to myself, telling myself that my life is boring. That I want to have one last thrill before I’m too old. I use euphoric recall in that moment, going backwards to a time when I grabbed attention pretty easily. I doubt my attractiveness, my ability to even get any external approval at all. What I edit out is the hours I spent weeping, wishing I were dead because the pain and despair I experienced when I was acting out was agonizing. Thank HP I have the recovery I do have, because that’s the first thing my HP puts in my head. It shocks me out of it and reminds me that this supposedly “boring” life is simply one lived without getting the chemical jolt of attraction.
      That “love at first sight” feeling, that intense “I want that, and I want it NOW!”, the rapid heartbeat thrill and fear and joy and pain and worry . . . that is the hit of that addiction.
      Well, a junkie’s got to pay the supplier at some point. And I know the price of doing that drug. And I am unwilling to pay it.
      So, I imprison myself in my home, far from people. I have walls between me and the world, my own little institution of one, where I curl up in my self-hatred for even thinking it. I withdraw emotionally from everyone. Sometimes even me. I disapprove and judge my inner addict. I abuse myself, my inner voice calling me horrible, evil, soulless, wicked, thankless, cruel . . . any number of things. I put on my hair shirt and begin my intense, solitary penance.
      That fuels the need for the approval outside of me. That fuels the need for me to build a fat suit between me and the world. And that is my intertwined addictions in a nutshell.
     
      A strange and somewhat silly side effect is that my car singing has become somewhat of a performance art. Instead of car singing for me (like I used to, because it made me happy), I perform for others. I smile brightly, laugh, appear “playful”. I am “middle-aged-woman-who-knows-how-to-have-fun-still”. I don’t look at the people around me (part of the anorectic “acting in” behavior) because I don’t want to see their reaction either way. As odd as it sounds, it’s like being a sex-and-love bulimic. I binge on the desire for approval (act out) then purge that desire for approval (act in). And I do it in concert all the time, switching back and forth. Hey, I know it sounds completely nuts. Addiction is crazy. It’s why I and others consider recovery “getting sane”.
      However, as I go through the pain of euphoric recall and magical-thinking fantasy, I call out in crisis mode to my Higher Power, same as I did when I was first starting food abstinence. I got an answer this morning as I was sideswiped by an old euphoria-based recall which has been putting me into full-blown manipulation mode over a person who I do not talk to and who I know would never act out with me (creating false safeguards). I will be seeing this person in the next few months, and I have a perfect opportunity to work some real recovery before I see this person again.
      What I got was to ask myself, “What is it about this person that makes me turn toward them?” That’s a great question. I mean, seriously. I turned toward this person years ago mentally. I think because this person represents a rescuer, a “White Knight”, this person’s approval has been given a high value. I crave that approval-hit, and have already started the fantasies of getting this person alone to manipulate them into getting my approval hit.
      In reality? This person approves of me just fine. I don’t know if there’s a sexual component to it. In recovery, I do not want to know. In recovery, it’s nice to know this person is decent and doesn’t hate my guts. I don’t know if this person admires me, but it doesn’t matter. This person is someone who is an acquaintance who is best left on that level. We really have very little in common. This person has commitments that, if I entered this person’s life, I don’t really want to be a part of. This person is connected to a part of my past I want to keep in the acquaintance level. This person’s and my relationship, as it stands, is precisely where it should be.
      So, why try to slide this person into a much closer intimacy ring? That requires examination of my addiction and the thought processes.
      First, this person has never triggered that sense of personal insecurity. My addiction sees this as a potential “perfect” savior. My recovery sees this as my never having brought this person closer than acquaintanceship. Second, this person is responsible, considerate, and decent. My addiction wants that to rub off onto me, and bringing this person to my core would do it. My recovery says that if this person was willing to move closer (to actually become enmeshed with me), then my addiction would be rubbing off on that person. I have responsibilities of my own, and that person would trash my personal security by being willing to get closer to me. So, in pursuing this through manipulation, I would be setting the person up to lose all of the qualities I admire in this person.
