Before we go any further, it should be clear to us all that compulsion or obsession has nothing to do with logic or sanity. Or, in many cases, the compulsion or the obsession itself is known about.
This is not a secret. Whether this is about food or about sex or about drugs or drinking, shopping, working or so on, upon ignition, the action meets a need and albeit brief, the action satisfies the compulsion which often leads to a crash or hangover. Better yet, this leads to moments of degradation which sanity would suggest, “Stop doing it!” But the compulsion to feel better or to find that moment of euphoria is stronger than logic.
There is no way to un-feel or remove the experience of sensation. Once you feel it, then you know and once you know, now you know how to make yourself feel better.
When you’re desperate or when it seems like nothing else is working, or when you have a bad day, or you messed up again and the fear of not becoming or not succeeding is all you can think about – or when you feel as if you’re blocked; you think as if the world’s a game and the team you’re playing against has a huge goal with a hundred goalies just trying to block your shot and you?
You’re a team of one.
You’re wondering how to slip past the goalies. You’re wondering if any of this will work out – but this is life and hey, if life was easy, no one would ever complain.
If business was easy then there would be no such thing as a recession – or, if life were easy then there would be none of these little counterweights, such as our so-called escape features which lead us to the grounds of habits and compulsivity.
Sometimes, the ground you’re on has sunk so low and, thus, you’ve fallen so far. You’ve moved too deep into territories that seem to be the only places you know.
And sometimes, there seems like there’s no way out.
Sometimes the shame keeps you stuck.
Maybe you eat to the point where you find yourself in a food coma. Maybe you’ve eaten so much that you’ve passed out in a narcotized state; meanwhile, you ate to feel the euphoria.
You ate to trigger the reward system and, in the moment, there was a moment of emotional blindness. You lost yourself in something like a huge order of dumplings. You ordered two dishes of every flavor and you ate them all. Now what?
The meal itself is a routine. Your aim to satisfy is relieved by a sensory overload of flavor, which tastes so good – so, there’s no eating just one.
Plus, the goodness and the sensation of the food hits a feeling which we comprehend and connect to the understandable texture of the food in our mouths – and then ah, we feel the high. We feel satisfied for the moment. We’re in a feeding frenzy, which means we are unfeeling and uncaring and uninvolved and unattached for the moment. Until the moment is done.
Then comes the understanding of our actions. Then comes the guilt because we know we need to make better choices about our nutrition. Then comes the self-deprecating thoughts about our looks and our shape.
One would think that if this is so degrading then why would someone eat themselves into a shameful state of affairs.
The answer is because this feels good. Even if only for a short while, it feels good.
But then comes the crash. Then comes the need to feel better. Then comes the moment when we find ourselves looking for that “fix” and trying to honor a need to find comfort in the only way we know how. This is why most people find themselves in more of the same.
One of the most intimidating things that was told to me when I came into the rooms of recovery was “You’re never going to drink again!”
And I thought to myself, “What?”
This meant that “they” were about to take away the one thing I knew that I could use to help me feel better.
This was not helpful. This was intimidating.
When they told me that I will never use a drink or a drug again, I remember thinking, “Then what the hell am I gonna do?”
I tell you that I was not sold. I had a thirst. I had a need. I had discomforts and the only way that I knew to fix them was taken away.
This was not helpful. No, this was intimidating.
Just because someone takes away water doesn’t mean a person isn’t thirsty anymore.
I had met with people whose drinking career was far longer and severely degrading. They lost everything. They lost their homes and their families. They lost their jobs and their friends. They cleaned up for a moment of prosperity only to relapse and go back to the gin mills and the holes where they’d hide.
I have seen people get out and find freedom; only to go back to the liquid prisons and return to their personal incarcerations.
I have seen this with substance abuse as well. I have met with people who spent much of their lives, both in and out of jail and each time, they swear it’s the last time. Each time, they say “This is it!”
“I’m done with that life.”
