Addiction is a bugger of a thing. If it was easy to kick compulsions to the curb, we’d all do it long before things got out of control.
When the word addiction is bandied around, images that come to mind frequently involve drugs and alcohol. But addiction has as many varieties as there are addicts, and the compulsion is a symptom not a cause. What it’s a symptom of, varies for individuals, but we’re all numbing something.
For me, having compulsive food thoughts and an endless need to eat, is my way of avoiding depression and anxiety. For most of my life I had no idea – and no recognition I experienced anxiety until a few years ago. That’s how effective my eating disorder was (is). As the eating disorder lessens, anxiety frequently overwhelms me and there’s a big temptation to isolate myself. Through years of psychological therapy, I’ve gained a lot of insight into myself and my behaviours. Some of it’s very confronting. Some of it’s an enormous relief.
I’m in the early stages of recovery and trying desperately to stay on track. Aside from fearing relapse, I also fear transference. Until I learn to effectively manage depression and anxiety, I’ll always have a problem.
I’ve mentioned my lap band before. Even prior to the surgery, I’d read articles on bariatric patients having increased incidences of new addictions – most commonly alcohol and shopping, but compulsions can end up anywhere. Sex, drugs, gambling, shoplifting, exercising, gaming – you name it, someone’s obsessed with it. There’s a whole television show dedicated to weird and wonderful addictions. The bottom line is though, if the underlying issue is not dealt with, removing the symptom won’t cure the disease. We just transfer one problem to another.
To recover from any kind of compulsive behaviour requires an enormous amount of determination, hard work, and personal insight. More often than not it requires pharmaceutical and psychological support for the underlying issues – especially during those early stages. It also requires self-acceptance and self-compassion – two traits desperately lacking in most of us with addiction issues. But also the building blocks of recovery.
To avoid transference of addictions is not easy. We instinctively protect ourselves from emotional pain and distress, and while actively working to recover from a longstanding emotionally numbing behaviour, it’s easy to slip into other numbing behaviours without noticing. Anything to distract from the anxiety, depression, or other psychological distress.
This has seen me working hard to stop destructive self-harm and eating disorder behaviours, but finding myself with overwhelming, incessant, levels of anxiety. Which is very distressing. I want to binge-watch Netflix, download mind-numbing games on my iPhone, or spend hour after endless hour playing on the internet or working on other people’s problems.
Each time I find myself emotionally numbing, I need to acknowledge, accept, write about it, then delete the game from my phone or turn the television off. More importantly, I have to feel the anxiety – accept the pounding heart, shaking hands, and inexplicable sense of fear. Then practice the grounding techniques I’ve learned, get out in nature, connect with friends, and ride the emotional wave.
It’s not easy. Not even a little bit. And it often takes hindsight to recognise what I’m doing. I have a long way to go before I call myself recovered, and the last thing I want is transferring one addiction to another. Progress not perfection. Recovery not replacement. Sanity and serenity. These are my long term goals.