Feb 22, 2017

Addiction, deception and betrayal--an ugly, normal part of being human.

I've been thinking a lot about addiction lately. I have ancestors who have struggled with addiction. And people close to me, in my everyday life, have struggled with it as well. I'd argue, at this point, that nearly everyone on this planet has an addiction of some kind, if you define addiction as "something one compulsively turns to for comfort."

Addictive personalities. I'd argue they are anxious personalities. People who need comforting easily become addicts. Because they need comforting.

My addictions of choice: junk food, and buying stuff on sale. When I eat junky, fatty, cutely-packaged, sugary, salty, easily-consumable food, I feel like I'm comforting myself. In the moment. And often, after I'm done eating it, I need more comforting because I know it wasn't the best choice. So then, I'd eat more food.... you can see how it would take a downward spiral. If the thing you're turning to for comfort is actually ruining your life, the spiral would be more pronounced. And not until you hit rock bottom; not until you've lost absolutely everything that you find important in the long term, do some addicts finally become grounded to their reality. That the thing they are seeking doesn't actually provide long-term comfort, and that often, the short term comfort is really a mix of adrenaline and cortisol that causes more anxiety.

You could, in fact, say that anxiety itself is addicting. Anxiety is not fun to experience in the moment, but afterward, all these soothing, calming chemicals rush in to repair the damage that a run of anxiety has done to the mind and body. I think that often this is the turn anxiety takes, creating a spiral that lands someone in a real disordered state. Sometimes the answer is to get help--find ways to out-think anxiety and avoid it and break free and wear new tracks in the brain, and sometimes the answer is to ingest chemicals that block receptors that are sucking up too much of the soothing neurotransmitters, leaving the mind bare and triggerable in the wake of life events like giving birth or going through a divorce or being in a situation where you fear for your life.

Often, someone addicted to something mistakes anxiety for drive. For instance, when I feel anxious, often I interpret that as hunger. Both are painful sensations, and consuming food actually does, for a while, soothe both feelings. You could see how that would be easily confused.

I think the same goes for pornography. People who are addicted to pornography have learned to interpret anxiety or depression as sexual drive, because when they indulge themselves, both feelings--any sexual drive that might actually be there, and also the anxiety which is actually the dominant feeling they're trying to hide from--are soothed.

I guess what I'm saying, really, is this:

don't judge addicts. Because you are one. I am one. We all are addicts. We all need soothing. And we all turn to mistaken places for that soothing at times, and get our feelings all tangled up, all mixed up, and end up wondering why in heck we're such horrible people that we are so hungry all the time, so driven all the time, so financially depleted all the time and yet we want more... what kind of monster are we?

Which feeds back into the anxiety, and puts us at an even more lively pace down that spiral of addiction, as we turn back to the thing we hate for yet more comfort, yet more reassurance.

And then there's an added layer--the self-deception that can come along with all this anxiety, drive, and self-loathing. If you're a really, really good person, sometimes you just can't face wrong things you've done. You just can't.

Like the child who struggles to admit they took all the donuts off the fridge and ate them, even though they knew their siblings would be coming home from school anticipating them... the six year old, with only small amounts of impulse control, who did not withstand the lure of fried dough and chocolate frosting, and then struggled to handle the reality that they'd taken treats from people they love. Like this six-year old we often struggle to admit to ourselves how our break in will, our action, hurt another person. And when faced with that other person, quite often we can't form the words of truth--"I did this to you." Because it's too painful. Because you love them.

A lot of women know what I'm talking about. A lot of men, too. I glanced off the mention of pornography, but... I can't tell you how many people I've talked to, who are utterly heartbroken in the wake of addiction, not necessarily because of the behavior itself--though that is a very difficult thing to face and understand and it does hurt--but because of the lack of honesty. The betrayal. That's the clincher.

The thought is always "well, how much do they really love me? How much of a spouse are they to me, really? If they can lie so many times, so sincerely, even angrily, even tearfully...what kind of a person are they really? What else have they hidden from me? Do they really love me?"

They do love us. They really do.

And I, confirmed bad-for-me-food-and-shopping-addict, love my husband. Even though (I admit this openly, but it's hard!) I have not always been entirely honest about this to him, either, because I didn't trust him enough to love me, in my imperfection. Maybe that's the real clincher--someone who feels so horrible about themselves doesn't fully trust those around them to love them in all their reality. So they become fake. They put on a front. And meanwhile, it builds up inside them, hurting and swelling and finally, erupting, in the form of anger, dissatisfaction, avoidance, misplaced blame....

It really struck me the other day, as I discussed this subject with some friends of mine, that addiction really is common to all of us. We all have something we struggle to tell the truth about. And as we grow older, wiser, more secure and more willing to apply the atonement with humility, we grow more honest. We start telling ourselves the truth, and then, telling the truth to those around us.

I'd love your thoughts on this.


Camilla Cole said...

Can a person be addicted to napping? I'm following your very insightful reasoning for addictions, applying it to my almost compulsive tendency to sleep when I have time to myself and I'm wondering, maybe it's more than me just being a tired mom. Maybe I turn to naps to feed a different need (besides sleep) that I'm not facing. Because I almost always feel guilty and unsatisfied after wasting yet another moment of quiet on a nap. All the things I could have done or gotten done... But I have the hardest time not giving in to the temptation to sleeeeeep...

Sarah Dunster said...

It's very possible!! If there's something else you could do to fill that emotional hole, that would actually fill you? Do that.

But honestly?? Us moms need sleeeep.