It’s easy for me to be disdainful of your addiction, whatever it is.
I don’t want to admit that I sometimes feel this way about others, but it’s true. I’m probably just being defensive, because disdaining others’ addictions is a good distraction from dealing with the core issues involved with my own.
People are addicted to all sorts of things. Alcohol. Gambling. Sex. Shopping. Other recreational drugs. Television. Gaming. Social media. The list is endless. It seems as though almost anything pleasant can be turned into an addiction.
For me, it’s food, especially sugar. I keep myself overweight and sluggish when I’m unhappy, all because I’m pulled back again and again to the bizarre compulsion to eat when I’m not hungry. At the heart of the matter, it’s not about taste or gluttony or brain chemistry. It’s all about the need to find the love and understanding and security which I’ve never had.
I prefer not to think of this pattern as an addiction, but I can’t deny the truth. After a conversation years ago with the late Tim Baer, an alcoholic friend who had been sober for years, I realized that our patterns and our compulsions were the same. He had found a path that worked for him to stay sober — through Alcoholics Anonymous — but I’ve not yet found a way to stay away from the ice cream aisle.
I’m not an addiction expert — and I’m sure some with real expertise would disagree with my amateur thoughts — but I see all addictions as being attempts to fill an ugly inner hole.
We all have a need for love and security. We feel a need to know for certain that someone loves us unconditionally and won’t leave us. People who have that inner assurance will never know addiction. Those of us who don’t have the assurance that we have those things will always seek them until we have them. (And one of the most infuriating things about it is that we will often push it away when someone offers it, because we’re scared to believe it’s real.)
You can end up with this need for a variety of reasons. Maybe you felt abandoned. Maybe you never bonded with one of your parents as a child. Maybe there was nobody in your childhood who accepted you and loved you unconditionally. Maybe a parent died before his or her time.
But whatever your specific cause, the pattern seems similar. You feel a need and an inner craving grows. Because you don’t understand what you need — since this comes from a deeper place than the conscious mind — some unconscious part of you chooses a substitute.
You might learn that you feel better — or at least numb — when you drink alcohol. You might feel some relief when you get the thrill of gambling. You might feel some relief when you overwork yourself and get praised for your success. You might feel it when you have sex over and over, as often as possible. Or you might end up numbing your feelings by stuffing yourself with food you’re not hungry for.
The immediate feeling is one of relief. For a moment, you don’t feel so bad. But then the need is back. You still feel the same desire for something you can’t name.
And worst of all, you feel a deep and abiding sense of shame. You feel ashamed that you aren’t “good enough” for someone to love. You feel ashamed that you can’t control your addictive behavior. You feel ashamed about various consequences of your behavior.
I’ve never met an addict who didn’t experience some version of these effects. I’ve known people who were in denial about what they felt, but I’ve never known anyone who didn’t suffer from the same core needs.
I know what my needs are, but I don’t know how to get them met.
When I was a child, I didn’t have a mother for much of the time. It took me many years to recognize the enormous hole that was left in me by her absence. I felt lost and unloved because she wasn’t there.
I never could be good enough for my father. I could never do enough to get his approval. He taught me that it’s sometimes worse to have a bad parent there than to have a loving parent missing. His presence and emotional abuse were the most damaging of all for me.
As an adult, I like to think I’m rational and that I consciously control my actions, but I know better. I’m still a child who’s eager to find love and understanding and approval. I’m desperate — and I can’t understand why I haven’t been “good enough” to have someone give me the love I need.
There are various approaches to healing addiction. Different people strongly believe in whatever worked for them. Some are advocates for the AA approach. Some favor what they consider scientific approaches. Some favor drugs or psychological counseling.
For me, I know only one thing which works. When I find a healthy and loving relationship, I stop craving food that I don’t need. When I’m feeling loved, I quit eating when I’m not hungry. I start dropping excess fat and I feel better — without any real effort.
For me, it’s all about love. When I have love, I feel emotionally healthy and balanced. The voice of shame inside subsides. I feel warm and satiated. I feel good enough.
I’ve come a long way in understanding this mess. That understanding doesn’t fix everything, but at least it lets me know what I need — and it lets me recognize other people who suffer from the same unmet needs, whether they recognize those needs or not.
One day, I’ll share the love I need with someone — and the shameful need in my heart will finally be satisfied for good.