Most addicts are addicted to two things over and above their chemical and behavioral addictions. These two things have no substance, are only ideas, with no factual basis, and yet they essentially control our outlooks on life and–to a great extent–the way we live it. Overcoming their effect is one of the most important aspects of recovery, yet we rarely hear them referred to specifically in meetings.
I’m referring to “more,” and “now.” As active addicts we are driven by them. We like our drugs, including alcohol and behavioral stimuli, because they give us an instant high. Recent studies using sophisticated brain scans have shown that addicts of all kinds get a hit of dopamine from just thinking about their drugs or behaviors of choice. They don’t even have to see them, let alone act out. The hit is nearly instant, and it is capable of creating a desire to use even if the addict wasn’t thinking about using beforehand.
That’s a piece of the “now” part. The rest comes from learned behavior based on the effects of using–we get instant gratification. Even with the slower-acting drugs, the ones that take longer to modify our brain chemistry, we get the initial hit described above, and then before too long the drug action itself kicks in. The overall effect is feeling good, now! Addicts are people who don’t know that it’s okay to not feel okay.
Of course, we all know that over time it takes more and more of whatever it is to get us high. We find that we have to drink more, snort more, buy more, eat more, watch more porn, take more chances, have more stimulation in order to get the results we want and need. That’s because our brains, having become accustomed to high levels of stimulation, adjust in an attempt to keep things normal. Over time, they can’t function well without the additional stimuli, and we find that if we don’t act out we get nervous, irritable, and generally have undesirable physical and emotional responses to the lack of our drugs. We call that withdrawal, and our need to do something about it leads to more using.
That’s not news. What may be news is the fact that over time, our approach to living changes to accommodate these imperatives. We expect satisfaction without delay, whether it’s a red light that we want to change, a loved one who is slow to respond to our perceived needs, or (TA DA!) recovery. We want it to happen now, with no waiting, and we want more and more of it as soon as possible and with as little effort as we can manage.
That’s where “more” and “now” can mess up our lives all by themselves. The two of them, acting together, can blind side our recovery. We can become convinced that we aren’t changing fast enough, that things aren’t getting better at all, and–worst of all–that we aren’t capable of making the changes needed for sobriety, or that they’re just too much trouble. Combine these with a few months of PAWS, and the problem can be nearly insurmountable.
That’s why we need our supports, our daily rituals–readings, journaling, meditation, prayer, and constant reminders that it does get better (although not according to our schedule). We need to realize that it took years for us to cause the changes in our bodies and thinking that are the crux of the problem, and that it’s completely unreasonable for us to believe that they will repair themselves in a few days or weeks, regardless of what our previous experience as active addicts may lead us to believe.
It’s also important to note that these things are true of all addicts. It doesn’t matter if you drank and drugged on the street or imbibed fine wines and prescription painkillers, the effects on the body, brain and mind are identical. The only things that may vary are the length of time it takes to get ourselves back to normal, and those can’t be predicted. Some of us are lucky, others not so much, depending on individual body chemistry, physical and emotional conditions, and how lazy we are.
Bottom line: recovery takes time, it takes work, and it takes a degree of toughness and dedication that most addicts find difficult to swallow. We need all the help we can get, from the people in our recovery groups who understand us. We either work a good program of recovery, or we will pay the price! We have to lose “more” and “now,” or we can’t learn to live effectively in the real world.
As they say, “less is more,” and “time takes time.”