They have a clean slate. They’ve been given a fresh start, which is not to say their re-acclimation is easy or simple. This is not to say that there are no challenges. In fact, there are challenges. There are doubts. There are moments of hope that are squashed by moments of disappointments – or, like say, we can go back to the game where the goal is guarded by more than a hundred goalies.
It seems like this: No one’s gonna let you have it. No one’s gonna let you pass. They’re all looking to block you. They’re looking to keep you in your place. There’s no welcoming committee. There’s no cheering section for your goals of what you are about to change and overcome.
There’s only goalies, looking to block your shot.
There are moments of reintroduction to shame-based theories that say as an ex-con, you will always be an ex-con and nothing and no one will ever let you escape this fact.
So, what happens?
People go back to default settings.
Why do people go back to default settings?
It’s because this is an understandable setting and unless we improve to update our thinking and default settings – there will always be a connection with past solutions and otherwise destructive behaviors.
There are all sorts of crutches. There’s smoking. There’s relationship addictions. There’s food. There’s drugs or alcohol. There’s the compulsion to make things right or “fix” and there are chains of codependency that can weigh a person down. There is workaholism. There is shopaholism. There’s gambling. There are adrenaline addicts. There are countless labels or definitions of what makes us powerless or leads our life to become unmanageable.
And it’s not like we don’t know. It’s not like this is a mystery. It’s not like no one tells us, “Hey, you need to stop doing that” and we’re not listening. Instead, we are listening but the needs and the compulsion to “feel” something far outweighs our logical minds or sanity.
This can be said about friendships too. For example, how many times have you promised that you weren’t going to reach out to someone and then somehow, almost automatically, you find yourself reaching for the phone because the habit of this friendship has become your ritual or routine. Without this, now there’s a hole or a strange opening in your life. So, you look to replace this and fill it with something else.
I believe this is called substitution.
And maybe that’s not so bad.
We have to find a replacement. We have to find a distraction. We have to find an alternate source to fill the void or fool the triggers to our reward system. We need a surrogate or a stand-in to replace the divots in our frames of reference; to keep us from a subject of loss and show us the reward.
This way, we don’t focus on the absence. We’re not thinking about the loss – and because of this, our surface thinking can go on freely without returning to old thinking errors that lead us back to old routines.
We have to find ways to trick our reward system and to keep our personal chemistry intact. We have to find a routine. We have to find a pathway of thinking to redefine our rituals and to boost our satisfaction hormones like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins.
We have to address our chemistry as well as our character.
We have to navigate through the branches of our thinking and face our pathology – so that while we learn how to improve our chemistry, we can escape the lineage of our past and our past habits.
For the record, sometimes the answers are not what we think they’ll be. Sometimes, we find ourselves in the worst of predicaments and from the worst falls come the best recoveries.
I can remember hearing a cage door roll shut. I can remember the cell door closing, which was a cruel and remorseless exclamation point.
Yet, as sad as this place was and as frightening as my situation was about to be – there was a moment of relief because I knew that something was about to change.
“I don’t have to go back out there,” are the words that I was thinking.
I had found myself in a position – or better yet, I had found myself in a small holding cell about to face my truths. As I was there, I found myself reconsidering every warning sign that I ignored. I found myself in a cell with people who had no remorse nor did they care about the harm they caused. More importantly, they certainly wouldn’t care about causing harm to me.
They were in a cage and I was in a cage with them. But somehow, fortunately, I found something here. I found a way out. I found a way to reimburse my life for all of its losses and, above all, I found an exit strategy that was able to balance my reward system – so that I could change.
Now, think about our diets. Think about whatever it is that we want to change or think about whichever crutch related habit that drags us down.
What has to happen next?
What has to happen to make a decision that will influence a positive change?
Do you have to fall down?
Do you have to fail or find yourself in a jail cell?
The greatest thing about being a human being is the ability to change our minds. We can change our direction at any time.
Today is a great day for a comeback!
Doesn’t mean this will be easy. Doesn’t mean the hundred goalies are going to give you an opening to the goal. All this means is that personally unrelated to anything else, we can find what it takes –
and be happy.