Our friend Webster defines “addiction” as “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.”
The number of different addictions (which today includes the title of compulsive obsession behaviors) seems to be growing at a rapid rate. The ones that normally came to mind used to be alcohol, nicotine or heroin. Today we also know that candy, food in general, gambling, shopping, the Internet, video games, exercise, pain medication, meth, sex, addiction to addiction treatment, methamphetamine and even people addiction are all serious problems. Some, like gambling, shopping, eating and computers are compulsive behaviors. These seem perfectly normal and one wonders how it can become an addiction. Shopping for example; what is wrong with that? It’s a perfectly healthy activity isn’t it? And what’s wrong with eating candy? Other than having a high dentist bill……and maybe as you get older the worry about diabetes. But life is so short. Don’t we all deserve a few rewards, especially for all we’ve been through?
A saying from my childhood comes to mind, All things in moderation. At the time I figured it had nothing to do with me; it applied to old people. But as I find myself moving closer to that age group I realize it makes perfect sense.
How do we become addicted to things potentially harmful to us? What started out as our first drink rapidly becomes alcoholism. Eating more than we should adds pound after pound until we are overweight. Being simply overweight can become obesity in time. We love to go shopping. What’s the harm in that? Are we deeply in debt? Have we become compulsive about shopping? Do we find that instead of merely taking care of our needs, we are indulging ourselves in our wants? When something, sex for example, becomes a craving it is time to take stock of where our life is going. Cutting is one of the most dangerous of addictions. When we have rooms in our mind with painful memories and we can’t seem to lock the door on them we need something to keep ourselves from entering that room. Even something like cutting takes us away from whatever is the real problem. It blocks the truth.
Those of us who were abused as children find that the bad memories are so painful that we must do something to distract ourselves from them. This is an unconscious decision. The rule of thumb is that anything we are doing that is for the purpose of not facing unpleasant things is not a good idea. If it hasn’t already, it will soon become something that has painful repercussions.
In my REPAIR program I liken these painful memories to a physical wound. But what happens to a wound that becomes infected and is not treated? The infection begins spreading throughout our body. In the case of child abuse that has gone untreated we want nothing more than to remove these memories and the only way we know how is to become addicted to something that is powerful enough to keep the memories at bay.
Eventually a painful price must be paid for addiction to a substance or an activity. I watched the father of my children die from cirrhosis of the liver. Before beginning recovery I attempted suicide, more than once. My addiction to my abuser, my addiction to sex, and my addiction to cigarettes were symptoms of a much deeper problem. The day I realized that my addictions were not treating the cause of my depression started out with an innocent trip to the pharmacy. As I waited for my sleeping pills and my anti-depressants I saw a pile of brochures about different pharmaceutical products sitting on the counter. The words on the front of the brochure, Losing your freedom of choice is a bitter pill to swallow leapt out at me. I felt as if I’d been rammed in my gut by a two by four and grabbed the brochure as I struggled to hide my tears. I hurried home and scotch taped it to my mirror. I read it over and over and thought about how my abuser was controlling what I wore, who I spoke with on the phone, where I went and most of my daily activities. Knowing that he may even control what I taped to my mirror, I began sobbing. It was my moment of truth. I simply had not seen how my addictions ruled my life and were heading me towards a cliff.
A few days later, after a visit to my family doctor where he said he would no longer accept my response to his continued question about whether my father had sexually abused me, I entered recovery.