I’ve been avoiding writing about this for years. Over the last year or so though, i’ve mentioned it in a somewhat ancillary fashion. I think i’ve been testing the waters. If i’m going to share how my brain works and how i pursue the life i want, while juggling my particular set of issues, however, i would be remiss if i didn’t address it. It would be a lie by omission, and i do try to avoid those, here on my blog.
My addictive nature, and how that’s manifested in my life in general, and in my journey through mental illness and being neuroatypical particularly.
This will be a rough one for me.
I was raised to keep things hidden.
It was modeled for me that one doesn’t acknowledge one’s flaws, let alone talk about them. If one did, then various religions were the answer.
What i have learned though, is that people know anyway. Despite our best efforts, if we hang around with people for either long enough, or at the right moments – they’ll figure it out. (Not the biggest reason i became a hermit, but not a small one, either.) They may not know exactly what it is, but they’ll smell it on us. Something not quite right. Something’s gone off, and it’s rotting away inside.
For addiction, i have both nature and nurture. My mother ate her way up so high there was no scale at the time to weigh her. We’ve figured out ways in our current society to do so, but we’ve had to, because so many are afflicted with the problem. When my mom was super-morbidly obese, she was the fattest person anyone had ever seen in real life, everywhere we went. She’d always held food over me as a reward, and withheld it from me as punishment, and also due to neglect.
So i learned to comfort myself with food. I used it to numb out pain. It was a drug that filled me with a false and fleeting happiness. After a long and checkered history, i’ve learned enough about myself and nutrition to have found a way to handle my food issues.
Oh, but i have addictive behaviours, plural, and my relationship with food, eating, weight, and body image are well-documented in this blog already.
Food wasn’t the only thing that was used to control me as a child.
When you want her to like you, you start out with ice cream and candy.
When you want her to relax and lie still, you use alcohol and pills.
Abusers used pills, i was on pills to control my epilepsy, and when i was diagnosed with fibromyalgia as an adult, more pills. That was when i began using the non-prescription codeine to help me cope with the constant pain. By the time i was diagnosed bipolar, i was going through a 250 count bottle of the stuff in less than a week. At one point, i was on 6 different medications at the same time to try and regulate me, and oh, did i mention that i’d started drinking?
For years drinking wasn’t a problem. Then i had weight loss surgery, lost over 300lbs, and slammed into my first full blown mania. The weight loss got me lots of sexual attention and a job in the entertainment industry. More social interactions with me as the centre of everything than i’d had to deal with since my school and church years in plays and vocal performances. I was dealing with no impulse control and sexual and social anxiety through the roof. I didn’t want to eat because i was thin and i loved the way people were treating me… I worked mostly in bars, so i drank.
Between booze and the male gaze, my mania became so severe i lost my job. Mania didn’t just amp me up, either. Between it, the weight loss, and problematic drinking, my DID became a cyclone. And then came the years of psych wards, detox facilities, recovery centres, an actual mental hospital, and LOTS of religion.
As i’ve written before, none of it worked. Eventually, as my husband desperately searched for help for me, he found the therapist i’ve been working with ever since. I long ago laid down the pill-popping, but unfortunately, the drinking behaviours remain. Not the partying all the time kind of drinking, which is good. But when i fall down the rabbit hole – i drink. And there are many parts of my system who will naturally gravitate towards alcohol, because it’s familiar. It wasn’t just that it was a part of our regular life.
It’s that it helped, you see.
It’s easier to slide and switch around with alcohol. It greases the wheels, so to speak. And when, in that first real mania, my system decided to properly introduce themselves to me AND return to full duty, so too, did they return to alcohol. I could go without drinking for long periods of time, but then i would switch, and find myself drunk when i was back in the face. Or viciously hungover.
Sometimes in therapy, we touch on something and i know i’m going to drink over it. If i (specifically speaking) didn’t get some, i knew the issue was enough for me to switch, and then they’d just go get it anyway. There were times when someone or something would trigger me HARD, and i knew what was coming. Life would do what life does, and often become too much for me, and i’d fall down the rabbit hole. Crawling out always involves detoxing from a binge. I had to figure out a way to get, and maintain, some kind of control.
My therapist doesn’t really deal with addiction or bipolar stuffs, even. She focuses on my system, and helping me learn how to listen, address my issues, and build the kind of life i want. Problematic use of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, etc. is, let’s say rampant, with multiples. She deals with cause, rather than effects. When i first started seeing her, she would come to my house, because i couldn’t leave it. I’d have a mickey of something stuffed beside me on the couch, because i’d have needed a couple of nips to even be able to let her in the door, and i knew that after she left i’d have a couple more.
The more work i’ve done in therapy the better it’s gotten. I even stopped therapy for a few years because i thought i was done. When i found out i wasn’t, old behaviours began kicking in, like, i can’t control the face as well as i was, and this body work makes everyone want a drink.