      I’d say this was a Catch-22, but it’s not. There are two discrete paths. My recovered mind tells me that keeping the relationship as-is is an action which will allow me to enjoy this person’s stability and responsibility. I can learn from it more if I keep this person precisely where this person is in the constellation of people in my life. I don’t even want to bring this person to “close friends” level because the temptation to slide them straight to failure and enmeshment is too strong. So, in recovery mode, the relationship stays the same. From this vantage point, I get more out of it anyway. I see the qualities this person possesses which I want to possess, myself. That was the recovery work I needed to do. It’s done. I don’t need to investigate how, because my journey to those qualities will be different than that person’s journey was. There’s no mystery this person can answer for me that can put me at the head of the line for those qualities. Seeking them is my personal journey, part of my recovery. This person is part of what I cannot change–especially since I doubt any manipulation would work. Our mutual history probably would block this person from being open to a manipulation. The choices I made years ago have consequences, and this person seems to have clear views about it. If not, it is up to me not to let this person closer, because those things I admire about this person would be lost if I did–definitely to me, potentially to this person.
      My addict self? Wants what I want. Then it wants to punish me for wanting what I want. There’s no winning there. If I even start to pursue, I beat myself up emotionally for being a horrible person. I don’t want to be a horrible person, and even having this crap floating around my head (old habits of thought are very hard to change) makes me feel sick to my stomach. I long to be normal, to have these thoughts simply dissipate. To not be afflicted at all with plans and manipulations because they scare me.
      But if I expect to recover, I can’t go from acting out by making crazy plans in my own head to acting in and punishing myself for it. Both are denial–one denies that I cannot be fixed by any external source, and one denies I even have these feelings and thoughts. If I am in denial, I am in fear.
      I fear I can lose everything I love because of thoughts I cannot control appearing in my head. Now, I do have recovery to work through them, but that means letting them surface enough to start the process of taking them apart and exposing them to reality.
      This work I’ve done in my journal already is the start of recovery. I have the realization that I approach certain people because their approval has supplemental value over others’ approval.
      Oh my God. Hold on a second . . . I think I figured out who I target and why!
      The answer, for me, is in the AA 12&12, in the chapter on “Step Four” (which my HP has turned my attention to for weeks). It addresses the core of the problem being the natural sexual, material, and emotional needs human beings possess. A “normal” person can do these without the need for excess because they have a stable internal foundation; an addict can’t get enough because there’s no stable internal foundation. In recovery, my foundation is my Higher Power, something greater than myself. I, alone, will never have that foundation. It was never lain. That’s the purpose of an HP for me–to have a place to build a life of recovery. If I turn from that adopted foundation, the work of recovery falls down the moment that spiritual foundation is removed. Definitely a good reason to work the steps. Moving on.
      So, when I seek out the external approval of men, I don’t require the man to possess all of the attributes–just one. For example, if a man is considered attractive to the general population, that man triggers the desire to pursue sexual security. If I can attract a man who is desirable to most women, my addict mind reasons, I am clearly sexually acceptable. This man can be emotionally unavailable and poor as dirt–as long as I think I can fix that part of my life using an external consensus that I was capable of getting and holding this superiorly attractive man’s attention. Next, if a man is considered financially stable, that man triggers the desire for material security. This man can be unattractive or emotionally unavailable, as long as there are enough zeroes in that bank balance to make sure I never want. Last, if a man is emotionally available (these are the dangerous ones, because a sex/love addict can emulate them to get their own hit), he does not have to be sexually attractive or financially stable. I think he “understands” me and I think I am loved. The men who actually possess those qualities wouldn’t let me in because they have a stable foundation and can see me coming a mile off. The safety of a truly emotionally stable man lies in his understanding that I need to be kept in the acquaintance ring or farther because I am potentially dangerous. But this person can still be kind, helpful, and available at the acquaintance ring.
