By Therese Borchard
It’s been 20 years since I used vodka like aspirin—to numb my pain. In fact, I’ve been sober 17 years more than I drank, since I quit before I was old enough to buy the stuff. So my brain should be used to ordering Perrier with lime and shaking my head politely as the merlot bottle comes my way. I should be so used to drinking non-alcoholic beverages at cocktail hours that I don’t give alcohol a second thought.
But the truth is that ex-drunks need to stay in recovery their whole lives. Like cancer survivors, they live in a state of remission, where they humbly acknowledge that their illness is impatiently waiting for a moment of vulnerability to make a surprise visit.
And that surprise visit may not even involve alcohol.
The face of addiction morphs into different beasts. Mine does so with the election of every new U.S. president. Just when I think I’ve learned how to fill my jiggly center with prayer and meditation, with the love of my family and friends, I get that undeniable ache and reach once more for something to “complete me,” as Jerry Maguire would say.
Addicts do that.
Craig Nakken, author of “The Addictive Personality” explains:
“Addiction is a process of buying into false and empty promises: the false promise of relief, the false promise of emotional security, the false sense of fulfillment, and the false sense of intimacy with the world….Like any other major illness, addiction is an experience that changes people in permanent ways. That is why it’s so important that people in recovery attend Twelve Step and other self-help meetings on a regular basis; the addictive logic remains deep inside of them and looks for an opportunity to reassert itself in the same or in a different form.”
That means that even though I only drank for three years, I will forever have a “thinking problem” that, if I’m not careful, could dump a bunch of unwanted pain unto my lap. It means that as I form important relationships, that I need always remember my propensity to mix up intensity with intimacy—that the rush I feel from scoring 100 followers on Twitter can in no way replace the intimacy I share with my husband and kids—that even though it feels like a high profile career can provide a world of glitter that won’t bore or disappoint me, that any accolade that I win is going to be a fleeting and unreliable high, and should not be depended on.
Intensity is not the same thing as intimacy.
Nakken repeats that logic several times in his book. “The addict has an intense experience and believes it is a moment of intimacy,” he writes.
It’s only been in the last two years of my recovery from, well, just about everything, that I’ve come to appreciate that mistake. I suppose part of my brain is programmed to pursue the thrill, no matter how many people I hurt (myself included) to get it. I chase the adrenaline rush, the dopamine high, that is akin to the buzz I get from smoking an entire cigarette in three puffs after staying away from lung rockets for a year or more. It treats my bruised insides the same way Kids’ Tylenol does my son’s leg cramps. The addictive object dulls the blunt emotions with which I experience most of life.
I crave drama, even as I know it’s not good for me. And I create turmoil although I recognize that it obstructs the serenity I’m after.
Last week a friend sent me a piece called “Dispelling Drama” that she found on DailyOm. I recognized the wisdom in this paragraph:
“Drama, however, disastrous, can be exciting and stimulating. But the trill of pandemonium eventually begins to frustrate the soul and rain the energy of all who embrace it. To halt this process, we must understand the root of our drama addiction, be aware of our reactions, and be willing to accept that a serene, joyful life need not be a boring one.”
How do we treat addiction and break the cycle of madness so that we’re not mired in drama our entire lives?
Recognizing it, for starters. I’ve begun to do that countless times a day when my mind turns to numbing agents—persons, places, and things that inspire intensity of thought or emotion, that physiologically give me that dopamine boost for a minute just as my shot of vodka would or a long inhale of weed or an extra long puff on a Marlboro.
“Self,” I will say some days, “Let’s take this thought a step further… Imagine you get your thrill … there you are … your body getting the buzz … now sit there a second longer … and ask yourself … are you happy? No, I didn’t think so.”
I will remind myself that I have everything I need to be happy.
Sometimes I will jot down my priorities again. For like the 349th time, just so my brain can make that connection between thought and pad and pen. “Did Oprah make the top ten this time? Didn’t think so.” And so on and so forth.
And I heed the advice on DailyOm:
“When you confront your emotional response to drama and the purpose it serves in your life, you can reject it. Each time you consciously chose not to take part in dramatic situations or associate with dramatic people, you create space in your inner being that is filled with a calm and tranquil stillness and becomes an asset in your quest to lead a more centered life.”
I reject it over and over again. Sometimes it’s merlot. But often it’s not. It just feels like the same to me.
Therese J. Borchard is the author of the hit daily blog “Beyond Blue” on Beliefnet.com, which is featured regularly on The Huffington Post and was voted by PsychCentral.com as one of the top 10 depression blogs, and she moderates the popular depression support group, Beyond Blue, on Beliefnet’s social networking site. Her memoir, Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes, will be released in January of 2010. Therese lives with her husband and two children in Annapolis, Maryland. Subscribe to Beyond Blue here or visit her at www.ThereseBorchard.com.