I knew i had to figure out a new way to handle things during this time. I’m not going back to square 1. I know i won’t either, because my problem solving skills are rather fantastic. One of the first things i did is i stopped hiding the problem. My husband and my kids already knew, so be honest. Why have this undercurrent of tenseness for my boys, where i act like it’s not happening and they act like they don’t know that it is? Why make my husband complicit in the lie? These things aren’t healthy and they erode the trust and poison the relationships that i have with them, that i’ve worked so freaking hard to build.
Removing the hiddenness immediately calmed my impulsivity. My sons both accepted the behaviour and said it was okay. They understood, and both relayed to me that they’ve seen nothing but improvements in the way i’ve lived my life since my brain fell apart.
Hm. Maybe there’s something here for me to learn.
I told my BFF, and since the beginning of our friendship (it’s a couple of years old, now), she’s been nothing but supportive. I’ve never lied to her, and as our friendship’s grown and trust has built, i’ve let her in like i have never, ever let a friend in before. I can call her up and say, “I’m either gonna have a drink or 2, or i’m hittin’ the highway,” and she will come babysit me until my husband gets home.* I don’t bother hiding from her, because i know i don’t need to.
I’m seeing a pattern here…
I’m down the rabbit hole, right now. At first, i got drunk and stayed that way for a few days. The therapy i’m doing, plus this pandemic situation the world is in, summarily tossed me down there by the seat of my pants.
Down you go H, no choice.
But my kids kept loving me and telling me it was okay.
And my husband did things that he knows will maintain my connection to him.
Ah. I know where this is going.
So this time, my Angries didn’t come out and get belligerent. My highly sexualised parts didn’t come forward and demand more and more booze, until i was blacked out and became a parade of damaged Bits N’ Pieces that are very low functioning and can be quite troublesome (to put it mildly). In fact, i was able to slow down and even sober up for my therapy the other day. I’d been fine for a few days.
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
~Tao Te Ching
I was ready when i first met my therapist. She taught me a great many things and then i left, thinking i had moved on. It was not so. I simply wasn’t ready for the next lesson. I humbly returned when i realised the truth, and i’ve been learning ever since. These lessons are more painful than the previous ones, and yet, tired as i am, i see myself listening more readily and learning faster. Now it’s more like, When the student is ready, the lesson will come.
Two weeks ago i connected to my therapist in a way i’ve never connected to another human being ever. I shared grief and pain with her, not with words, but with sounds of suffering that i’ve kept buried deep, deep down inside me, at my most broken place. And i let her hold me through it – something i have never allowed before, in the dozen or more years we’ve been working together to help me.
CONNECTION. A mother’s love in her arms around me, in her voice as she soothed me, in her tears as she cried for me.
I strongly suspect that the other day on the phone with her, i learned my most important lesson yet. I told her that shame is my driving emotion. The one that controls me at every step. Every thought, every action is somewhat shame-driven. She responded that shame isn’t bad; shame is just an emotion, a feeling. She said it’s the body’s response to the human need for connection to another human.
I believe i was ready for this lesson.
Yesterday, i was chatting with my husband after supper, and it just came up out of me. I said, “I think shame is the reason i drink – the reason we all drink.** I think what i really want is to be connected to myself, to be alive so that i can truly connect to another person. To you, to our children, to my friends… ”
I was ashamed to want connection, too. The messages that i internalised as a child were that i was filthy and disgusting and not worthy.
But all the work i’ve done has been slowly taking down this deadly razor-wire that my mother and my upbringing built around me.
It’s going to take more work, but i’m going to listen to what shame is trying to tell me, and i’m going to keep disarming the landmines around me. I will be fully alive and interactive with other human beings. I will be living.
As for the booze, i don’t know. It’s just a symptom, as destructive as it can be, and i live with multiplicity, which means i cannot (at least as of yet) always control what i’m going to do. And that’s okay, today. Sometimes i drink to cope. But it’s nothing at all like it was, and i believe with my whole heart, that it’s possible that someday it won’t be a problem at all. Today i’m neither hungover, nor am i drunk. Tomorrow may be something different.
But i’ll handle it.
I have no wise pronouncements to make on addictive behaviours. I have no solutions save the one i’m working out for myself. I won’t be bashing any of the other ways to handle such issues, because i don’t find it helpful or productive. This is me, and my way only. I share for my own continued healing and growth, but also to maybe give others hope that they can find their own way, too.
Just hang on. It’s the place where i started all this, and it’s where i return as often as needed.
Love and Peace,
*For those who are new to my blog, i run when i’m stressed or triggered. We live on a farm, and i’ll hit the highway and hitchhike into the city, where i am in immediate danger due to switching. I haven’t hitchhiked in a few years now, but i’ll still angry walk for many kilometres, in any weather, and have been in fairly desperate need of rescue a few times, just due to that.
**We means me and all my parts. My system.