      The person who I am going to see again belongs to the last group. He isn’t terribly sexually attractive to me, and he lives comfortably but does not have the wealth I would require to fix my financial frustrations. Now, this person may be a rescuer (personal observation has shown it to have been in this person’s history), and that could be the place my manipulations could get through. And the harm I would do to not just this person but dozens of people I know would be unforgivable–especially now that I am going to meetings.
      I cannot go back to a time of delusional thinking. I have enough recovery to know that the only road to sanity is staying on the path of recovery. I have awareness of my addiction, and having a last binge before I start my love diet goes against recovery.
      Starting abstinence or withdrawal begins with today–this minute, this hour, this day. Like OA is not a diet, SLAA is not entering a nunnery. The obsession with food and approval is inescapable, no matter what place in the world I am in that moment.
      I have two clear bottom lines, now, for SLAA. No euphoric recall, which means I don’t look back on the time I was in full-blown active addiction with longing of those halcyon days. If I look back, it has to be realistically. And in reality? I got the attention, and I traded it for my self-worth. I felt worse after every acting out event, hated myself more. I left a swath of harm behind me, and I was left many times looking out over the void and wishing I had never been born. So euphoric recall (remembering the acting out as “fun” and “good”) is now a bottom line. If I start to feel it, I turn to my HP and my fellowship immediately.
      The second is fantasy. Based on the real qualities of people I want to associate with, I can build in my head a fairy-tale ending. In addiction, the person is my rescuer. In addiction, the person is my teacher. In addiction, the person can magically fix me and make me normal and undo all of my painful past.
      To get there, in addiction, I have to use dishonesty and manipulation. Considering my goal in recovery is to be rigorously honest in what I say and do, that isn’t going to cut it. And that rigorous honesty means that if my natural personality triggers another person into deciding I am Ms. Right? I say no because I already committed to my current life. I have the life I wanted when I was in addiction. Through whatever fluke convergences, I have it. No, it’s not “perfect”, but what in reality is? The qualities I possess in recovery (as opposed to when I am acting like a comic yet ruthless villainess in addiction) are the ones I want. Okay, so my life isn’t drama, drama, drama. I had that. It exhausted and depressed me. And every time I taste it when I cross through others’ drama, I remember precisely why I don’t like drama. And I have to take time to recuperate from it, because it is still exhausting.
      Okay, so while I admit I am addicted to approval and still have euphoric recall and fantasy thinking about people when I am afflicted by the addiction (something I wish to HP I wasn’t!), I know in active recovery I don’t. The hard part, then, is learning not to want the drama and chaos in order to “feel alive”.
      And THAT is something I can work with my Higher Power on . . . learning new ways to feel alive without requiring that bolt-from-the-blue zap of chemicals when I spot a target to seek approval from.
      Looking back over my life even as lightly as I’m doing before I walk into my Fourth Step, I have found the price is too high. Every time I made a choice in addiction, I had regrets. I harmed so many people who I have to make amends to. To willingly return to that when I have another option which brings peace into my life?
      I can’t go back when I know my Higher Power can restore me to sanity if I am just willing to leave the affliction behind. I don’t want it. I don’t want to go back to crying, feeling completely alone, hating myself because every choice I make to try to ease my suffering only increases it exponentially.
     
      Take this cup away from me, HP. I don’t want to taste its poison.
     
      My name is Jess and I am a food addict and love addict. Yes, it was hard to write what I wrote today. It’s terrifying to admit because I fear I could lose so much–even doing the right thing! But if that’s where my life is supposed to go, then all I can do is trust in my Higher Power. I am so sick of doing harm, of hurting others in order to fulfill my addict cravings. I am completely powerless over my addictions, and my life is unmanageable. HP, give me the strength to be rigorously honest and the wisdom to see the difference between unburdening my soul and causing new harm and telling the truth in order to grow.

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